Chapter 1: Emotional Trigger
There and Back
One: Emotional Trigger
Katherine Beckett had been the tender age of twenty-one when her mother was taken from her. Since that day, she'd focused on becoming two things: strong, and independent. Both had been largely forged out of necessity, the independence because of her father's coping mechanism of alcoholism and the strength because her father couldn't be. She didn't begrudge the man his flaws, but there was no doubt in her mind that it had shaped the person she was now. At thirty-two, Detective Kate Beckett had both independence and strength in spades.
Which was why it made absolutely no sense to her as to why she was wallowing.
July had brought with it a sweltering heat wave – and she'd studiously avoiding using the term and would have killed half of the force with her glare when they used it – and the final nail in her proverbial emotional coffin. They'd had one of the roughest cases of Kate's career, long, drawn out and brutal and she'd been utterly exhausted when she'd finally turned the key to her apartment. Things had largely gone downhill from there.
As a general rule, Kate wasn't one to wallow. She didn't sulk, she didn't pout, she sucked it up and moved on. She'd been doing it for over a decade now and she wasn't about to quit. This, the open half-finished bottle of wine on her coffee table, the scattered tissues, her mother's blanket that she only pulled out during the odd flu and the ever rarer weak moments, and the tear-jerker movie were not things she did. She beat her emotion out with a punching bag, she ran until she couldn't see straight, she cleaned until her apartment shined. But for the first time, she'd felt like doing only one thing, and that was wallowing.
June had been a hard month. Part of her had anticipated it, part of her had dreaded it, and part of her had been mad at herself for feeling both of those. It was stupid really, the reason it had been hard, because Kate firmly believed that emotionally investing yourself and your happiness in another was not only a big sign of weakness – though there was definitely a feminine, romantic part of herself that vehemently disagreed – but a blow to independence at the same time. As a woman who had carefully cultivated both, she held back from emotional commitment of any sort with a fierceness that would scare a lioness protecting her cubs. That wasn't to say she hadn't done it – after all, her relationships with people like Montgomery, Esposito, Ryan and Lanie were testaments to the fact that she could and did – but this one, this…
God, she didn't even know what to call him. Castle. He'd broken down her independence without even realizing it, made it easy to give some of her emotional well-being to him. She hadn't thought it was possible, especially after he'd gone rooting around in her mother's case, but she'd slowly started trusting him again. Then it had all started falling apart. Ellie Monroe had been the beginning, the moment that while Kate seemed determined to ignore the emotions that simmered under the building trust, Castle had started moving on from them. She'd been stung when he'd started sleeping with her, then royally pissed off when the actress basically admitted to sleeping with someone else to get a role. She hadn't wanted to be right that time and there had been a part of her that had been hurt when she was.
But that didn't stop the protective instincts from kicking in. He was dangerous, emotionally more than anything else, because Kate's protection of Esposito or Lanie in the same circumstances would come off differently than it did for Castle. As long as she'd tried to deny it, it had become more and more difficult to say that she hated the man. But somehow, he'd managed to stay out of the 'friends' category she'd all but forced Esposito and Ryan into from the first moment of meeting them. Beyond the fact that she didn't want to get involved with her teammates, Kate protected herself first and as a result, her first instinct was always to try and put a man into either the 'friend' category, or the 'superficial relationship' category. Never anything deep, never anything emotional.
Castle hadn't gone willingly. In fact, he'd managed to keep himself out of the 'friends' category with a skill and precision that, had she been looking at the situation – both past and present – clinically, would astound her. Every time she tried, he'd pushed back, forcing her to reveal more of herself, forcing her to expose things that even Lanie didn't know. And really, he'd done it without her knowing.
Then he'd walked away.
Granted, Kate really couldn't blame him. Esposito had been right and she'd seen it long before. She wasn't blind or stupid, and she'd caught the tension between Demming and Castle. She'd studiously ignored it, half of her hoping they would just deal with it – because Demming was so much safer than Castle and never asked of her more than she was willing to give – and the other half hoping that they'd come to some sort of medieval duel over it. Over her. But neither of those things had been the eventual outcome and, after too long, she'd finally made her choice, gathered her courage…
Then he'd walked away.
She sighed as she set her wine glass on the table, glaring at it. If it wasn't for the case, if it wasn't for her sudden need to just curl up and cry, Kate was certain her thoughts would never have gone down the trail they were. Then again, after his departure, she'd become that strong, independent detective again, the take-no-prisoners hardass cop that had gotten her where she was today, that had made her the effective force to be reckoned with. She'd never given herself time to think about their actions, his and hers both, hadn't given herself time to consider things at all angles and it was only after her mind had drifted through the entirety of the case they'd just wrapped that she'd even considered letting her mind wander down that pitfall-laden road.
And it had only done that because the little traitorous part of her brain had whispered that the case wouldn't have been half as hard if Castle had been there.
She hadn't been lying to him when she'd told him she'd gotten used to him pulling her pigtails, nor had she been lying when she'd admitted that having him around made her job just that little bit easier. It had been too weird to build theory without him, too odd to do interrogations with Esposito and Ryan, so much so that as the case wore on, she either did them herself or had the boys do it together. Even going down to Lanie's for autopsy reports and lab results had felt weird without him pestering her the whole way down. It was only as the case wore on that she'd finally admitted to herself that she truly missed him.
That pissed her off for a while, irritated her to no end because it spoke of the emotional attachment. It had taken her a few days to absorb how much she missed him and find her even keel again. Thinking about him hurt and that moment had come as a surprise. It had dredged up the pain she'd buried deep, much like Castle himself had done when he'd presented her with the new findings on her mother's case. And it had been that moment that Kate decided she was going to have to deal with it. So she did the only thing that even after years still worked, the one thing her mother had always said helped.
She curled up in her mom's blanket and waited for the inevitable cry-fest.
But she'd been sitting there, on her couch that still didn't smell right, in an apartment that still didn't feel quite right, with nothing. She'd done everything she could think of, watched every sappy movie in her collection and still, there was nothing. Yet, when her phone vibrated across the coffee table, she growled, grumbling about Montgomery telling her to take time off then calling her in. But it wasn't a phone call. It was a text. A text from him.
Her hand hovered for a moment, finger poised over the button that would send the message to her inbox where she could simply delete it, but she couldn't seem to bring herself to do it. She'd had a hard day, a hard month, and as much as she hated to admit it to herself, the fact that he'd texted her, even after so long apart, made her feel just a little bit better.
She was shocked when she opened it to find a picture of a sunny beach, a towel spread over the sand and the water lapping at the frayed edges. The message was simple and straightforward, but held so much more meaning than even he probably knew.
Wish you were here.
And the strong, independent Kate Beckett burst into tears.
Chapter 2: With Coffee
There and Back
Two: With Coffee
Rick Castle had to admit, the Hamptons hadn't been terrible.
They'd been different, there was no doubt about that. Different in so many ways. Different because Alexis was too busy at Princeton to come. Different because he wasn't working on murder cases day in and day out, Naked Heat excluded. But most of all, it was different because instead of spending his days with the enigmatic Kate Beckett, he was spending them with his nagging, often blood-thirsty publisher.
Not that Gina was actually as terrible as he made her out to be. They had been married once, and though that had fallen by the wayside as their professional relationship clashed with their personal relationship, there had been piece of them that had made marriage seem like a good idea. He'd wanted company, that was all, and Gina had wanted to be able to be there, hanging over his shoulder while he finished the manuscript.
She'd left as soon as she had it in her hot little hands and while usually that would send him back to the city without thinking twice, this time, he'd stayed. Even without Alexis or his mother, the Hamptons was better than New York at the moment. There was too much in the city that reminded Rick of Kate and when he was reminded of Kate, he was reminded that he couldn't have her.
Well, admittedly, he'd conned Ryan and Esposito into telling him that Kate had ended her relationship with Demming the day he'd left, and he'd been able to put the puzzle pieces together pretty quickly. He wasn't stupid, by any stretch of the imagination and though he'd known Kate was going to nail him with some sort of heart-wrenching breakthrough the day he'd left for the Hamptons, he hadn't been willing to risk it being something he didn't want to hear.
Because after two failed marriages, his trust in relationships had been irrevocably shaken. Between that and his mother's string of relationships – not that he actually blamed her directly for any of it – Rick had never really had a stable relationship in his life. Beyond his mother and his daughter, they'd just all seemed to fall apart. So he'd gone superficial. It was psychology 101: man gets hurt too many times, man has superficial meaningless relationships to sate a physical need and a temporary emotional need before moving on so as to protect himself from harm and a broken heart. He didn't need a therapist to tell him that. He was a damned writer, a virtual psychologist in his own right.
It was a dog-eat-dog world and, unfortunately, in order to preserve his heart, his feelings and his emotions, he'd had to shatter hers. It had been heart-wrenching to see the look on her face, to know that he was the result of that look and it had almost made him pause, almost made him turn back to see just what kind of emotional truth she was about to share. But fear had gripped him too tightly, so he'd walked, arm-in-arm, to the elevator with Gina and headed on his vacation.
Now, he knew better. Now, he knew that Kate had been an instant away from giving him another piece of herself. Rick held a few and those few he'd worked very hard to protect. After screwing up the first time, regardless of how good his intentions had been, he'd vowed to himself that he would never do it again. He treasured the bits she gave him, searched almost blindly for more, waiting on the edge of his seat for the next time she would share a piece of herself. He knew it hadn't been a one-way street. He'd shared pieces of himself, smaller than hers, but poignant nevertheless. He'd shared his home, for one thing, and he hadn't been telling lies when he'd told her that it would always be a place for her where she could feel secure and where there were people who cared about her. For another, he'd shared his daughter, the most precious piece of himself. He'd put the safety and well-being of that precocious redhead in her hands should anything terrible befall him.
He missed her. He wasn't above admitting that. He'd missed her when she'd kicked him out of her life the first time, and he missed her now, when he'd pushed her away. He'd forced himself to re-write Naked Heat, but only after he'd written a painful death for Schlemming. Only then had he been able to step back and remind himself that though Nikki Heat was based on Kate, Nikki and Kate lived in two separate worlds. He couldn't control Kate – and granted, it was one of the things he liked about the fiery detective – but he could control Nikki. And that revelation had been the one he'd needed to complete Naked Heat and move forward.
But moving forward didn't mean moving on. He knew he'd done damage in walking away, and part of him couldn't blame Kate for being upset. She protected herself so completely, watched herself so carefully, that he knew how much it took for her to start talking to him, sharing with him, anything. So by walking away, he'd damaged that trust. How much, he still wasn't quite sure, but he knew it was enough that he'd have some work to do. They'd both have some work to do. But he knew Kate, probably better than she thought he did, and so he knew she wasn't going to take that first step. Heck, if he knew Kate at all he'd be surprised if she'd admitted to herself that she missed him, let alone that someone had to extend the proverbial olive branch.
Rick also knew he needed to be careful. He'd been hurt by Demming because he'd thought they were working towards something, building the trust that would set a solid foundation for more, and he'd thought he was doing the right thing by walking away and giving her the chance to be happy. He stood by that decision at the time, and considering the information he'd had, it seemed logical. Now, however, he had a different set of facts, a different case file in front of him, and he had to start treating it like a new case, instead of one attached to the old. Demming was a thorn in his side, like that piece of evidence that wouldn't quite fit in the case file, but he'd come to the conclusion that if he wanted to rebuild anything with Kate, he was going to have to put aside some of his anger and hurt for now. And he had to hope that she would too.
Because as much as he acted like a child, he'd raised a daughter and he'd done a half-decent job of it, if he did say so himself. He could be a mature adult, had proven that when it mattered most and to that end, he knew that he was going to have to strike a tenuous balance between being mature and being himself. Kate would never ask him to change, not for anyone and especially not for her, but he knew that if he wanted to eventually hold all of the pieces to the complicated puzzle of Kate Beckett, he was going to have to do it with an infinite amount of patience.
He'd had the idea of how to reach out to her a couple of days ago. He'd been alone on the beach, playing around on his laptop with ideas, characters, anything really, and it had hit him. He'd looked out over the sand, over the water, and only one thought had gone through his head. He wished Kate was there.
He'd had it all planned out from there, the scene, the setting the whole thing. Now all he needed was the courage to send it to her. He was nervous as anything because there was the distinct chance she'd ignore the text, the chance that she'd just delete it without looking at it, the chance that she'd fire back some scathing retort that would tell him just where he could shove it. He didn't want to upset her. That wouldn't do well in helping him to regain her trust and start gently taking hold of her heart.
So it took him three days before he managed to do it, finally convincing himself just before dropping off to sleep to just send it and turn off his phone. He could check in the morning if there was anything else. He'd surprised himself by being good about it, but when he'd surfaced from sleep the next morning, he'd found himself dreading turning on his phone. And that was why he'd waited until early afternoon, until he couldn't stand it anymore, to turn on the device. He waited impatiently for it to start up, holding it in his hand and almost praying for a positive response.
He wasted no time in checking the text when it came in, letting out a loud guffaw at the picture of the white NYPD mug beside the old crappy coffee maker.
Esposito broke yours. Coffee sucks.
It floored him how much she'd managed to say without saying anything at all. He wasn't forgiven yet, because he could almost hear the short, clipped tone in her voice as he read the words, but she'd alluded to the crappy break room coffee, a conversation they'd had over a year ago just before he'd started bringing her a coffee every morning.
Even though she hadn't said it, she missed him too and in pure Kate fashion, she'd done it with coffee.
Chapter 3: Between Right and Easy
There and Back
Three: Between Right and Easy
As July slipped into August, Kate had to admit she felt a lot lighter than she had in May. It was stupid and there was a part of her that was truly annoyed at the fact that he was the one lightening her spirits, but there was another part of her that understood it. Castle had said it himself… The heart wants what the heart wants. Apparently, her heart wanted him.
But even admitting that didn't make her immediately jump in a car and drive to his side, nor, it seemed, had it done the same for him. Whether he truly recognized it or not - and she wasn't about to claim she knew what he was thinking - she knew it was going to take time for them to build back the same friendship they'd had before Ellie Monroe and before Tom Demming. Between them, they'd done a whole lot of underhanded hurting and now that she'd had the time to think and take the step back, she could recognize it.
Yet, at the same time, she knew that she'd had no claim over him when he'd slept with Ellie. He wasn't hers and she'd made sure of that. Humans had needs and with the amount she'd rebuffed him, her now-rational brain could see that he'd done the same thing anyone in his situation would have done. He found the next best thing. That didn't stop her from feeling jealous about it, from being upset that Ellie had been so careless with him. Kate, as deep as she hid it, had a Momma Bear side to her, and that side had reared its ugly head where Ellie Monroe was concerned.
But she'd also recognized it as Castle's first steps toward moving on. And Tom was cute, sweet, and he had a good heart. He brought candlelit Chinese to the precinct when he had to stay late and cancel on her. He came up to the homicide breakroom to have coffee with her in the morning. He understood the perils of the job, the crazy hours, the caseloads, everything. She'd genuinely liked him, though even she had to admit, dating Tom didn't have the spark she'd been hoping for. She'd done the right thing in breaking up with him, the right thing for her and the right thing for him. It wasn't his fault that Castle had walked away that night. That was on her and Castle.
Now, Kate felt like she was balancing herself out. She no longer allowed herself to shove Castle to the back of her mind. There was still a pang when she thought about it, it still pulled her down a bit, but she was an adult and she could deal with that. Plus, it made her feel much more at ease now that she'd taken the time to look at her relationship with Castle from different perspectives, trying to understand what happened, where they went wrong. And there were a million answers to that, little hints that they'd dropped and the other had missed. Words, actions, gestures… Neither of them were mind readers, though it was apparent they'd expected the other one to catch on.
Which was why her reply to his beach picture had been of coffee. She hadn't been ready to simply tell him that she missed him too, and the stung little girl inside her had staunchly refused to let her be that blunt. Sure, his message had been clearer than hers, but Kate had always been more subtle, more careful with her heart, her emotions and her vulnerability. Yet she'd known the minute she walked into the break room the next morning exactly what she was going to send and exactly what she was going to say.
Coffee held a special place in their relationship. It was their way of cementing things, their way of conveying oh so much. It showed that he cared, for one thing, showed that he thought of her when he was buying his own. The fact that he'd noticed she preferred bear claws was just another way of showing her that he was paying attention to the little things. And Kate, allowing him to do such a thing, bring her breakfast and coffee, get her a coffee when she needed it… was really allowing him to take care of her, even in the smallest of ways. Coffee had been a milestone in their relationship. The first case he'd bought her a coffee had cemented their partnership, however briefly. The last case he didn't bring her coffee had foreshadowed a painful parting and another more uncomfortable and disheartening shift.
But just yesterday he'd sent her a picture text of a kitten he'd found wandering in his bushes. The message underneath had been simple – he'd been keeping to simple messages and it surprised her and confused her – a note about how the cat reminded him of her. The blush had crept over her cheeks before she could stop it and Esposito had noticed. She'd kept the information as to what had caused the flush to herself, but the boys had ribbed her about it for the rest of the day.
She was okay with that because she knew that her mood over the last couple of months had worried them. They were a family, her team, Montgomery the elderly grandfather, her playing the mother role far too often and Esposito and Ryan the goofy brothers that couldn't keep themselves out of trouble. She took the teasing because she knew they were just glad she was happier, no matter what the occasion.
Lanie, however, was not that lenient. Lanie was more like a dog with a bone and though Kate hadn't told her anything, the ME had waltzed into the precinct just before quitting time, ignoring everything else to prop her hip on the corner of Kate's desk.
"Doctor Parish," the detective greeted warily. They weren't working any cases with Lanie at the moment and she'd just gotten all the forensic results on their current case two hours ago. "To what do I owe the pleasure."
"Oh please, Girl, you're really going to play dumb with me?"
But Kate wasn't playing dumb. She had no idea what Lanie wanted and told her so. Lanie rolled her eyes.
"A birdie told me you had some sort of girlie blush racin' over your face this afternoon. Considering your last couple of months, I decided now would be the perfect time to stop by and get the dirt."
Kate's eyes shot straight to the boys, catching on Esposito's guilty look. Her mind paused for a moment on that little revelation before focusing again on her best friend. "It's nothing, Lanie."
"Nothin, my rather attractive behind," Lanie shot back. "You mope around for two months and suddenly you're blushing? There's a story there and either you're going to tell me, or I'm going to find out for myself."
"Find out for yourself? How?" Kate asked, feeling confident in herself.
Because Kate knew that when she hurt, her friends hurt. When she was in a mood, they responded to it, either with sympathy, or support or whatever she needed from them. She shouldn't be surprised that her happiness spread through them as well, the new calm she was feeling as she and Castle exchanged short text messages layered with hidden meanings. But that was on her phone, safe and sound and-
Currently in Lanie's hands.
But it was too late and Kate knew it. Still, she reached for the little device, even as the ME darted out of the way. There was surprise and trepidation in Lanie's eyes when they met Kate's again.
"Castle?" the ME asked. "You've been texting Castle?"
"He's been texting me," Kate replied defensively. Then relented, "We've been texting each other."
"You're letting him back in?"
Kate knew Ryan and Esposito were watching carefully, gauging her reaction and she knew why too. If she'd asked it of them, they'd have dumped Castle, ignored him on XBOX, been harsher with him if they crossed paths… They protected their own, physically and emotionally, so it didn't surprise Kate that they were hanging on to every word of the conversation. She wasn't dumb and she wasn't stupid, she knew they were still in contact with him and she knew that she'd never ask them to give up that friendship for her. The boys had formed a bond with Castle, one forged through the work they did, and Kate wasn't going to ask them to give it up. Lanie's question alone would have caught their attention for no other reason than Kate's answer would give them a clearer indication of where they stood with the writer.
The detective met her best friend's eyes head on. "Yes."
Lanie grabbed her arm, dragging her into one of the conference rooms against the wall. She closed the door and glared at Ryan and Esposito, daring them to interrupt or eavesdrop, before turning back to Kate. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Kate leaned back against the table. "Honestly, Lanie, I'm not sure of much right now. But I know that he's not solely at fault for what happened."
"He walked away!" Lanie exclaimed. "He left with his ex-wife on his arm, and you're forgiving him?"
"Lanie, there's nothing to forgive," Kate corrected carefully. "There's a lot we have to work through before we're anywhere close to normal but…" She sighed. "I miss him, Lanie. And knowing that our situation is on both of us, I can't be mad at just him."
"You damn well can!" Lanie responded sharply.
Kate grinned. God, she loved Lanie. "No," she said with a chuckle. "I can't. I waited and he moved on. Then I moved on and things… well, fell apart. It's not solely his fault, it's not solely my fault and it's not fair to either of us to force the blame on only one person."
Lanie narrowed her eyes. "Who are you and what have you done with Kate?"
Kate's smile softened a little bit. "I know what I'm doing, Lanie. I don't know if I'm going to let him come back next month, but I know that what we're doing here," she waved to the phone Lanie still clutched, "is starting to patch up a lot of misunderstandings. It's the skeleton of a skeleton, but it's a start."
"And this is what you want?" Lanie asked dubiously after a moment of searching Kate's face.
Kate made sure her gaze was locked on Lanie's, made sure that she knew what Kate was about to say was the clearest truth she could muster. "He's my friend, Lanie. His friendship is important to me." It was all Kate could give at the moment. There was still a lot of uncertainty.
The ME watched her friend for a moment, took in the more relaxed line of her body, the tension that had been there through May and June having dissipated. Honestly, Lanie wasn't comfortable with Kate patching things up with Castle, not without Kate giving the writer a piece of her mind, but as Best Friend Extraordinaire, her job was just to be there in case things fell apart and ensure that above all else, she put Kate first. "Okay."
Kate took the phone back when Lanie offered it and watched her best friend head back out the way she came. She knew that they weren't done by any means, but for now, Lanie was okay with everything.
Kate shook her head affectionately as Lanie walked away, her eagle eye catching the pause she made at Esposito's desk, and opened up a new text message.
Mama Lanie made an appearance. You may want to stay in the Hamptons a little bit longer.
She was just opening the lab results she hadn't had a chance to get to when her phone chimed.
I'll wear a bulletproof suit. There's too much in New York for me to stay here indefinitely.
He didn't have to tell her 'too much' included her.
Chapter 4: New Normal
There and Back
Four: New Normal
Rick grinned at his daughter as they both dropped their bags just inside the front door of their loft. It felt good to be back in the city, good to be back to their home and, above else, good to be together again. They were home, safe and sound and it felt... fantastic.
"I'm going to go unpack," Alexis said, already lifting her bags again. "You do the same and I'll do laundry?"
"Deal," he grinned, watching her skip up the stairs. He had one year left with his little girl before she'd head off to college, so the summer had been a test and a learning experience for both of them. He carried his own bags into his room, dropping them on his bed. He unzipped them, going through them, trying to decipher what went where. Laundry he simply tossed behind him, hoping they ended up in some sort of pile. The rest he left heaped in his suitcases.
He and Alexis had already caught up on their hour and a half drive back from Princeton so his thoughts drifted to another one of the most important people in his life. Kate Beckett. He hadn't honestly expected her to actually respond to his text. When she had, he'd been thisclose to jumping at the chance to head back to New York City. But he forced himself to stop, take a deep breath, and think this through. Her response to his text did not automatically mean that he was back in her good graces.
He had no idea what was going to come of their texting over the summer. Neither of them had made any calls, but the texting had become less tentative, more candid and he had to admit, he was itching to talk to her. Preferably in person, but he wasn't sure if she would be ready for that. Kate could be a bit of a rabbit when it came to her personal life and the last thing he wanted to do was scare her off. Yet, at the same time, their texting hadn't given him any indication as to whether or not he was allowed back in the precinct when Alexis went to school. He could understand if he'd blown his shot at a real relationship with her, but he wanted to be a part of her life either way.
He told himself that was the reason he couldn't seem to restrain himself from hitting the third speed dial on his phone.
Her voice was soft, and a little bit like music to his ears and it left him no doubt that she knew exactly who was calling. The smile bloomed wide across his face as he replied, "Hey."
Rick swallowed. "How are you?"
"I'm tired," she admitted and he was torn between sympathy since she truly sounded it, and a little bit of glee that she'd been so candid. It was nice to know that their text conversations meant she could be honest while talking to him as well.
"Work?" he asked, his voice quiet, almost tentative. Texting was one thing because they had time between messages to think of the appropriate response, but over the phone… well, with their past of mixed messages and misinterpretation he was afraid even a pause could be misinterpreted.
Her sigh told him everything he needed to know, even as she said, "We're in the middle of a case."
"And you're home?" he teased softly. "Slacking off, Detective?"
He was glad she chuckled in response. "We've been running flat out for a few days now. Montgomery told us we needed to go home."
"It's nice to know nothing's changed in my absence." He froze at the words because he knew they were a lie. God, why did he have this uncanny ability of sticking his foot in his mouth when it came to her? "I mean-"
"I know what you mean," she interrupted and her voice was quiet. Because while nothing may have changed at the precinct, everything else had and he wanted to make sure that she knew he recognized that. He wanted to make sure that she knew he didn't think everything was just going to go back to normal, before Ellie, before Demming.
"Did Alexis enjoy Princeton?"
A thrill went through him at her attempt to prolong the conversation at the same time her voice jolted him out of his thoughts. He grinned. "She only has good things to say about it."
"And you both survived."
Rick grinned as Alexis poked her head into the room and sent him an exasperated look at his pile of laundry and his still-packed suitcases. He made his way to her, pressing a kiss to her head. "Yeah, we did. It wasn't the same, but we made it."
Blue eyes, so identical to his own, rolled in a fashion that reminded him almost completely of the woman on the phone. "Hi Detective Beckett." Then she skipped away, calling back that she'd take care of calling her grandmother to notify her they were home and order dinner.
Silence fell between them as Kate's chuckle floated into his ear. She had been working hard, he had no doubt about that, and the insinuation that the only way she'd left the precinct was at her captain's insistence, but her amusement sounded genuine and light. A part of him hoped it was because she was talking to him, but he firmly silenced that voice and forced his attention back to the conversation itself. He just barely caught the little clearing of her throat. She was nervous. And he couldn't help himself.
"Don't worry, Detective, this isn't a scandalous phone call. Well, unless you had other plans?"
Her chuckle was low and throaty, intriguing him and snapping his body to awareness. "Not for this phone call, no," she answered. "But I do have other plans."
"A hot date?"
"Yeah," she replied. "A very hot date."
He felt his spirits fall a little.
"I believe you know her."
Her? Now his interest was piqued. "Are you and Lanie off to have a dirty girl's night, Detective? I didn't think you went for that. Though, if you are, can I please, please at least watch?"
"Not that I don't think Lanie would be willing to try, but she seems quite content in her not-so-secret relationship," Kate quipped back, the playfulness there in spades.
He was grinning, his mind spinning with dirty thoughts as much as it was remembering this time, this teasing, this underlying innuendo that was less underlying now. "The good Doctor Parish has a man?"
"You're not going to be calling her the good Doctor Parish when she's gutting you on her autopsy table."
He winced. "She's still mad?"
"She's livid, Castle."
Livid. Great. But Kate quite obviously wasn't and he didn't need Kate to stand between him and Lanie. He'd hurt her best friend, so he could understand the ME's need to defend her own. He'd take it, and they'd move on. From the sound of it, Kate didn't much care what Lanie's opinion was or Rick figured they wouldn't be talking now.
"Tell me more about this hot date that I know," he requested. He'd wanted to keep the conversation light and talking about Lanie's ire was more likely to remind them that they had a ways to go yet.
"It's a hot bath, Castle," she said. "A hot bath and a good glass of wine."
Oh, he knew what was coming next. "And a good book."
"What kind of a good book?" He hadn't even received his advance copy of Naked Heat yet, so he knew it wasn't that.
"An old favourite," she answered, and he could tell she was having fun stringing him along. In this case, he didn't much mind it since it told him at the very least their friendship was salvageable. That was all that mattered to him, that they were back to a version of normal and that he could talk to her, listen to her, tease and banter with her. His chest was welling with excitement and joy at a simple conversation, when she could have given him the cold shoulder.
"God it's good to hear your voice," he blurted. Then closed his eyes. He'd promised himself he wouldn't be some lovesick puppy. He was going to make sure that their friendship came first. They'd need that friendship again before he could gauge whether or not she'd be ready for a relationship.
"I know," he said immediately. "I'm sorry it just… slipped out. I missed you."
There was silence for a minute, though he knew she hadn't hung up, so he waited as patiently as he could. He heard her deep intake of breath.
"I missed you too."
His heart leapt and his stomach twisted. His fingers tightened on the phone as he licked his lips. He had just opened his mouth to say something more, what, he wasn't totally sure, but she beat him to the punch.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Castle."
He couldn't help the boyish grin that slid over his face. She was letting him back. She was letting him follow her. It was more than he'd thought. "Until tomorrow, Detective."
He was all but bouncing as he saw his daughter off to school the next morning. He was more than excited, not just because he was back in Kate's life and she was going to let him work cases with her again, but to be able to go back to the usual routines. So, with a kiss to his daughter's cheek he followed her down to the lobby and hailed a cab headed for the Twelfth Precinct.
When he got off the elevator, Kate was nowhere in sight, but Esposito and Ryan were there, sitting at their desks. What surprised him the most was Lanie's presence. He knew he wasn't welcome, per se, because Esposito and Ryan had informed him he was going to have some explaining to do, but the absolute fury that took over the diminutive ME's face as he approached terrified him.
And yet he hadn't been prepared for how quickly she moved, nor the stinging pain that lanced through his cheek as her palm connected with his face. He worked his jaw for a moment before turning back to her, fixing his eyes on hers and staring down the fire in them. He wanted to fix things with Kate and if that meant facing the ire of the detective's best friend, then he was damned well going to do it.
"I know she let you back in," Lanie hissed. "And I don't agree, but it's her decision. So I'm going to say this once and you'd better hear me, understand?"
Rick just waited patiently, not moving his eyes from hers.
"You walk away from her like that again, and they'll never, ever, find your body."
He didn't have to look to know that Esposito and Ryan would help. He also knew that trying to explain that it wasn't all his fault, to say that Kate had blame in the whole situation, would be utterly useless. His writer buddies would defend him, Kate's friends would defend her. It was a universal constant.
All heads turned as Kate's voice floated out of the Captain's door. She stepped out into the bullpen and Rick almost felt his breath stop. She was still beautiful, and today looked softer with her hair in messy curls. She'd only done it one other time and he'd been utterly distracted by it, by how much it made her look like a woman instead of a hard-nosed cop. And he couldn't help but hope that she'd done it knowing he was coming back to the precinct.
Kate turned her head and met his eyes, taking in the tableau before her. She and Lanie exchanged a glance before the medical examiner walked off, then turned her gaze back to him. It a few steps, he was in front of her, looking down at her, just on the fringes of her personal space.
"Hi," he said, unsure of everything.
"Hi," she replied, and there was more confidence in her voice. She took his face in with her eyes before saying, "I'll get you ice for that red mark you're developing, and get you caught up while you make my coffee."
He couldn't stop the little smile from tilting the corner of his mouth.
Welcome back indeed.
Chapter 5: Acute Sense of Smell
There and Back
Five: Acute Sense of Smell
The scent of cherries was a part of Kate Beckett. There was no two ways about it. The intriguing woman smelled like cherries and it was that smell he'd conjured up over the summer to remind him of her, to remind him in his text messaging to keep things light and teasing. Subtext was allowed, but he'd had to restrain his impulses, both to tell her to come to the Hamptons and to drive back to New York to see her. He was pretty sure he had fantastic impulse control now.
Kate and cherries was like… peanut butter and jam, like puzzles on a rainy day, like ice cream and whipped cream. So when he leaned close to her a few weeks after he got back from the Hamptons to smell something more like vanilla and coconut, he wrinkled his nose.
"Why don't you smell like cherries?"
She turned her head in surprise, then almost jumped at how close he was. "I changed body washes," she replied. She'd changed shampoos too but he didn't need to know that.
He arched an eyebrow. That wasn't the whole truth and he could tell by the way her eyes shifted. She wouldn't look directly at him and, in her personal sphere, it was her tell. Well that, and the way her hand went almost immediately to the chain of her mother's ring.
He'd been avoiding pushing her, avoiding doing anything more than being there, because he didn't want to spook her. They'd both been walking on eggshells, trying to find a new normal, a new balance. He'd waited a week before proposing any sort of actual meal, but the shy smile she'd graced him with had been worth it. He had a chance.
Or he'd had a chance. The look on her face told him that she wasn't totally sure what she wanted to tell him now that he'd brought it up. He knew her, even after a summer away, and the look he caught in her eyes in the split second they met his told him that whatever it was, it was a good story. But at the same time, she was chewing her lip. Hard.
Then she stood and Rick was sure that she was going to shrug it off and walk away. Instead, she met his eyes and cocked her head to the side.
As if she had to ask. He stood, walking with her up the stairs. He expected her to stop somewhere, maybe in the stairwell, maybe in the gym, but she kept walking. She pushed open the door to the roof and stepped through, holding it open for him, before leaning down to prop open the door. She walked all the way to the edge of the building, looking down over the city. He waited a moment in confusion, then followed slowing to a stop beside her. He watched her as she chewed her lip, as she fiddled with the chain around her neck.
Eventually, she took a deep breath, unwittingly folding her arms over her chest. A protective gesture. "You hurt me when you left," she said quietly, simply, and held up a hand when he went to respond. "I know I'm not innocent in the whole thing, so don't… just don't. But it hurt. The cherries reminded me of everything we'd been through."
Hell, they reminded her of everything. Cherries reminded her of her mother, of the copious amounts of cherries they'd consumed together over the summer months. They reminded her of cherry pies, the recipe she still couldn't get quite right and now no longer had its creator around to teach her. They reminded her of that moment, her head close to Rick's, looking over the comic book, when he'd told her she smelled like cherries and that split second where she'd been sure he was going to kiss her. Cherries reminded her of both of them, of Rick and her mother, and the inadvertent way they'd come together when Rick had started digging into her mom's case. So when he'd walked away, the smell had made the pain in her stomach even more intense, because she hadn't been sure if she was going to let him back in. And the idea that she'd lost a close friend had hurt even more than the fact that he'd walked away to begin with.
More than that, though, she'd thought of her mother's case. She hadn't been lying when she'd told him that no matter what happened, if they were going to dig further into the murder of Johanna Beckett, she wanted him beside her for every step of the way. Even after he'd walked out of the precinct, Gina on his arm, whenever she thought of her mother and the case, whenever a new lead crawled across her desk or even sometimes when she looked at pictures, she wanted him there. Not Tom, not the boys, not Lanie, but Rick. It was her acceptance of that realization that had started her on the path to reconciling what had happened and sharing blame between both of them.
He looked shocked, but recovered himself. She'd blindsided him in bringing him up to talk about this and he wasn't ready for it. "Kate…"
"Bygones," she interrupted before he could keep going. The apology was there in his eyes, and for this, just this, and just this once, that was enough. She'd allowed herself to fall into that kind of a funk, to get that angry, just as much as he'd been the catalyst for it. And really, she didn't want an apology for this. If he started on apologies, they were going to be spending the rest of the afternoon on the roof and they had a killer to catch.
"But they're not," he blurted.
"Rick," she said quietly, stepping closer and lowering her voice further. She almost laughed when he leaned back, his nose wrinkled in distaste. "Listen. If we get into this now, we're not going to stop. We're going to hash it all out, and one, I don't think we're quite ready for that and two, we have a murder victim that deserves justice. We can't do this now."
She let him inspect her face, her gaze. She could tell he wanted to. He wanted to hash out their issues, the space that was still between them. But Kate knew he wouldn't. He would respect her wishes. She could see he knew she was right. They didn't have time to cover half of what she wanted to say and if she had a laundry list, she wasn't naïve enough to think that he didn't have a similar one. They'd put each other through too much for this to be a simple conversation.
The tension of things unsaid grew between them until she heaved a sigh and turned away. But he reached out for her, grabbing her hand before she got too far away.
"Rick," she began in exasperation. His gaze stopped the rest of her words, because there was understanding there. He wasn't going to delve into it. She just barely resisted the urge to shiver as his thumb brushed over her hand.
He leaned in close, so his breath wafted over her ear and down her neck. "I liked the cherries," he told her softly, his hand warm around hers. "You don't smell like Kate Beckett without them."
Then he walked around her and through the door, back to the bullpen. He went for the now-fixed coffee maker when he got there, his head a mess of information. There was a part of him that was absolutely disgusted with himself and with the situation. He'd known what cherries meant to her, what the scent meant to her. The last thing he'd wanted to do was ruin it. At the same time, he couldn't help but feel a little bit of triumph. Kate didn't admit things easily, she never had, and the fact that she'd outright told him he'd hurt her was a step in the right direction and he knew it.
But she was right, he thought, his hands moving smoothly through the motions of making the coffee. They had a lot to talk about, a lot to hash out, a lot of misunderstandings to fix. They were both at fault, he recognized that as well. They both had their own injuries, their own broken hearts. But he liked to think that broken hearts of the past didn't matter. What mattered was what they were planning on doing about it. He was under no illusions of how special this kind of a chance was, not just for him, but for them. He wasn't about to just let it go.
Rick sighed slightly as he picked up the two cups, carrying one back to where Kate was now perched on her desk, looking at that famed murder board. She accepted the cup with a shaky smile, eyes darting. He grinned back, a real, genuine turn of the lips and the shakiness dissipated, nerves soothed for the moment. They both sat there for a moment, sipping coffee. Then Kate hummed low in her throat – a sound that never ceased to make him think of the sounds she'd make when in the throes of real passion – and stepped forward. He knew what that meant. She'd caught something.
"What if Laurel Alverez was just looking to protect her sister?"
The next morning, as always, she beat him into the precinct and was back sitting on the edge of her desk in front of the murder board when he came in. His eyes moved to the board too and they didn't have to look at each other for her coffee to pass seamlessly from his hand into hers. He sat down beside her, close enough that their hips touched and it took a minute, but his head snapped to hers. He grinned and leaned in, the same distance he'd been when he'd discovered her scent in the first place.
"You smell like cherries."
The pleasure in his voice made her blush. He didn't know it – and she wasn't going to tell him – but she'd spent a half an hour lounging in cherry bubbles last night, and even selfishly had a shower when she woke up. She felt better every time she moved and she'd discovered that she'd missed the cherries. She kept her eyes fixed on the board even as the smirk played at the corner of her mouth.
"Don't go getting any ideas, Castle. I like cherries, okay?"
They both knew it was a lie.
Chapter 6: The Healing Power of the Spoken Word
It was official: things were back to relative normal.
Rick had more than settled back into the routine, never beating Kate to the precinct, but not coming in much later either. There were odd times when Rick was in before the boys too. Ryan and Esposito would come in later to find Kate leaning comfortably against the counter in the break room while Rick created his latest caffeinated masterpiece.
Which was where they were, laughing softly together when Kate suddenly stiffened beside him. He was so hyper aware of her now after the cherries incident that he'd felt it, even though the beautiful detective was a good arm's length away from him. His eyes swept the bullpen briefly when he noticed the direction of her gaze.
"He's working on a case with Karpowski," she finally said quietly and matched his wry grin with one of her own. "You were not asking very loudly."
He considered her carefully. The last time he'd broached the subject, it admittedly wasn't the time or place. But looking at her now, the downturn of her mouth that was slight enough to miss if he wasn't so aware of her facial expressions, he found himself sucking in the air to speak.
Her gaze darted to his, staying there just long enough to take in the just visible concern in his face before deciding to answer. "Yes and no."
Kate's voice was so quiet, Rick wasn't even really sure he heard her, but her sigh told him he had heard her and correctly. She had regrets when it came to her break up with Demming.
"I really shouldn't have started dating him," she said quietly. "It wasn't fair to him."
Well, he really couldn't argue that point now, could he? Demming would have never made the move if Rick had stepped up when the other detective had asked if there was a flag on the play. He looked down into the coffee he was still stirring, long after he could have stopped. "I didn't really think you'd say yes," he said.
Her hazel eyes were confused when she looked away from Demming and Karpowski. "What?"
"He asked about us. If there was an us, if I was going to make a move... He asked if there was a flag on the play and I said no." Rick shrugged. "I couldn't lie and say yes because I'd made almost all of the moves and you side-stepped every one. And I couldn't... He seemed like a really good guy. It was obvious you liked having him around."
Kate just kept watching him with careful eyes, taking the cup he held out for her. She wasn't quite sure how she felt about it, honestly. She understood why Rick would say 'no', wouldn't say that he wanted her like he'd made perfectly clear since his return. Yet, at the same time… didn't that mean he'd given his blessing to the relationship? Then why on earth had he acted like a child that had lost his favourite toy when she and Tom had started dating?
Rick set to work preparing his own cup just to keep his hands busy and his gaze from just wandering aimlessly. There were a few moments of silence and Kate was just preparing to speak when, as if realizing she hadn't planned on it, he continued. "That was enough for me. I didn't expect him to be on so many cases after that, to be here so often, to stick to you like glue. I didn't expect him to start taking my place."
"You were jealous," she spoke up quietly.
"Of course I was," he acknowledged quietly. "He had you and I didn't and I'd been around so much longer. I'd never made a secret of how much I wanted you and you knew I did."
She didn't have to acknowledge that. Of course she knew and she knew when he'd offered his home as her own that it went well beyond just wanting her body. In the weeks following that explosion, he hadn't made a move. It really wasn't until she'd found a new place that he went back to the shameless flirting. Everything had been subtle, small. And it was the small things that had started tearing down her resistance.
He was dangerous, most especially to her heart. She wasn't stupid or blind and she knew. Them, together, would have been a long term thing, not just a quick night, not just a quick fling, and her fear had stemmed from the fear that they could break. It wouldn't be a quick meaningless affair because they knew way too much about each other to make it simple. It would be messy and complicated and that was the thing that terrified Kate the most. He had the most power to hurt her and he had from the moment she'd shared the story of her mother's murder with him.
"He was safe," she admitted. "Comfortable."
"And I'm not?"
Oh, that was a loaded question. "Do I feel safe with you on a physical level? Yes, no question. Even emotionally and mentally… you're one of my closest friends. The rest of it... You're so far from safe, Rick. You have to know that."
He knew he couldn't give her guarantees. He couldn't promise her he'd always be around, that they were going to be perfect for each other for the rest of their lives. He couldn't promise her smooth sailing, no fighting... And he'd bet as much as she talked about being comfortable and secure that wasn't what she wanted. What he could promise her was fun, laughter, family. He could promise her support. He could promise her the solid bedrock he was.
Originally, Rick had opened his mouth to argue, to try and change her mind, but then closed it again. He couldn't change her mind, not with words, not now. Neither of them were prepared to take that next step. They were still fighting their way through their return to their friendship. So instead, he cleared his throat slightly and she looked to him. His deep blues held hers relentlessly. "You have to know that you're not safe either, Kate." Then he shrugged. "The good things rarely are."
She started. She'd never really thought of it that way. She'd never considered that her insecurities could be mirrored in his psyche. They weren't identical, they couldn't be because they didn't have the same pasts, the same relationship history. But if he had the ability to tear her heart to pieces, it was painfully obvious to her at that moment that she had the same ability. She could break him, utterly and completely. She could shatter his heart the same way he could destroy hers.
Finally, he released her gaze, looking away. "It hurt to see you with him. It hurt to be shoved aside. So I ran."
Kate swallowed thickly. "Your ex-wife?"
"I don't exactly function well when I'm by myself for long periods of time," he said with a self-deprecating chuckle, eyes darting around the room but staying away from her. "With you happy with Demming... I needed company and she wanted to nag me about the book."
"But you ended up there by yourself anyway," she pointed out.
"True," Rick admitted easily. "I think we both realized that there was a good reason we divorced. And being in the Hamptons by myself was better than being there with her, really." He paused. "I didn't take Gina to get back at you."
She believed that. He wasn't cruel and she had pretty much made it clear that she could do better than him. She'd had Demming, a sweet, stable, reliable guy that would move heaven and earth to make her happy. But then again, there was Rick. Unstable, definitely, but as she'd come to realize Rick was sweet and he'd do more than move heaven and earth for her. He'd do anything for her and though he'd told her that in the context of her mother's case, she truly believed that anything she asked of him, he'd do. Even if it meant walking away.
"I know," she said.
"And when we started talking again…" He shrugged. "I don't want to break us. Things were too fresh when I sent you that text for me to just come racing back and expect you to let me in with open arms."
It was her turn to look away from him, letting her eyes trail Demming's path back to the elevator. It wasn't until the doors slid closed and Demming was out of sight and out of the bullpen that she spoke. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" he asked, cocking his head to the side even though his eyes stayed on the swirling brown liquid in his cup.
She reached out, settling a hand on his forearm so he looked up at her. "Because I can't trust you with what you want from me."
"You will," he said, his voice full of conviction but not arrogance. "We'll learn. We can't go back, Kate. Neither of us can go back. And we're both moving forward, whether we know it or not."
Kate's heart sped up, thumping against her chest. He seemed so sure that it would happen, that things between them were inevitable.
"You're already trusting me," he pointed out logically with a smile that was there, but didn't reach his eyes. "And I'm already trusting you again."
With that, he took his coffee and left the break room. Kate watched him, his even, measured strides to Esposito and Ryan. She took her time, finishing half of her own coffee before making her way to her desk.
So it had been his turn to share his emotions, his thoughts, his pain. It merely cemented her previous realization that neither one of them were solely at fault. Instead, they'd both missed cues. They'd both been late with their lines. For six months, they'd been on different pages. But his return had changed that. It had taken them time and very careful steps, but they were learning that new dance. And she had to admit, she felt like she was normal, even more so as she took in her desk. There were little signs of him everywhere, his favourite candy stashed beside her gummy bears in her top drawer, the ring left by his coffee mug now back on her desk. He had two pens he was territorial about in the cup on her desk. Her lunches routinely just popped up on the corner, whether he was sitting in his chair or not. And his chair was now consistently occupied.
Kate was struck with the idea that he was right, that they were both starting to rebuild that trust. But more than that, even she had to admit, if only to herself, that it was getting harder and harder to keep him at arm's length. She found herself falling back into regular routines with him, regular bickering. They were returning to thinly veiled innuendoes mixed in with seamless theory building. And that was only in person. When it came to their texting, something they'd continued to do, they told more. She found it so much easier to tell him some of her deeper, more personal thoughts over text, not having to deal with his reaction outside of his replies.
His conviction that they could be more was simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. Comforting, because it was nice to have someone like Rick Castle still panting over her regardless of what they'd been though and because as much as she kept it deep down within her, she liked the idea of their relationship being inevitable. She liked it a lot. But there was one question still ringing loudly in her ears and it was one she didn't have the answer to, the one that was holding her back:
Was she ready?
She watched Rick for a moment, observed him joking with Ryan and Esposito, looking perfectly at home standing there. She found herself smiling slightly. No. No she wasn't ready, but if their discussion was any indication, he was willing to wait for her to be ready, for her to trust him with everything.
Kate looked down just as Rick looked her way, watching with an affectionate smile as she dug into her paperwork, the coffee he'd made just for her steaming at her elbow. He hadn't lied to her, not once through his confessions. But he recognized her reluctance and couldn't fault her. He had his own reservations about a relationship between them considering where they were now. They were both afraid, mostly of destroying the solid friendship between them. And that, he knew, was what they'd both been referring to when it came to the safety of their hearts. Friendship was one thing, but they'd proven to themselves and to each other that they were too entrenched in each other's lives to feel completely comfortable with the idea of things between them falling to dust. Their kind of deep friendship was a lot to sacrifice.
And Rick knew Kate had to be absolutely sure. He didn't. So much of his life had been a risk, a chance. There were a few things he did not risk, Alexis being one of them, now Kate really being the other, but when it came to him? He was willing to put it all on the line. Especially for Kate. So he'd bide his time, ensure that he was such a big part of her life that Kate had no choice but to trust him with her heart. He'd be her hero, the one who stayed, the one who supported her through thick, thin, and everything in between. It would be her move, her choice and when he was sure, he'd push her over that edge.
For now, he was comfortable in knowing another one of their barriers had been pushed away. She'd had her say, and now, he had his. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start, and for the time being, it was enough.
Chapter 7: Easier Over Text
This Formatting is Rick's texts; This Formatting is Kate's texts
He was stuck.
Thoroughly and effectively and he didn't quite know what to do. He'd gotten himself into a bit of a pickle, Nikki and Rook determined not to get along with him at this juncture of his writing and he was about ready to scream. Well, in his head of course. Because he didn't scream out loud in frustration. He'd tried everything up to this point, rewriting the plan, going over the plan, adding, taking away, writing a different scene – well, four or five, actually – bouncing ideas off of his daughter, ice cream… everything. And he still had nothing.
He huffed out a breath. He hated having nothing. Actually, he hated having nothing and not being able to get the cobwebs out of his head more. Then, it came to him. What was the best way to get rid of writer's block when it came to Nikki Heat? Get input from her alter ego. So he picked up his phone, his fingers moving swiftly over the touch screen.
What's your guilty pleasure comfort activity?
He'd sent the message before he really thought about it. Because that was his problem, he decided. Nikki was going through a rough patch and for Rook to show that he cared about her, that he paid attention to her, he'd have to know Nikki's one guilty pleasure that no one, besides maybe her family, knew. He'd have to know the one activity above all else that would soothe Nikki's tired and battered soul.
His phone chimed only moments later and he grinned. It was almost proof that she kept her phone next to her at all times. He did too, mostly because he never knew when she was going to send him some little nugget of knowledge, but it made him feel better to know hers was just as close at hand.
You know the answer to that.
Rick's eyebrow arched upwards. He knew the answer? He knew what she did when she was having a bad day, but that was easy. She'd basically told him, more than once, that her way of coming down from a rough day was a hot bath, a glass of wine and a good book.
Not your usual routine, your guilty pleasure.
It was seconds before the response came through.
If I told you, it wouldn't be my guilty pleasure, would it?
He arched an eyebrow. It dropped when he remembered she couldn't see it. A guilty pleasure is not a secret by definition.
Her playful reply came quickly. But if I just told you it would take all the fun out of the discovery.
He could almost see her laughing as she typed it out, probably on her couch – because he refused to imagine her in her bed at the moment – probably with decaf because of the late hour. They'd had enough of these conversations over the course of the last two months for him to have figured out her evening routine.
I do believe you've just issued a challenge.
Rick's heart speed up in anticipation of finding out something new about Kate Beckett.
Oh? She had to know she issued the challenge. She had to.
I propose 20 questions. He figured since he knew so much about her that her guilty pleasure wouldn't be too difficult to unearth.
I want the rules up front .
He chuckled. More than once over the summer they'd been playing one of these games when he'd abruptly changed the rules on her. He'd done it deliberately, just to get a rise out of her. His fingers flew over the phone.
I can ask any question, yes or no, or open-ended.
It was a little bit longer before the next text came through. It didn't surprise him. They were more honest whenever they delved into personal things through text and she inevitably took longer to compose her reply - or gather her courage, he still wasn't quite sure which – before she replied. With how guarded she was normally, he could understand her reluctance.
I can pass if I don't want to answer .
He'd been expecting that. And he was more than willing to give it to her. He didn't want to make her uncomfortable, he never did. He knew that she would give him all the information she was ready to give.
I have to do it in 20 questions. He typed to her.
You're limiting yourself?
He knew it would surprise her. He rarely put limits on any kind of questions he asked her. In fact, usually he avoided putting limits on, danced around, and found loopholes. But he'd cultivated his own way of keeping her on her toes over the summer and one of those ways was to continuously do things that she thought were out of character.
It wouldn't be a challenge if I didn't have a limit.
It was a few moments before the next response. He could almost picture her chewing her lip, running through the possible scenarios of playing twenty questions with him. If you don't get it in 20 questions you can't pester me about it.
Usually, he would tease her, start pestering her now, but this wasn't their usual situation. This was as much for Nikki Heat – though he was really only looking for inspiration as to what Heat would do and wouldn't use her actual answer in his book – as it was about learning something. He'd discovered that to get pieces of Kate, he had to treat them like precious gifts.
So he typed back, If I do get it right, you have to be honest and tell me.
She was smart enough to know that it wasn't that he didn't trust her, but that she had the option of lying. He can't see her face or hear her voice.
Deal, the next message read. Anything else?
He didn't think twice before his next text. I promise to never use your exact guilty pleasure for Nikki Heat or tease you about it later.
He knew the Nikki Heat part really wasn't necessary but it showed her how seriously he was taking the conversation. They'd both used Nikki Heat too often as an excuse to ask questions or avoid answers and he wanted to make sure that it wasn't an out this time. Still, he waited for her permission to ask his first question. He grinned when the phone chimed.
He paused then, both giddy that she was willing to play and very carefully considering his next move. Twenty questions was not a lot when it came to Kate Beckett and while his goal was to learn her guilty pleasure, he wasn't above using it as an opportunity to just learn more about her in general.
Does your guilty pleasure stem from your childhood? He was taking a risk, asking a question with so many facets and so many answers, but he figured if she passed or brushed the question off, he'd have a threshold.
You don't pull punches, do you?
She was thinking of her mother. He knew that and he'd known in asking the question that it was likely it would be a reminder. And, regardless of how they'd rebuilt their friendship, her mother was still very much off limits. You have the option to pass.
He was almost sure she was going to take it, so he was surprised at her response.
It wasn't a guilty pleasure when I was a child.
Rick thrilled at the fact that she'd actually answered the question, and with more detail than he'd anticipated. Whatever her guilty pleasure was, it was usually considered childish.
Is it a food or an activity?
Part of him was thrilled at the new challenge, part of him wanted to groan. What kind of food?
You can't just ask!
He chuckled. No. Is it greasy food, baked goods, take out…
Baked goods, and that counts as a question.
Rick considered arguing with her over that, but eventually let it go. He still had sixteen questions left to ask. So he set his mind to the possibilities. It wasn't donuts, she got those on a regular basis at the precinct. It wasn't cake. Just last month he'd brought a cake into the precinct to celebrate Esposito's birthday and Kate had turned down every offer of cake, including from the birthday man himself. He eliminated fancy baked goods. Kate was too down-home to spoil herself with something like éclairs. Though, he made a mental note to bring some by sometimes soon, just to see if she liked them.
Is it a couch activity?
The reply came swiftly, so much so that he hadn't even set down his phone or looked away from the screen. I'm not Nikki Heat.
He laughed, heartily. Not what I was referring to, Detective. But if you ever need a partner for that…
It is an activity I usually do on my couch. Apparently she was going to ignore the innuendo.
He chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment, his brain already spinning. Is that because all of the requisite materials are by your couch?
And I don't like crumbs in my bed.
He pursed his lips at the message. Did you just deliberately give me a hint? Do you want me to figure out what your guilty pleasure is, Kate? It was a long message, but he was intrigued now.
I pass on both questions. Twelve left, Castle.
He paused. Okay. This baked good… do you eat it often?
It doubles as an excellent post burger dessert .
Rick's brain went haywire. He tried to focus. He closed his eyes, picturing the last time they'd had a burger. He actually remembered it pretty vividly. They were in the middle of a case, and he'd gone on a food run. It was Ryan's turn, but the detectives were knee deep in records and things that usually bored him. He'd volunteered. The team had torn apart the bags when he'd returned searching for their orders and biting into their meals with relish. When the meal was over, Kate had gone digging in the bags again, looking for her dessert.
Cookies. He typed. But there are a million kinds of cookies! He knew she'd pick up on the whining and vaguely found himself wondering if she could hear it, like he could hear her voice, picture her face…
There wasn't a question there .
No, and he'd done it deliberately. If he'd come to the conclusion, he wasn't about to use a question to clarify something he already knew. Plus, eleven questions left and he'd just realized that he hadn't spent any time in her new place. He had no idea what kind of furniture was around her couch.
Is your guilty pleasure similar to your regular post-bad case routine?
He knew that one inside out and backwards. A long hot bath with a book and a couple of glasses of wine. He'd been privy to that one more than once in her time in his apartment and she'd mentioned it during stressful times.
Short, sweet answer that intrigued him and simultaneously drove him nuts.
Movie or TV? Though admittedly it could be something like crosswords, magazines, tabloid surfing…
She was a fan of mystery novels, so horror and psychological thrillers raced through his head, but he'd bet they didn't have the same explanation of why as the novels did. That, and she saw enough real gore on a regular basis, he had a hard time believing she'd want to see the fake stuff when things were really bad. And with all of the logical rational thought she dealt with on a day-to-day basis, he couldn't believe she'd choose something that required deep thought. Light-hearted, fun, useless… that was more likely her choice. His brow wrinkled as he tried to puzzle it out.
Is the whole thing from your childhood? Or just the food?
This time, there were a few more minutes between question and answer. With how forthcoming she'd been about the cookies, he realized that the real guilty pleasure was the movies, not the food. If it had been both, she would have been quick to answer. If it had been the movie, she'd have been quicker to answer.
The movie, came the reply. He'd been right.
But that didn't necessarily narrow it down. There were plenty of childhood movies out there, cartoon and not. The list was virtually endless and he only had eight questions left. He chewed his cheek for a moment.
Her reply was quick. Is there any other kind?
He laughed. Alexis too was defensive of Disney. Ever been to Disney World?
There was a moment before her reply and he grinned. He'd caught her off guard. When I was really little.
I'll take you sometime. Alexis loves it. It was a really easy offer for Rick to make. The picture of her, surrounded by the childish characters with a bright grin on her face was too much to pass up. Regardless of the fact that their friendship was just finding stable ground again – though their partnership hadn't really changed much – he wanted to keep building. Offering to take her somewhere wasn't anything new in their relationship either.
He grinned at her response. I refuse to wear the ears.
She wasn't turning him down flat. He liked the possibility of taking her on a trip. A lot. He tapped his phone on his thigh for a minute before shooting off his next question, deciding to leave the trip discussion for another time. Is it just a movie?
Nothing's just a movie anymore.
He had to give her that. So what other mediums?
Play. Book. Movie. And a number of TV versions.
He found himself chuckling slightly at the list. It didn't leave much out. And Disney had taken advantage of diversifying their portfolio into more merchandising of everything.
Have you ever seen the play?
He was almost sure Kate would pass with the amount of time it took for him to get a reply. Which was why he was so shocked when there was more than a simple four-letter word.
My parents took me for my birthday.
Parents. Plural. So her mother had still been alive when she'd seen it. Knowing Kate, however, there was a distinct possibility that she was eighteen or more when she saw the play. Disney was timeless, as Alexis routinely reminded him every time she put The Little Mermaid into the DVD player.
Did you like it?
I loved it.
He was trying to think of his next question when his phone chimed with another text from Kate. Two questions left.
Huh. He hadn't realized he'd been running down his questions so fast. He took a minute, trying to puzzle out where he wanted to go with his last couple of questions. He had to get it right or he'd never get it out of her. Not that he needed the answer for his writing. His mind was already spinning with ideas for Nikki and Rook but knowing Kate's guilty pleasure, her utterly horrible day cure, was worth everything. He wasn't sure he'd ever get this kind of chance, this kind of insight into the extraordinary woman.
But here, he had two options. One, he could go for broke, ask a couple of questions that would definitely tell him which Disney movie she was referring to and win the game. But there was another part of him that didn't want to do that. He liked the question game, he liked learning about Kate, but he'd also grown to like doing both of those things on her terms. There was a part of him that just basically wanted her to tell him. But there was another layer to it too. Knowing her guilty pleasure was one thing, but knowing why it was her guilty pleasure, why it was her only comfort in her darkest moments…
Her text back was instantaneous. Why what?
Why do you do it? Why is it your guilty pleasure? He sent the message, then paused and sent another one. And neither of those count as a question.
He fully expected the long pause this time. He also kind of expected her to avoid it.
Because it reminds me not everyone is jaded. There's true innocence in the world.
It wasn't the first time human innocence had come up in their conversations and he found himself smiling affectionately, even though she wasn't anywhere near. Kate Beckett had seen a lot in her life, and most of it when she was still relatively young. Then, she'd chosen a profession that definitely did not show her the lighter side of the world. It was a true admission, and the only response that would keep her from closing down would be witty humour.
Is that why you like me so much?
You are far from innocent, Rick. And you've used up all of your questions.
He, once again, debated arguing with her, telling her that it was unfair. It took almost all of his will power because he knew he could probably figure out the answer to the real question with just one more question, one more inquiry. But, a deal was a deal and he'd probably gotten more out of her than he would have if he'd gotten the answer right.
Another time then. It's served its purpose. Now Rook can help Heat through a tough time.
With the time it took for Kate to reply, he was pretty sure she'd walked away from the phone. He'd turned to his laptop, fingers already flying over the keys, losing himself in the story when his phone chimed.
He usually does.His heart swelled as he read the words.Goodnight, Rick.
And he lost himself in his work. The words flew out of his fingers, to the point where he was almost sure he wasn't going to be able to type as fast as his mind was working. It was exactly what he'd been hoping for when he'd texted Kate to begin with. It was the exact kick to his imagination that left his heart racing and his brain whirling.
He'd been working for a while, exactly how long, he really wasn't sure, when his phone started ringing and vibrating across his desk. His brow wrinkled, this time in confusion, as he took in the name on his caller display. "Hey," he said quietly, friendly. Silence greeted him, so he spoke again. "Kate?"
"Beauty and the Beast and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies."
It was so soft, he almost didn't hear it. Rick felt his heart rate speed up. He'd gotten it wrong and she was under no obligation to tell him, yet she'd called anyway to give him the information.
"When I was little," she went on, voice still quiet, "I got really, really sick. At least that's what my mom and dad used to tell me. The only thing I would watch was Beauty and the Beast. My mom used to tell me it was always her favourite."
He could understand that, in a way. Whenever Alexis was upset, he caught her reading Madeline a book he'd read to her ad nauseum when she was a young child. The fact that Beauty and the Beast was Johanna Beckett's favourite also spoke volumes of the woman on the other end of the phone. He didn't say anything for a moment, waiting to see if she'd go on. It was only when she didn't that he spoke. "And the cookies?"
There was a bit of a self-deprecating laugh. "That's solely my dad," Kate said, "And I kind of discovered the comfort by accident."
There was another silence. "I'm listening, Kate." He heard her suck in a deep breath and wondered for a moment if she was going to ask him to let it go.
"After my mom's death, my father… lost himself."
He knew that. Her father's alcoholism was the reason his daughter didn't do much drinking. He couldn't fault her for that and he could understand it.
"There was one really early morning when I woke up from a nightmare, and I went downstairs. I was at home for a holiday or something, took some time off…. Anyway, he was down there and he had a bag of cookies open with a glass of milk. That was the day he told me he was going to get better. He said he was going to make the switch. Instead of alcohol, he was going to eat cookies and milk. Apparently that was his childhood cure all."
Rick felt his heart constrict.
"But it didn't become my thing until later. I didn't even realize I was doing it. Then… it just sort of happened."
He waited a moment, closing his eyes against the awe that threatened to clog his throat. "Thank you," he said quietly, almost reverently. "Thank you for sharing that with me."
For a moment, all he could hear was her soft breath. "Thank you for wanting to know. Goodnight, Rick."
There was something in her voice that made his heart speed up. "Sweet dreams, Kate."
He was completely oblivious to the wide grin that had stretched across his face, but not to the progress they'd quite obviously made. A few months ago, he would have had to pester her for weeks before she finally told him, irritation and exasperation loud in her voice. This, however, was so much better. She'd told him of her own volition, called him herself without him asking, pestering… It spoke volumes to how far they'd come.
And now he was excited to see where they were going to go.
Chapter 8: Touch
Upon his return in the fall, Rick had started coming in earlier, spending the day at the precinct, bringing his laptop and periodically – when inspiration struck – disappearing into a conference room or the break room to write. While Kate had initially been taken off guard by his almost constant presence at the precinct, not to mention his ability to "zone out", as it were, and accomplish some of his own work amidst the clamor and mayhem that was often the Twelfth, she had quickly gotten used to his new habits. In fact, it had almost become a routine for her to take her paperwork wherever he was, inexplicably soothed by the constant rhythm of his fingers moving over the keys.
But today, for the first time in weeks, he was late.
He'd been unexpectedly detained that morning, first by his daughter and an impromptu parent-teacher interview about summer programs, then by his mother and some sort of plumbing-related crisis at home. But when he rushed through the elevator doors and into the home of his favorite homicide team, it didn't take long to realize that the real crisis was there in the bullpen. The usual blur of activity that was the twelfth precinct was alarmingly sedate. The boisterous, and often inappropriate, commentary of the fellow detectives and officers – to which Castle had become affectionately accustomed – today, was at a barely audible hum. Ryan and Esposito both had their heads down, the Captain's door was suspiciously closed, and even the normally exuberant Karpowski seemed subdued. Castle did a quick scan of the bullpen looking, to no avail, for Kate's familiar dark head. He stopped short at Esposito's desk.
"What's with this place?" he asked, arms crossed over his chest casually and his hip propped against the corner of the desk. "Man, it's like someone died or something," he said with a grin, trying to inject some levity. "Get it? 'Someone died?'" he prodded, supplying the air quotes. "See, 'cause this is homicide and…OK, forget it." His glance shifted back and forth between the two detectives, and when his quip fell upon unamused ears, he knew the situation was serious.
Both detectives glanced at each other before fixing their eyes on Rick.
"What did you do, Castle?" Esposito asked, his eyes narrowed accusingly.
"What did I do?" he responded, eyebrow arching upwards. Though Esposito's question revealed little, it was enough to tell him that the tension in the bullpen was stemming from Kate. "Nothing. I haven't seen her since I left yesterday."
In fact, he hadn't even talked to her. He'd spent the night with his daughter and his book research. Though most of it was done during the day, the intricacies of writing a book were things that could only be accomplished outside of the office, without distractions.
"Well, she's cranky," Ryan said, obviously disgruntled.
"To say the least," Esposito added quietly.
"Well, it's not my doing," Rick repeated. His eyes strayed to the break room, the only place he hadn't looked upon first entering the bullpen, and sure enough, there she was – her head bent forward and her hair shielding her face from his view. What he could see were her hands, moving swiftly. Coffee. Of course she was making coffee. "You think it's safe?" he asked Esposito without taking his eyes off the detective.
"You going to listen to us if we say no?"
That was an excellent point, one he acknowledged with a wry smile before heading off in the direction of the break room. He leaned quietly against the door when he reached it, just watching her elegant hands moving swiftly and competently, seemingly delicate hands that could soothe the wounded soul of a victim's family with a comforting touch, but could take down a perp with an awe-inspiring ferocity. Looking at those hands now, he could easily see she was tense. Extremely tense.
"Good morning," he greeted quietly, hoping the soft tones of his voice wouldn't startle her. But they did, nonetheless, and she jumped suddenly, jarring the mug from her hands. He winced as coffee went spilling all down the front of her white button-down shirt, the mug clattering to the ground. Rick braced himself for the inevitable outburst - yelling, screaming even, an expletive or two directed at him for sneaking up on her like that. But all he heard was dead silence, followed by the harsh sound of her cool and measured steps as she brushed by him and briskly headed away. He didn't try to detain her. Instead, after watching her disappear, he set about cleaning up the mess, a concerned expression tightening his features.
His mind was a whirl as he headed back to her desk, to his chair. What was going on? She wasn't yelling or screaming. No, her emotions were cold, detached in a way that was so unlike the Kate he'd returned home to. He didn't like this version of Kate, and he couldn't help his own emotional reaction to her seeming frustration and obvious emotional turmoil. He waited twenty interminable minutes after he'd cleaned up her coffee before allowing the worry and concern to overwhelm him. He tapped his fingers anxiously on Kate's desk as he turned to face Esposito and Ryan.
"Where would she go?"
It was Ryan who looked up. "Dude, you know her better than I do."
"But I don't know what kind of bad habits she's picked up in my absence," Rick responded. But before he'd even finished his statement, a thought struck him. Did he know her habits? Where had she taken him to have a private conversation about cherries and bad decisions?
In an instant, he was on his feet, grabbing her coat from her chair, realizing with startling clarity where she was and how damned cold it was outside. Then he was taking the stairs two at a time, racing past the gym and up to the roof. Sure enough, there was a prop in the doorway and he very carefully opened the door. He found himself holding his breath as he rearranged to stone she'd used to ensure they could regain access to the building. When he finally turned to seek her out, he found her immediately, standing at the edge of the roof, the same place she'd stood while telling him how much he'd hurt her.
This time, however, there was far more distress evident in her slumped stance. Her head was bent forward, arms wrapped tightly around her body, her fingers pressing firmly into her back. And as he stepped nearer, he felt his heart clench as he caught the subtle movement of her shoulders shaking. She was crying. Kate Beckett was crying. In that moment, the gravity of the situation struck him. Kate Beckett didn't cry. Ever. Especially not at work.
With great care, he approached her hunched form, sliding her jacket over her shoulders and leaving his large hands curled around the deceptively delicate bones. At his first touch, she stiffened beneath his hands, but he refused to relinquish her, refused to let her deal with whatever this was by herself. Finally, a real sob broke free and Rick did the only thing he knew how to do when a woman was crying:
He pulled her into a hug.
She resisted initially, trying to maneuver herself out of his grip, but her arms were pinned between her body and his and his grip was solid around her back. Rick knew the risk he was taking, invading her physical space as completely as he was now, but seeing her so broken tore at too many of his heartstrings for him to worry about anything other than offering her physical support. He almost stumbled when she finally relaxed in his hold, stiffening his body to keep them upright. And then he just pulled her more tightly to him. In an instant, his world expanded, then narrowed until it was just them. The sounds of the city traffic below them faded into the background and barriers fell. It was just Rick and Kate, his strong arms surrounding her, her warm tears against his neck, and the soft, heart-rending sounds of her cries in his ears.
He adjusted her so that her forehead was nestled against his neck and rested his cheek against her hair. He remained quiet, choosing instead to simply stroke a gentle hand in small circles over the small of her back, holding her as tightly as he could as she continued to cry. After several moments, she began to shift in his embrace, attempting to free her restrained arms from between their bodies. Assuming that she was overwhelmed at the fierceness of his grip, Rick loosened his hold on her. Her face turned up toward his, the early afternoon sun highlighting the tracks of her tears, and as he looked down into her eyes – red and swollen as they were – he knew he'd never see a more beautiful face. He offered her a small smile. She didn't return it, but what she did do surprised him all the more. Slowly, tentatively, she snaked her now-free arms around his waist, returning to his embrace, her head to his shoulder and her palms pressed flat against the small of his back.
His eyes widened in surprise. And in that moment, with that small surrender, Rick knew. He realized he'd probably always known. What they had now – this equilibrium – would never be enough between them. He wanted more. He wanted everything. And he wanted it with this woman in his arms. This woman who was, quite literally, breaking in front of his eyes.
Rick didn't say a word through the entirety of her tears, simply wrapped her close, wrapped her tight, giving her the strength her knew she desperately needed at that moment. He didn't need to ask any questions, just remind her that he was there for her, and she could take comfort from him.
When Kate's soft sobs finally slowed to a stop, he remained quiet, her body continuing to tremble against his, her arms wrapped firmly around him. For his part, he was content to stay as they were – pressed tightly together – for however long she needed.
"It's her birthday."
The words were mumbled against his neck, barely audible, but he had been listening closely in what he though was a futile hope for some sort of explanation or admission, and when it finally came, he was humbled by the poignant truth in her confession. He wasn't completely sure what to say, wasn't sure he wanted to say anything at all, and he certainly didn't need her to clarify who the "her" was. There was only one thing that tore at her this way – Johanna Beckett.
"How old is she?" Since Kate had referred to her mother in the present tense, he followed her lead.
"Fifty-eight," she responded quietly, sucking in a shaking breath. "She would have been fifty-eight."
She was still wrapped in his arms and he wasn't planning on releasing her until she asked for it. He wanted her to know that she didn't have to suffer through this alone, and somehow, through their physical connection, he felt as though he was imparting some of his strength to her. After another few minutes, he spoke again.
"Kate, why don't you take the day off?"
She pulled away, and he let her go. He was surprised, however, when she only went as far as her straightened arms. He knew the question had been a risk to ask, but knew all the same that he had to ask it. It was obvious to him that to make it through this day – every year – was a struggle for her, that there were memories of her childhood and teenage years, both joyous and melancholy, flooding her brain and her mind's eye.
"I don't need to take a day off," she stated adamantly.
"No," he acquiesced carefully, unable to stop his hand from reaching up to tuck a strand of pin straight hair behind her ear. "But maybe it's not about need."
She sighed. "Castle, the only thing I'd do at home is wallow. At least here I can be useful."
"And utterly terrifying, I might add." He attempted to soften the sting of the comment with a cheeky grin. "Esposito thought I was the culprit. Imagine my surprise when I discovered even I couldn't claim responsibility for this particular bout of crankiness." He paused a minute, then continued more seriously, "They're worried about you, Kate."
"They need to mind their own business."
He tried not to act surprised when she tucked her body against his again.
"You are their business," he spoke softly, "and they care." He pressed the very lightest of kisses against her hair, unable to stop himself. "I'm sure the captain would give you the day."
"C'mon," he cajoled, "I'll even let you use me as an excuse. I'm hatching a plan to break into the Cezanne exhibit at the Met, and I need to case the joint tonight. You can stay with me, keep me out of trouble."
"'Case the joint'? That's your story?" she asked dubiously.
"Oh yeah. Gotta case. I'm a big time caser."
"Sure you are, Castle," she replied, her eyes downcast. "Listen, thank you, but I don't need an excuse."
He knew that. Actually, he knew why she was so unwilling to take the day off. So he shifted, nudging his shoulder against her cheek until she lifted her head. Then his hands cupped her face, thumbs caressing her smooth cheeks, and looking intently into her eyes he spoke the truth. "It's not against the rules to remember," he whispered. "It's not against the rules to miss her. And it's not against the rules to want to cry about it or to be upset about it." His voice was stronger now, more commanding. "It doesn't make you weak, Kate."
They stood there for a moment, Rick searching her face, taking in her red-rimmed eyes – her expression a mixture of vulnerability and the underlying strength he admired more and more with each passing day.
"Break into the Met, you say?" she finally said quietly.
"And you don't really want me to get in trouble, do you Detective?" he quipped back, the corners of his mouth lifting in a teasing smile.
She released her grip, sliding her arms out from around his waist. "As much fun as it would be to arrest you – again – I guess that wouldn't be the kind of publicity the mayor's looking for."
He snorted. "It's nice to know you're looking out for me."
"Are you kidding?" Kate replied with her own inelegant snort. "Your reputation reflects on mine now. At least if I'm the one arresting you, I'll be making good on a threat," she concluded with a smile of gratitude. He had effortlessly and effectively lightened the mood – her mood – and for that she was thankful. She slid her hands beneath where his were resting on her face and began rubbing under her eyes. She knew her face was red, probably blotchy too, but she was cautiously optimistic that she could brush it off as the effects of the cold air. She had, after all, headed to the roof in the middle of November without so much as a coat.
"Mascara?" she asked, while still swiping at the delicate skin beneath her eyes.
"Whatever brand you use deserves an award," Rick responded, already knowing what she was asking. "Not a smudge."
She smiled slightly, the best she could do under the circumstances, and stepped away from his warm body. He followed her back down the staircase to the precinct and took his seat at her desk while she headed off in the direction of Captain Montgomery's office. Rick was confident that he'd done all he could do. He'd offered her an out, a distraction, and he'd offered her support. She'd taken the latter, and his only choice was to be patient while he waited to see if she'd accept the former. He looked up as he heard her heels against the floor.
"The captain's letting me go," she said quietly. She slid her hands into her pockets, and he vaguely wondered if she'd done so to keep from reaching out to him. Then she lowered her voice even further, so Rick was straining to hear. "Let's go to the Met."
As he escorted her excitedly through the museum, Rick knew he'd made the right decision in bringing her here. The pinch in her brow had relaxed, the long line of her body was free from the tension he'd seen in it earlier, and she'd even chuckled at some of his antics. Still, though, he could tell she wasn't completely calm. He'd been easing her into casual touches, but she'd been almost clingy – as compared to their usual amount of physical contact – as they'd gone from exhibit to exhibit. He'd taken her hand more than once to tug her through the various rooms within the museum, and when he would have released her, he found, to his pleasant surprise, that she had no intention of letting go.
Even now, as they were heading to the exit, weaving through the early evening crowd, her hand was still encased warmly in his. They strolled side-by-side in quiet companionship until they exited the museum and made their way down the sidewalk and toward the curb. She pulled at his hand gently, bringing him to a stop, and he turned to face her, a questioning look in his eyes. After a moment, she finally spoke.
"Thank you, Castle. Rick. For everything."
Her voice was quiet, but he heard her clearly, and the earnest look in her eyes told him all the many things for which she thanked him. He looked down at her, his warm smile conveying that he truly understood the depth of her gratitude. "It's the least I could do."
"No, it's not," she replied. "It's….out of your way. It's not something you had to do."
He chuckled quietly. "You know, you're right. What absolute, unmitigated drudgery this day has been, wandering aimlessly through a beautiful museum with an equally beautiful woman on my arm. I don't know how I made it through the day, really." He squeezed her hand firmly, and watched with interest as a brief flush crept over her face when he concluded his statement with a wink.
She had no witty comebacks this time, no clever retort, just the realization that as this day had progressed, something important between them had shifted. Another bridge crossed. Another barrier crumbled. Opening up to him about her mother had been surprisingly easy. He'd made it easy with his quiet support and his respect for her privacy – only accepting the revelations she volunteered and never prying for more than she was ready to give. And for some reason, a reason Kate, for now, refused to name, sharing Johanna Beckett with Castle felt oddly natural.
She allowed him to lead her further down the block, and stayed back while he hailed a cab and gave the driver her address. She took his hand again as they sat in the cab and told herself that it was simply for comfort. But she knew the truth, and suspected that he did also. She enjoyed the feeling of her hand in his, the strength she could feel in his smooth, warm palm. The cab pulled to a stop at the curb of her apartment and Kate looked over at the soft smile on his face. She mirrored his expression with surprising tenderness.
"Thank you, Rick. Again. "she said quietly, and then, on impulse, she leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. He stiffened in shock, and feeling him tense as she lingered in that position, with her mouth hovering over his cheek, Kate felt her own lips twitch into a smile. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said as she reluctantly eased away from his warm body and exited the vehicle.
Rick blinked several times and fell back into the seat as the car door slammed. His eyes followed her familiar silhouette as she headed up the steps to her apartment, and the smile that spread across his face was wide and warm. "My pleasure, Kate," he murmured to himself. "My pleasure."
Chapter 9: A Question of When
Warning: vague Naked Heat spoilers.
Kate slid luxuriously into a warm bath of cherry scented bubbles and let out a thankful sigh. She felt dirtier than usual, a highly unfortunate side-effect of working three straight weeks alongside the pros and cons of the NYPD vice squad. But they cracked their case and caught their guy and Kate took advantage of actually ending her shift on time by running a hot bath and prepping a glass of wine.
But the real piece de resistance was sitting on the edge of the tub beside her wine glass. Two weeks into their case, Castle had presented her with the advance copy of Naked Heat. She'd chuckled to herself at the time, fleetingly thinking of how well Castle had seemed to learn his lesson after Heat Wave. But she'd been touched by the gesture just the same, if only because he'd given it to her right when she was about to blow. The unrepentant smile he'd shot her as he ceremoniously plopped the wrapped package on her desk had told her he knew it too.
Naked Heat caught and held her in the first dozen pages. It was his writing, the weaving of the story, and the parallels she could draw to her own life. She could completely understand Nikki's irritation at letting Rook back into her life and definitely understood the pull once he'd muscled his way back in. She moved to the couch as she read Rook's 'Dr Phil Moment' and couldn't help but smile as she read Nikki's surprised response. It only took someone who knew her and Rick to see the parallels, the dancing, the way he could slide under her walls, learn things about her, and spring them on her when she wasn't expecting it.
Like his others, she hadn't been able to put it down, as much a result of his truly masterful twist of plot as it was because she was enraptured by the tidbits he'd included about the characters. Things like the Blue Wall and loyalty for partnerships and teams, for example, and he'd managed to write Lauren Perry such that Kate could hear Lanie's voice saying the words.
She recognized the story for what it was, the same way she knew that Heat Wave was more than just a novel. After all of the introspection she'd done at the beginning of the summer, she recognized the way Heat and Rook tiptoed around each other, so tentative and unsure, but knowing, knowing, that being together was about more than just chemistry. Nevertheless, she understood the underlying message. Then again, the undercurrents weren't exactly subtle.
And neither was Castle.
She considered it as she lay, curled under her blankets, the book, finished and closed, lying on her bedside table. Naked Heat made it apparent that Rick too saw the fault in both of them. She could see that he'd understood that as angry as he'd been at Demming and probably even at her, that he'd made his own mistakes in dealing with the entirety of the situation. Naked Heat was the next homage to their relationship, both personally and professionally.
It made her feel a little bit better about her decision to accept him back into her life. They were both tentative about each step, a new type of dance they had to learn with only the foundation of their old one, but they were slowly getting back into the groove. They built theory like they'd never been apart, like they didn't have deep-seated issues that needed to be worked out and discussed. They worked cases like a seamless team, too. When it came to their professional relationship, nothing had changed and as much as it had disconcerted her at first, she was glad for it.
Their personal relationship on the other hand, was different. They'd made great strides in their relationship, and she knew she had moments where they toyed with crossing the proverbial line. Which meant Rick probably never stopped thinking about it. And he probed it too. Kate knew he wasn't looking anywhere but at her and it both thrilled and terrified her. Not that she was looking anywhere but at him anyway. Who would when there was someone like Rick Castle eating out of the palm of her hand? But letting someone in especially someone who had hurt her in the past, was a legitimate reason to be scared.
That didn't mean she was backing away. Not this time because this time she recognized how slowly they were moving, and how carefully they were stepping. Neither of them were ready to tip the scales. They were friends, friends that wanted more but were too scared, and rightfully so. Kate was mature enough to know that Rick's own tentativeness came from her responses to his advances in the past and while she still rolled her eyes at his childish antics, still turned him down when he offered dinner in any sort of intimate setting, they both knew she did it with more levity. Really, it just left her wondering when the day would come where she would be ready to say 'yes'. The thought left her smiling as her eyes drifted closed and she let herself dream.
She knew she looked exhausted when she walked into the precinct the next morning, and if she hadn't known, the confused and mildly concerned looks Esposito and Ryan exchanged would have cemented it. It was the same look they often exchanged in the first few weeks after Rick's departure.
"Good morning," she said with an easy, if small, smile. Her desk made her pause, looking down at the steaming coffee, the little bag, and the small thin glass vase that held three brilliant daffodils. She delicately picked up the little piece of card propped on the coffee.
Had to meet my agent about the release party, but I know how cranky you get without caffeine and proper sugary sustenance. Be by soon.
No mention of the flowers, or the vase, but she recognized the statement for what it was. Just in case any other detectives were getting the same idea, the flowers said she was off-limits, that there was already someone buying her flowers. She knew the boys got the reference, assuming Rick hadn't told them when he'd dropped off her little package.
She slid into her chair, looking at the offerings and trying to decide what to do. On one hand, she was glad he'd done it. There had been a part of her seriously wondering if maybe they were going to stop at friendship, if they were going to find their equilibrium and go back to floating. This told her that assuming that had been the wrong thing to do. A smile slid over her face despite everything inside her and she pulled out her phone.
It was a quick message, but she had no doubt that Rick would understand why she was saying it. Then she chewed her lip. Her mother had always said that flowers were more than just a pretty gift. 'Each flower has a meaning, Katie,' she'd say with a smile, 'what a flower symbolizes says more than the flower itself'. Johanna Beckett had always picked her flowers carefully, considering the meanings of them before she bought them. Eventually, Kate gave into her impulse and quickly opened up her browser to Google daffodils while she nibbled at her bear claw. A wider smile and a bit of a blush blossomed over her face as she read the result. Rebirth, new beginnings… those were very fitting. Then her eyes caught on the last definition,
'You're the only one'.
She felt herself shiver, reading the line again. She almost snorted to herself. It was a declaration, one of his intent and she saw it as such. She leaned back in her chair, folding her hands over her stomach and twisting back and forth absently, considering a relationship with Rick Castle. He was many things. He was childish, irritating, and too curious for his own good, but she also knew he was solid. She knew he was loyal, knew that she trusted him with everything but her heart.
Kate found herself asking why. Why was she keeping him at arm's length? It had become almost painfully obvious to her over the last couple of months that he wasn't going anywhere, ever again, unless she blatantly told him to. And she knew those words weren't going to come out of her mouth. One thing she'd realized over his four-month absence was that she needed him in her life, if not as a lover, as a friend. He held pieces of her she'd never given to anyone else. But she wasn't completely comfortable with the idea yet. They'd be risking a lot and she still felt like they were on very shaky ground. If things fell apart, and she lost him, she was pretty sure she'd be losing a big chunk of herself too.
The chime of her phone broke her from her thoughts.
You are more than welcome. My meeting is running long. Lunch?
Kate chuckled to herself. I just ate breakfast.
A donut is not breakfast, he chided in his next message. And Gina's here. This shows no indications of ending.
His publisher's name shot an uncomfortable feeling through her stomach, but she ignored it. Whatever was between them, the woman was his publisher. She was likely to show up at book meetings. She was just puzzling out how to respond when another new message came in.
Better idea. I'll text you when I'm out. Gina's about to blow.
She shook her head, no doubt in her mind that the reason his publisher was about to lose it was his fault. Rick was a big fan of 'poking the bear' so to speak, and she knew that Gina was one of his favourite people to rile up. Irritating people was a game to him, even irritating her. She left the message standing, aware that it didn't matter what she said, he was going to text her when his meeting finished anyway. So she turned her attention back to the pages in front of her, financial reports from the Chard case, and phone records from the Mavis case… She didn't even realize how fast time was passing until she heard a heavy sigh and a dull thump. She jumped, looking over at Rick's chair in surprise and finding him grinning at her.
"I know I told you I'd text you, but I figured I could be more persuasive in person."
Kate arched her eyebrow at him, willing her heartrate to calm. He'd tease her relentlessly if he found out he'd caught her completely off-guard. "It could go either way."
His hand came out to slide over one of the daffodils and she watched him. He seemed contemplative for a moment. Kate kept silent, watching his fingers stroke over the delicate petals, her thoughts about them coming back to her. She was his only one. The thought slammed into her as she realized that beyond the declaration of intent, the flowers meant so much more. They were his way of saying he wasn't going anywhere. She wasn't going to lose him because he wasn't going to let her.
She just barely avoided starting. "What?"
He grinned and the humour sparkled in his eyes. "Lunch. Remember? Oh, wait, probably not since you wouldn't eat if I didn't bring you food or drag you out for regular meals."
She thought about it, probably longer than she should have. For once, it didn't seem like the cute, friendly invitation that it had always been. The flowers, the coffee, the bear claw and now this invitation…. It seemed like something… more. And Kate couldn't find another answer. Nor did she want to.
Rick looked utterly pleased by her agreement and grabbed her coat off of her chair as she stood. "I have just the place," he told her, helping her into her coat, warm hands lingering on her shoulders just long enough to have her pulse jumping.
His hand brushed hers as they strolled in the chilly December air to a nearby burger joint. They'd been to The Works before, and Rick had admitted a craving not only for red meat, but their Roughriders Comeback Burger.
"Caramelized onions, barbeque sauce, cheese and bacon," he told her, eyes teasing over the top of his menu as their waiter jotted down the order. "What more can a guy ask for?"
"A breath mint?" Kate teased in response before choosing the Ho Hum #5, a burger that came loaded with mushrooms, cheddar cheese and bacon.
"Since when do you have mushrooms on your burger?" Rick asked, his brow knitting in confusion.
"Since always," Kate replied, still perusing the menu for a milkshake choice.
"You never have mushrooms on your burger."
"Just because I don't have them on every burger doesn't mean I don't like them," she pointed out, finally settling on an almond fudge shake.
"And two straws," Rick suggested to the man jotting down their order.
"Uh, no," Kate contradicted. "You're not having any of my milkshake."
"I'm buying," he argued.
"I said," Rick shot back, turning to the waiter to once again request two straws and saw the amusement on the young man's face. He knew what question was coming before the man even opened his mouth.
"How long have two been together?"
"We're not," Rick replied, seeing Kate smirk out of the corner of his eye. He knew that smirk. It was her 'I'm-about-to-knock-your-socks-off' Smirk. Then came the words he'd never in a million years thought he'd hear from her.
"Not yet, anyway."
Kate saw his jaw drop and couldn't help the pleasure that flooded her system. One day, soon, she'd be ready for that. She'd be ready for everything. She could see it, knew it, and, well, she was very okay with that idea. It was no longer about 'if' to her. Now, the question was 'when'?
And part of her couldn't wait.
Chapter 10: And One Step Forward
Kate had faced a number of terrifying things in her life.
She'd faced down criminals. She'd met mob bosses head on. She'd chased murderers in killer heels. She'd survived her mother's murder – twice, if you include both the physical and psychological aspects – and she'd survived her father's alcoholism. She survived the Academy. She'd survived having Rick as a partner. Hell, she'd survived prying press and the flashbulbs of paparazzi.
Yet, as Rick walked her down her hallway in the wake of the after party for the premiere of Heat Wave, Kate found she could barely breathe.
Maybe it was the fear that she'd had too much to drink and too much time to think. Maybe it was a fear of knowing that what she was sure would come out of her mouth would irrevocably change their relationship.
And she knew the conversation was coming. She'd known for a while that for them to really move forward, they would actually have to address the past.
So when they made it to her door, Kate faced him.
He was grinning from ear-to-ear because they'd had a fantastic night and an affectionate one, if the constant nearness and frequent touching was any indication. But the grin dropped off his face at the serious look on hers.
"You walked away."
The words were out before she really even processed them. There was a part of her that couldn't believe she actually wanted to have this conversation now. There was another part of her that couldn't help itself. Because for all intents and purposes, despite the press, and the prying eyes, they had acted like a couple. All night. And as much as she'd known for a while that they were inevitable, she knew there was no reason to walk the walk when they couldn't talk the talk.
The alcohol was fueling her lack of filter. It was enough to make her spit out blunt statements – case in point – but be very aware of exactly what she was saying.
And very aware of the stunned look on Rick's face.
"I beg your pardon?"
She wanted to roll her eyes, pretend he was being obtuse, but she knew it wasn't his fault. "Last summer," she replied, turning back to the door. "You walked away from me."
He was still confused by the statement, and if his silence wasn't an indication, the fact that he lingered on the other side of her doorway was. She wanted to laugh at the symbolism because the one time she wouldn't exactly mind him just barreling over her barriers, he was holding back.
"I don't know what that means."
She sighed and dropped her purse and wrap on the couch. "When you left in May. When you hurt me. It hurt because you were walking away from me."
He was adorably confused, and she couldn't blame him. Not really. Because she knew she wasn't exactly making sense.
"I didn't mean to?"
She shook her head, in exasperation or affection she wasn't totally sure. "When you left for the weekend, when I pulled you out of that conference room, I was going to tell you I wanted to go with you."
He was still standing, still outside her door, so she could see the jolt of his reaction along with the surprise he tried to quickly mask.
"It was Esposito's fault, really," she went on, shuffling though her purse, just for something to do. "He pointed out that maybe you weren't around because we were friends. Not that you just wanted to get into my pants but… it wasn't fair to keep parading Demming in front of you and expecting you to sit there and take it."
She sent him a small smile. "Not that you'd given me any real indication of wanting something… permanent, I guess. And I wasn't going to be a weekend fling."
"You were never a weekend fling," he said, and she knew it was because there was a part of him that thought she believed it. She didn't really, but it had acted as such a convenient excuse in the past.
"No. But it was easier." She faced him now, head on, eyes solemn. "Us? We're already great together. I know that. We'll be explosive together. I know that, too. What I don't know is whether or not we'll be forever. And that's the scary part."
His eyes were wide, like he couldn't believe they were having this conversation. It hit her then that maybe he was being subtle, trying to work his way into things. But he was already so far into her life, and so deeply entrenched in her heart, that when he wasn't around she wasn't quite sure which way was up and which was down. And she was in the mood to air all of their dirty laundry.
"I told you once I was a one and done girl. I don't know if that's going to be you. But if we start something-" When we start something, her mind scolded. "I have to be sure that it's not going to end. Because whether I love you or not comes secondary to the fact that I know I need you."
He wasn't moving, still staring. So she kept going.
"My life, the cases, they're my purpose. But you bring that stupid light. You crack jokes, you read my mind, you bring me coffee, you make sure I'm eating. When I'm not sleeping you push and prod until I at least rest. You take the time for me when I don't. But more than that, you know when I'm feeling that way. I don't have to tell you that I'm upset. I don't have to tell you that I'm happy. I don't have to tell you when not to be annoying and when I find it endearing. And I need that."
Well, and she did need him to take care of her, just in those little ways, but she wasn't about to admit that out loud. She had a reputation and an image to uphold, and there wasn't enough alcohol in the world to make her spill those pricey secrets.
"And if we end…. Look, Rick, we're going to crash and burn. Terribly. Murderously. Probably take out at least half of New York with us. And there are things I'm still trying to adjust to, like your public life. Your open nature. This?" She waved at herself, at the way she was spilling her guts. "Not me. But it is you."
And he needed to hear it. She didn't have to say those words for them to come across loud and clear.
He shook his head. "Back up," he said. "Back up to Demming."
To the beginning.
"Tom was good," she replied. "He coached basketball, caught criminals, was good in bed-" She ignored his flinch. "He was safe because I knew he wasn't going to hurt me. He didn't have that past that made me wonder if romantic relationships were his thing. Long-term. And despite how much I was attracted to you, I'd just gotten used to your partnership. I'd just gotten used to you pulling my pigtails. I'd just grown to need it."
His hands were clenched on the doorway, but he listened silently.
"Quite obviously there were still… emotions under the surface or he wouldn't have come to you and asked…" She blew out a breath. "Like you said, there was no flag on the play." She blamed both of them for that. "He wasn't going to upset the apple cart," she said, stealing her own phrase. "He wasn't going to go behind my back and look at my mother's case." The fact that she hadn't told Tom about that case was beside the point. "He knew what the job was like, and I knew he wasn't going to demand more out of me than I was willing to give."
She looked away, to the window she knew held her mother's case file, even if he didn't know it. Was it twisted that her mother's case had become her solace over the summer? "You demand everything."
"You do too," he broke in quietly.
She smiled slightly, because she understood what he meant. She demanded that he understand her job, that he not question when she went into danger, when she had the potential of being killed. She demanded that he hold himself back sometimes, that he tiptoe around what he really wanted to ask. She demanded that he give her space when all he wanted to do was wrap her up in his arms. She demanded he tell her he was going to be there, no matter what, through things he could and couldn't control, for the rest of her life.
He demanded she open up, she share, she allow the emotions through every once in a while. He demanded she take a break, step back, when her habits and successes were predicated on long nights spent staring at a white board. He demanded she stop to get food when she didn't think they had time. He demanded the words she wasn't sure she could say, a faith she wasn't sure she had in her. He demanded her to believe that he wasn't walking away, that it wasn't about Nikki Heat, but about Kate Beckett.
They both demanded truth.
They both demanded faith.
They both demanded unconditional understanding and acceptance.
"I can't promise you everything you want me to," he said softly, finally, but the words carried over to her regardless. "I can't promise you forever, Kate. I can't. Because I can't promise you something when I'm not one hundred percent sure I can keep it. You deserve that."
Truth. Honesty. Values she treasured above everything else.
"I can't promise you I'll always feel secure," she responded. "I can't promise you I won't get mad at your public life." Though admittedly, that seemed rather small in comparison. But his public life was a part of who he was, a part of what he did to sell books. "I can't demand that you change something that means so much to you."
"But we can't be perfect either."
There was passion in his eyes, determination and maybe a hint of frustration, like this was the millionth time they'd had this conversation.
That seemed to startle him. "You know?"
She looks back to the window again. "My parents weren't perfect. They fought. Usually when I was in bed. I fight with my dad every now and again. I fight with Montgomery. You fight with Alexis. It's… normal."
"Not but," she said, looking back to him. "I understand that we can't be perfect. It's about how much we accept a person because of the things that drive us nuts."
A light sparked in his eyes, like he knew they were coming to the resolution of their discussion. "Like the fact that I ramble incessantly."
"And the fact that I can be too serious."
She started toward him.
"I can't keep my hands to myself."
He didn't move.
"I'm terrible at sharing."
She would have to go to him.
He would wait for her to take those steps.
"I get too focused. Put blinders on."
She was in her archway now, only two steps from him.
"Sometimes, I don't work enough."
She was so close. So very, very close.
"Sometimes, I work too hard."
She took that last step, but didn't touch him. He leaned in.
"I'm so in love with you."
Her smile was brilliant, blinding, and so true.
"I'm so in love with you, too."
They came together swiftly, smoothly, and though there was some awkward fumbling before they got their hands right, their bodies positioned 'just so', it didn't matter so long as they never separated. Finally, a physical manifestation of what they'd known for too long.
They'd been separated by miles, first literally, then emotionally.
They'd worked their way back.
And now, it was time to take the next step forward.