AN: All right Caskett Shippers, here's a prompt for you: Kate crashes Rick's Bachelor Party. Fasten your seatbelts.
Beckett came into the Morgue with a cup in one hand and a file in the other. She found Alexis and Lanie having coffee. "Alexis? What are you doing here?"
"What are YOU doing here?" Lanie shot back. "Aren't you supposed to be staying home this week?"
"Doesn't mean I can't do paperwork." Kate defended. "And I'm not here, I'm just delivering reports." She sent a glanced to both of them "What do you think? 'The Best is Yet To Come' or 'The Way You Look Tonight'?"
"Don't ask me to choose wedding songs when I'm hungover." Alexis took another deep sip of her coffee, and looked up at Kate. "You look too nice." She complained a little.
Kate chuckled. "Alexis, you must be the only collegiate who stays hungover for two days. If I'd known, I never would have invited you."
Alexis nodded at that. "It was my first Bachelor-ette Party. Well, first one that I was legal for." She gestured at Lanie. "And I'm here because I heard that Doctor Parish had all the photos." She sent a look at Kate. "Detective, you still haven't told me why I woke up with dollar bills in-"
"At some point, you're going to start calling me 'Kate', right?" Beckett swiftly cut her off. "And don't worry, Lanie knows which photos to keep away from your dad."
"Your dad, and facebook." Lanie put in.
"And I'm sure your dad will have other things on his mind tonight anyway." Kate retorted, and Alexis grimaced a little.
"I don't get why he's having the Bachelor Party two days before the wedding." Lanie commented. "Isn't it traditionally the night before?"
"That was my idea." Kate explained. "I don't want my almost-husband to be hungover when he's taking the vows."
"I'm surprised he let you have any say over the Bachelor Party." Alexis commented.
"I spun it like I was deciding part of the wedding schedule. He left that part to me since... well, since I can handle structure and not be half an hour late to everything." Kate excused. "Espo and Ryan handled the rest."
"Oh man, don't remind me." Alexis almost whined. "I had to block Detective Esposito's number."
Lanie took that in. "Why is Javi calling you about a Bachelor Party for your dad?"
"I'm kinda wondering the same thing." Kate commented archly.
Alexis waved her hand back and forth vaguely. "He and Ryan are scared out of their minds. They want to do this right, but they're two cops, used to organizing things on a cop salary, and suddenly they're throwing the big party for their friend, who's wealthy and famous. They've read his police file. Dad's been arrested for stuff that they couldn't dream up on their best day-"
"-and coming from a Vice Cop that's saying something." Lanie put in.
"-so they're all over me trying to figure out what my dad would do in his more... playful days." Alexis sipped her coffee. "Finally, I had to just hand over my dad's Little Black Book and one of his credit cards."
Dead silence. It took Alexis a full three seconds to realize that Kate was staring at her, deathly serious. She had a mouthful of coffee, and wasn't swallowing. Lanie was frozen, eyes flicking back and forth between the two of them.
Alexis suddenly realized what she had said. "I mean... Um..." She stammered. "I mean, I'm sure that he's not in touch with..."
With effort, Kate managed to swallow her coffee and she set her cup down, very slowly. "Alexis." She said, with spooky calm. "Are you telling me that your father's bachelor party is being organized by two guys who are desperate to impress, and you have just equipped them with a limitless credit card and every phone number and contact that your father has gained over a lifetime of debauchery?"
Alexis shrank into her seat further. "Um... just the ones up to five years ago. Dad shifted to electronic when he got a smartphone, so he hasn't really added or deleted a number or a name in more than..."
"Oh. So just every stripper, pole dancer, bartender and call girl he knew back before he met me." Kate qualified. "That makes me feel much better."
Lanie dared to insert herself into the conversation. "Kate, you know not to freak out. It's a Bachelor party. What follows is a far more important event, known as a wedding. Javi and Kevin are cops. They know which numbers not to call."
"She's right." Alexis said quickly. "I'm sure she's right. Besides, most of those Call Girls and Strippers were doing it to put themselves through tuition and school. Most of them are doctors and lawyers now."
Long deathly silence.
"How the hell do you know that?" Kate demanded in jaded awe.
Alexis wilted under her glare. "Well... um... The ones that made it into dad's Little Black Book were... He had them over a few times, so obviously they met me, and you know how I always ran interference for dad with Social Climbers and Gold Diggers..."
"You made conversation with these women?" Kate barked. "How well did your father know them?"
Alexis said nothing.
Through force of will, Kate made her face relax. "Alexis, sweetie. At some point in the next three days, I'm going to become your wicked Stepmother. Except I'm not wicked, am I?"
Alexis smirked a little. "No, you're not. Look, dad's not that guy any more, and the fact is, last time Dad got within kissing range of a bonafide Geisha-House, he still wouldn't stop yapping about how amazing you were."
"And that's when the ninjas attacked." All three women chorused automatically.
"If Ryan and Esposito call any of those women, they would probably be doing other things now." Alexis finished. "And any of them that did show up? Dad would probably turn it into a poker game."
Kate smirked, despite herself. "He probably would at that."
Alexis let out a breath, feeling like she'd just dodged a bullet.
"He had you testing his strippers to see if they were girlfriend material?" Kate couldn't believe it.
"Of course not." Alexis scorned. "But I had to make sure they weren't... well, just like my mom." She made a face at both older women. "After all, how do you think dad and my mom first met?"
Kate didn't have an answer to that.
"So, if dad manages to stay off the front page tonight, I consider it a success." Alexis shrugged. "I'm not okay with it, really; but I have a much thicker skin on the subject." She glanced over her shoulder. "Don't tell my dad this, but once I made the colossal mistake of Google-ing him. The stripper from his first bachelor party? When he married my mom? She made a tell-all magazine deal."
Kate winced. "oh, you poor thing."
"I wasn't born yet, Thank God; but I made the mistake of reading the article once I found it." Alexis gave her a long suffering grin. "I don't believe half the things she said. The other half I believe just fine."
"Bet Meredith loved that." Kate commented.
Alexis winced harder. "Huh. According to the article, mom knew all about it. In fact, if you believe the tabloids, mom and dad took her along on the honeymoon."
Kate spat out a mouthful of her drink, spraying it everywhere.
Alexis nodded, her face twisted awkwardly. "Never Google your parents." She saw the look of mortal panic on the detective's face, and quickly backpedaled. "Not that he'd... I mean, you know he's not that guy any more."
Kate nodded. "I know."
"And he's not that guy any more because of you. You know that too. Right?"
Kate nodded again. "Right."
Alexis' head tilted. "But you don't seem to be calming down.
Kate shook her head. "Sorry. Cop thinking. There's a rule Detectives have: Trust, but Verify. Even when we hear testimony from people we trust, we still follow it up, because it's not about being sure, it's about having evidence to back it. If someone says that it's Wednesday, we still check. It's a fact of being a cop. Telling a judge that 'we just know' doesn't keep killers off the street."
"Marriage isn't like that."
"I know." Kate gave the young woman a friendly smile. "Breathe, Alexis; I'm not flipping out."
"Glad to hear it." Alexis glanced over at Lanie. "I'm just going to step out before I do any more damage."
"That would probably be best." Lanie nodded.
Alexis stepped out, and Lanie whirled on her friend. "Don't do it. I can see you thinking it. Do not do it."
"After that little story, you think I'm going to let it go?" Kate hissed.
"Girl, if you're not going to trust him the day before the wedding, how do you plan to trust him the day after?"
"I do trust him." Kate said honestly. "But he... he gets wild. You've never seen him when he really cuts loose."
"No, I haven't." Lanie confirmed. "And neither have you. He cut all that out the day after he met you. Take the gesture for what it is."
Kate sighed. "No. That's fair. Sorry, went a little loopy just then."
"You're two days from the altar. It's sort of expected."
Lanie never took her eyes off Kate. "And I can see you still thinking it. Kate, you crash your man's Bachelor party, and that's the first line of your divorce settlement right there, you know that."
"I do." Kate nodded, standing up. "It's okay. I'm not going to do it."
Gates looked up as Kate knocked on her office door. "Detective, I thought your wedding gift was three days off in the lead-up to your wedding."
"Yes sir, and I'm grateful, I just don't know how Castle talked you into it." Kate commented.
"I'm not superstitious by any measure, Detective, but I can appreciate a good ironic tragedy without a murder novelist spelling it out for me. You get shot the day before your wedding, and I'll never hear the end of it."
"Yes sir." Kate blew right past that. "Would it be wrong to put an APB out on my fiance's Bachelor Party?"
"Yes, it would." Gates didn't even blink. "Speaking as former IA, that would be totally unethical."
"What about the strippers?"
Gates looked up at her for the first time. "Strippers plural?"
Kate shrugged. "It's Castle. Anything could be happening. I wouldn't be surprised if they were having a party on the Space Station right now."
"You know any names?"
"Then I don't know what to tell you." Gates went back to her files.
Kate sighed. "Right."
Gates piped up as Kate was halfway out the door. "Of course, I did make sure that every cop who got invited to that party made sure to leave contact details tonight. You know, just in case all crime in New York decided not to take this particular night off."
Kate grinned. "And there are maybe seven or eight agencies that a Vice Cop like Esposito would know. Three or four he might call if he had a really high end credit card like Richard Castle's."
Gates was still looking at her files, stone faced. "You could place a few calls, wave your badge around... Or just check Castle's credit cards."
Kate was already moving.
"Detective?" She called after Kate. "It's none of my business, of course; but are you really that worried about what your fiance might get up to tonight?"
Kate shook her head. "Not when he's sober, not when he's by himself, not when he's partying, and not even when a few dozen people aren't telling him it's his last night of freedom, or whatever guys say to each other at these things. But put them all together..."
"And you understand he's surrounded by cops that would walk into the ocean for you, right?"
Kate waved out at the bullpen. "Every day, we haul in people who make a mistake, at a moment when they're not at their best, and they're punished for it for the rest of their lives. How many of those perps were good, honest, trustworthy people, right up until the moment they made a single mistake and committed murder?"
Gates gave her a long unsettling stare. "Detective, don't take this the wrong way, but starting a marriage out by spying on the groom isn't generally a good idea."
Kate shut the door to Gates' office. "Every single phone number that the Party Organizers have? Was taken from Castle's own Black Book. He's on a first name basis with more than half the possible 'entertainment'."
Gates let out a breath explosively. "Okay. I take it back. Trust, but verify."
Kate nodded, feeling better. "Thank you, sir."
Twenty minutes on the phone and she had a name.
Twenty minutes after that, she had an arrest.
Candi Kane was sitting in interrogation room one, but she looked more annoyed than worried. Kate stepped in and looked her over. She was young and sexy, of course. She was also wearing a trench-coat that covered everything up to her thigh high boots.
Kate steeled herself. "Miss Kane. And I'm sure that's not your real name."
"Detective." She said neutrally.
"You know why you're here?" Beckett asked professionally.
The 'prisoner' answered by rote, having done it before many times. "All my performances are in accordance with city ordinance. All clients are on the books, and all income is reported. I do not solicit or seduce for money. I have a clean record, have never used drugs, or witnessed a crime of any kind. My lawyers can be reached through my agency, which routinely checks backgrounds of all employees, myself included. You can check with your own vice department."
"What are you doing tonight?" Kate asked, patient.
"I have clients." Kane responded evenly, gesturing at her clothes. "You think I dress like this for fun?"
"I really couldn't say." Kate said, her voice flat. "And you have only one Client tonight."
That caught her short. "Have... Have I stepped into something illegal?"
"Your client is the Richard Castle Bachelor Party, correct?" Kate clarified. It wasn't a question, it was a command to speak.
Kane gulped. "Um, my clients expect a certain degree of anonymity. Especially where cops are concerned."
"Then your clients shouldn't pay with credit cards." Kate said sharply, her voice shifting to one of absolute doom. "Listen, Miss Kane. I'm not a cop right now." She put her hand flat on the table, angling the ring to reflect straight in her eyes. "I'm the Bride."
Candi Kane face changed instantly. She looked absolutely terrified.
Beckett leaned back, satisfied. "Talk."
"I don't feel like I should be listening to a report on this." Gates commented.
"She cracked like an egg." Beckett said seriously. "She also volunteered that the agency she works for has sent over a dozen dancers to the party... And so has another agency that has a history of solicitation charges. They like to seduce clients mid-performance and get paid cash."
Gates didn't look up. "I didn't hear that, but which of the two idiots on your team hired an agency like that via credit card? They know we check these things, right?"
"Well, now I have another problem."
"Detective, I really, truly, sincerely don't wanna get into this, but you fell in love with the man-child, you dated the man-child, you're marrying the man-child. At some point, you'll have to face up to the fact that-"
"I trust him." Kate insisted. "But he's at a party, he wins a drinking contest, and he wakes up naked, handcuffed to a zebra."
Gates almost smiled. "I read that one. His police file is amazing, isn't it?"
"He has changed." Kate insisted. "But he's stacked his bachelor party with all the people he knew, and all the people he went nuts with back in the life he had before he met me. If his last night is anything like he was back seven years ago, I don't want to start my marriage to this man with that around my neck. And if he gets loaded and does anything like the stuff he did seven years ago, he'll never forgive himself for it; and that's what we'll be taking with us as husband and wife."
Gates looked her over. "You're protecting him, and your future together, from the time when he wrote all those names in that Little Black Book." She summed up. "Is that true, or is it just a convenient way to spy on your boyfriend getting a lapdance?"
Kate didn't answer.
Gates moved on. "Anyway, you have another problem. You've got one of those 'entertainers' in our Interrogation Room. If she goes to this party, or if she doesn't show up, a room full of cops will notice."
"With a dozen other dancers there?" Kate challenged.
"If Castle knows at least some of these people by name... These women make ten times the money we do per hour, Detective. Someone's going to count how many show up."
Kate bit her lip. "Well, I have an idea, but you're going to think I've lost my mind."
Gates put her reading glasses back on returned to her paperwork. "I don't want to know more about this. In fact, I want to know a lot less than I know right now."
"Yessir." Beckett headed out, ending the most surreal version of 'girl talk' she'd ever had.
She didn't stop marching until she'd returned to the Interrogation Room. "Strip." She told Candi.
"I don't work for free." The dancer retorted, unimpressed.
Kate drew the NYPD issue top and sweatpants that she kept in the gym out of her gym bag. "I said get changed. Now."
The spike heels on the thigh-highs were just a bit too small for her, and the clothes were not meant to be comfortable anyway. Kate had used Candi's makeup and swiped a short blonde wig from the station. Vice Cops pulled enough sting operations to have some costumes on hand.
"So, can I give you a lift somewhere, sailor?"
Kate grit her teeth and turned to find Lanie smirking at her from the station garage entrance. "I know what you're going to say-"
"Good, because I hate to repeat myself." The ME cut her off with a sigh. "I really can't talk you out of this?"
"You did talk me out of it." Kate admitted. "But I talked myself right back into it once you left." She looked down. "And it's not a sailor costume."
"I'll give you a dollar."
"I'll burn the photos from your Bacherlor-ette Party."
"What's in those photos that I should be embarrassed about?"
"Nothing, but your almost-stepdaughter might not say the same." Lanie challenged. "And can I just say, that Castle didn't snoop on your party, even if his daughter came home with a five alarm hangover and dollar bills stuffed-"
"Fine, you can look." Kate cut her off and opened the trenchcoat. It was a police uniform. A police uniform with a miniskirt, spike heeled boots and a very low cut top that was held together by a plastic police badge.
Lanie let out a small whimper, but her face never changed.
Kate gave a long suffering sigh. "Go ahead."
Lanie could barely contain herself enough to get the words out. "Thank yo-hahahahahahaha!"
Kate cinched up the trenchcoat tightly, as Lanie laughed so hard she was almost in convulsions. Tears were streaming down the woman's face as Kate made her way into the garage, heading over to Lanie's car. "Are you driving or not?"
Lanie unlocked the car and sat in the driver's seat, getting herself under control. "Y'know, I remember we had a case once, where the vic was a male stripper? His costume was a whole lot more... more, than that."
"I remember." Kate said tersely. "You okay to drive now?"
"I'm surprised you're letting me, given that you're the one who knows where we're going." Lanie commented.
Kate grit her teeth. "I can't drive. These damn heels are too long for the pedals."
"The spike stilettos you wear every day, and you can't drive in those boots?"
"Candi wears a different size to me. I can barely bend my knees."
Lanie took a deep breath... and broke down laughing again, almost howling as she cackled. The car rocked back and forth as Beckett sank back into her seat awkwardly.
"Just drive, will you?" Beckett growled... and she pulled the short blonde wig out of her trenchcoat pocket and started hiding her hair under a hairnet.
Lanie saw the wig and cracked up again. "Kate, I take it all back. I'm glad you did this. And I think if Big Rick sees you in that, he's gonna forgive you too."
Beckett wasn't smiling. "I hope so. Head for the Topaz Room."
"The Topaz Room? I thought that place got shut down by the Eleventh Precinct."
"Yup. Drive fast." Kate steeled herself and pulled out a police uniform hat, completing the image. Lanie struggled to drive in a straight line, she was laughing so hard.
Colorful. The first thought that came to mind when she stepped into the Party was colorful.
She wasn't the only woman there, but Kate could only see four or five. She could smell over a dozen different kinds of booze, and strobe lights of every color flashed over the room in time to a pulsing tune.
There was a well stocked bar at one end of the room, and a few others set up by whoever was catering. Instead of tables, there were various platforms with plush chairs facing each other, raised to various levels, giving a great view to the center of the room; which held a stage that had three dancers on it. Most of the guys not talking to each other or gathered at the bars were watching them.
Kate steeled herself and discarded the trenchcoat, pulling her hat low to hide her face. She couldn't find Richard anywhere... and that was when she noticed the doors. There were doorways leading off, to private rooms. Five doors, two of them shut.
There were plenty of faces she recognized, and clouds of thin gray smoke all over the place. The music was loud, but the mood of the party was actually fairly restrained. It was mostly people in groups toasting each other and smoking cigars.
"Hey there." A familiar voice commented. "Looking for someone in particular?"
Kate turned around, to face Esposito. "Actually, yes."
"YAAAAAH!" Esposito leaped backwards like he'd been set on fire, and stumbled over backwards into a chair.
Kate pounced forward and put a hand over his mouth. "Shut up! I'm undercover."
Esposito fought to get his brain working, trying not to look at her. "Not under a lot of cover. What the hell are you doing here?"
Kate noticed people looking over curiously at his reaction, and quickly sat on the arm of his chair. "Javi, quick. Smile and shove some money in my bra."
Esposito's eyes had bulged halfway out of his head, his skin was changing colors and he was trying not to pass out. "I... Ka... I..."
Kate made it look like she was ruffling his hair, but she twisted his ear hard. "Javi, it'll be bad for me if I'm caught here; but it'll be a lot worse for you if a room full of cops see you puke on a stripper."
Javier summoned a lifetime of Marine training and made himself smile up at her, still trying not to look. "You shouldn't be here. In fact, of all the places you shouldn't be tonight, this is the top of the list."
"I know." Kate sighed. "I know it's crazy, but I have to make sure you idiots didn't actually sell my fiancee to a brothel house while I wasn't looking."
"What are you worried about?" Esposito hissed back. "Half those women got here, recognized a room full of police officers, and ran for it. In fact, you're now the most... eligible dancer here. You're going to get some attention." He held up a dollar bill. "You have a plan for that?"
Kate just looked at him. "A single? Really?"
Javier put the dollar bill away awkwardly and pulled out a five. She gave him another withering look, and he surrendered, pulling out a fifty. "Good boy." She told him, taking the opportunity to scan the room. "Where is he?"
"How about if I don't tell you that?" Esposito shot back.
Kate looked for Richard, let out a squeak of horror and hid her face behind Esposito's shoulder, effectively climbing into his lap. "Javi, what the hell is my dad doing here?!"
"Funny, because I bet he'd wonder the same thing if he saw you." Esposito seethed. "This isn't right. The Guy Code forbids this. As Best Man, I cannot allow the Bride to be present."
"You aren't Best Man, you're one of the Best Men." Kate countered as though it made a difference. "And if you could organize a Bachelor Party without calling in all of Rick's old flings, I wouldn't be here."
"Hey, we were desperate!" Esposito hissed. "Castle can pull off a Bachelor Party in six minutes."
"Yeah, and get you all arrested." Kate shot back. "I came to Atlantic City and found you all wearing Elvis costumes, as I recall."
"So you can see why we were worried about our party suffering in comparison." Esposito hissed. "Can we get you out of here now? I already have to put my eyes out and wash them in sulfuric acid; and I'm starting to enjoy this a little too much."
Kate stood up, pulling him up with her. "Javi, I'm trying not to be a little insulted by that. You don't mind groping a total stranger, but me you can't even look at?" She checked her costume. "Is it that bad?"
"Kate, I think we both know that's not the problem here." Esposito hissed. "Are you seriously telling me you're the one feeling put out? You're my boss, you're posing as a stripper to spy on your boyfriends Bachelor Party, and I'm the Best Man. Why exactly do you figure I'm the one not cooperating?"
"I realize this is hard on you-excuse me." She rephrased her point diplomatically. "I realize I'm putting you in a difficult position-excuse me again." She cleared her throat. "I realize you've got a conflict of interest here, but-"
Another familiar voice came up behind them. "Javi? You know it's bad form to ask for phone numbers at a Bachelor Party, right? Three guys over there are starting a bidding war for the next dance."
Kate steeled herself and turned to face Ryan. "Really? What are they bidding up to so far?"
"YAAAAH!" Kevin leaped five feet backwards like a startled cat.
Kate pounced on him, covering his mouth, trying to make it look saucy. "Don't say a word!" She hissed. "And those guys bidding? Tell me that my dad isn't one of them. Lie to me if necessary."
Ryan whirled on Esposito, seething. "You let The Bride crash the party? What are you, new at this?"
"'Let her'? When exactly does anyone 'let her' do anything?" Esposito shot back. "You have met Beckett, right? Now, fastest way to get her out of here is the back entrance."
"Fastest way to make me stay away is to tell me where Rick is." Kate shot back.
"Beckett, you know that this is wrong on many many levels." Ryan said seriously.
Kate tried to answer, but Javier interrupted. "Not here." He jerked his head toward one of the doors. "Private booths over there." He turned to Ryan. "Kevin, shove some money in her pants."
"Ex-cuse me?!" Kevin shrilled.
Kate was unconcerned with the order. "We've got people watching, Ryan. You want them thinking they can get a turn with me cheap? What kind of girl do you think I am?"
"Wrong on so very many levels." Ryan whimpered.
The three of them slipped into a private booth and shut the rest of the party out.
"Kate, there's a reason the Bride doesn't come to this party. You know that." Javier said seriously. "I get that Castle's got a reputation, but he had that rep when he proposed, and when you said yes. If you can't-"
"Before you finish that sentence, don't." Kate held a hand up. "I feel like an idiot just being here, but... I trust Rick. I trust him with my life, I trust him with my job, I trust him with my secrets..." He looked up beseechingly. "Guys, I trust him with my mom's case. I don't get any deeper than that."
"Then why are you here?"
Kate didn't have an answer. When you can't play defence, go on the attack. "Guys." Kate asked quietly. "You haven't answered me. Where's my fiancee? Because he's not out there, and he's meant to be the guest of honor."
Javier looked at Kevin. Kevin looked at Javier. Both of them, very deliberately, did not look at Kate.
Beckett felt her face harden. "Guys?"
Javier looked at Kevin. Kevin looked at Javier. They still did not look at Kate.
"Kevin?" Kate challenged. "Look at me."
Ryan sighed, and confessed. "Look, we called three agencies, because we knew we'd lose a few. The Black Book was a few years out of date."
"And we called more than we needed to, because... well, like I said, a lot of them showed up and recognized a room full of cops." Esposito put in. "And then, well... Some of the ones that stayed recognized Castle. Apparently he threw a few of these parties back in the day, and he got a reputation for being generous."
Kate's jaw set a little. "No doubt. So they recognized him, and...?"
Javier looked at Kevin. Kevin looked at Javier. Both of them, very deliberately, did not look at Kate.
Kate was now getting worried. "Where is he?"
"He's... in one of the private rooms." Javier confessed finally.
Kate felt her face turn to stone. "Is he in there with anyone?"
Javier looked at Kevin. Kevin looked at Javier. Finally, Kevin looked to Kate. "Just... be strong, okay?" He said, and lifted four fingers on one hand.
"Four of them?" Kate blurted. "When was this?"
Javier looked at Kevin. Kevin looked at Javier. This time, Javier confessed first. "About an hour ago."
Kate was already moving. "A room full of cops, and you didn't think to call him on this? Where's the loyalty?"
Esposito put himself between her and the door. "Kate." He said, more seriously than he'd ever been. "Loyalty is why we didn't call him on it. Because we know that he'd never do anything he'd regret tomorrow. We know he wouldn't, because he loves you so much it's actually painful for the rest of us to watch."
"I know that too." Kate said, and she meant it. "I know that."
"Then why are you here?"
Kate was silent a moment. "I don't know." She admitted in a very small voice. "I really don't. There's this tiny, nothing voice in my head that keeps telling me to prove it. I trust Rick, but somehow I still need to be sure."
Esposito awkwardly rested a hand on her shoulder.
Kevin spoke up from behind her. "Beckett? That little voice? Who does it sound like?"
That caught her off guard. She almost laughed. "This is gonna sound crazy, but..." She rubbed her eyes. "It sounds like Royce."
Kevin nodded, as though expecting that. "Royce was the last man you called 'partner'. And then he flipped on you, and you had to bring him in." He sent a quick hard glance to Esposito, who gave him a slight nod. "And you loved Royce, too."
Kate swallowed. "Huh. Hadn't thought of it like that."
"And when Royce flipped, who was next?" Ryan kept going. "Your dad didn't measure up when you needed him after your mom died. You had to take care of your dad for ten years. It was before you and Castle got together, so after Royce, who was it?"
Kate looked down. "Roy." She admitted. "I wanted to make The Captain proud of me."
"And then it turned out he was in your mom's death up to his neck, and then he died too." Ryan pressed.
Kate was speechless. "Yeah. I guess so."
Ryan gave Espo another look, and Javier read his partner's mind, leaving them alone in the private room for a moment.
"So now you need to be sure." Ryan said softly. "Kate, let me tell you something I didn't know until I got married. Proving it to yourself, and to your wife? That's what marriage is. Every day, every week, every month, every year. You find new ways and prove all over again that the one you married is the one and only. Castle will spend his life making sure you know that... And so will you."
Kate nodded. "I will. We're partners. We always will be."
To her, it was worth as much as a marriage vow. Maybe more.
Ryan sighed. "Kate, don't tell Castle this?"
Ryan smirked, just a bit. "Espo and I have been checking on him all night."
Kate laughed, despite herself.
"Hey, we trust him too, but we opened the night with a drinking contest and sort of went from there."
"Did he win?" Kate asked reflexively.
"Oh, of course he did, but just barely. So..." Kevin shrugged. "We don't think you should be here, because it's bad luck; and because just 'cause we understand why you did this doesn't mean he will." He looked at her seriously. "But this whole night? He never even came close. Nothing was ever going to happen."
Kate relaxed, but she wasn't even surprised. "I know. I knew that before I came, but..."
"But you're still a cop." Ryan nodded. "Trust, but verify."
Kate felt a sudden affinity for Ryan. She'd known Esposito longer, but Esposito had never been married. She looked down at her ridiculous costume. "Kevin, if I hugged you right now, would you flip out?"
Ryan tried not to look below her face. "Save me an extra dance." He paused. "I mean, at the wedding."
Kate chuckled, then blinked. "Wait. If nothing's going on, then what's he been doing in a Private Room with four exotic dancers for the last hour?"
Castle had his back to the door when Kate peeked in.
Castle had four women in various stages of dress sitting around a table, two brunettes and blonde and a redhead; all of them having the time of their lives, and Castle was wearing nothing but his boxers and his socks.
Kate would have been worried, when suddenly she heard Castle speak. "Three sixes."
The blonde laughed. "Three nines."
A chorus of catcalls rang out and Castle groaned, reaching down to pull off a sock and throw it on the table.
Kate clapped a hand over her own mouth to keep from laughing. Her man was spending his Bachelor Party at a poker table... and he was apparently losing.
Kevin saw the funny side of it too. "Only Castle could have a private party with four strippers and be the only one to lose his clothes."
Kate reached out with one hand and took Kevin's tie off him instantly. "Who wears a tie to a Bachelor Party, anyway?"
Kate swept into the room before he could answer.
Castle heard a set of spike heels clopping up with a familiar stride and started to turn, when the tie swept around his eyes from behind. Blindfolded, he tilted his head back as a set of warm lips brushed his ear. "Ricky..." Drawled a Russian accent. "Want to make it a real party? I hear that you are... generous man."
"Now I know that's not your real accent." Castle responded. "Or you wouldn't need the blindfold."
Kate suddenly realized that he had heard her 'Russian' before, but it couldn't be helped. "When I am bored, I go to cafe and pretend to be Moscovite." She drawled in his ear.
Four women around the table sized her up. One of them seemed to recognize Kate as the bride and leaned back, looking borderline terrified. "You seem to be enjoying yourself. Want to make it perfect?" Kate offered, hands going everywhere slowly.
"Make it perfect?" Rick murmured. "Aside from the fact that I can't seem to draw an inside straight, this is the best week of my life."
"Best veek?" Beckett fed her accent a little. "But I just got here."
"Oh please, don't get him started." The redhead said from their left. "He hasn't shut up about the bride all night."
Kate smiled secretly. "You should pay more attention to your cards, handsome." She slid her hands lower, and he caught her wrist, not roughly, just redirecting her gently.
"You want us to deal you in?" He asked her, keeping it light. Richard reached for his blindfold, and she stopped him.
"I could offer another way to make tonight fun." She almost purred. "Your bride doesn't need to know."
"Excuse me, but he's got four better offers at the table." One of the blondes retorted.
"He hasn't seen me yet." Kate returned primly.
"Yeah, well..." Richard smiled softly. "You haven't seen my wife. It doesn't get any better."
They weren't technically married yet, but Kate felt her heart grow full.
The other three players at the table saw the smile on her face and realized swiftly what was happening. They all leaned away from the table, as though expecting something to blow up any second.
"Too bad." Kate pressed a kiss to the side of his forehead and took the cheesy plastic badge off her costume, hooking the clip over the waistband of his boxers. "Still, it's a real good bet, the best is yet to come."
"Heh. We were talking about making that our wedding song." Richard smiled and took off his blindfold.
She was gone. Castle breathed her scent deep from the air, looking at the small police badge she left with him.
"So?" Lanie asked quietly. "You see everything you needed to see?"
"Sometimes, Alexis knows him better than I do." Kate smiled and pulled her blonde wig off. "You know something, Lanie?" She said quietly. "Some days, I truly don't deserve that man."
Lanie let out a low whistle.
"What?" Kate asked, smirking.
"Nothing." Lanie shook her head. "I was just wondering: How many men can convince his bride that she doesn't deserve him, while at his own Bachelor Party?"
Kate laughed, despite herself. "Yeah, they really broke the mold on that one, didn't they?"
Lanie looked over with a sentimental smile. "He's said the same thing about you for five bestsellers now."
Kate nodded, actually feeling a little teary. "Yeah." She looked over. "Hey. You know something?"
"I'm getting married to a pretty amazing guy." She declared quietly.
Lanie smirked and drove her home.
AN: Read and Review!