A/N - At the bottom of the chapter.
She watched him. To be more precise, she admitted: she stared at him.
She lay on her side; her arm bent at her elbow under her pillow and stared at him. Suddenly and uncontrollably she grinned thinking about what she supposed he'd say if he woke up and caught her…staring…at him. 'Full circle, Beckett.' She could hear him in her thoughts and imagine the delighted and victorious grin illuminating the room, contending with the sun, which was beginning to peek through the slats of his blinds, bathing the room's deep earth tones in a rosy-golden hue. The only other sound she heard, besides the specter of his voice in her head, was the rhythmic whispers of his breathing. He breathed evenly and deeply, his eyes flitting back and forth under his lids: dreaming.
He arrived back home from a three-week book tour the previous night, having only arrived thirty minutes before she. He was exhausted; he always was after a tour: he had to be 'on' the entire time he was out there. Kate doubted that she could do what he did as successfully as he did without the benefit of homicide. She suggested that he get some rest before they reunited and offered to stay at the precinct later, but he countered that he had three objectives he wanted to accomplish before capitulating to the bone-weary fatigue: spend the evening with her, make love to her and put food in her. They accomplished two out of the three. He had already ordered her favorite Chinese and opened a bottle of Ménage à Trois red. He originally bought the California wine because its double entendre name appealed to his sense of humor, but then found that he and (more importantly), she liked the domestic as much as his favored Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Given his stated goals, Kate had just about launched herself toward the precinct elevator as soon as she filed her last report. Pressing the button repeatedly (as Castle would) didn't bring the car any faster. The case paperwork, traffic, pedestrians, lack of parking spaces and an impossibly slow elevator all seemed to conspire to lengthen their time apart.
She practically ran through the door and jumped on him when she finally made it home.
Dressed in an opened dress shirt, black vee-neck tee shirt, Iron Man boxers and his lucky Green Lantern dress socks, he extracted himself from under Beckett, then answered the insistent, cadenced and repeated knocks belonging to Tommy, Mr. Liú's eldest son and most trusted delivery boy. Tommy grinned and clicked his tongue while nodding his head slyly as if to say he understood Castle's state of dress and what it meant for the author that evening, as he handed over the bag of Szechuan goodness. Kate could see Castle grin back acceptance and fist bumped the young man before he handed him his tip. Dudes were dudes regardless of background, social or financial status and offered props when any one of them scored. Kate didn't care; they hadn't scored in three weeks.
He barely had the door closed before she pounced on him again and then again.
Kate smiled bashfully and even though there was no other soul who could witness her embarrassment, well none who was conscious, she blushed. They were so good together and she wasn't only thinking about the sex, which was phenomenal. They just clicked like placing the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle or twisting the final flick of your fingers to complete a Rubik's cube; discovering the last clue in order to solve a murder. Their connection, while a source of amusement for their friends had resonated deeply within her since the beginning. She's felt the connection even before he began shadowing her when she was only another nameless face among thousands: just one more fan-girl. Of course, she dismissed it then.
She inched closer to him to connect physically. She sighed contentedly as her eyes rode the swirls and dips shaping his right ear. There was a fine whisper of blonde baby hairs covering the shell of his ear that she hadn't noticed before. She hoped that it would take a lifetime to learn everything about him. He once told her that he thought she was a mystery he was never going to solve. In fact, she found that he was a greater mystery than she would ever be and she delighted whenever she discovered a new facet of him, whether it pertained to the larger than life Richard Castle or his more down-to-earth persona, Rick Rodgers. As far as Kate was concerned, there was nothing mysterious about her: she was broken and he healed her. He brought together all the answers she needed, all the missing pieces to fit into her puzzle; he filled the part of her heart she'd lost.
The feeling of finally being complete and whole overwhelmed her, followed quickly by guilt and the ubiquitous remorse that she had squandered his love, lost so much time. Time she could have felt wholly loved if she had let him. Time she could have shown him how very much she loved him because he deserved nothing less. Kate pushed her regrets and self-recriminations down and reached out to brush his bangs back from his forehead. At that moment, she needed to feel tangible evidence that he was there, they were there together now, and she reaffirmed that nothing would ever change that. So she basked in the warmth and moments they'd created the previous night as she re-committed every freckle, every line, every eyelash (his were impossibly long) to memory.
His eyes were no longer flitting as much as they had been and he had the tiniest of smiles on his lips. She felt the familiar stirring when she thought about his lips. His smile had been the first thing she fell in love with, not the smirk, which said I'm an ass or the leer that assumed you were going to fall into bed with him, nor was it that egotistical grin when he was right about something (although the way his eyes lit up excitedly made that one tolerable) or even the simper when spewing outlandish theories. The smile he wore when he beheld someone he loved was the one she adored.
She first saw that smile as he spoke to his daughter in a drafty little bookstore in San Francisco. She didn't want to be there, didn't want to wait in line, didn't want to meet him, didn't want to fawn over him like her fan-girl mother, didn't want to spend time with his adorable daughter, didn't want to gaze into his impossibly blue eyes, and didn't want to laugh with him or to admit that maybe he wasn't so bad. Worse yet, she didn't want to admit that she'd become a fan. Of the genre: yeah, right. No one believed that: she didn't even believe that. The evidence put forward indicated that she was indeed a Richard Castle Fan Girl, but she had continued to deny and fight the allegations. She fought so hard for so long and now - well now, for the life of her, she couldn't remember the compelling reasons she had to hold him at arm's length.
The bookshelves in her apartment would attest to her fanaticism: she owned a variety of novels, historical fiction, and non-fiction, classic and even some modern romance, but his books (all of his books, multiple copies of some titles) were at eye level in the center of the shelf: even there at the loft where she had moved a good portion of her belongings. Most couples, who chose to live in one or the other's home, would naturally make room in a dresser, the closet, and bathroom, but he also made room in his bookcases. No small feat: his bookshelves were full, brimming with not only his own titles but also a myriad of others ranging from classical literature to bra-buster romances. She had arranged her copies of his books in the same way: next to the uncracked, pristine, fresh from the printer, first-edition copies of his books, stood her well-worn, dog-eared, but very well loved copies of his books. He'd cleared an entire wall to make sure there was room for her collection. When she asked him about it, he simply replied that their relationship was built on the books and that she revered them as much, if not more than he did and her collection needed a home, in their home, not in storage.
"Creep…creep-eee, Beck…," he murmured. She startled from her contemplation. He hadn't opened his eyes, breathed differently, indicating wakefulness, or moved at all except his mouth, which still wore a barely-there grin teasing her with the possibility of a full-blown smile.
"Rick?" She whispered the question. It was entirely possible that he was talking in his sleep: he tended to do that. It might be a dream leaking from his subconscious and she didn't want to wake him. Her stomach, on the other hand, felt no such compunction to let him sleep as it rumbled loudly. She clamped her hand over the offending racket. They had accomplished two of his objectives, one of them twice, but eating Mr. Liú's delicious combinations of flavors and textures hadn't happened. She stiffened. Did they put it away or was it still sitting on the small table by the soft leather chair in the living area where he'd dropped it in favor of returning her kisses? She imagined that the red pepper speckled sauce bathing his spicy spare ribs (the recipe that he abandons all decorum and manners for in licking every bit of sauce off his fingertips) is staining the delicate finish of the end table.
Castle blew out a long breath, peppering a slight whistle within it, reminding her of the steam forced heat radiators of her Nona's apartment when she was just a girl. She'd imagined that there was a dragon living just beneath the worn oak floorboards. He smiled and whispered, "Hungry, but there are sharks."
Kate smiled: the man's imagination captivated her, even as he slept. After another loud and protesting gurgle from her stomach, she reluctantly dragged herself away from his warmth to fix them both coffee and breakfast.
Castle rolled over and blinked, not entirely certain of where he was. After three weeks of sleeping in an average of five different hotels every week, he was entitled to a little confusion. He looked around at the familiar, soothing colors and décor of his own bedroom and sighed. He laid his head back on the pillow and sighed again. He muttered, "I'm getting too old for this shit."
Truly, when he left it had been a stubbornly chilly early spring and now spring had definitely sprung. Trees that were merely festooned in tiny buds had regained their full green display. Mother Nature arrayed in her finest attire. Nearly summer. Wild Storm pre-sales and orders had benefited greatly even though the book wasn't due out for another few weeks.
Castle sat up abruptly. "I'm home," he exclaimed as if discovering the Ark of the Covenant, but without the terrible German accent.
"Beckett?" he called as he stumbled out of bed. "Oh God: what is that heavenly smell?"
Her boyfriend was rumpled and she had to suppress a grin. His hair stood out straight on the top and on one side of his head but stuck matted and flat to the other. The normal morning scruff was heavier than usual. Paula insisted that he sport the unshaven look on tours. It made him crazy not to shave. When he first started shadowing her it was a part of his normal public persona, but she had mentioned that she liked his smooth cheeks and jaw one day, after he'd had an appointment with his attorney. She hadn't seen the scruff since, unless he went on tour. His robe hung loosely off his shoulders; the dark denim blue robe had never fit him well, but since the loss of weight that always resulted from the road trips, it looked as if he was a little boy wrapped in his dad's bathrobe. His black tee shirt under the open robe held multiple creases: it looked like he slept in it, but she knew that was not the case. He must have picked up the one he wore yesterday from the pile of hastily discarded clothes on the floor of his bedroom, his boxers as well.
"Coffee?" she asked as he approached the kitchen island.
"Please, but that delightful aroma is not only coffee. What are you cooking, Beckett?"
Kate deposited the mug in front of him. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "So much better than hotel colored and flavored water: thanks." She slid the bottle of cream toward him as well as his sugar bowl. A drop of cream and two half-spoons of sugar went into the mug and he swirled it around and then held it up to his nose, before drinking deeply. A smile played on his lips as he set the mug down.
"Do you two want to be alone?" Kate asked, unable to keep her smile from bursting forth.
"Ha ha, funny. You don't know how good this is." He held his cup cradled next to his heart. "Compared to that…that sludge you get on the road."
"There's nothing wrong with hotel coffee, Castle, especially the type of hotel you stay in: you're just spoiled."
He shook his head. "You don't have a clue until you've been denied this heavenly nectar for weeks. The first week, you bargain with yourself. You say that it's not so bad. You make deals with yourself that if you just choke down the tepid, colored water, you can find a place for good coffee later. Only later never comes because you're so busy, you can't escape. You say that you'll go without, but quickly find that you need the heart-pumping caffeine to meet your obligations. You capitulate. The second week, flavor withdrawal sets in: it's not pretty and you begin to consider substitutes, different addictive substances. I actually started smoking cigars once."
"Ew," she commented.
"Tell me about it. I was sick for a week: had to cancel the rest of that tour." He took another long swallow and smiled as he set the mug down. "By the third week, you'd sell your daughter for a decent cup of coffee. Alexis would fetch an extremely high-quality brew. By the end of the tour, you can think of nothing else besides the sweet release of your heartache and longing when you're finally able to reconnect with that which you love." He raised his mug in a salute.
He shook his head. "You just have no idea."
"You have the best coffee here and you consider everything else second rate. I still say you're just spoiled."
"Then count yourself among the spoilers, Detective."
Kate's heart skipped a beat. How could he so casually throw something like that out there? She closed her eyes, again thanking whatever forces brought them together. She turned back to the stove
"Kate? You okay?" His voice was directly behind her and before she could turn, he snaked his arms around her waist; his chest pressed to her back. She sighed and relaxed back into his embrace. He held her for a moment before spinning her in his arms. He tilted her head to him. "What's going on?"
"It's nothing…I guess I just missed you."
He narrowed his eyes. "Uh huh." He breathed deeply. "What else have you got cooking in the pan? Is that an omelet?"
She nudged him away to sit at the table where she brought him his breakfast.
"A s'morlette?" he asked delightedly. Kate giggled. "You hate s'morlettes."
"I don't hate them, Castle; I just prefer veggies and ham in my omelets." She watched him take a bite, watched the look of bliss cross his face: it was ridiculous and she smiled wider. She'd seen that look before, many times and none of them had anything to do with eggs or graham crackers or chocolate. 'Oh chocolate,' she thought. Yes, chocolate had been a contributing factor for that blissful face before.
"This is great," he said, barely comprehensibly. He swallowed followed by a swig of coffee. "How's your boring breakfast?"
"Mine and perfectly fine."
"Thanks for this, Kate."
"Don't make me regret it," she warned him, a teasing glint in her eye.
She watched him enjoy his breakfast. He looked so tired after a tour. Usually, she didn't miss the nine-year-old-on-a-sugar-rush, but sometimes she longed for the energy, both he and she could use it.
"So tell me about the tour. Any crazy fans?" They spoke every night while he was gone, but he always saved the best stories so he could tell them to her in person. He loved watching her reactions.
"A couple, but they just couldn't help themselves, all this rugged handsomeness so close."
"So it was insanity, huh?"
He chuckled, "I guess." He took another bite of his breakfast and Kate suppressed a grin when his eyes rolled up into his head again.
He told her many stories of varying fan devotion, a couple of arrests (people being people, he explained) and a couple of uncomfortably overly familiar women. Kate scowled.
"Most people like the new character," he said, casually, while sipping his second cup of coffee from the sofa, his feet up on the coffee table, at Kate's insistence.
"What new character?" Kate called from the kitchen. She turned around with the dishtowel draped over her shoulder, her hair flopping in front of her eyes.
"Castle," she huffed, "what new character?"
"Oh well, Gina wanted me to write a preview of the next Nikki. I was against it…"
"You were loudly against it a couple of months ago," she interjected.
"Well yeah, you know how much a story can change from inception to actual publication," he paused while Kate nodded. "So we came to a compromise: I write characters, uh kind of like the character studies I do when…"
"Every time we go out, anywhere and everywhere. What, you must have an entire drawer full of slips of paper, cocktail napkins, playbills all with scribbled down characters, right?"
He nodded, "Yeah. Anyway, I take them and plunk them down into a scene with Nikki or Rook or Derrick and we hand them …uh, the booklets, out to the people standing on line. Sort of a preview, but with disclaimers that they may or may not be used in an upcoming Heat thriller."
"Cool. Is this a Mata Hari you saw at the market?" He shook his head and narrowed his eyes at her. "No? How about the investment banker who was really a double agent? The coffee had cyanide if I recall."
"Very funny and mock if you must but that's how the characters are born: my keen observational skills."
"Well, hey keen observer, you're about to spill your coffee." He had his mug balanced on his thigh, loosely hanging on to the handle. He jerked his hand keeping it from sloshing onto his pants, but overcompensated and spilled it onto the sofa cushion instead.
Kate hopped to the kitchen and threw a cloth to him. He mopped up his mess.
"Anyone I know?" she asked as she slid down the back of the couch next to him again.
"Your character: the new one that most people liked."
"Oh…um yeah, actually you do."
"Did you finally cave and give Perlmutter a character?"
"He doesn't need any help from me. He's already a character and I don't think I could write ass as well as he lives it."
"Rick," she admonished, "he's not that bad."
He scowled. "Easy for you to say; you're Detective Beckett, not Defective Castle."
Kate bit her lip as her eyes widened. She must have missed that one.
He caught her expression and stated, "You're not allowed to laugh at Perlmutter's jokes, especially if they're at my expense."
"It's pretty good, though," she mumbled, staring intently into her mug.
Castle smiled and stretched, depositing his refilled mug on the table behind him. "Yeah, he must have paid good money to a comic somewhere."
"So not Sidney Perlmutter."
"She's an attorney…"
"Oh, um …Hard Candy…Candace Robinson?"
"No, uh Kate, I based a character on your mom," he revealed quietly.
"My…" Kate felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. "Castle? How could you do…"
"Calm down…" He enveloped her hands in his. "Shh, just let me explain." His thumbs started moving, making tiny circles on the backs of her hands. Her head was down; her hair hiding what she was feeling, from him. He dropped her hand and reached under her chin, tilting her head up.
"Are you with me?"
"Okay. When Gina asked me to come up with a character, I had a hard time choosing which character, as you have noted, I have a drawer full…and a filing box in my closet. Anyway, I was on the plane…" Kate raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. "Yes, I procrastinated. I seem to recall someone was not letting me out of her site the week before I left." That earned him a glare. "I was thinking about my career, how many people I've seen, people who would wait for hours…" He had a dubious look on his face as if he still couldn't believe people liked his work well enough to wait on line. "Fan girls," he raised his eyebrow and leered, "Fan boys, too." He shuddered. "At any rate, I started thinking about my fans. Do you know that I met your mom?"
Kate nodded slowly. "You met me, too."
"I didn't remember having met you at that signing in San Francisco until after the Tisdale case."
"Our first case? How come you've never said anything? God, you were so different—you were such an ass."
"So I've been told. I remembered your mom after Esposito gave me your mom's file."
"Espo gave you that? He denied being involved at all. Oh, he is so dead."
"Kate, it's kind of water under the bridge at this point, don't you think? I was sitting in the park studying the file and a family was flying a kite. It reminded me of our meeting in the park. I met her a couple of times after that too. Did you know she met Alexis?"
"Yeah, she told me after I colored with her." Kate still had the Beauty and the Beast coloring page pressed between the pages of a Richard Castle thriller. "She loved you, you know?"
"She liked my work," he corrected.
"No, she genuinely loved you. She'd get all excited about a new book or appearance and," she chuckled. "I knew your age, your birthday, your favorite color and flavor...before I finished middle school."
"That's a little creepy."
"No, it's a lot creepy. Oh God, she embarrassed me."
"Oh and thanks for making me sound like a dirty old man. Middle school," he muttered in an affected old-man voice. His eyes widened and he salaciously added, "Knee socks."
Beckett gave him the expected eye roll and placed her hand on his chest. She let the sure, steady beat of his heart ground her. "She was the epitome of a fan girl, Rick. She loved your work and she had a crush on you."
"How'd your dad feel about that? The crush, I mean."
"He took it in stride. He let her have her fantasies and the truth was that he had a man crush on every single Met. They were both very secure in their marriage. Now, tell me about the character."
He cleared his throat and began, "Hannah Dougherty. She's a defense attorney; tough as nails, but soft when and where it counts. She fights for the voiceless, the hopeless causes, and the forgotten. She's divorced, but still in love with her husband. They never had kids." Castle went on to paint a picture of this woman's personality, her history, and world, which fit neatly into Nikki and Rook's. She was strong and smart and had a motherly affinity for a certain female detective, but also had a previous working relationship with Rook.
Kate watched his eyes and hands as he described Hannah and smiled. "You're in love with her," she interrupted.
"You love this Hannah character almost as much as you love Nikki," she teased.
Rick was quiet. There was none of the usual banter he'd whip up to defend himself, none of the denials or redirection. He kept his head down and stared at his hands.
"Yeah," he sighed. "Yes, I love this character almost as much as I love Nikki." He raised his eyes to hers, his confession hanging in the air, dancing in the firelight. "She's based on your mom, how could I not? The readers may see Hannah Dougherty, but I see Johanna Beckett. It's just the same as when the world reads about Nikki, I can only see Kate."
"Rick…" Kate began, but he lifted his fingers to her lips.
"You mom may have been my fan girl archetype of, but I'm hers," he frowned and then blinked, "her fan boy, I mean. I'm yours too, Kate. I always have been."
A/N - Thank you all for coming with me on this unusual journey. If you are familiar with my stories, you know that I like writing about the back stories and histories of our favorite characters. Writing about Johanna's love for Rick's books was daunting but too enticing to ignore.
Thanks to the 76 readers who made this story a favorite and the 216 who followed. A very special thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a few words in reviews and personal messages. Reviews let me know that I'm on the right track and have gotten these very well known characters' voices right.
Here's a shout out of thanks to Operaluvr, madcrafter72, 12precinct42344, FuelDH206, Manxkid, concreteangel16, JustAWriterWannaBe, Nancy S, JustAWriterWannaBe, life's a mystery, TORONTOSUN, oldmoviewatcher, Purple Satin, ebfiddler, GT500RonSmith, Garrae, JAG'ed Bones in the Casckett, CharacterDriven, GotchaYouLilDirtbag, 2.0Always47, Perspex13, Aalon, hfce, southerngirl1, angnerea, Rori Potter, ipreferwestside, cate78, txgal2015, LittleLizzieZentara, theputz913, shadowinthedust, oldmoviewatcher, BigKahuna, Maryrose1123, Krystalslazz, teaser, LindaInDC, coyotepup4, Rori Potter, lkwill39, , castle1701, phoenixi77, dkfan, Turretwithaview, CKRose, wendykw, Shutterbug5269, , islandjamie, Dominic Flandry, Rae, Jethro25, , fracas, MaineZoe, KB4RC, Hamlet 77, mobazan27, Chkgun93, SelimPensFiction, AnnieRus, MaineZoe and the anonymous guest reviewers.
I truly appreciate all of you.