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Rick and Kate get together after 47 Seconds has taken place

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This first chapter was written by another FF writer.  I kick off at Chapter 2.  Look forward to hearing what you all think.

 

Author's note: (REDGREYBULL) I'm stuck on the aftermath of Beckett's unwitting confession in the interrogation room in  47 Seconds. Circling around and around in my mind, for months. So many different ways it could have gone.

Here's another, if Castle actually recognised that her admission was a big step, even if she hadn't intended him to hear. Long-time readers will recognise the first scene as being almost verbatim from my other tale,  Down, but we'll branch off into a different reality from there.

 

Castle watched Beckett through the glass, full of admiration. This extraordinary woman, capable of such strength and fearlessness, but also able to be tender — as she seemed more and more willing to show him lately.

The young male suspect was evading her questions, but he was flustered, frightened, and clearly grasping at straws.

She stalked around him, changing position, never letting him finish a sentence. Relentless. Breaking down his defences. Wearing away his resistance, and his ability to lie.

She's… magnificent, Castle thought, allowing himself a grin.

She had the suspect cornered now, with no more excuses. The man was trying to claim that he'd had a lapse in memory, and the disdain was evident on Beckett's face.

She parked herself on the edge of the table, just a foot away from the young man, crowding him and staring right through him.

Going in for the kill, Castle thought.

"You don't get to use that excuse," she said darkly, pointing at the frightened man. He tried again to claim he couldn't remember, that he was suffering from traumatic amnesia, but she cut him off.

"The hell you don't remember!"

Go get him, Kate.

"Do you want to know trauma?" she spat.

Castle gave the barest hint of a grin. He loved to watch her work. This was her in her element. A lioness.

"I was shot in the chest,–"

His brow creased.

"–and I remember every second of it."

It was over.

Leann West had been taken into custody by the FBI, and Gates had just finished telling them all to go home and get some rest. Castle, Beckett, Ryan and Esposito were still standing in a loose cluster near her desk.

Beckett turned towards the three men.

"You know what? I'm still kind of wired. You guys want to go out for a drink?"

Ryan smiled apologetically. "Ah… sorry, it feels like a month since I've seen Jenny. I should really get home."

Beckett nodded sympathetically, as Esposito glanced first at his partner, and then at her.

"Me too," he said. "I'm tanked. I'll holler at ya."

Both men nodded their farewells, then walked off, and Beckett now turned towards Castle. She felt her stomach twist with nervousness, but also anticipation.

"So I guess it's just us," she said, looking at him carefully. He glanced up at her.

"Yeah," he replied.

She took a breath before continuing.

"You know, now that the case is done… what did you want to talk about?"

He seemed to consider something for a moment, before giving the briefest shake of his head.

"It'll keep," he said with a small smile, putting his hands in his pockets. He glanced off toward the elevator, giving her the chance to look at him in profile.

He'd been a little quiet during the afternoon, but it had been a tough case. He told her he'd visited the memorial for the bomb victims with his mother, so she assumed that the loss of life was still weighing heavily on him. He looked around at her again, and she smiled.

"So… about that drink?"

He looked at her carefully for a long moment, and something passed across his eyes that she couldn't identify.

"Sure," he replied.

The Old Haunt was busy, but not unpleasantly so. Castle was given his usual semi-private booth at the back as soon as he walked in, and they were now on their second round of drinks.

There was a slight crease on Beckett's brow as she looked at him. "Everything OK?"

Castle put down his drink and smiled warmly at her. "Absolutely."

"Still thinking about the case?"

He shook his head. "Not really. Trying not to."

She nodded, then waited a few moments before speaking again. "But there's something on your mind."

It wasn't a question, but he tilted his head to one side in acknowledgement.

"Just… you," he said, and upon seeing her raised eyebrow, he gave a small laugh. "I mean, you've…"

He tailed off, shaking his head slightly but still smiling. Her curiosity was piqued now, and she made a show of narrowing her eyes at him. "I've…?"

Castle looked down at the scarred wooden surface of the table for a couple of seconds before meeting her eyes again, then he shrugged. "You've come a long way, that's all. It's good to see."

"Come a long way how?" she asked, watching him take another sip of his drink.

"In a lot of ways," he replied, and she pursed her lips in mock annoyance.

"That's cryptic," she said, and again there was the shadow of something passing across his eyes, but this time it looked like a glint of both amusement and affection.

"Doesn't have to be," he said quietly, looking down at the table again, now running the pad of his finger over a gouge in the wood.

"I just mean… this'll sound weird, and it's not supposed to, but… I'm proud of you, Kate. You're a different person than you were a few months back."

She schooled her features to hide the surprise she felt, and she took another sip of her own drink. She didn't want to read too much into his words, but a part of her was desperate to think that he had somehow realised she really was making progress, and was much closer to being the person she wanted to be.

"Well, thanks. I think," she said, willing him to look up at her again even though his eyes remained fixed on the table top. "What's brought this on?"

His finger traced restless little circles against the varnished bumps of the surface. He shrugged, and she frowned again.

"Castle," she said insistently, reaching part way across the table towards his hand but stopping short. "What's this about?"

He sighed, and finally looked up at her again. He gave her a smile that was wide but slightly sad, and she felt the first real stirrings of unease in her chest.

"I just wanted you to know. It wasn't easy, what you did today. I hope you're giving yourself credit. And I wanted to say that… I understand. There aren't any… just, I understand, and you should be proud of how far you've come."

Beckett wracked her brain, unable to figure out what he meant. It wasn't like him to talk in riddles, and there was an air of resignation about him, besides the earnest sentiment, that she didn't understand either.

"I have no idea what you're—"

"I was behind the glass," he interjected, his voice quiet and with the same warm and vaguely sad smile on his face. "There's no problem, and everything's fine. So if you've been… worrying about it, you don't have to anymore."

She still didn't know what he meant, but her pulse had quickened at his words. She now urgently needed him to tell her what exactly he was talking about. She gave her head a quick shake and opened her mouth to speak, but again he spoke first.

"With Bobby Lopez — the interrogation. I brought coffee, Espo said you were in the box. So… I was behind the glass."

Her mind raced, scrambling to put the pieces together. Lopez, the suspect who turned out to be a pickpocket. The backpack. He wasn't cooperating; he said he couldn't remem—

Oh god.

The ground seemed to tip sideways, and Beckett actually pressed her palms against the table top instinctively. She could practically feel the colour draining from her own face, and the background noise of the bar was temporarily replaced with a high-pitched whine. It was several seconds before she remembered to breathe.

"Kate," Castle said, "it's OK. It's alright."

But it wasn't alright. It wasn't alright at all. She was trying to speak, but there were no words, and she felt like she was inhaling under pressure, her lungs having to work harder to pull in oxygen. Everything seemed to have a veil of unreality, and she could feel a tingling in her fingertips that she recognised as the leading edge of a panic attack.

"That was a brave thing you did," Castle said, and she couldn't understand why he would say that. She'd lied to him — lied to him for months — and he'd told her that he loved her, and she'd said that some things were best forgotten, and now they were here and they were so close, but now he knew. He knew, and he'd found out second-hand, overhearing, as she told her secret to a thief just to get the advantage in an interrogation. He knew, and she hadn't had the chance to tell him properly, and now he was saying she was brave?

"Kate, listen to me," Castle said, reaching across to grasp one of her hands and tightening his grip when she tried to flinch away from him. "I know what you're thinking — I can imagine. I can see it on your face. But give yourself a break for a second, OK? What you did today was a huge step forward for you. It might not seem like it right now, but you're going to realise it later. And maybe… maybe it was fate, or something, that I heard. The important thing is that it's OK. You're OK."

She was taking measured breaths now, her heart thudding within her ribs, and she could feel tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. He was still holding her hand between both of his, and his smile was gone, replaced with a concerned look, but still with that edge of sadness that she could now hardly bear.

"I… I am so sorry," she whispered, but he only shook his head.

"No need to be," he replied. "I think… a part of me probably knew. Or suspected. Either way, it's done. There was no need to hold that inside. You could have just… but it doesn't matter now. What matters is that you don't need to worry about it anymore. I mean it."

He squeezed her hand again and then gently released it, sitting back in his chair again. He exhaled audibly, picked up his glass, and downed the remainder of his drink before sitting the glass carefully back down onto the table and staring at it without really seeing it. After a moment, he winced, as if some thought or memory had suddenly surfaced and then been pushed away again.

The young bartender chose that moment to wander over and ask if they'd like another round, and Castle nodded. Neither of them spoke until the drinks had been brought, and the bartender had gone away again.

"Castle, I…" Beckett began, unsure what she was going to say, but she tailed off and shook her head. Shame and guilt had risen up like a tide in her chest, and she was in shock at finally being faced with a situation she'd dreaded for months, and hoped to avoid altogether.

"Kate, it's OK," he said, before she could continue. "Think about what you were going through. You'd been… shot," he said, the last word almost in a whisper and his eyes flickering momentarily shut as he said it. "There was Roy. Your mother's case. Josh. Your PTSD. There was… everything that was going on."

He paled as she watched, and he reached for his second drink and took a swallow of it, then nodded mostly to himself before speaking again.

"You had all that stuff to deal with. Anybody would have done the same. I'm just sorry you felt you had to keep it all inside. I know it must have been hard. I never meant to…"

A tear spilled over her eyelashes and slid down her cheek. All the times she'd imagined this conversation, and all the different versions. Never once had she pictured him apologising to her, or for her.

His shirt sleeves were rolled up as usual, his forearms leaning heavily on the table now. Her eyes flicked down and she the gooseflesh all along his skin. Her gaze immediately snapped back up to his face, but his eyes were trained on his glass again, and unfocused. As she watched, something dark and awful surged across his face as his brow creased, and he inhaled roughly almost as if he was in physical pain. She could have sworn that his cheeks actually greyed, and the lines beneath his eyes became darker. Suddenly he was speaking again.

"I just… uh," he began, clearing his throat when his voice began to waver, "I owe you an apology for that, Kate. I… sometimes I still wonder if I should go to the hospital and talk to Josh. To say… to thank him, I suppose. Not just for saving your life, but for after. Especially. Because I know, wherever you were, you must have been in a dark place. I can still see it on your face sometimes. And you needed somebody."

He paused, seeming to reach into himself at great cost. "It took me a long time, but now I'm just grateful he was there. I don't understand why it took me so long to feel that way."

Beckett was paralysed; stunned, unable to speak, even though she desperately needed to. But Castle was talking again.

"I did go once, you know, about three weeks before the book signing, but he wasn't on shift that day. I, uh–"

Another waver in his voice. Again he cleared his throat.

"–I rehearsed what I was gonna say. Stood outside a Starbucks, talking to myself. I wanted to get it right. But he wasn't even there. I went in, and I asked at the desk, and I thought he'd just walk around the corner. Or be out in the parking lot, on his bike. Maybe even… with you. But he wasn't there."

He shook his head as if to clear it, and took a gulp of his drink.

Beckett tried to speak, but couldn't. She felt like all the breath had been knocked out of her. It was all happening right now — right in front of her. This conversation. Everything at once. And he was apologising for putting her in the position of having to lie? It was all wrong. It was so completely Castle, but it was all wrong.

And god, he'd gone to the hospital to thank Josh for being there for her, which as far as he knew was what had happened during those three absent months.

"It's all in the past," he said suddenly, after a long silence. "So… you should just give yourself credit where it's due."

He looked exhausted now, his face noticeably paler than it had been earlier, and his eyes were dim. His hand was still gripping the glass. He looked up at her again, but his gaze just bounced off her face and returned to the table surface.

"I still do, you know," he said, very quietly. "I'm not pushing. That's the last thing you need — I know that. No pressure. I'm not asking for anything, and I'm not even asking you to say anything, OK? I just… you should know, for what it's worth. It wasn't just because I… didn't know if I'd get another chance."

He winced, as if feeling physical pain, and she knew it was the memory of that day on the vivid green grass under a blue sky.

"I mean, that's why I spoke, but it wasn't the reason for what I said. It was just the truth. Still is. I still do."

He opened his mouth as if to say something else, but then he just exhaled in a single rush of air, having spent all his energy.

Beckett's fists were clenched in her lap. She was having trouble processing just how much had happened in such a short time. It felt like her heart had been ripped in two, but for him instead of herself.

She wiped at her eyes, but her cheeks were surprisingly dry. She supposed she was too shocked to have shed more than a couple of tears. Her mind still felt frozen.

Across from her, Castle picked up his glass and drained it in a swallow, setting it back down with a bump. He seemed somehow deflated in his chair; hunched over, unable to fully support his own frame. She was about to reach out towards him when they both heard Lanie's voice ring out from nearby.

"Hey girl! I knew you'd be here. Hey Castle."

Lanie was still in the clothes she wore when going to and coming home from work, and Beckett knew she must have come straight from the morgue. It wasn't surprising that she wanted a drink too, given the awful case.

"Oh… hi, Lanie," Beckett said, clearing her throat. She glanced across at Castle, and saw that he had a welcoming smile on his face, but it didn't reach his eyes.

"Hi yourself," Lanie said, taking off her leather jacket and sitting it on top of Beckett's, along the edge of the booth. "Want to slide in and make some room?"

Beckett was about to respond when Castle cleared his throat and abruptly slid out of his side of the booth.

"Here you go," he said, gesturing to the space he'd just vacated. "I was actually just going to head out."

Lanie frowned, glancing quickly at Beckett and then back at Castle, but he gave her a disarming smile. "Just a really long day, and I think I need to check on Alexis."

The look of suspicion on Lanie's face was immediately replaced with understanding and compassion. "She went home a while ago. She's strong. A little quiet today, but she insisted on being there. You'd have been proud."

That word again, Beckett thought, silently cursing this ultimate example of the bad timing that seemed to characterise their whole relationship. Castle was nodding and saying something to Lanie, and now he pulled on his blazer again.

"Well, have a good night, ladies," he said, nodding to them both before letting his gaze rest on Beckett for a moment. His eyes were dark, and there was still a hint of sadness in them.

"I'll see you Monday," he said, then he turned and walked away.

 

 

Author's note: I'm going to leave it there, but let's try something different this time: I invite  you to write the next part of the story. I'd love to see people's own interpretations of what might happen. If you do, publish it on FF, and PM me to let me know (or get me on Twitter or such; you can find info via my author page here). I've already seen a great follow-up to this story: "Nothing to be Proud of", by madcrafter72.

Have a great weekend.

-MG

****'

 

OK, I kick off the story from this point on.  KB31419RC

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

 

She tossed, she turned. The blankets that covered her didn’t feel right, her night clothes were constrictive and the air was suffocating and stuffy. The mattress was uncomfortable. The bed too big, the apartment too lonely.

To top it off her mind was restless, frustrated and playing out the events of the past several days like she was flicking through the TV stations and only finding bad repeats of wasted and missed moments.  Her brain wouldn’t cease its relentless punishment. All attempts to take control of her thoughts and emotional state dismally failed. Meditation had failed.  Imagining a candle flame and blocking all thoughts had almost been successful, but Castle’s image leaning towards her telling her it wasn’t her fault, that he was proud of her, loved her, still did, had interrupted her process. She stopped the imagery work feeling claustrophic and more guilty for all the fabrications she had lived with for months. 

Castle was haunting her. His usual blue eyes, cloudy grey with worry had faded in and out, his quiet calm voice repeating how proud he was of her echoed in her mind; his words a blatant lie, to cover what he was really feeling about her actions, or lack of actions.

It had been a long time since she had lost count of how many sleepless nights she had experienced because of their confusing and complicated relationship. Their interactions rarely ran smoothly outside of the work environment, but recently things had been going better for them all the time. She had been letting him know via verbal hints and physical signals that she had turned a corner and was starting to see a future. He had seemed to understand. Until tonight.

His voice was present again, calmly, quietly telling her, ‘I still do, you know. I'm not pushing. That's the last thing you need — I know that. No pressure. I'm not asking for anything, and I'm not even asking you to say anything, OK? I just… you should know, for what it's worth. It wasn't just because I… didn't know if I'd get another chance.’

“You said it when I was dying,” she declared to the image of Castle in her vivid imagination, to the empty room. The Castle in her imagination didn’t react.

She rolled from her side to her back, running her fingers meanly through her hair.  She wiped the tears from the side of her face and sniffed.

“Fuck it. I can’t sleep,” she huffed out and sat in bed tugging at her cotton top.  She growled. Impatience quickly wore too thin and she pulled off the top throwing it to the end of the bed.  Naked, free and now feeling the cool air, she began to focus on breathing slowly and steadily. Slow. Relax.

If she was to get some sleep before daylight, she needed to calm down and shut her mind down. She wanted to know whether he had replied to her text messages in which she had apologized for not talking to him like an adult at the Haunt that evening. She admitted she had been shocked and lost for words.

By habit, she blindly reached to the night stand for her phone, picked it up and flipped it over, pressing her finger to the on button. The device lit up glowing into the darkness. Her eyes blinked in rapid succession before she was able to focus on the screen. No messages.  She opened the message app and pressed on Castle’s name, reading the last message he had sent her.  It had been to tell her he was heading into the Precinct with coffees.  She had missed that message when he’d sent it because she had been interrogating the pickpocket named Lopez. 

Be in soon. Getting coffee.

She had sent eight texts to him since his.

An unexpected sob escaped her.

‘I … didn't know if I'd get another chance..’ echoed.

“I need another chance.” She stressfully whispered, “I need it.”

‘–I rehearsed what I was gonna say.’ She recollected him saying as she thought about the thousands of time she had tried to brave up, to confess that she had heard his words and that she felt the same way.  ‘Stood outside a Starbucks, talking to myself. I wanted to get it right. But he wasn't even there. I went in, and I asked at the desk, and I thought he'd just walk around the corner. Or be out in the parking lot, on his bike. Maybe even… with you. But he wasn't there.’

“Because I pushed him away too,” she cried with self-pity thinking about Josh. Although absent a lot, he had been a great boyfriend, had been kind and caring. She knew he was engaged to a doctor or nurse or something like that. Lanie had filled her in a while back, but she hadn’t cared enough to take in the information at the time. The doctor had moved on and she was still alone and dancing around Castle pretending that everything was just fine. 

It wasn’t. At all.

It wasn’t even alright by a long shot. And now he knew she’d heard him say those three words. In addition, she had also heard him plead her to stay with him, to not leave her. He’d said that first. She had tried to promise she wouldn’t leave but words hadn’t come out.

She had clung on to every word he’d said after she was shot. Almost every conscious moment she’d lived in the hospital, when her life had been touch and go, she had secretly meditated and promised that she would stay alive, not leave him. She had prayed for time, so she could have the things in life that she wanted, be with him. Prayed and continued to breathe.

Breathed and healed, until she had been able to take care of herself again. All the seconds, minutes, hours, days and now months since that moment, she had never left his side, had kept him close spiritually and physically all this time.

She’d asked him for time, had thought he’d understood what she had struggled to tell him at the swings.  The subtext. He’d heard the subtext. She wanted to be a better person for him. He was after all, Richard Castle, and he could have any woman he wanted. All she had asked for was time; time to accept and reciprocate what he had said to her, time to mend, time to find who she was.

It was clear that he hadn’t fully understood her at the swings, and it was because she had lied. All this time he believed that she didn’t remember and this influenced how he thought.

Weakened, guarded and always afraid she was going to be shot dead, she’d lied, kept him close enough, but at arms’ length to protect herself, to protect him from the snipers in the shadows. Always there beside him, just wasn’t ready to be loved by him.

She wiped eyes that were brimming with tears then unconsciously brushed the back of her hand against the bed sheet.

If she were to brave up in the morning, trek to the loft and pound on his door until he opened it, she knew that the moment she saw his eyes, his expression, she would be stuck for words. She could rehearse what she wanted to say for the rest of the night, but once she stood before him, she would more than like be rendered to a babbling mess or be silent, unable to engage her brain to her vocal cords. He was the only person in the world who had that effect on her, the ability to simultaneously scramble her mind and create heat in her loins. He made her feel he was the safest place to be in the world. His presence brought her peace.

And going back to sleepless nights. How many of those wee hours of the night had she spent fantasizing about what his hands would feel like, what effect his soft lips could have on her body. My Lord, the things she longed to do for him.  Masturbation using Castle as her leading man was a given. Ex-boyfriends, favourite movie or TV stars, sports men that physically appealed to her were off the menu. What she would give to have the morning coffee preceded with a session of making love with the writer. Some mornings when he arrived at the Precinct carrying their coffees, she felt her cheeks and neck heat up, recalling her nocturnal fantasies.

He would look at her oddly, tilt his head momentarily then would place the coffee on her desk.

“Morning Detective,” he would begin, “Good night?”

Her breathe would catch in her throat. He knew. The guilt bubbled to the surface with the embarrassment she had been caught out.

Every occasion, she suppressed the shame and would reply, “Nothing out of the ordinary, Rick.” She would then allow her gaze to migrate from her blue eyes to his belt, to her coffee.

He would make a minor grunt, sit down in his chair, Kate sure he knew exactly what she had been up to during the night.

“Eat your bear claw,” he would say, and give her a smartass smile.

 

If she sensed he knew so much about how she felt about him, then why couldn’t she bring herself to cross that proverbial line, to allow herself be in love with him? She knew the answer to that question. In her private world, she didn’t want to lose him as a friend, her best friend. He was safe pocketed away as a lover in her sexual fantasies.

Exasperated with herself, Kate flopped backward to the bed with a grunt of frustration mainly. Her head protested when it impacted with the memory foam pillow.  Eyes open and sleepless, she swiped through the photos of her and Castle stored on her phone, and permitted herself to dwell about her fear of allowing another being to love her.  To love her wholly and unconditionally as she knew Castle would. The manner in which he admired her when he believed she wasn’t watching, the way his fingers lingered on the cup when he passed her anything so their fingers touched. It always sent electrical currents surging throughout her body.

The photos were another form of fantasy, she thought, as she scanned some of the hundreds of pictures she had collected over the years. Both were guilty of taking and sharing photos and he loved to edit them into funny pictures they would laugh about. She paused on a picture she’d snapped of him when he wasn’t aware. Blue shirt, bright blue eyes and a gentle smile, his hair falling over his forehead, taken at a murder scene a few months ago. She sighed, feeling the need to talk to her best friend but that was Castle, the only person she had allowed in since the death of her mother.  

My mom.

“I really need to speak to my mom right now,” she murmured to herself breaking into timid cries. In the solitude of the dark apartment, tired to the brink of exhaustion from long hours at work, it was too easy to feel vulnerable. She dropped the phone to the bed and put her hands to her eyes letting herself cry out the recent stresses.

In amongst the cries and the endless memories of Castle flooding her mind, an idea formed, that lead her along a path of thoughts about how Castle was a quite sensitive and caring man, in tune with his emotions and those of others. He lived his life with women and understood them better than most men. Likewise, Kate, spent her waking life with men and she intuitively understood how they ticked. It suddenly made sense to her that Rick needed to be reassured and shown how she felt about him. She was always pushing him away, would then lure him back in only to push back again. She ceased to cry, sniffed and opened her eyes to the ceiling.

“Prove it to him,” she whispered, “You can’t tell him, but can prove it to him how you have felt about him all this time. Utilize what you know about him, Kate.”

Feeling more positive and hopeful that she did have another chance, she sat up, reached for the lamp she turned on. She found her top and redressed in it, then scrambled down to the end of the bed, leaned over to the large wooden box and pushed the clothes she had worn that day off the top of the box to the floor. The lid was heavy causing her to grunt as she pulled it open. She peered over the lid to the contents inside the large oak box, a smile creeping over her face. A box full of memories from her childhood to as recently as yesterday.

She stepped off the bed and hurried over to her shoe closet.  She had bought new boots the other day and soon found the box she had left aside to throw out. It was black and strong enough to do the job she required of it.

With the box on the floor, Kate knelt before her trunk full of personal items.  There were so many things, but for this task, she only needed items at the top of the pile. She reached for a stack of folded sheets of writing paper, held together with a purple ribbon tied in a bow. She lovingly brushed her palm over the top sheet very aware of what secrets the papers held, then gently placed it into the shoe box, on the tissue paper that lined the box to protect the boots. She then picked up a red journal that was almost exploding with additional items pasted within in. She momentarily held it, its contents important to a relevant period of her life, their life. She placed it beside the papers. She then found a small draw string jewelry bag that jingled when she picked it up. She continued until she was certain she was done.  She closed the shoe box. She closed the trunk.

At 4.47 am she touched off the lamp, laid to her side and closed her eyes. The place she went to when she missed her mother, was the place that would hopefully help save her relationship with Castle.  Feeling confident, she fell into a peaceful sleep knowing what she was going to do when daylight came.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The coffee machine was gurgling away when Castle heard a sharp knock on the front door; an unfamiliar rap. He glanced at his watch, 7.47 am. Bit early for an unexpected visitor, and the doorman on the ground floor hadn’t buzzed the intercom to inform the household that there was someone dropping by. That implied the doorman knew who was visiting and knew Castle would accept the company.
He checked the coffee machine was okay for a few moments, grabbed a tea towel to wipe his wet hands, and threw it on the counter as he walked to the front door. Half way he slowed his gait, rooting about in the deep pockets of his track pants to retrieve his phone. The question had arisen whether the person at the door had anything to do with the phone calls Beckett had made in the past half hour or so. He had let all her calls go to voice mail. He didn’t want to talk to her right now. Last night had been enough, what with her lack of initiative to come out of her introverted shell and either stand up for herself or fight for what she wanted. He knew he had done enough provoking to get a reaction. Because he’d hit the mark so well, she’d clammed up.
He wasn’t proud of Kate this morning. Not one bit. Wasn’t last night either. If he was going to be honest with himself, he’d say he was pissed at her for having him tag along all this time on a promise she was never going to come good with. He was a fool for following her for so long, for hoping.
With Kate still on his mind, the frustration she caused him very evident on his face, Rick opened the door wide and found Esposito standing there in his gym gear.
Esposito had a cautious smile. “Is it good morning, Castle?”
Rick grunted and scratched his head, then realized he had been caught out. He immediately concealed his emotional state with a lighter expression. “Excuse me, Esposito. Morning. Yes, good morning.”
“Okay,” Esposito said evidently confused.
“What’s going on?” Castle scanned the detective. Unshaven, a little ruffled from sleep, weariness showing, but ready for a gym workout and holding a large lady’s shoe box with a purple ribbon tied around it. How odd.
“Just on our way for a workout.”
His brow knotted. “Then, what are you doing here?”
“Beckett called me. She asked me for a favor, hell, I owe her plenty.”
“Buying her shoes?”
Esposito frowned, glancing down at the box. “No, I’m not buying her shoes. She asked if I would deliver this bloody box to you. She said you probably wouldn’t answer the door if she brought it over.”
Rick silently agreed with Beckett on that, but continued, “What is it?”
Esposito rolled his eyes. “Shoe box, man.”
“I already established that, Espo. I’ve seen them before. What’s in it?”
“I dunno. She wouldn’t say. It’s kind of heavy and things are loose in it.” He held out the box toward the writer. “She was really jittery this morning, in a Beckett way. You know…”
“Hides it all, but you know there’s something going on way?”
“That’s it. Spot on.”
“Well, I said something last night and I think it shocked her to the core. She wasn’t able to say much.”
“She might not of said much, but I know she heard you. Lanie mentioned you two had a discussion last night at the bar, that she interrupted it. Kate spilled to Lanie, then took off after you. Lanie came to my place after Beckett left her.”
Rick shook his head, processing for a moment, “I didn’t see her. No texts. She’s tried to call this morning, but …” he shrugged his shoulders and waved his phone in front of Esposito then put it back in his pocket.
“Take it, Castle. Took Kate a lot to hand me this damn box. She called me because she knew I would be on my way to the gym. She’s a mess.” He pushed the box to Rick who reluctantly accepted possession.
Rick gave it a bit of a shake. Esposito was right. There was some weight in it and things were moving about.
The detective loosened his shoulders with a bit of a shake. “Dude, she said to me that you shouldn’t be proud of her, but there’s plenty to Beckett to be proud of. She’s awesome.”
Rick stood taller, surprised by Esposito sharing information. “Really? She said that?” He was aware there existed a unique and symbiotic friendship between Esposito and Beckett, and that Espo would often be the person to set Kate straight when she needed righting. He was disappointed that Kate didn’t agree with the pride.
Esposito nodded. “She really listened, Rick. I’ve gotta go. My ride is waiting downstairs.”
“Say hi to Ryan for me,” Rick said fully aware he would be going the gym with his partner. He was surprised Kate didn’t join them as the three often did work outs together.
“Will do. Go easy on her. I know she hides her emotions but she ….” He trailed off aware the writer knew where he was going to finish up.
“Thanks Espo for doing it.”
“No worries. See you in a few days.”

With Esposito on his way to the gym, Rick kicked the front door shut and returned to the kitchen, setting the box down on the counter. He opted to finish making his coffee first. He needed caffeine to deal with the contents of the box, with Kate, and he also wanted the said box concealed in the office before his daughter and mother came downstairs from their respective bedrooms.
While the coffee machine was in the throws of preparing his first cup, he waited, leaning against the counter, his palms flat on the cold marble counter top. His attention was drawn to the simple black box. It was as mysterious as the woman who had given it to him. He peered at the schematic drawing of the boots that were once in the box and read the label. Dare. Black calf.
“Boots to the knees, reasonably high heeled. Size 9.” He released a moan of longing, “Would love to see you in these with a short skirt.”
Moving from the boots, instincts pricked that the stuff in the box was strictly for his eyes only. Kate had trusted Esposito to hand it on to him. It would have taken strength for her to release it. So, if his mother clapped eyes on the box tied with a purple ribbon, he would be pressured into sharing. He appreciated that Kate would rather give up a limb than have his mother know her innermost secrets. Fair enough too.
So, he found himself at a busy cross road and he had been there, standing on the curb, since he had heard her confession to Lopez. Before retiring to bed last night, he had written down questions on a sheet of note paper and he needed to find the answers that would help him make a decision about his future. More so, he needed to stick to that decision.
Was he willing to walk away from Beckett, the Precinct, virtually his current life? or
Was he willing to continue to pursue a woman he loved more than any other he had spent time with?
The obvious solution, being Option A, was to cut ties with Kate and the Precinct.
First problem: New York City was not big enough for him to stay away from her.
Second to that, was he loved his role with the NYPD and, with pride in mind, he was enormously proud of the success he had with solving crimes with Beckett and the boys. They worked well as a team and they had the highest solved crimes rate in the State.
Thirdly; Meeting the Detectives, especially Beckett, had changed his life completely, had breathed much needed fresh air into a stale place.
Fourth and looping back to the first issue; Kate.

He softly closed his eyes, tilting his chin towards his chest, granting himself another moment to reminisce about the night they met. Created only by the tones of Beckett’s voice there was a foreign yet magical awakening that transpired within. It still happened. Not as powerful but she still did it for him. His soul had woken up; senses, nerves had tingled, a curiosity never experienced before had sparked to life and hadn’t ceased to burn yet. There had been an internal pull on his heart strings, on every cell of his body the night the young ambitious detective had gatecrashed his party to arrest him. The moment he had turned about, to see her for the very first time; he’d soaked, no drowned in the sight of the tall woman pressing a NYPD badge out at him. All that had been in his mind was just how beautiful she was, especially her large dark eyes. There’d been a message hidden in her eyes. Just a flash, but he’d seen it at the bar. He’d seen it in the interrogation room. There had been other times, like she was on the brink of confessing, but then it would disappear and her eyes would clear. She had unbelievable eyes.
“Bedroom eyes,” he murmured.
Those damn bedroom eyes.
His one obsession had begun that night, and he’d had no protection for his heart, no warning he was going to fall so hard. His heart hadn’t had a chance. Even today, when she stared into his soul he was totally vulnerable and unable to resist her at all.
Rick opened his eyes when the coffee machine fell silent. The box was in his direct eye line, seemingly impatient for him to open it.
He took a deep breath, returning to his crossroad dilemma and his coffee, going to the fridge to fetch milk.
Option A would also kill off Nikki Heat, his bread and butter, the love of his creative life.
Killing Heat wasn’t going to be easy, for him or Black Pawn. It left Option B.
Continue mission.
“Fucking two hard choices. Give up everything I love, or stay in limbo.”
Using both palms he roughly rubbed his eyes and face to snap out of his thoughts for a while. He needed a shower and a walk in fresh air to clear his head. He lifted his head, gazing about the living room, his gaze settled on the promotional poster of Nikki Heat leaning against the piano. His bread and butter. How could he walk away from that?
If he was to successfully adhere to the theoretical conditions of Option A, he firstly needed to toughen up. Alternatively, he would move out of New York and somehow have someone swipe his memory of every detail about Kate Beckett. If only he could create an alternative universe that didn’t have a certain woman in existence.
That’s not toughening up.
Oh! To have the ability to see life in an alternative universe.
“You can, you fool. You’re a fictional writer. Even Rook gets lucky. He caught his girl.”
His fictional self scored, yet Rick hadn’t been sexually active in way too long. He couldn’t remember the last time. Meredith? No. That was another score for Option A. Sex. He would be available for women, many women.
But he only wanted one woman. Option B it was, and he would have to wait for the sex.
He poured full cream milk into a small silver jug and popped it under the milk frother, and hit the button. The milk heating and frothing was loud in the quietness of the loft, but his imagination remained distracted and only saw Kate standing beside him at the Precinct’s coffee machine, keen for a mug of fresh coffee. In white lace lingerie. He knew she preferred the way he made coffee. It pleasured him to know that. It also pleasured him that he had the ability to imagine her at the Precinct, in the break room, wearing only lingerie. And the new boots.
He smirked to himself. That was alright.
As he poured the fluffy milk into the coffee mug, he sighed in resignation that his instincts would pull him on the right path of his destination, regardless of whether he was dragged there kicking and screaming. It had after all brought him every step of the way to where he was now.
So, it would be Option B, no doubt.
His desires were stronger than his mindset. He set the jug down on the kitchen bench, then wiped away the spilt milk with a cloth.
“Kate Beckett, my long limbed, gorgeous woman. You will break my soul.”

With his coffee in one hand, he scooped up the box with the other and leaned it against his chest to balance it as he carefully made his way to the office. He placed both items on the desk then stepped back to the door to close it wanting privacy. Seated at his desk, he moved aside his MacBook then slid the black shoe box tied with the purple ribbon so it was right before him.
His eyes were drawn to the cream envelope taped to the top of the box. Kate had written ‘Rick’ on the front of the envelope in her neat cursive script. She had used a fountain pen. Blue ink. It was promising that she had addressed him as Rick. Had she written his surname, Castle was sure his anxiety would have been well on the rise earlier, and Option A would have been it.
His hands were a little sweaty. He swiped them down the thighs of his track pants then held them in the air a moment wriggling the fingers; a nervous habit he wasn’t aware of. He could feel his pulses banging away, his throat constricting a fraction and the pressure of an oncoming headache was present.
Breathe.
He inhaled deeply, held for a count of four and exhaled.
“It can’t be that bad, Dude. Man up.”
With care, he peeled off the envelope and flipped it over to see It was sealed. The envelope knife was within an arm’s length but he paused his progress, touching the textured paper to the tip of his nose, in hope. He breathed in, closing his eyes and there it was, a whiff of her scent, her perfume. His heart rate increased. Warmth blossomed in his loins. She must have held the envelope against her skin at some stage, maybe intentionally. What he would do to wake up to that scent every day.
“Hopeless romantic, is all you are Rick,” he muttered to himself. He drank his coffee.
The phone still in his track pants’ pocket, vibrated causing his nerves to jump. He pulled it out and swiped it. A message from Kate.
“Your timing, Beckett is unbelievable. I’m about to start.”
He read: Esposito said you have the box. It’s my heart. Please don’t break it.
He breathed out heavily. “Geez Kate. How many times have you punished mine?” He put the phone screen up on the desktop, not ready to communicate with the woman yet.
But then he read the text again. She was scared.
But she needed to wait a bit longer.
Using the knife, he sliced open the envelope then slid the piece of paper from it. Nice quality writing paper. He took a deep breath to control anxiety rising within him, fearing she had written him a Dear John letter. If it was, then the box contained items that belonged to him, had been in her possession for whatever reason. There were a good dozen novels at her apartment that he’d passed on to read at her leisure but the box definitely didn’t contain novels. She always returned the books one by one as she finished them.
“It’s a Dear Rick letter,” he whispered.
She’s called numerous times, and she just sent you that text, Dude. She’s as anxious as you are. Nip the anxiety.
He unfolded the sheet of paper and set it right way up.