This is a direct sequel to Contact and takes place between 4x19 and 4x20. It won't make much sense without that one!

The energy crackles between them like frayed wire ends as they stand either side of her doorway, the world between them shrunk from 3,000 miles to just this, an invisible threshold between lies and truth; friends and lovers; behind and forward; past and future.

She lets his coat fall. Exposing her bareness, the bony points of her collar and shoulders to the soft curve of her breasts, the peaks of her cafe au lait nipples, the expanses of her abdomen, and below. She remains immodestly indifferent that her door is still open and anyone could walk by. Anyone could look; she doesn't care. She'd still only see the pair of eyes in front of her. Kate tracks him with no small amount of self-consciousness, watches breathless and bound by invisible manacles as his eyes widen, black bombs edging out his navy irises fraction by fraction as he stares. Just stares.

At first, she thinks he's staring at her breasts. But he's not. He's staring precisely at what's between them, awe and fear and desolation and joy at the evidence before him, the punctuation mark between life and death.

Like willing prey, her whole body freezes in the blinding headlights of his gaze, allows him his hungry perusal when at last he moves on from the healing on her chest to rove over the rest of her. And he is unashamed, his tongue darting out to lick his lips and savor the sight of her.

Reaching out to touch him, to make sure he's real and here, she pulls back as if burned when he stops her. Their skin makes contact, rough and weathered hands unbecoming of a writer catching her pale, thin wrist and halting her approach. She stills.

"Not yet," he states calmly, a hint of something lush and dark and playful in his voice just as the night before, something she yearns to explore. Making no further attempt to advance them, she waits, and it feels strange and strangely right to allow him this.

"Are you ready?" Castle asks, folded layer questions small and boyish behind his simple words.

"Yes," she reassures him, answering the more urgent question first. "But not yet," she echoes, voice hardly a whisper, as if speaking at normal volume would break their spell and send the whole wonderful dream spiralling back down to reality. Going shy, Kate bites her lip and hears his breath hitch. "I thought you'd like to help."

Castle crosses into the apartment at last, whirling them around with a single step that speaks to Martha's insistence he learn the finer points of dancing, flashing her back and bare skin to the hallway momentarily before he kicks to door shut.

"Show me."

For the first-not-last time, she leads him to her bedroom. The closet door hangs open, ready for his and her perusal. It was a gamble, but the sensual smirk warming onto his nervous features says it's paid off.

"Since I don't know where we're going..." trailing off as his free fingers reach out and card through the section housing her coats, the way he must have carelessly run his fingers through the colorful costumes behind the stage as a small child. He's tactile, he always has been. He touches things. He touches her things now, reverent and respectful yet barely containing his irrepressible enthusiasm.

"You won't need much," he says at last. She grins lecherously. "Katherine Beckett!" Castle teases, as if he doesn't know as well as she does that wherever he's taking her, she's likely to spend a considerable amount of the next two days in a state of undress. But he's nothing if not respectful, and uncertain of just how far she wants to take this game, he waits for her to set a precedent.

At last she does, holding up two sundresses, one red and cream and the other solid white, intending to put her detective skills to use since he seems in no mood to tell her where they're headed yet. Sundress equals beach, equals Hamptons. He shakes his head, and she pushes that possibility to the back burner. Okay. Not the beach. Moving on to another section as best the leash of his hand around her wrist will allow, she pulls a light turtleneck from her collection. He approves. In it goes to the small suitcase laid open on her floor. A few soft sweaters, a pair of jeans, a sweater-dress, and two scarves follow quickly. Emboldened now, Castle throws a particularly shapely pair of thigh-high leather boots next to the suitcase, and then her ratty Converse besides. He explains nothing, and they move on.

Castle locates the built-in chest containing her underwear and peruses it freely, carding through lace and silk and lingering a particularly long time over a leather-trimmed lace thong and bra set he's found. But to her surprise, he closes the drawers without putting anything in her pack.

"Choose, Kate," he says softly, dropping her wrist in favor of carding his warmed fingers through her tousled hair. Instantly, she leans up into his touch, arching like a pleased and purring cat, and shudders with pleasure when his stubby fingernails make featherling contact with her scalp. She likes his touch. She does. "Do you want to take a bath, or get dressed?"

Two roads, and each could make all the difference, or none at all. She's not afraid of either. He won't lead her asunder. It's a matter of time, and besides already having taken a quick shower prior to his arrival, she's nearly twitching with anticipation to see what he has in mind for her, so she decides with a firm nod to him and herself.


His lips curl, secretive and so, so knowing. For a second, she thinks she sees something else in his eyes - something hurt and black and scared - but it's gone just as quickly, and he says nothing to indicate it was any more than a figment of her imagination. "Alright."

Reopening her lingerie drawer and letting his hand drop from her hair at last – she breathes a sigh of regret at the loss – he pauses again over the leather-trimmed set. She thinks she knows what he'll do, but as soon as she does, he surprises her again, passing over it in favor of a pair of navy lace panties and matching bra. They're attractive, certainly, but nothing special. When she moves to take them from him, he snatches the garments back, teasing smile playing on his face.

"No," he scolds lightly. "I don't think so."

With that, Castle runs the back of his hand up the inside of her arm, pressure just enough to tell her to raise it. She does so without thinking and delights in the prickle of gooseflesh that appears, spreading as a diffusion of desire from her arm to the rest of her body. Slipping the strap of the lacy balconet bra he's selected for her up and resting it at her shoulder with a lingering touch to her collarbone, he quickly repeats the process with the other side.

She's done clumsy strip-teases before – even once with only herself as a laughing audience, Aerosmith blasting on her speakers – and let a lover undress her once or twice, but this game is new and beautifully frightening. The irony that Castle's spent four years making undisguised references to seeing her naked is not lost on her at all, now that he's putting clothing back on her untouched body, and the hell if it isn't the hottest thing she's ever experienced.

Flush spreads across her chest, blooming in stark contrast to her creamy skin and the dark material covering her now when he slinks behind her, the coarse palms of both hands bracing against the small of her back. Vulnerable places, he'd said. She doesn't mind his touch. It is new and old at once; both exciting and infinitely safe. It's Castle. He's touched her vulnerabilities before, since the very day they met. Before, in fact, though he still doesn't know how much and she almost bursts to tell him now, but it can wait. The insistent slide of his lover's palm up her back and around her shoulders tell her that now is not that time.

With only-slightly shaking hands, he rests his hands over her. His breath hitches and quickens just slightly, and it's the only outward indication of the effect she feels she's having on him as the seconds tick by and his hands rove her bare and bone-rounded shoulders, thumbs tracing regenerative circles over her back before he gathers her hair to one side, exposing her neck to him. She whimpers. She hates being touched here, usually, but she can't wait for it now.

His lips spark her skin, first kiss – first real kiss – pressed as promised to the knob of her vertebrae. She sighs, hopelessly turned on already, and he responds with a low groan that reverberates through her. He has to bend to kiss the curves and juts and knobs of her spine, until at last he sinks to his knees, one hand curling around her waist – still holding her panties and absently rubbing them against her skin – and the other's whirled fingertips sealing the heartstains his lips leave once they move on.

She's exposed to his view fully, and it should be more nerve-wracking. Instead, she just feels free. He'll do what he wants, what they talked about and what was only implied by his natural command and her willing following of it the night before. She can trust him. More than anyone, she can trust him. How she forgot that, in the aftermath of her shooting... But it doesn't matter, now. He'll do nothing to harm her, nothing outside of her best interests. Push, maybe. Challenge, certainly. But never hurt.

She loves him. She knows she does. It both excites and frightens her how much. She thinks there's perhaps nothing that could make her uncertain of him now. Nothing he could do or say to make her love him less, short of betrayal. Hate him more ardently, sometimes? Yes. But never love him less.

"God, Kate," he whispers reverently as he reaches the small of her back, the final kissable bone flanked by dimples on either side. He kisses it, and kisses the divots, and kisses her the very exact spot he touched so many weeks prior, the day they faced down a tiger together and almost lost. She shivers with remembrance, with a hint of regret that she didn't ask him home then and there. But then, they wouldn't have had this. Whatever he's doing, whatever he has planned, this is not frantic frustrated fucking after nearly being eaten alive. And for that, she is grateful, in spite of all the pain it's taken to get here. Or perhaps because of it.

He hooks her bra closed, runs his hand up the ridge of her leg, bending it at the knee and slipping her panties on. First one leg, then the other. He pauses when they're halfway up her legs. The back of his big fingers drag briefly and shockingly between her legs.

They come away wet.

A pained groan escapes him, answered by a sharp inhale of her own, stab of want radiating from her center.

But he provides her no relief, nor any to himself, and instead covers her fully, only then standing and facing her again. He regards her with wonder, like he can't believe she's letting him do this. She can't believe it either – that he's so patient, so restrained and wild at the same time; that he's doing this with her; that she almost lost this – and it's all a bit much. The writer sees it before she knows what's happening, and then he's there, soaking up the scattering of salty droplets that have made their way onto her cheekbones. And then he explores some more.

The ridge of her eyebrows, kiss. Her temples, a brush of his day-unshaven cheek that makes her let out an unattractive bark of a laugh that's half humour and half sob. The apples of her cheeks get special attention. So too does the line of her jaw, the exposed expanse of her neck, the hollow of her throat.

With a ragged sigh, he pulls back, leaving both struggling for breath and control. His thorough worship, and her deference to his whim, is the furthest thing from expected, but it works. Dear god, does it work. Stepping back further, he peruses her closet again, and in his walk and the outline of him in his jeans, visual evidence of his arousal persists. He ignores it dutifully as she squirms with her own desire, resisting the urge to rub her legs together to seek some kind of relief. That's not the game they're playing right now.

In quick succession, he pulls her a black button-down shirt and a pair of jeans. Nothing outside the ordinary for her. Kate is surprised by his choice. She has racier pieces. Surely he's seen them. Raising an eyebrow, she gives him a quizzical tilt of her head, a language he understands easily after their years together.

"I like unwrapping my presents," Castle intones delicately, marvel and play laced one around the other as he drags the rough of her jeans up her legs. "It's no fun if there's no wrapping, no mystery."

He's spent the better part of an hour staring at her bare body, tending to it and dressing it, and his explanation should be ridiculous, but as he wraps her in her in the soft linen of her shirt and carefully buttons it up, she hasn't the mind to dispute. She just leans into his touch, the warmth of his palm over the comfort of the garment.

Tucking it in, he selects her favorite belt – of course he'd know that, too – and a pair of socks, pulling them on, followed quickly by the thigh-high boots he'd selected earlier. She steps into one gracefully, and he braces her to make up for the 3" difference as he slides on the other, zipping both up with a grin up at her that makes her gooey and hot inside, willing all this work of his away if it meant she could feel him where she wants. But he just covers her with another layer instead, shrugging a warm wool coat onto her – is it that cold out, or is it cold where they're headed? - and topping it all off with a with the warmth of a scarf, navy blue and black and grey threaded impossibly softly together.

She hums with impatience and contentment both. She'll have him, and soon. The question is when, not if. It's driving her good-crazy and the impish quirk of his mouth and the sparkle in his darkened eyes says he's not even close to done. She can't wait. But she will.

"Are you ready?" he asks again at last, zipping up her suitcase.


All thanks to hheath541 on AO3 for the idea of Castle choosing for her, and the push this needed to see the light of day!