When nikkibeckettcsm told me she wanted to do something to say thank you to castlefanfics for being so awesome, I asked if I could, too. So, Alex, this is for you! Thank you for being so ridiculously awesome to this fandom.

Splatter Patterns

Prompt: Pre or post - they play paintball

Timeline: Season 3, just after 3XK.

At some point he's sure he's going to regret this, but at this moment, creeping through a bank of foliage behind his partner, Castle can't think of a single reason why.

He's exactly where he wants to be.

They've opted not to split up. Even knowing they're at a tactical disadvantage in doing so, they're a team so they're going to stick together. He watches her back (which looks quite lovely in ass-hugging, well-loved jeans if he's allowed to appreciate the view even a little bit) and she watches his in turn. Together they're stealthy, focused, and quite frankly, pretty deadly. So to speak.

She gestures for him to hold, ducking deeper behind a scraggly shrub and peering out. He waits, flexing his fingers around his weapon. He's no stranger to firearms, real or facsimile, but this one is different than he'd been expecting. He'd been expecting it to be lighter, but Beckett is no cheapskate. She picked the good ones for them.

It turns out Kate Beckett is just as competitive at paintball as she is at everything else. There's no half-assing this with her. They play like they're training, complete with tactical hand signals and deliberate, careful motions. It doesn't really matter to her that their opponents are a pair of seventeen year olds who've spent an entire teacher's work day goofing around.

No, they're in this game to win it.

They both want a victory on this maybe date.

He's pretty sure it's a date, at least. She'd waited to ask him to play paintball with her until Ryan and Esposito were otherwise occupied, indicating at the very least that they weren't invited. And she'd seemed almost nervous when she asked, which she wouldn't be if it weren't a date, right? After all, they do things together pretty often and she's never seemed nervous before.

Plus, he's pretty sure she's been flirting – actually flirting, not just teasing him to drive him crazy – this entire time. There are the grins from under her mask, the caress of her eyes when he checks to make sure any of the hits he's sustained aren't in the "kill" zone. She seems particularly fond of the pattern splattered across his left butt cheek (though he's sure his actual butt isn't looking so hot after that – those pellets hurt). Yeah, she's been checking him out as often as he's been looking at her.

"We're clear," she announces softly, glancing back at him. "You done watching my ass for a while, Castle? Cause I'd like to win this game before time runs out." She has a point; they're leading for number of hits, he's pretty sure, but it'd be nice to have a decisive victory under their belts.

Unashamed at being caught admiring her, he grins, feeling it shift his mask a little. "Just looking out for your six, Beckett."

"Uh huh, sure you are."

"Well, you'll notice you haven't been hit there. Unlike me."

She snorts, dropping her head. "Alright, pretty sure we have one there and there," she murmurs, pointing to emphasize where their opponents are hiding. "They'll be expecting us to take them on one at a time; this time we should divide and conquer, then head for the flag."

And now the strategy makes even more sense.

"I'll take ten, you take two," he volunteers, shifting his weapon. "Hits or deadbox?" He's tried out the lingo a few times during the game, but he especially likes that one.

Beckett checks her watch. "Deadbox them if you can. Time's almost up. Don't get hit, either way. I want the bonus points."

He grins. Of course she does. "Break on three."

She nods, shifting her weight. "One."

"Two," he murmurs.


They scramble to their feet, tearing off in separate directions to make their final run for the flag before time expires.

In the end they both take more hits than they probably expected to (who knew those kids were that good?), but they still come away with the victory.

Beckett laughs when she sees the mess of brightly colored splotches on his arms. Not that she has any room to snicker at him, really; now her pants are just as decorated as his are.

"Good job, Castle," she murmurs, pulling the mask over her head and tossing it beside his on their equipment bench. His fingers itch to swipe at the smear of bright pink paint at her jawline, but he behaves.

"Thanks," he exhales, running a hand through his hair just to occupy his fingers. The movement tugs at his side, reminding him of the three rapid-fire hits he'd taken right at the end of the game. "You weren't too bad yourself, Beckett. Thanks for the cover fire at the end."

She laughs, dropping her vest onto the table before reaching out to help him with his. "No problem. You're probably going to want some ice for this." Her hand settles warmly against his side and he has to fight his quick inhale.

She's not usually this touchy.

"Want to grab an ice pack or two and a really bad burger from the concession stand?" he offers, his voice far higher than he'd hoped it would be. Way to sound like a 13 year old on the cusp of puberty, Rick.

Beckett smiles easily, sliding her thumb over his side. It stings a little, but he keeps that under wraps.

"I'll return the equipment and meet you over there?"


"Kay. Don't buy," she warns. "This is my treat."

Yeah, this is definitely a date. Which… makes him wonder what exactly happened to Doctor Motorcycle Boy.

He won't ask, though. The same way she hasn't asked about Gina or what happened when his helium-filled apology just wasn't enough to fix the mistakes of the past. No, he won't push his luck.

"I won't buy, Beckett," he promises, moving gingerly. "I will get ice, though."

His partner laughs. "It bites a little, doesn't it?"

"Yeah it does."

Beckett grins. "It'll get better. Go on, I have this stuff."

He exhales as her hand slips away.

She tosses a smile over his shoulder, injecting more than a little sway to her hips as she walks away.

True to his word, he waits for her to return before stepping up to place his order. He notices she's also moving a little bit gingerly, and his hand lifts on its own accord to touch one of the paint splotches on her arm.

"When'd they catch you here?"

"Oh, right at the end. I thought it just grazed me, but I guess not." She lifts a shoulder, smiling anyway. "We still won."

He smiles back, gingerly taking their tray while Beckett hands over two twenties and puts the change she receives in the tip jar. Her chin dips under his scrutiny, but neither of them mention the generosity of the gesture; their meal wasn't that expensive.

They settle at a small table underneath a faded, half-closed umbrella that he decides to crank open, only to groan dramatically as the movement pulls at his new bruise and bump collection. Beckett laughs into her hand, the affection in her eyes staggering him back into his seat.

"Alright, Schwarzenegger, here's your burger, your soda, and your ice pack."

"Thanks," he exhales, pushing the bag of ice against his side for a moment. "This was… I had a lot of fun, Beckett."

His partner pauses, smiling quickly before taking a bite of her cheeseburger. She chews efficiently, smiling again when she swallows. "I'm glad. I thought after last week, it might be nice to work off the nervous energy. Maybe it'll help you sleep, too."

The honesty in her words has his burger missing his lips on his first try, smearing ketchup against his chin.

"How'd you –" He fumbles for a napkin to clean up his mess. How does she know he still wakes up at night, sure he's heard a scream from his daughter's room, sure Jerry Tyson has come back to make a point?

"I have them, too, the dreams. I get it." She takes the paper from his fingers, wiping his chin quickly before directing his clumsy hand to his mouth.

Dutifully, he takes a bite. Maybe this isn't a date after all. Not that that's bad, obviously; he's still here with her, but he can't help the disappointment that settles in his belly.

"So I thought a paintball date might help more than going to the shooting range or something."

His eyes lift again to find her watching him, lip between her teeth.

"A paintball… date?"

Now she just scoffs, rolling her eyes. "Oh come on, Castle. If this were a team building exercise Ryan and Esposito would be here, and you, buddy, wouldn't have had a free pass to ogle my ass the whole game."

"But… what about –" Yes, now he does need to know.

"Josh?" she cuts him off before he can use the nickname she hates. He nods. "Josh and I agreed to see other people."

"In addition to each other?" he asks slowly, watching her throat work as she takes a sip of her soda.

Kate huffs, looking at him like he's dense. Maybe he is. "Instead of each other."

Oh. Oh. "So we're –" he asks slowly, just to clarify one more time.

"Uh huh," she interrupts, lips turning up in amusement.

"On a –"

"Uh huh," she drawls, leaning her cheek on her hand. Her fingertip connects with the rim of her soda can, tapping a few times.

"Good," he breathes, curling his hand around the back of her neck and closing the distance between them. "In that case, I'm going to kiss you."

"Finally," she teases, though her bright, wide eyes belie the bravado of her words.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm slow today, what can I say?" he murmurs, brushing his thumb along the strip of paint on her cheek before – okay, yeah, finally – covering her mouth with his.