a post-ep to 3x02 "He's Dead, She's Dead" in which Beckett receives a psychic's warning to keep Alexander close; he would save her life

x-factor: an unknown or unexplained element that makes somethinɡ more interestinɡ or valuable

I've shown you mine; now, you show me yours.

When the his text comes, she's already settled into her couch with a book called Exposed - all about the 'gibberish' of psychic phenomena - and she's deep into a fascinating chapter on how it's actually scientifically possible to bend a spoon - so she doesn't really want to be interrupted. She messages him back, Excuse me? with a twist in her mouth that she knows is from trying to smother her amusement at his inappropriate comment.

Beckett allows a smirk, nothing more. And then he messages her back:

Come on. Meet you halfway. I had to attend the funeral of my mother's late paramour. I need soul food.

So despite her resolve to be more careful with herself around him, she's pulling on clothes and leaving her pajamas at the foot of the bed, sliding into flat shoes and a leather jacket to keep out the early autumn chill. She walks slowly towards the pub they've nicknamed Halfway, reminding herself that it's different now, everything is different after he left for the Hamptons this summer, and she is a stronger person for it.

Really, she's better for it.

He's waiting for her inside the Halfway, two beers on the table, ensconced near the back with his eyes on the door, steady on her. He's wearing that pin-striped suit still, but the jacket is gone and the sleeves he's rolled up are black, dark with mourning.

Beckett has a moment where she wonders if Martha ought to have her son at home, if perhaps she's taking Castle away from an important time for closure, but his smile is so warm, inviting, encompassing her, that she heads straight to him, unable to help herself.

Besides, he's the one who texted her. If he can't handle the emotional fallout of his actions, maybe that will teach him a lesson.

She slides into the weathered wooden booth and gives Castle a raised eyebrow, letting him have the look she shot her phone when she read that text.

"You know you liked it," he scoffs. "So come on. Middle name, Beckett. Cough it up."

That's right. Alexander sits before her, just as Penny the psychic-in-training told her he would. Beckett presses her lips together, puts her elbows on the table. "I thought you needed cheering up but this is a fishing expedition. You've lured me here under false pretenses."

Castle quirks his mouth and his grin is crooked, the corner rising up. "Luring you here under false pretenses is my m.o. - as you've seen."

It is, just like when he told her this little pub was halfway between their apartments, a neutral middle ground, back when she didn't know where he lived and he was always trying to tag along, back when he was a nuisance.

Well, not that he's not still a nuisance.

"Hmm," she says, pretending to think it over. He nudges the beer towards her but she only wraps her fingers around the glass, acceptance but hesitation. Those are her new watchwords - hesitant acceptance. She can do this.

"Come on. I told you my secret middle name. Now you tell me yours."

She startles with a laugh she didn't mean to give out, but he catches it immediately, beaming back at her, so proud of himself. A little boy giving his favorite teacher an apple.

"What?" he says, chuckling with her. "Why's that funny?"

"Your 'secret' name. When I was a kid, I always felt like my middle name was my - I don't know - secret identity. My superhero alias. It was a talisman; it had power."

It's a different Castle who leans back against the seat, regards her. His smile is still there, but so much of that annoying, disarming charm has been smothered out by earnest curiosity. "Read a lot of comic books, Beckett?"

"More than you know," she murmurs, on the defensive with him again. But his tone is curious, not insulting, and so she softens. "The idea is appealing."

"I understand. Why do you think I changed my name to Castle? It's like a mask, a convenient escape. Changing into tights and a cape in the phone booth of my name."

The phone booth of his name. Sometimes she forgets he's really a very good writer. Sometimes the smarmy things that come out of his mouth throw up a decoy for the real man. Just like his adopted name, his charm is a mask.

"Of course," he drawls out, "I've lately come to discover another secret power of my name change."

She lifts an eyebrow in question.

"If you say Rick Castle fast enough, it apparently sounds exactly like rich asshole."

Her face doesn't so much as twitch, but she knows her eyes are giving it away. She didn't realize that he'd overhead that. She swallows slowly and does him the honor of maintaining eye contact. It's a way of saying, not anymore. He's... endearing. As much as she wishes it weren't true.

"Well," she answers, "in the boys' defense, you'd just done your own little psychic reading in the conference room and pretty much told me my whole life story like it was a parlor trick. They saw my face."

Castle shifts in the booth. "Esposito didn't like me much back then."

"Back then?" she smiles. She knows he's also talking about what happened at the end of the summer when he came back from the Hamptons. He's got Gina now and he's parading it around in front of her boys who feel for her, but no one needs to feel for her. It's sweet, but it's misplaced.

She's fine. She's a stronger person, a different person, and this summer she managed to get up enough guts to crack open her mother's case and really look at the evidence Castle dug up behind her back two summers ago. She's got leads now, avenues of investigation, and she can almost taste the day when she catches the bastard who hired Coonan.

That's what she works for, and that's all she needs.

"I changed my name too," she blurts out. Not at all where she meant to lead their conversation.

His gaze snaps to hers, sharp and surprised, and she would close her eyes, close off that communication between them, but she's not usually one to back down. So she lifts her chin and gives it up.

"My parents called me Katie. My senior year of high school, I wanted to git rid of Becks and so I had everyone use Katherine. I was stuck up, and the guys in college - they let me know it. After my mom was murdered and I told my friends I was going into the Police Academy, they laughed. One guy, Randall, said that a bourgeoisie like me couldn't possibly condescend to join the proletariat."

Castle whistles. "That's harsh."

"But maybe accurate - at the time," she says, reaching for the beer. She salutes him and takes a swallow from the glass, but - as always - it's an acquired taste she just can't seem to acquire. Too proletariat even now. "When I graduated NYU, Randall was the one who played 'Janey's Got a Gun' at the after-party and karaoke-sang Katie's Got a Gun."

"Ouch," Castle chuckles, playing off the twist of her lips. He's sitting forward now, fingers cutting wide swaths through the condensation on his glass. His beer is half gone, and she hopes food is coming soon. He always orders a few tapas before she arrives so that they can sit in silence and eat, focus on the task at hand.

They've done this too much, meeting up for late dinner or a drink; she shouldn't keep doing this. What about Gina? And she and Josh are - whatever they are - though she's not sure Josh would care if she's out blowing off steam after a hard case while he's at the hospital.

She can't seem to help herself, and the sour-apple and baker's-chocolate taste of the beer is still twisting her mouth, making words spill out.

"When I got to the NYPD, I told them Kate," she says finally. "I mean, mostly Beckett, of course, but my official reports, putting my name to something - it's definitely not Katherine, and not even Esposito knows my father still calls me Katie. Kate Beckett is - better."


"I think so," she says, shrugging, unwilling to do the work for him of digging into her psyche about that choice.

Castle is still studying her when the waitress appears with hummus and pita chips, setting them on the table. Beckett stops her with a finger, asks for a bottle of sparkling water. Castle offers an apology for the beer but she shakes him off, instead digs in to the appetizer, a big scoop of chickpea dip on a triangle of pita, pushes it past her lips with a crunch.

The flavor masks the beer she sipped and tastes earthy, dark. She thinks the draft is their home brew, and she knows Castle really likes it, but it's just not something she wants to do tonight. Too much swirling around in her brain still when it comes to Castle, to what might have happened this past summer if he-

"Okay, so we've gone through your first name," Castle interrupts her thoughts. "Now. Middle name?"

Beckett shakes her head and scoops another pita chip into the hummus, licks her thumb as she hovers the bite near her lips. He's watching that too, but this time it's with curiosity - because she's a puzzle. The eager and unabashed attraction is gone from his face.

It makes her sad.

"Come on," he says. "I know it starts with an H. I did a LexisNexis search on you. Found you right away as the detective of record in a couple of cases."

She chuckles and sits back as the waitress brings her water, thanks her. Beckett pushes another chip into her mouth and twists open the bottle quickly, swallows a couple sips to push a new flavor onto her tongue - bright and bitter and sharp.

"You subscribed to a LexisNexis account?" she says finally, putting the bottle down.

"Of course. Come on. Your parents're lawyers - it demands using such a classic legal search engine."

She tilts her head at him, and the silence curls and drifts like fog around them. Castle is just beginning to look nervous when she lets her smile loose. "Nice job using a contraction on the verb tense there, Castle. Keep it nebulous."

He grins back, that smarmy half-shrug that makes her want to kick him. "What can I say? I'm just that good."

Her mother was a lawyer; her father is a lawyer. Makes that sentence tricky. Trust Rick Castle to know how to get around it. He's always doing that - breaking the rules.

"I was thinking Helen," he offers. "Katherine the Great and Helen of Troy. But then I said it all together and it was difficult. Katherine Helen Beckett. So maybe not."

She doesn't answer, merely sips the sparkling water again. She's set against telling him her middle name, and yet here she is. Still sitting here. Listening to him try to bulldoze his way back inside.

"So then I googled the top 100 baby names for the year you were born. Beckett. Are you one of the Heathers?"

She can't help the laugh this time, shakes her head. "I'm no Shannen Doherty."

He grins back, looking pleased for having caught out her laughter. "Good. Cause I'd have pegged you as more of the Winona Ryder of that movie."

She quirks her lips. "A murderer?"

He shrugs. "Different. 'The new sheriff in town,'" he quotes.

She might be flattered. She shouldn't be. It's Castle after all, but she thinks it's actually getting to her.

"Houghton," she sighs. Yeah, he got to her.

"Excuse me, what?"

"Shut up," she mutters at him, narrowing her eyes.

"Did you say Houghton?"

She glares at him, but she's fast coming to realize it's not amusement on his face, but just incredulity. He didn't think it of her, not that highbred.

"As in, the Houghtons of New York?" he adds. "The Corning Glass Houghtons?"

"My mother's maiden name," she defends, turning her eyes to the window.

"The apartment, the clothes," he muses, as if thinking out loud. And then he winces, rubs a hand down his face. "I get it. When Randall said you'd be slumming it with the proletariat. And when I said you had much better options, socially acceptable options-"

"It's not like we're the Hepburns," she says, prickly, as she always has been about them - the Houghtons her mother named her for. "That's not our line. Black sheep, all of the women, so my being a cop shouldn't have made a difference."

"But it did," he guesses correctly. Or maybe she's just given it away; she can't tell with him any longer. He's studying her now, too intently, all of his leering erased. "I've never heard you talk about any family other than your father."

She shrugs. "I'm Beckett. Not Houghton." She knows he sees too much, that the shrug didn't fool him, but she's not willing to go there. Not this year; she's stronger now than she was. She knows what she's after, and she's not going to let herself get sidetracked by the writer.

"All right," he says quietly. "Believe me, I know messy family."

She glances at him again, feels herself softening, feels it stealing over her. "How's Martha? You didn't need to stay and - comfort her?"

"She's okay. She's a survivor, you know. Single mother - actress in this city - she's had to be."

Beckett knows; she hears what he's saying too. Whatever reasons Kate Beckett has for ignoring her more famous - and wealthy - side of the family, he's got reasons for changing his name. She wonders if his mother's family is less than admirable, or if perhaps they slighted a pregnant Martha just as her own mother was looked down on for her marriage to - well, a proletariat. Falling beneath their stations.

But her father is a lawyer and it should have been good enough, it should have-

"Forget families," Castle says quickly, trying to grin at her. "Families suck."

She shakes her head. "Yours doesn't. You've - made the most of your family, Castle. You're a good father."

"Is hell freezing over?" he says sharply. "Because my mother just said she raised a wonderful son and now you're saying I'm a good father."

She narrows her eyes at him and, once more, wants to kick him.

"Hey," he says then. "Seriously, that first case... I don't bother to stop and check before I plunge right in. I've never been able to wade; it's always the high dive for me."

Is that an apology? "One of these days, you know, you're going to break your neck doing that," she mutters. But there's something welling up in her chest and knotting there, like a confused tangle of thread in the story she's been trying to knit together.

She mentally rolls her eyes at herself. She needs to leave the pretty metaphors to Castle. Ignore the lump in her throat and have dinner with her annoying shadow so she can go home.

She clears her head and tries again. "So, what are we eating? Snack, desserts, what? I'm starving."

"Oh no," he protests. "Snacks will never last me. Here, let me tell the waitress we're ready now."

Castle jumps up to get things started and Beckett lets out a relieved breath.

So what if the psychic said stick close to him? It's nothing. It's just a name, and she, for one, knows how easily a person can slide in and out of a name. And so does Castle. In fact, Alexander isn't even his name any longer.

"Hey, look, Beckett," he says then, calling back to her. "I just saved your life."

Beckett startles and glances up. He approaches with the waitress in tow who is carrying two full plates - burgers and fries, the thick-cut ones with the seasoning she loves.

"See? I ordered before you got here."

She stares down at the turkey burger in front of her, checks the ingredients almost distractedly. Everything she usually orders. "How'd you remember-"

"Come on," he scoffs. "Creepy staring, remember? Eat up, Beckett. You said you were hungry."

She takes the burger with both hands - has to, it's so thick - and she stares down at it for a moment too long.

He just dives right in.

As he always does.

A part of her, the part that took him out into the hall off the conference room and tried to say what she'd been thinking for a while now, the part that told Lanie she wanted loud - that part wants to just go for it.

But instead, she lowers her burger and picks up the knife, carefully cuts it in half - a dissection into parts - unwilling to get messy.

She has a plan. She's going to stick to the goals she made this summer when she put up the timeline of her mother's case; she's going to keep her eyes on the goal.

She lifts her gaze, involuntarily, to Castle demolishing his burger, wide mouth and gusto and a fresh energy. It bolsters her somehow, shores her up. He's got something she's always missing, and she doesn't know what it is, except maybe fun.

Nothing wrong with keeping this Alexander close, right?

Not that she believes in that kind of thing.