A/N: A spin on the episode 8x06, 'Cool Boys', in which Beckett makes a surprise appearance.
"Hey, is there any chance that smoking wife of yours is going to come hunting for me too?" Kate slows in her walk around the corner at the sound of the familiar voice, dulling the sharp click of her heels on the concrete, steeling herself and channeling every ounce of patience she has left to deal with Ethan Slaughter a second time around. "Might be worth getting caught if she does the cuffing."
"Um, no," Castle answers him, hesitation and a hint of sadness that is growing all too normal for him invading his tone. "Beckett and I are sort of on a timeout right now."
It stops her to hear him trying to explain it to someone else, to watch from behind as his head tilts forward, drooping, his shoulders slumping with the weight of what she's done to him.
"Oh, I'm… sorry to hear that." And she's surprised to hear that Slaughter sounds somewhat sincere in his apology. She had always suspected there was a more decent version of a man beneath all of the bravado and crude behavior, and she was grateful that it was being shown to her husband in that moment.
"So, what happened?" Slaughter follows up after a murmur of Castle's appreciation, and Beckett continues to inch closer, awaiting the right moment to interrupt.
"I don't know. She - said she needed time to figure things out." His head shakes, his body language baffled and a sliver of frustration tangling with the tension climbing his spine at the mention of her. She doesn't blame him. She left him in the dark, left him with no explanation, just… left him.
"Women," Slaughter scoffs.
"Yeah," Castle agrees and Kate's eyebrow curves in disapproval at that. No need to bring her gender into it.
"If you're looking for a rebound, my cousin Shawna's gotta nympho roommate."
And there's her opening.
"Um, I'm - I'm good, thanks."
"You better be," she snaps, striding up alongside Slaughter's vehicle, watching Castle stumble and nearly slip from the hood of the car he had been propped against.
"Kate! You're - you're here," Rick stammers, a surprised grin lacing along his lips, and despite the sheepishness to it, there's a genuine look of pleasure to see her lining his smile, sparking in his eyes. It helps, soothes the pang that had shot through her chest at the mere thought of him with another woman.
"And so are you," she assesses, narrowing her gaze on her husband before cutting it to Slaughter. "With him."
"Hey, hot stuff!" Slaughter greets, not looking the least bit perturbed by her unplanned appearance. "We were just talking about you."
"So I heard," Kate deadpans.
"Yeah, I was just telling Sherlock here that maybe moving on would solve a few issues. You know, while you work through 'things'."
Anger quivers through her chest, sends her breath out shaking, and Castle quickly intervenes, pushing off from the edge of Slaughter's car to propel forward, stand beside her.
"And I was just responding with the reassurance that I am in no need of another woman and that this conversation is over."
"Then maybe it's Detect- excuse me, Captain Beckett who is in need of another man," Slaughter muses, lowering his eyes to the toes of Kate's shoes, lazily trailing his gaze up the length of her body that Castle takes a bold step in front of. "In need of a real man, sweetie?"
"Okay Slaughter, you know what-"
Kate grips her husband's shoulder before his temper can rise, already feeling it sizzling, well on its way to a boil.
"There you go, Sherlock," Slaughter praises, reaching forward to clap him on the shoulder Kate doesn't have her fingers curled around. "That's the kind of man she needs, someone who can take charge, show everyone who's boss, including the lady herself if you know what I-"
"How about you shut up when it comes to what I need and tell me what you're doing here with him in the first place?" Beckett interrupts before this conversation can go any further. Slaughter has no business in their personal life, in their marriage, and her husband has no business putting his life on the line when she's trying so damn hard to protect him from enough danger as it is.
Castle turns towards her, causing her fingers to fall away from his shoulder, tripping down his arm and grazing along the knuckles of his hand before returning back to her side. She almost regrets letting go.
"I can explain."
Kate sighs. "This should be good."
"I think I'm just going to hang over here," Slaughter decides, slipping back towards the driver's side of the car and easing inside. "Never been a fan of lover's quarrels," he adds before slamming the door shut.
"How did you even find out where I was?" Castle inquires while she nudges him backwards, out of Ethan Slaughter's sight and towards the relative privacy of the alley's entrance. "Did you call my mother?"
"No," she huffs, coming to a halt once they're partially hidden by the edge of the building's brick wall. "The conference was cancelled, so I was on the first flight back. Ryan and Espo told me where you were the second I walked into the Twelfth, even tracked Slaughter's vehicle for me. Rick, what are you doing with him?"
Castle crosses his arms, stares down at her with something like disapproval gleaming in his eyes. "Why is what I'm doing suddenly your concern again?"
Beckett sucks in a shallow breath, ignores the urge to indulge the reforming habit to rub nervously at the faded scar between her breasts. He has every right to be angry, to question her, but she shakes her head at him in disbelief for it this time.
"You are always my first concern," she murmurs, but his eyes harden to a harsh cobalt, his defenses rising, and yeah, she deserves that too.
"Sure hasn't felt like it lately, Kate," he points out through grit teeth.
"Castle, Slaughter has nearly gotten you killed several times in the past-"
"I needed a distraction," he snaps, the frown lines around his mouth deepening, and she does reach for the spot in the middle of her chest that burns with a phantom ache now.
The return of Slaughter reminds her too much of where they had stood the last time the careless detective had stampeded into their lives, enticing Castle with fresh stories and exciting material for new books, a new character. He had been a distraction for Rick back then, when she had almost lost him before she had even had the chance to ever have him, and now Slaughter was back fulfilling the same role, offering Castle more than stories this time, though, enticing him with the idea of moving on.
She trusts her husband, has never truly feared the possibility of him seeking attention from another woman throughout the years they've been together, but now, while he's wounded and receiving encouragement to do so, for the first time, Kate is starting to fear he could move onto someone better than her. Someone who isn't so damn good at hurting him.
And how selfish it feels for her to want to keep him regardless.
"Don't be distracted from me," she whispers, curling her hand into a fist at her sternum, digging her knuckles into the hard bone and trying to calm the ragged beat of her heart against her ribs. "Please don't find a distraction from me."
"Are you talking about what - what Slaughter said? Are you kidding me?" he demands in exasperation, unfolding his arms to curve one hand at the back of her neck while the other molds to the rounded edge of her shoulder, tugging her closer. "You really think I would cheat on you with someone else just because we're going through a rough patch in our marriage?"
"No," she manages, swallowing hard with the effort of a single syllable. "I just - the last time Slaughter was around-"
"Kate," he sighs, knocking his forehead into hers and she bites her bottom lip, inhales the overwhelming scent of him. It's like coming home, for just a split second, and it bathes her greedy heart in peace and assurance. "Things were different then, so different. We were…"
"A mess," she supplies, her chuckle watery, much to her horror, and Castle's hand glides upwards to cradle her jaw, his thumb ready to sweep away any stray tears. "We're a mess now too."
"Mm, but we're a married mess," he points out, caressing the bone of her cheek. "One that I am utterly committed to, whether I understand it or not."
"I am too," she breathes, dusting her fingers along his jaw, over the stubble peppering his skin, hoping it will brand the tips of her fingers with the memory of his touch to hold onto until this is all over with. "Committed to you. No matter what happens, Castle - I love you. That will never change."
"You know, this is all very sweet, but we're kind of waiting for a suspect to burst through that door at any minute." Slaughter's voice carries towards them and Castle huffs, smears a kiss to her forehead and lowers his hands from her face, her neck.
"Coming," he calls back, but Kate catches his arm, hooks her fingers in the crook of his elbow before he can join the other man exiting his car and getting into position by the closed back door of the building.
"Castle," she hisses, wishing she could force him to sit in the car, just this once. "Working with Slaughter is still a bad idea."
"I can't back out now, Beckett. I'm already-"
"All I want is to keep you safe. I just - I want that more than anything else but no matter what I do, you just keep-"
"No matter what you do?" he echoes, his eyes narrowing on her, picking apart her sentences like a true detective, ready for a difficult interrogation. "To keep me safe? What exactly are you doing to keep me safe, Kate?"
"I - I'm-"
The door swings open, steals her confession or saves her from it, she isn't sure which, and Castle growls, starts with her towards Slaughter and the man he has pinned against the wall of the building.
"We're not done talking about this," he mutters over his shoulder and she sighs, but nods her acceptance and allows the pride that blooms as her husband yells a command to Slaughter, manages to get the other man under control with a single shout of his name, to override the panic climbing up her ribs to consume her chest.
The chance to finish the discussion started in the alleyway doesn't present itself until the case is solved and Slaughter is preparing to depart, sharing a word with Castle outside of her office and then waiting until her husband starts towards the break room to enter her workspace. Her eyes lift from the paperwork she had just finished sorting through as Detective Slaughter props his shoulder against the doorjamb, shoves his hands in his pockets, and rests his rather contemplative gaze at her.
"Slaughter," she states, warily, and he glances over his shoulder, as if to ensure the coast is clear, before taking a deep breath.
"Look, I don't normally do this whole pep talk thing, but Sherlock over there is one of the closest things to a friend I got, and like I told him out there," Slaughter informs her, hooking his thumb backwards, towards the slit blinds covering her office window where she had witnessed the two men speaking only moments ago. "You're just as crazy about him as he is about you and whatever's going on in your life ain't my business, but whatever it is… it isn't worth giving up your marriage for."
Kate straightens in her desk chair, eyeing Slaughter with a fair dose of skepticism and curiosity, that ever elusive hint of the man beneath the layers of bluster and lack of regard for other human beings making yet another rare appearance.
"And you would know this how?" she counters, folding her hands beneath her chin, observing as he squirms in her doorway. She has no plans of giving up on her marriage, but she's still intrigued to hear what Ethan Slaughter of all people has to say on the matter.
"You remind me a little of my ex-wife, alright? And Sherl… Castle, he's a better husband than I ever was. So stop shutting him out and just let him help. He's pretty good at it."
Her lips quirk without her consent, the smile blossoming unbidden behind her knotted fingers at the truth of that statement.
"Yeah, he is. Thanks, for not getting him killed," she murmurs. "And for this little chat."
"Don't mention it. Seriously, ever."
She can see Castle rounding the corner with two steaming cups of coffee, his brow furrowing at the sight of Slaughter lingering inside her office, and Kate nods towards her husband in warning, watching in amusement as the macho detective comes back to life, puffs out his chest and paints on the smirk that has always made her skin crawl.
"So like I was saying, if you ever need a real man-"
"Slaughter," Castle growls from the entry, the mugs in his hands steady even as his pace quickens. "I thought you were leaving."
"Just wishing your girl a goodbye," Slaughter winks and Kate rolls her eyes, biting back a laugh when Castle purposely bumps the man's shoulder, knocks him off balance for a second while he steps inside her office, deposits the coffees safely to her desk.
"Goodbye," Kate returns dryly, offering Castle her smile as she reaches for her cup. "Thanks."
"Until we meet again, lovebirds," Slaughter throws back, turning on his heel and waving as he turns his back on the two of them, strolling towards the elevators.
"Hopefully it'll be another few years," Castle sighs, shutting the door after Slaughter with a quiet click and drifting back towards her desk to take a seat in the chair across from her. "He didn't insult you too badly?"
Beckett chuckles, but shakes her head. "No, but he did remind me of something."
"How important you are," she says softly, tracing the rim of her favorite blue mug. "How I shouldn't take that for granted."
Castle pauses, his coffee cup only halfway to his lips before he decides to abandon the soothing caffeine fix entirely, returning his mug to the surface of her desk and giving her his full attention.
"Rick, I don't want to do this here," she begins, extending her hand to cover his at the protest those words automatically evoke in his eyes, attempting to deliver a reassuring squeeze to his knuckles and maybe a little silent pleading through her touch. "Would you mind if I just… came home tonight? And we can discuss everything there?"
"Would I mind?" he scoffs, already pushing back from his chair and drawing her up with him by the link of their hands as he begins to rise. "It's your home too, Kate. You don't have to ask. Also, when you say 'everything', it makes it sound like there's quite a bit to discuss, so can we go now?"
The corners of her mouth twitch at the conundrum of him, how he can be both serious and whiny, both pleading and commanding, all at once, and Kate eases from between the space of her office chair and her desk, comes to stand beside him.
"Yeah," she murmurs, slinging her messenger bag over her shoulder and flexing her fingers within the grip of his hand, fitting them to lace between the spaces of his until their palms are kissing and warmth is twining through her veins for the first time in days. Since she last saw him. "We can go."
Tentative hope spreads through Castle's eyes and he tugs her towards the door, diverting his gaze between her and their exit when she hesitates, glancing back towards her desk and the two full cups still waiting to be consumed.
"Wait, you made coffee-"
"Kate, you may think you're coming over for the night," he mumbles, dragging her into his side and reclaiming her attention. The warmth in her veins turns to heat in her blood at the press of his body against hers, the confidence in his gaze as it lingers on her mouth, trails lazily back to her eyes. "But if things go my way, I'll be making you a fresh cup of coffee tomorrow morning and every morning after that."
He doesn't plan on letting her leave him, not again, she knows that and accepts it all too easily. And it means he's going to be in danger, that his life will be at risk, as it always seems to be. But like Slaughter had said, Castle was good at helping, at being her partner and having her back, just as she always had his.
His desire softens the longer he looks at her, stealing her breath before she can give him the answer already balancing on the tip of her tongue, the expression of his face gentling into something that is both sorrowful yet adoring, heartbroken but lovely. Confounding.
All she had wanted was to keep him safe, but maybe he is safest with her.
"Just like I'm supposed to."
She yearns for the tender press of his lips then, the slick heat of his tongue. The promise in his kiss that she wants to reclaim.
"Okay," she decides, flicking her eyes to his mouth, back up again to the swirling blue of his gaze, the longing and need crashing along the shorelines of his pupils. "Take me home, Castle."