A/N: And with this final chapter, the long road now comes to an end. To each and every one of you who dedicated time to reading along, you have my sincerest gratitude and appreciation. The words you've shared with me in response have meant a great deal. This has all been quite an eye-opening experience for me, and for that reason, among others, I'm going to be retiring my quill. I wish all the writers in the fandom great success with their work in the future and encourage those who've ever thought about writing to try it. I had no idea what I might find when I began a couple of years ago, and I'll never regret the decision. May Castle continue to bring you much joy as it moves forward. Love to all.
Castle had called and hired a small catering company to handle the dinner party, Paula's recommendation- nothing fancy, but he wanted the freedom to be able to spend uninterrupted time with his guests. It was to be an important night. He wanted so much to return to the 12th, despite how hard he'd tried to convince himself of the contrary the day he'd phoned Gates and quit. It'd been just days away from the precinct, away from the team he'd felt so much a part of, yet he already missed everything about it, and he was prepared to do whatever it might take to convince Espo and Ryan that he was worthy of a second chance, that he would be there, that they, as well as Kate, could count on him.
Kate still felt somewhat anxious about the whole party idea. Sure, she'd shared with Espo the broad strokes about what'd happened with Castle, but she hadn't painted him the entire picture. She didn't need to, really. She was sure his imagination would run wild in the end, anyway, regardless of what she did or didn't tell him. At least he hadn't blabbed his suspicions about the two of them to Ryan, which she appreciated.
Actually, Ryan still hadn't asked a single question about where she was or what she was doing while she was out, and when Espo had caught her look of panic at Ryan's confusion as to why Castle was at the precinct earlier in the week, he'd, luckily for her, jumped in with a heroically snarky comment of dismissal. Kate knew if there was any hope of her being able to keep their secret long-term, she'd seriously need to work on her skills at projecting casual.
Espo, Ryan and Lanie had all responded to Castle's text invite and agreed to be there, though not right away. They'd made him stew a bit. He deserved that. Ryan came to Kate asking what the whole thing was all about and she'd shrugged it off as though she knew just as much as he did: Castle wanted to talk to everyone together and it was important. It may as well have been an invitation for a root canal with all the enthusiasm she was demonstrating. She just wanted to go and get it over with, she'd told him. That's how she'd punctuated it- with indifference. "Right, yeah, okay," Ryan had replied.
There was no definitive way of knowing how the night would go and Kate feared that reality. Quick and painless is what she wanted, less so is what she suspected, a complete disaster is what she hoped to avoid.
"Hey," Kate answered, the interruption of her phone once again drawing her away from preparation for the day. "It's early. Why are you up?"
"Because I wanted my voice to be the first one you heard today. My small gift to you."
She chuckled softly, a towel still wrapped around her body, a comb in hand. "That's sweet, Castle. I'll put it in the pile along with Ray Charles's and Jim Beckett's."
"Man, really? Guess you've been up for a while, then." He sounded genuinely disappointed.
"Only about half an hour. Ray's been keeping me excellent morning company, though, and my dad was already on the train for an early meeting in Stamford. He called to check in, of course. Heaven forbid he lets a day slide by."
"Well, then, I get to be the last voice before sleep tonight. It's only fair."
"I'd like that- that is if we make it through tonight." She walked around the bed and pulled open a dresser drawer for a bra and panties.
"It's going to be great. I'll feed them good food, I'll pour them good wine, I'll charm the pants off of them. As is the Richard Castle way. And, hey, speaking of pants being off, are you wearing the black ones today?"
She grinned through the blush in her cheeks. "Excuse me?" She knew precisely what he meant. But she still wanted to hear him say it. There was something infinitely sexy about the deep rumble of his voice in the morning.
"You know how I love the black ones, Detective. The ones I slid deliciously from your body at the cabin. The ones with the lace that sit low against your hips and follow your curve and dip into-"
"Shit, I have to leave here soon, Castle, so you need to stop talking like that." His husky tone was already getting to her in a way she, most regrettably, didn't have the time for. "I really hate this not-seeing-you-for-two-days thing. Tell me tonight is going to fix that."
"I promise you, Kate. I'm going to fix it."
"I hope so, Castle. Look, I have to finish getting ready, okay? I'll call you later, Mr. Fix It. I love you."
"Have a nice morning. Love you too. Bye."
Castle hung up, splashed some much needed cold water on his face, and shuffled to the kitchen to make some coffee. He had edits on the book to get through before he did anything else, and he'd been putting them off, but if there was a chance he might end up back at the precinct on Monday, he knew he should finally pay them some attention. The task wouldn't be an easy one, however, his imagination now waging war against his responsibility, the image of Kate wearing only heavenly black lace a vision he wouldn't soon be able to shake.
"Penny for your thoughts, darling? From the looks of it, they must be marvelous." His mother's voice cut cruelly into his reverie and halted it like a needle scratching across a spinning record. "Wait, on second thought, don't tell me. There are some things a mother shouldn't know, after all."
"Who are you and what've you done with Martha Rodgers? Certainly my mother has never believed that to be true." He held up a second empty mug and she nodded in acceptance, and he poured the coffee grounds into the machine and set it to start.
"I'm nothing if not unpredictable, dear." She pulled out a stool and took a seat at the counter. "So, what's on the agenda for today? Need any help with the preparations for tonight's festivities? I have a few hours free this afternoon."
"Everything's covered, Mother, but I thank you for the lovely offer. I have some work to do on a few chapters and then I can start putting things together. There isn't all that much to do, anyway. It's just a few people from work, plus you and Alexis."
"From work, yes. And did Beckett ever RSVP to this little soiree of yours?" Her eyebrows inched upward with curiosity.
Castle spun around to the coffee maker to check on its progress though he'd just started it. He didn't want her to catch the tiny curve of his lips at the mere sound of Kate's name. Like the coffee, thoughts of her in his favorite lingerie were still percolating. "She did, yes, and she will be here, as shocking as it may sound."
"Well, I'm sure she must be interested in what you have to say, as are we all." She stood and pushed the stool back in. "Richard, are you sure you want us here for this? I don't want to be a distraction. You don't owe me anything. I hope you know that. I'm sure Alexis feels the same. We understand things have been difficult for you lately."
He walked across the kitchen and leaned against the counter in front of her. "I want you both here, Mother. I'm doing this for all of us, and I think things will be a lot better afterward."
"Then, we look forward to it. Now, hit me with some of that caffeine so I can keep up with all of you kids tonight. I shall go and leave you to your wordsmithery."
"Thank you, Mother."
"Ta-ta for now, darling." She grabbed her mug of coffee and fluttered away. "Should be a most interesting affair."
"Are we supposed to be bringing anything tonight? I didn't ask when I RSVP'd." Kate was at the board writing up some notes when Ryan approached. They'd gotten a new case the prior afternoon and, as always, she needed what little they had up there in front of her to begin to work through it.
"What do you mean?"
"Like wine or something, you know- dinner party etiquette. Jenny told me I should ask."
Ryan was a sweet man. Kate wondered sometimes how he'd really ended up at the NYPD. He was so much softer than his job. "Oh, right, I'm not sure. I didn't ask either." He continued to look at her, as though he expected something more- guidance, advice, she had no idea. "Castle's lucky we're even showing up, as far as I'm concerned." That was the cherry on top of her bogus I'm-still-mad-at-Castle sundae- entirely for Ryan's benefit, bordering on histrionic to the point it probably sounded suspicious.
"Okay, then," Ryan replied, hesitant to take the conversation any further. "Should be a fun night," he mumbled sarcastically, as he turned and walked away.
A few moments later, Kate was interrupted yet again, this time by the sound of Gates' voice calling across the bullpen from her office's entryway. "Detective Beckett, may I see you a moment?" Kate dropped her notepad on her desk and went immediately.
"Have a seat, Detective."
Kate pulled a chair back and sat. "Is there a problem, sir?"
"I was going to ask you that very question. Have you spoken with Mr. Castle since he was here the other day? About what I told you he and I discussed? No one's mentioned anything, so I wasn't certain where things stood on that front."
Kate folded her hands together in her lap and pressed them against her leg which had started to bounce up and down nervously. "I haven't seen him, sir." Dammit. That wasn't what she asked. "Aaaand, I haven't spoken with him either, no," she stammered in weak recovery. Then she remembered his voice on the phone that morning and the black and the sliding from her body, none of which helped matters any. "But- but, we have a plan to talk tonight."
"That's fine. I just want to be sure I'm kept informed. If he's going to be back with us, I'll need time to prepare my patience."
Kate wasn't certain whether or not to laugh. It was funny. And it was true. "I understand, sir. We should have an answer for you by Monday."
"Very well, Detective, thank you. Now, where do things stand with Mr. Jasper's coworkers?"
"We're beginning the interviews today, sir."
"Good. That'll be all."
"Yes, sir." Kate stood and moved toward the door. "Sir?"
Gates looked up from her paperwork, her glasses poised at the end of her nose. "What is it, Detective?"
"I don't know what's going to happen with Castle." She suddenly felt the need to qualify her statement. "I mean, whether or not we'll all decide we want him back here with us. But, whatever happens, I appreciate your having an open mind about it. I know he can be…a challenge."
Gates pulled off her glasses. "I just hope he knows how lucky a man he is, Detective- I mean, to have the opportunity for a second chance, that is. Hopefully, if he gets it, he'll use it wisely."
"Yes, sir. Hopefully he will."
Kate walked out of her office, Gates watching through the blinds as she passed by, both women smiling softly.
"Hi, you on your way?" Castle answered excitedly, examining potential wine selections for the evening from the cooler in the kitchen. The catering team of two had arrived earlier and was busy setting up behind him, Martha and Alexis readying upstairs.
"The guys took off a little while ago and I'm leaving now. I need to head home to change and then I'll be over."
"How'd the rest of the interviews go this afternoon?"
"Just have the wine ready. Let's put it that way."
"Ooo, talk about kismet," he marveled, "I just got chills. I'm choosing tonight's bottles as we speak."
"Well then, maybe it wasn't so much kismet chills as it was cold wine fridge chills."
He shook his head dismissively. "One day, Detective, I'll make a believer of you."
"We'll just see about that. Okay, I'm going to run so I can get home. And remember, Castle, don't act all excited when I get there. We're supposed to be fighting…or something."
He pulled out another bottle and shut the cooler door. "Maybe I should stand in front of the wine fridge for a while longer, then. Make sure I don't get all hot and bothered the moment I see you." He glanced over his shoulder, remembering suddenly he wasn't alone, though no one seemed to have heard a word.
"You have the self-control of a fourteen-year-old."
"You love it and you know it."
She smiled audibly. "I'll see you later."
He dropped his phone back into his pocket. "What can I do, darling?" he heard from across the room, his mother appearing, as she so often did, in attire practically demanding a dimmer switch.
"Mother, you look lovely, as always," he told her, blinking his eyes rapidly out of pure necessity.
"Thank you, Richard. You're quite a handsome vision, yourself." She placed her hands lovingly on his cheeks. "My boy," she said, "I truly am the luckiest mother."
"Well, I can't argue with that," he teased.
"Argue with what?" Alexis asked, popping up seemingly out of thin air.
"With the fact that your grandmother struck gold in the son department. You look nice, sweetie."
"Thanks, Dad. I'm really looking forward to tonight. Gram is too." She turned to Martha for affirmation. "Right?"
"'Tis true, darlings, 'tis true. Now then, give us something to do, Richard- idle hands, idle hands."
Very little needed attending to at that point, his guests scheduled to arrive shortly. "I suppose we should have some music, so one of you can handle that, right? And, I picked out some wine so someone can help me open a few bottles."
"I'll get the music!" Martha declared energetically.
"Okay, Mother, but no show tunes. Not unless things go well and we're all drunk later."
"Understood," she replied, notably disappointed.
Alexis helped him open the bottles once Martha had stepped away. They stood together in the kitchen, Martha now out of earshot, and gathered up wine glasses for the guests. "I'm glad you're here tonight," Castle told her. "I think it's going to be a good night."
"I just hope you and Detective Beckett can manage to keep your clothes on for the entire party," she quipped.
"Alexis," he hissed, "would you keep your voice down, please? Your grandmother's across the room- she's not deaf!" He fidgeted with the base of one of the glasses on the counter, spinning it until it tumbled over and cracked. Alexis looked at it and then at him. "Now-this-"
"Relax, Dad," she said, her hand reaching out for his wrist. "You need to relax. I was joking, and I wasn't even talking loud enough for Gram to hear."
"I'm sorry. I know. I'm sorry." He took a few deep breaths in. "I'm relaxed. Everything's fine." Then the front door buzzed and his body jumped, sending the cracked glass toppling over yet again. "Yeah, everything's good." He wasn't sure which one of them he was trying to convince.
Ryan and Jenny were the first to arrive, and Castle was glad she was able to come. If Ryan wasn't thrilled to be there, at least he'd have her to talk to. The two brought a bottle of wine with them, despite Ryan's somewhat perplexing conversation with Kate about it earlier, and he thanked them and welcomed them in. When Martha and Alexis came around to say their hellos, Castle took the wine to the kitchen.
Ryan seized the opportunity to sneak away from the ladies a few minutes later and he headed for the kitchen, as Castle pulled down another glass to replace the one he'd broken. "Hey, Castle," he said, "it's good to see you."
"It's good to see you too, Ryan. I'm very happy you agreed to come." For a man who made his living by way of his words, he felt uncharacteristically uncertain as to where exactly to begin. "I have some open already. Can I offer you a glass?"
"Sure, thanks. Red, please, if you have it."
"Red, it is." Castle poured and presented it. "You know," he began in soft tone, "I wanted the chance to tell you face-to-face how sorry I am for the way I've been acting lately, and for walking out on all of you without any explanation. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, not really myself, and I know that's not a fair excuse for my behavior, but I hope you'll accept my apology. You've always been kind and supportive and I want to assure you that I won't ever take that for granted again."
Ryan moved the glass to his left hand and extended his right. "I appreciate you saying so, Castle. I hope you realize you're not just Beckett's partner. You're my partner too, and if you ever need to talk about anything, you can come to me."
"That means a lot, thank you. Now, what can I get your beautiful bride to drink? We should probably get back over there before the ladies start plotting to take over the world. I have little doubt they could do it."
Castle and Ryan rejoined the group and everyone moved to the sofa to sit more comfortably, hors d'oeuvres passed and plenty of wine at the ready. Martha's surprisingly tame selection of classical music played lightly in the background, and the aroma of the evening's meal wafted through the air.
Espo was next to arrive, with Lanie on his arm, Martha taking notice of Castle's expression as the sound of the buzzer echoed around them. It was written all over his face, his anticipation of Kate's arrival- impossible for him to hide.
Castle shook Espo's hand and kissed Lanie on the cheek, and they greeted the small group already gathered inside. Castle retreated to the kitchen, once again, to collect a drink for each, tapping Espo on the shoulder upon his return and pulling him aside. Because he already knew about what was going on with Kate, he had to talk to him away from other ears, so he led him back toward the office.
"You should've told me about Beckett, bro," was the first thing out of Espo's mouth. "We're guys. We tell each other this stuff."
"We do? I mean, yes, we do. Look, this all just happened and I haven't seen you and- my fault, definitely my fault," he sputtered nervously, as Espo took a menacing step toward him. "Thank you for agreeing to keep it quiet. We both really appreciate it. A lot."
Espo didn't reply, just tipped his glass back for another sip. "Yeah, well, you better not jack this up. I got Beckett's back on this, not yours."
"I understand, yes. I mean, no. I won't."
"And about the way things have been, about the past few weeks, I'm-"
"You don't need to say it, brother. We're good. Treat her right and we're good."
Castle stepped in to pat him on the back. "Whoa, I said we're good, Castle. No need for the touchy-feely stuff."
"Got it." He backed away and grinned awkwardly in the silence that followed. "It's nice to see you here with Lanie, by the way."
"Yeah," Espo agreed, as the door sounded from behind him in announcement of the night's final guest. Castle drifted a few steps to his right, allowing him a clear view out to the front entryway. "That your girl?"
Castle didn't say a word, merely smiled when the door opened and Alexis invited Kate in.
"Game face, bro. And you're worried about me? Whatever."
Everyone watched as Castle hurried across the room and approached Kate. And subtle about it, they were not, the chatter of ongoing conversations coming to an immediate halt. "Thank you for coming," he said timidly, and she nodded with a hushed sure. She'd worn a jacket and he offered to take it from her, their fingers meeting clandestinely beneath the soft fabric during the exchange. Kate looked to the floor in the aftermath of his fleeting touch, its striking power after two days without it jarring to her senses.
The others in the room glanced around at each other awkwardly, uncertain as to what should come next, and it was Martha who took the reins, who broke the perceived tension, who welcomed Kate effervescently. "Come in, dear girl!" she exclaimed, rising from the sofa and bounding toward her. "It's nice to see you again. You look lovely."
"Thank you, Martha," Kate replied meekly, the attention from the room more than a bit uncomfortable.
"Would you like a drink?" Castle asked. "I have some wine open."
She shouted a plea with her eyes but voiced instead a demure "Yes, thank you," her absolute necessity of it something she felt no need to share with the group.
Castle walked Kate's jacket all the way back to the office, having no idea why other than he couldn't seem to think clearly anymore with her around and that's where his legs took him. She met him at the kitchen counter a moment later to gather her glass, the others having picked up the conversations they'd put on pause when she'd arrived. He wanted to hold her, to touch her face, to feel her lips on his, but he clenched his jaw and pressed forward with the charade, looking every bit as uncomfortable as he felt he should.
"What?" Kate barked out of the clear blue, jolting him into a state of panic and confusion. Everyone else tried not to look, futilely so, the outburst too stunning for any of them to ignore. Castle was in trouble- again. Still. That was clear.
Kate's eyes opened wide and Castle realized he was supposed to play along. "Come on, Beckett. You have to give me another chance!" he shouted in reply, feeling increasingly idiotic, as each word dribbled out with more of a childish whine than its predecessor.
"Why the hell should we, Castle? You're the one who walked away!"
That one stung.
Castle hung his head, and Espo nudged Ryan with his elbow. "Hey, uh, Beckett," Ryan hollered from across the room. He managed to regain his balance after the firm shove, and he made his way toward her with Espo in tow. "We couldn't help but overhear- mostly because you were yelling, but- we, Javi and I, have decided we'd like Castle to come back. To work. With us." It all fell out of his mouth gracelessly, clear that he feared how she might react.
Espo threw Castle a sideways glance and a disapproving shake of the head. "It's true. I'm not sure why, but I already miss having him around- the old him, not the new him."
"Yeah," Ryan chimed in, "the new him was kind of a douche."
Espo smacked Ryan on the back of the head. "I can make my own points, thanks. But, yeah, what he said."
Kate studied their faces as they stared back at her, like a couple of kids who'd just begged their mother for ice cream. When she turned back to Castle, he quickly calmed the smile on his face and cleared his throat. "I don't have any idea what the hell you promised them, but it must be something good." She looked at them with their optimistic expressions. "Fine," she conceded, "but consider this a probationary period, Castle." She pointed her finger at him to emphasize the point, and Espo and Ryan followed suit mockingly. "Seriously, guys?"
"Sorry," they mumbled in unison.
"I promise I'll never make you regret this," Castle assured her.
"Better not," Espo warned, his admonition about more than simply the job. He pulled Ryan by arm and they returned to their dates.
Alexis approached a moment later, hesitantly, but with a signal of approval from Castle. "Sorry to interrupt, Dad, but Scott says dinner's ready whenever we want to eat. Do you want me to gather everyone?"
"Thanks, sweetie, I'd appreciate that. I'll be over in a minute with the wine for refills."
"You doing okay?" Kate asked him after Alexis had gone.
"I am. Everything's perfect. I'm just really glad you're here. I've missed you so much."
"Me too." She wanted to sit and hold his hand in hers, do nothing but stare into his blue eyes in a quiet room alone somewhere. "Come on, I'll help you with the wine."
They sat across the table from one another at dinner, Castle on one end and Kate on the other, the others arranged in between. He'd set himself opposite her intentionally, that being the most logical composition for a pair playing at not getting along particularly well, as well as for the purely selfish want of having her there in front of him- not so close that anyone might catch him watching, not so far as to miss even one second of her.
The conversation was light, talk of work left behind, laughter making its return to the group that'd lost it somewhere along the way. Martha regaled everyone with wild tales of theatre days past, and Ryan and Jenny talked of newlywed life. Espo and Lanie shared lingering moments in each other's eyes they weren't yet sure how to interpret, and Alexis and Castle bickered sweetly about her impending college decision.
All the while Kate watched him, all other sights and sounds pushed out along her periphery where she could access them if required but where they couldn't impede her focus. She laughed when the others laughed and swallowed down the food placed in front of her as the others did, but Castle was the only thing she truly heard and truly saw. And in those seconds when their eyes happened to meet and they refused to look away, she felt a love for him she never had before, there, among their friends and family.
In a brief moment of table calm, Castle pushed his chair back and rose, his nearly empty wine glass in hand. "I'd like to say a few words, if I may, if you'll indulge me for a moment." Everyone turned their attention and waited curiously. "Well, I'd first like to thank all of you for being here tonight. It really means a lot that you've allowed me this opportunity after everything that's happened, and that my team at the 12th has agreed to welcome me back- provisionally, of course, Detective Beckett. I've missed laughing with you and being a part of something meaningful, and I look most forward to spending my days with you again."
Castle looked around the table at each of them. "I lost my way for a little bit, but I've found my path again, right where I hoped it would be, and I promise you that I won't ever again lose sight of it. I'm a lucky man to have each and every one of you in my life. I hope you'll always remember that. So, here's to you." He raised his glass in a toast and they all followed his lead.
Kate never took her eyes off of him. The sincerity with which he spoke transfixed her. As everyone around her clinked glasses and sipped in celebration, she stood from her chair silently and stepped slowly around the table until she was just inches from him. Surprised and uncertain, he took her in, his puzzlement growing more profound as she reached for the glass in his hand and placed it on the table. As though they were standing in a spotlight, everything else around them came to a stop, no one certain exactly what was unfolding before them, but all utterly fixated on the scene, nonetheless.
"I love you," she said, clearly, conclusively, without hesitation or vacillation. And then she pulled him to her in a kiss that sent a wave of electricity through the entire room. They all watched it, from beginning to end, happening there unabashedly in front of them, no words exchanged.
"God, I love you too," Castle whispered, as Kate pulled back, her hands tight in grip at his waist. "And that was-"
"Better than any dessert you have waiting?" she teased.
"I was going to say unexpected, but, you're right, I can barely remember what dessert even means at this point."
"Yo, what is for dessert?" Espo asked, matter-of-factly.
"Yeah, Dad, what are we having?"
Castle and Kate broke apart and turned to face the table. Everyone stared in apparent anticipation of Castle's answer. "I'm sorry. You're asking me what we're having for dessert? After that just happened?" Kate stood quietly beside him with furrowed brow.
"My sweet tooth's really kicking in, Castle," Ryan said.
"I'll go ask Scott, everybody," Martha announced.
"I'll come with you," Lanie called out. "I need to use the restroom, anyway."
Castle pointed harshly at Espo and Alexis, his arms locked straight out in front of his body. "You two told them, didn't you? Espo, seriously?"
"Oh, come on, like we all didn't know this was coming. We've had a damn pool going for, like, two years. I got anxious, wanted to collect my winnings. Man's gotta eat."
"He's been bragging about it for days," Lanie snarled as she walked away, clearly bitter about the loss.
"And you, Alexis? They, at least, had a bet going. Not that that's any excuse. What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"
"Gram has powers, Dad. You know this. I swear, it was like she could read my mind."
"It's true, dear. It was written all over that angelic face of hers. When ever will you learn?"
Castle put his hands on his hips in a huff, and Kate managed to sneak a peek at his adorably exaggerated pout, doing her very best to maintain a straight face for the sake of a united front. "Well, it's so nice to know we can count on you guys. Honestly."
"Really, bro? A little pot and kettle, don't you think?" Espo countered.
"I think it's amazing, by the way." Jenny had said nothing up until that point. "Even I knew when I first met you guys that something was going on. I hope you're very happy together."
Ryan put his arm around Jenny's shoulder. "We all hope so."
"Well, thank you both," Kate jumped in, catching Castle by surprise. She tugged his hand from his hip and folded it into her own. "We're very happy and hopeful and looking forward to whatever comes next- just as long as Gates doesn't find out. If she does, I'll have to kill you."
"What the hell are you looking at me for?" Espo protested.
"Protective, that's hot," Castle mumbled, with a squeeze of Kate's hand.
"Oh, get a room, you two," Espo barked.
"Yes, please!" Alexis exclaimed.
Castle pulled Kate against him, the rest of the group dispersing into the room. "You want to?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Oh, I want to. But first, I find myself oddly curious about dessert." She drew him downward by the front of his shirt, her lips pressed to his ear. "And just so you know, I'm wearing the black ones, Castle."