Inherited Traits 3
for Esther and Jill and Alex and everyone at Castle Fic Con
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. -Anais Nin
Kate Beckett smoothed down her hair, studying herself in the mirror. And then she changed her mind entirely, plucking the pins and letting it fall once more. Her heart double-thumped at the image she made, the one overlaid in her mind's eye with the daydreaming she'd been doing all afternoon, his fingers in her hair and it tumbling down her shoulders and his mouth taking hers.
She let out a breath, unashamed to admit the whole thing was scary. Could be the PTSD she was facing, but every time she pictured his face above her, all the rest of it roared through her head and blotted out the better parts. Pain, panic, suffocation - and his eyes, already rich with grief, asking her to stay.
She swallowed hard.
It was a date. But not 'only' a date, and they both knew that. She wasn't ready, and they probably both knew that too, but things had spiraled out of her control today. That slow revelation, dawning like sunlight across her skin - blood and bloodlines, DNA and chosen love.
He was a man who had chosen, and he had never backed down from that choice. His daughter. Alexis.
Kate smoothed the black sheath of her dress. Her palms were damp with sweat, and she knew the nerves wouldn't be going away anytime soon.
But whatever she was, whatever she'd done or would have to do, the thing she knew for certain - Castle was here.
And their story was already being written.
When the knock came at her door, she was waiting. She walked quickly, unlocked the door, slid back the chain, flipped the dead bolt - and he was smirking on the other side. Lips twitching until he got a good look at her.
What was the phrase? His eyes fell out of his head.
Though not before caressing every inch of her body.
Up and down, and back up again so that their gazes locked and all she read was over-awed respect. The smirk for her obsessive security routine had disappeared, and though she caught traces of his excitement, there was none of the charismatic scoundrel about him.
Only appreciation. For her as a woman, for her standing before him. For her.
They were both still unspoken, him just outside her door while somehow she couldn't move out of the way.
"Hi," he said, the first to find his words. "You look beautiful."
She felt warmth like an algae bloom in her chest. She knew her face was inscrutable (she had spent a long time staring in her mirror, making certain of that), so she smiled. "Thank you. And this is very handsome," she murmured in response, letting her own look linger, the sharp and simple cut of his jacket and his hands in his pockets-
Oh. Really? His response to her had been that instant?
She smiled, power rolling through her in a wave. "I'm ready. Shall we?"
He seemed momentarily defeated, and she realized he must have wanted her to invite him inside while she was 'still getting ready.' Tricks most women played to gain the upper hand, make their date wait - but not Beckett. She didn't need tricks. She had his hands in his pockets and his eyes still unable to stray far from her legs.
She shut the door behind her, locking it, pushed her keys into her clutch. He reached out and gently tugged the small black velvet bag from her fingers, slid the purse into his outer jacket pocket.
And now her hands were free, unencumbered, (it was only her keys and her phone, ID and a credit card hidden inside the phone case), but when he wrapped his hand around hers, the power shifted, teetering.
His palms were warm. "Forgive me," he said with a smile she'd never seen on him before. Reluctant, braced, embarrassed? "I'm more than a little nervous."
"Me too," she admitted, pressing her lips together at the admission. He had leaned forward to push the call button for the elevator and they stood side by side, waiting for it. "And thrilled."
"Yeah." He looked even more embarrassed somehow. The elevator was slow in coming. "Someone must have gotten on after me," he said, an inane statement that nevertheless made her smile. He caught her at it and huffed, running a hand through his hair only to jerk to a stop, scowling. "And now you've made me mess up my hair. Took an hour to get it right."
She laughed, light and nearly breathless with the butterflies that seemed to have abandoned her stomach and lined her lungs instead. He spent an hour on his hair - for a date with her.
She squeezed his hand, carefully shifting until her fingers pressed between his. He accepted by spreading his own fingers, interdigitating. The width of his fingers between hers made her heart thump and falter so that she felt the rush of blood in the thin skin between her knuckles.
The elevator arrived. She stepped on quickly, with relief, and Castle came after her, caught by her hand into bumping her shoulder and hip, their clasp skirting his inner thigh in a way that made them both freeze. Castle laughed first, his head bowing towards her, and she had the irrational thought skip this, go back to the apartment.
"It's okay," she said into their laughter. The elevator was descending rapidly, or maybe that was her heart flipping in her chest. "Not like I've been unaware."
His head jerked up, his gaze sober, piercing.
For the truth.
She stalled, reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, and when his eyes followed her movement with such abject yearning, she found herself touching him instead. The back of her hand to his cheek, her fingers smoothing behind his ear.
His breath strangled in his throat, a sound that made her body pitch towards his.
But the elevator doors opened.
He caught her roving hand, opened her fingers and kissed her palm.
The doors closed again. He hadn't stopped looking at her. She hadn't told him I remember everything. She didn't know what she remembered, she'd had trouble sifting reality from the pain-induced kaleidoscope. She didn't know, but she was aware.
The doors opened again and this time Castle turned, releasing one of her hands to keep the other, drawing her out of the elevator after him.
Rick Castle was in trouble.
A simple black dress should not be this appealing. He shouldn't long to brush his fingers across the detail on the strap at her shoulder; he shouldn't have to shove his hands in his pockets to hide his response. He shouldn't keep finding himself flustered and tongue-tied on the most important night of his life.
He was better than this.
Maybe he wasn't.
She did, however, seem to like him in awe of her. He could've told her that had been going on since day one. Wasn't it his love of her that she didn't like, or didn't want to admit to, and so she kept shying away when it cropped up? Dating was fine but forever was not?
He didn't like being so bitter either. Angry. He'd assumed he had let that go when she'd chased him down at his book signing and had an honest conversation on the swings, the toe of her boot dragging in the dirt. He had assumed he would forgive her anything, but perhaps he just couldn't forget.
She was aware, indeed.
He'd been waiting for this night - not just since a sunny day on a child's playground - but since the first time he'd seen her, striding up flashing her badge, and then later walking away after an arrest with that extra sway to her hips that said she knew exactly her effect on him.
But it was only tonight when he slid into the backseat of the cab with her, their knees touching, that he realized that he was having an effect on her.
It was a revelation.
He tested it out by leaning forward to give the driver the address and allowing his jacket to open and his rib to connect with knee. Her legs were crossed, he was leaning a little much, but she went very still. And subtly, her knee pushed up into him.
When he sank back to the seat, settling in, he didn't claim that knee with his hand like he wanted to, he instead rested his hand on his own thigh, palm up, and wriggled his fingers.
He wanted her to come to him. He wanted it to be her choice.
He needed proof of her.
She unfolded her hands and slid one into his, their palms kissing. Her smile was faint, and her eyes scanned the landscape as the taxi angled through traffic. "Where are we going?" she murmured. "I didn't recognize the address."
"Dinner," he said, grinning when she rolled her eyes. There was Beckett again, and if some of the awkwardness and nerves fizzled out, the familiarity didn't lessen the erotic tension. She was the cat in this game, and he was either the mouse or the lion. Hard to know. "No reservations to be had. But. Called your old friend, Madison, and begged her for a table."
Her face blanched. "Madison."
"She was excited. She promised to leave us alone."
"And spy on us from the hostess's station," she muttered, another eye roll. He had a feeling the eye roll was a self-defense tactic, a way to diffuse tension inside her. He liked knowing that. She huffed. "Maddie will never let me hear the end of it."
"I promise to behave like a perfect gentleman," he said.
She scowled. "Don't do that. Makes the whole date a complete waste."
He gaped, and she flushed bright pink in her cheeks, her neck. She pushed their clasped hands into his stomach, a light punch, and he played up his surprise into shock, crowding her.
"A waste. Kate Beckett. Why I never."
"You never waste a chance?" she parried, eyebrow lifting, giving as good as she'd gotten.
But he gentled, pressing the back of her hand to his chest. "Wasted plenty. Too many moments. I won't any longer."
Instead of blushing, instead of averting her eyes once more and changing the subject, she leaned in and lightly touched her lips to his. Chaste with a hint of promise. Explosive somehow. "I won't either, Rick."
It took an extreme effort of will not to molest her in the back of the cab.
But he did chase after her mouth, take a kiss more insistent than hers had been. Insist things from me. He wanted to sear into her every promise, every agony he'd spent over her during the summer when she'd been out of his reach, but instead he only kissed her.
It was a kiss they'd had before, but unlike any other. She was touching his neck with her fingers, his ear, and then her lips parted and it was fuller, richer than he'd dreamed. It was the taste of wine on her tongue (had she been just as nervous as him?) and the spice of mint, it was heat and her aggression, her want, and the too-close press of their bodies.
She smiled in the middle of the best part and their mouths broke, brushing lips, a startling clash of teeth that made her laugh. He hadn't known she could laugh that way. He hadn't known he could be destroyed and remade in a moment just from the sound of her laughter after his kiss.
"That will do," she murmured at his mouth. Her nose grazed his. He felt her lashes and her hair, and his heart racing in his chest. "Already not a waste."
"Have I redeemed myself?" He was pleased to note his words didn't sound like the dumbfounded idiot he felt inside, groveling for her.
She made no response, and his question had been rhetorical (he so liked the sound of his own voice, and he knew that, and he'd wanted to hear himself after her). She sank back against the seat but she kept close, her shoulder and ribs against his chest and side, their arms twined as well as their fingers.
And then he laid their joined hands on her knee, feeling lucky, feeling like the choice had already been made.
At that, she angled her knees into him and kissed his neck, and he now he knew he was never going to survive her.
He was never going to wonder either.