"Any luck?" Castle asked brightly, getting up from his seat when Beckett and Alexis walked out of the fitting rooms foyer towards him.
"Not yet," Alexis replied, "but it's still early."
Castle rolled his eyes in mock fatigue, but both women could see the grin that still lingered around the edges of his mouth.
"I'm going to keep looking," Alexis said, with a pointed look at Beckett, and the detective just smiled at her and nodded.
"So, Castle, getting bored yet?" Beckett asked, and he pretended to consider her question for a moment before shaking his head.
"This is hardly my first time, Detective," he said, wiggling his eyebrows at her, and she grinned. "I'll have you know that my mother once shopped for nine straight hours."
"Wow," she replied, but it didn't entirely surprise her. Martha didn't do anything by halves.
"Yeah," he said, smiling at her again. "So take all the time you need. I'm happy to wait, for as long as you want."
Beckett felt her breath catch. There was no subtext to his words — he really was just telling her to take her time while shopping — and the expression on his face was earnest and warm, as always. Patient and accepting. But there was another meaning there, even if he wasn't trying to convey it.
And that's why I'm here today, she thought. She was about to say something when he began speaking again.
"Thanks, by the way," Castle said. "For doing this. I know you like to have your weekends to yourself. Alexis is really excited that you're here."
"Castle, I'm excited to spend time with Alexis too, but this isn't some kind of favour," she replied, taking a step closer to him. "I wanted to be here."
He nodded, giving her his customary disarming smile. "Can't get between a detective and her shopping; I gotcha. But I know you like taking a break from me for a while, so I want you to know that I really appreciate it. You should have seen Alexis' face light up when I told her you were going to meet us."
He half-turned, hands in his pockets, glancing in the direction Alexis had gone, and she fell into step beside him as they walked across the expansive floor of the womenswear department, navigating a maze of racks full of colourful garments.
"Would you be surprised if I said I was actually looking forward to seeing you?" she asked, looking briefly up at him, and his head whipped around immediately, an expression of barely-suppressed delight on his face.
"Since you last saw me… oh… about fourteen hours ago, I'd say… yep. Surprised would just about cover it. In a good way."
She shook her head. Always keeping a safe distance. Because I taught him to.
She slid her arm through his, feeling his step falter for a moment, but she purposely didn't look at him and simply continued walking. She could practically hear him struggling not to say anything, and she looked in the other direction to give herself a chance to smirk.
"So, uh," he began, clearing his throat awkwardly, "what are you looking for?"
She suppressed another grin. What's with all the accidental subtext today? He was clearly talking about what she was intending to buy, but four years with him meant that she recognised an opportunity for wordplay when she saw one.
"Hmm," she replied, now reaching across to rest her right hand on his arm too, with her left arm still looped through it. They were walking more slowly, and she made a show of glancing at a nearby rack of skirts.
"Long term?" she said, swallowing to banish the slight tremor from her voice. I want this. We both want this, she thought. "I guess… everything. The fairytale. One and done."
Castle came to an abrupt stop, which she'd been expecting. She stopped beside him, still holding onto his arm, and now she did look round at him.
"Short term, though," she continued, "I want… this. To be with you."
Beckett watched as his eyes searched her entire face, his jaw tight, still doubting whether this was just some kind of ill-judged banter. She squeezed his arm, and sighed.
"You said you're happy to wait," she said, and he nodded slowly. "But I'm tired of waiting. So I'm here."
Castle took a deep breath, looking off into the middle distance for a moment. When he returned his gaze to her, she saw that his eyes had a liquid sheen that hadn't been there a few moments before.
"Kate—" be began, then he swallowed, giving a brief shake of his head to rein in his emotions again. "Are you saying… are you telling me that you—"
"Do you still want this?" she said gently, cutting him off. "Do you still want… me?"
Castle pulled his arm from hers and grasped her upper arms with both hands, looking down at her with fire in his eyes. Everything was laid bare in his gaze. The depth of his love for her, and his need, made her pulse pound in her chest.
"You know I do, Kate," he whispered fiercely. "You damned well know it. Always."
She released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, and she made a sound that was somewhere between a gasp and a laugh as she smiled at him. Her right hand came up to rest on his chest, and then slid up to cup his cheek. Castle's eyes fluttered closed for an instant, then opened again, fixed upon hers.
"Then let's stop waiting," she said, and she leaned in towards him.
"Kate, you have to come and see— oh!" came Alexis' voice from about fifteen feet away, where she'd appeared from around a corner. Beckett and Castle both looked over at the girl, whose cheeks were now a very noticeable shade of pink. "Sorry," she said. "I'll… I'm going to… try something on. For a while."
Alexis abruptly turned on her heel and disappeared again, and Beckett once again looked up at Castle, with an apologetic grin. Castle himself raised his eyes to the ceiling, as if looking beyond towards the heavens.
"You think you're really funny, don't you?" he muttered to whatever unseen deity he was picturing, and Beckett ran her thumb over his cheek sympathetically.
"Interrupted again, huh?" she said, and he met her gaze once more.
"I'm hoping that's not an omen," he replied, and she pretended to consider the possibility for a moment before giving a small shake of her head.
Then she smiled and leaned in again, seeing his eyes darken, and she pressed her lips to his.
Author's Note: I've come out of hiding, at least for the moment, in terms of my real identity — my author page here has been duly updated, so feel free to follow me on Twitter. I had a novel out in July, and even if the genre isn't for you, it's interesting how there's a certain Caskett vibe to two of the main characters, though they predate my interest in the show.
If you're looking for more Castle fics to read, I'm currently enjoying "My Sunny Valentine" by Liv Wilder, and indeed the rest of her excellent work. It's an odd coincidence that she seems to live or work within 2 miles of me here in Edinburgh, judging from the photos on Twitter. Small world.
I'm glad to see the beginning of the shift from summer to autumn here; it's my favourite season of the year. If you Google my (real) name and "autumn", you'll find a piece I wrote about that a year ago.
Enjoy your week.