Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.
"Hi, Dad." Her voice, unlike his, is a little wobbly. "I, um, talked with Detective Beckett today."
"She told me."
He's going to force her to carry the conversational ball. He can wait a very long time. Ordinarily he's a restless guy, but he waited years for Beckett and he'll have no trouble now waiting for Alexis to speak.
"I'm sorry, Dad," she says at last.
"You should be." It's strange and unsettling to feel the tension between him and his daughter. He knows how lucky he's been that she's had a relatively peaceful adolescence, but it doesn't make this moment any less stressful.
He lets that hang in the air, the air that's improbably both dead and crackling.
"I do, really. I know."
He lets that sit for a while, too, before he responds. "And do you know, understand, how much pain you caused? Kate and I could easily have broken up over this, over what you did, what you set in motion. I shouldn't speak for her, but I will. I think it would have crushed both of us."
"I'm sorry. It was stupid."
"A lot worse than stupid."
When he hears a sniffle, his heart contracts, but he doesn't yield. Eventually she continues. "Are you ever going to forgive me, Dad?"
"I already have. But it doesn't mean that I'm not still upset by what you did. I'm a forgive-and-forget person. You know that. But I haven't forgotten yet. You broke a bond, Alexis, and it's going to take a while to heal." He weighs the next sentence. Should he share this information, or not? He opts for the former. "Kate told me to talk to you and I have."
"She told me that, too. That I should talk to you."
"That should tell you something, then." He sighs. "When she went away, she was trying to give us time together, you and me."
"No guessing necessary. She was." He hears some faint noises in the background, as if Alexis were pacing in her room.
"I was wondering if I could come over on the weekend. My last midterm is Friday."
"You may be living in a dorm, but the loft is still your home. You never have to ask." He pauses. "Except I won't be there this weekend. Kate took this week off, so we're going away for a few days. Maybe next Monday we could have dinner." There's more rustling. "At home. And talk some more."
"Okay. Monday." She sounds about eight years old.
"Good luck on the rest of your midterms, even though I know that in your case luck isn't necessary."
"Bye." He clicks off his phone, feeling more at ease than he has in weeks. The weekend. Jesus, how had he forgotten? He hadn't, really, but he's mentally scrapping the tentative plan he'd made a least a month ago—to go to the Hamptons, which is fantastic at this time of year when there are so few people around—and already formulating a new one. A surprise new one, although the Hamptons weekend would have been a surprise, too. Before he goes to the bedroom to ask Kate if she wants to go out to dinner or eat in, he spends a few minutes online on his phone, to get some basic information he'll need.
Neither of them has the strength or the interest in going out or in cooking, and two hours later they're stretched out on the sofa, the last slice of pizza curling slightly in the box, two empty bottles of beer next to it. They'd talked about his phone call with Alexis, and Kate's relieved that he's getting back on solid ground with his daughter.
"You're happier than you've been in weeks, Castle," she murmurs against his bicep. "I'm glad."
"Me, too. It's been exhausting."
"I feel as though I could sleep for a month, don't you?"
"A month? Really, Beckett? You mean sleep-sleep, actually sleeping? Or sleeeeep," he draws out the word and raises one eyebrow.
That gets an appreciative chuckle from her. "Sleep-sleep for eighteen hours, maybe, so I have the energy for sleeeeeep."
"That's good. Because you still have five days off. And I was hoping that we could use them productively."
"I do, don't I?" She rolls over and lies on his chest. "But tomorrow I'm going to have dinner with Lanie. I really owe her."
"Me, too. She got me home from the Old Haunt when I was so wasted that I was totally useless. And she put me to bed. Decorously, very decorously." He raises his head just enough to be able to kiss Kate very indecorously.
"Mmmm, nice," she says lazily. "Seriously, though, just Lanie and me, okay? Girl talk."
"Okay, okay, I'll find a way to occupy myself."
He does. He lets her sleep not for 18 hours, but for 16, waking her only because he knows she'll want to shower and dress before meeting Lanie for dinner. He spends part of the day finalizing plans, and while she's out for the evening he packs two carry-on bags, one for him and one for her, and stows them in the hall closet.
"Did you have a good time?" he asks after she comes through the door and is unzipping her boots.
"Yes, thanks," she replies. "Might have overdone the wine just a little."
"You're sure it was just a little? I know how the two of you get. "
"Yeah." She kisses him lightly. "But Lanie's another story."
"It's your hollow leg. Much longer than hers, so you can hold your liquor better."
"Hollow leg, huh?"
She pulls him close to her. "You won't think it's hollow," she says against his lips, "when I have it wrapped around your waist."
"That a promise?"
"What about your other leg?"
"I think you'll find it in excellent working condition. In combination with the other, it has a vise-like grip."
His hand has already made its way under her blouse and is cupping her breast. "You gonna show me?"
"Definitely. But it works so much better with our clothes off."
Much later, as they're drifting off to sleep, he says, ""You weren't kidding about the vise-like grip. I think I have bruises."
She kicks him softly in response. "That an objection, Castle?"
"No. Gratitude." He throws an arm around her and curls against her back. "It's kind of like an X-rated hickey."
"You're such a romantic."
"That's one of the reasons you love me."
"It is. Night." And she's out.
The next morning, after they've showered together and had a leisurely breakfast, they're having an extra cup of coffee. He bows to her and asks solemnly, "What's the penalty for kidnapping in this city?"
"Federal offense, Castle. Major, major prison time. Twenty years plus. Why?"
"Hmm. Still worth it."
"Kidnapping? What the hell are you talking about?"
He pushes his stool away and in one clean move has her over his shoulder. "I'm kidnapping you, Kate. Right now. Don't fight me on this. The getaway car is downstairs."
She's swatting him on the back. "Put me down. Right now."
"If I put you down, will you come along quietly and nicely?"
"You'd better not have your fingers crossed when you say that."
"Put me down."
"Fine," he says, depositing her by the front door but holding onto one of her hands. He opens the closet, wheels out their two small suitcases, and grabs their coats. "Let's go."
They're almost at the airport before he tells her where they're going, and only because she's threatening him with bodily harm.
"You'll hurt me if I don't tell you? What, like beat me up?"
"I'll do worse that that, Castle."
"Does Lysistrata ring a bell?"
"You mean the Arisotophanes comedy?"
"The very one. In which Lysistrata persuaded all the women in Greece to stop having sex with their husbands or lovers until they stopped fighting a war."
"You'd do that?"
"Bet your ass I would. And you wouldn't be laughing."
"Santa Fe," he almost shrieks, as he holds his hands up. "We're going to Santa Fe. Flying home on Sunday, and that's all I'm saying until we get to our hotel."
"Are we staying at the Silver Saddle?" she asks, eyes glowing.
"No," he growls. "We're not staying at the Saddle Sore, a motel with half-inch thick walls."
"Silver Saddle," she says semi-indignantly. "And it's very nice."
"Do the rooms have fireplaces? And Jacuzzis? And walk-in showers?"
"Wouldn't want you to have to rough it, Castle."
"This is a vacation, not summer camp."
"Exactly. Way too cold to rough it."
It's not until they're in their seats, the plane moving out onto the runway, that she leans against him and kisses his cheekbone. "Thank you, Castle. This is probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me."
"You're welcome. But I'm doing it for me, too."
"Fireplaces and Jacuzzis, huh?"
"That's not the only reason I chose it."
"What else, a vibrating bed?"
"Uh, you really think we need that? We make—"
She clamps her hand over his mouth. "Shhh. This is a public place."
"You're the one who brought up the vibrating bed. What I was going to say, before your very public censorship, was that the hotel—hotel, with an H, not motel—we're staying in is the only one in the city that's owned by Native Americans. And I thought that you'd like that."
"I do," she says.
Over dinner that evening he tells her that he'd wanted to come to New Mexico after he'd published his first book, In a Hail of Bullets, because this is where Tony Hillerman lived and wrote.
"Sorry. Who's Tony Hillerman?"
"Who's Tony Hillerman?" Castle is so shocked he nearly breaks the stem of his wine glass. "One of the greatest mystery writers ever. Anywhere. Uniquely American. His cops are with the Navajo Tribal Police and his books are like morality plays. And they have such an amazing sense of place. You told me how much you love the landscape out here? The New Mexican landscape is like a character in his books."
"I'm surprised I've never heard you talk about him. You must know him, right?"
"I wish I did. Had. He died four years ago, before you and I even crossed paths. I met him once, a long time ago, at a conference. And I thanked him for inspiring me not just with his books but for helping me decide to write crime novels in the first place."
"Really? How'd that happen?"
"When I was trying to get going, and failing, I read an article about him," he says, looking a little wistful at the recollection. "He was a newspaper man, in his forties, who really wanted to write a novel but didn't know how to start. He said a mystery story has a ready-made structure, a skeleton, and he just had to figure out how to hang flesh on it. So that's what he did. I'd never thought about it that way, and it made all the difference."
She takes a long, long look at him. "You know what? I love how much I still don't know about you, even after all this time. I love how often you surprise me."
For every kind of reason, that touches him so much that he doesn't say anything, just reaches across the table, squeezes her hand, and doesn't let go.
After a bit she smiles. "Do you want dessert? Or do you want to go home? Home meaning the hotel."
"I do. Want to go."
"Me, too." They hold hands all the way back, and they're still holding hands when they fall asleep. It's a king-size bed in a luxurious suite, but they're snuggled so closely they could fit in a cot.
After their room-service breakfast the next morning, Castle ducks out to a bookstore nearby while Kate's in the shower. She's just gotten dressed when he walks in with a small bag. "I got you something."
She takes the bag from him, and peeks in. "Skinwalkers. Thanks, Castle. Is this the first Tony Hillerman?"
"Nope. But it's the first one in which his two main characters, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, work together. Seems like the right place for you to start."
They spend the day driving through the countryside, much of it Navajo country. He keeps pointing out places that he's sure, or thinks may be, ones where Leaphorn and Chee appear. Often she looks admiringly at the rock formation or mesa or crossroads or gas station that he's pointing to, but almost as often he can't get her attention.
"Get your nose out of that book, Beckett," he says after she hasn't lifted her eyes to the sky full of mammatus clouds.
"It's your fault, Castle," she says without looking up. "You gave it to me. But you're so right about the landscape as a character." A few moments later she closes the book with a snap, but not before marking her place with one of the dust jacket flaps. "So you never made a pilgrimage here?"
"Life got away from me, I guess. I suddenly had a lot of money and I was young and stupid. The next thing I knew I had a baby to take care of and seeing this part of the country kind of fell off my radar. If you hadn't come out here last weekend I probably never would have seen all this."
She puts her hand on his thigh. "It's a good thing, then, isn't it?"
"Yeah." He drops his right hand from the steering wheel and covers hers. "It's a very good thing."
Much as he has loved this day, he's itching for the next. At dinner she says, "Castle, you got ants in your pants?"
"I always have ants in my pants if I'm looking at you. Especially in candlelight."
"I'll take that as a compliment, but seriously, you look like you're about to fall off that chair from squirminess."
He straightens up and sits perfectly still. "How's this?"
"Good boy. I can't believe I'm saying this, but finish your dinner."
They're still awake at midnight, and he could say something then, but he wants to wait until morning. It's rare that he's the first to wake, but he is, and slips out of bed. As quietly as possible he retrieves two packages that he'd left in his suitcase, and slips the larger one into his messenger bag and the smaller into his bathrobe pocket. Their suite has a top-of-the-line coffeemaker—though not as top-of-the-line as his—and he makes a pot. When it's done he pours two mugs, and walks back to the bedroom.
He puts the mugs on Kate's nightstand, leans over and kisses her. He sees her eyes move beneath the lids, watches her nose twitch, and kisses her again.
"Morning, Castle," she says, and gives him the slightly goofy smile that invariably makes his knees weak.
"Morning," he says, and crawls over her. "I made us coffee."
"Mmm, can smell it." She closes her eyes again.
"Don't go to sleep on me, Kate," he says. "I've got big plans for us today, especially breakfast."
" 'kay." She pushes herself up into a sitting position. He reaches over, and before she can say a word has pulled her slip of a nightgown over her head and tossed it to the floor.
"Your big plans include a morning quickie, Castle?"
"I never say no to that. But that wasn't why I just got you undressed."
"Well, that's a first."
He reaches into his pocket and removes a slim box that's wrapped in purple paper and tied with a silvery silk ribbon. "I wanted you to be in your birthday suit when you opened this."
"My birthday suit?" She has that little wrinkle between her eyebrows that has the same effect on him as her goofy smile.
"Because it's your birthday. Happy birthday, Kate." He presses the box into her hands.
"Oh, my God," her eyes widen. "I'd completely forgotten."
"I figured. Go on, open your present."
"Oh," she says, on a long breath. "Oh, Castle, it's beautiful. It's so beautiful."
"May I put it on you?"
She nods, and extends her arm. He circles her wrist with the diamond-and-emerald bracelet, and closes the clasp. "See? You didn't have to remind me."
"What do you mean?" She's obviously puzzled, but fingering each stone.
"When we were talking about a case a few weeks ago. Jewelry."
Now she breaks into a smile that has no goofiness at all. "Oh, that. I said that I'd have to remind you when my birthday's coming up."
"And I said, 'Why, Detective Beckett, was that a hint you just dropped?' "
"Speaking of dropping, Castle," she says, turning to nip his ear. "I think you need to get rid of that robe. This minute."
He unties it. "I called you shameless then, and I'll call you shameless now." And just like that, the robe joins her nightgown on the floor.
"That was the longest quickie ever," she says later, still breathing hard and still a little sweaty as she's draped over his chest.
"I hope that's not a complaint, birthday girl."
"Right. Nothing girlish about what you just did." He kisses her again. "But we have to get up. Shower. Dress."
"For your big breakfast plan?"
"So I can't eat in my birthday suit, even though it's my birthday?"
"Much as I'd enjoy that, I'm afraid not."
Around 9:45, she peers through the windshield. "Where are we going?"
"That's the fifth time you've asked me that since we got in the car. Don't make my blindfold you. This is supposed to be a surprise."
When they turn onto a certain back road, she knows exactly where they're headed. "Oh, Castle. I can't believe this. We're going to Michelle's, aren't we?"
"We are. We're almost there, right?"
She almost squeals. "Yes."
He's only just cut the motor when she opens her door and gets out, and he's glad of it because he can grab his bag without her noticing it.
"C'mon, Castle," she says, waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. She's not wearing gloves, even though it's chilly, and the sun is catching on her bracelet. They walk in hand in hand, and he's pleased to see there are no other customers inside.
Alerted by the tinkling of the bell when the door opens, Michelle looks up from behind the counter, and grins. "Well, look who's here. Never thought I'd see you so soon. Couldn't resist my pie, huh?"
"You have pie? For breakfast?" Castle looks like a kid on his first trip to a bakery.
"Of course I have pie for breakfast, Mister Castle."
"You know who—"
"Course I know who you are. I painted your name on a mug, didn't I?" She winks. "And hers. Caroline's. Although I suspect I should be calling her Kate."
It's Beckett's turn to be surprised. "You knew?"
"Not until you had me paint those mugs, honey. That's when the penny dropped. But I figured if you were here under an alias or whatever, it was no business of mine." She turns her eyes back to Castle. "Don't let it go to your head, but I like your books. I was glad when you eighty-sixed Derrick Storm, though. He was getting to be a pain in the keester."
"I can see why you like her, Kate." He extends his hand. "I'm Rick."
"I'm Michelle," she says, shaking his hand warmly. "I'm guessing you're here for breakfast."
"We are. It's a big day. Kate's birthday."
"Ah, ha. Many happy returns, Kate. Why don't you two sit over there by the window? That's where she was before. I think it might be her lucky table."
Castle hangs back briefly while Kate is heading for a chair, and quickly passes a shopping bag to Michelle. He tilts his head and she acknowledges it with a nod. Once he has joined Kate, Michelle strolls over.
"What's your pleasure?"
"I'm putting myself in your hands," Castle says. "I have a feeling I'll love whatever it is."
"Same here," Beckett says. "And coffee whenever you can, please. I'm desperate for caffeine."
"Coming right up. Two coffees. And breakfast? I'll give it my best shot."
Michelle returns quickly, a mug in each hand. "I believe this is yours, Kate," she says, setting it down. "And this is Rick's."
He's fixed on Kate's face. Her expression, which was already soft, gets even softer. She looks luminous and astonished. "You brought these? All the way from New York?"
"I did. You said you already felt like a regular here, so I thought you should have a regular's mug."
She swallows hard. "Not very often that I cry in my coffee, Castle. Thank you. For everything."
"You're welcome. Happy Birthday. I know you hate surprises, but I thought it was worth the risk."
"More than." She pulls a paper napkin out of the dispenser and wipes her eyes. "This is the best day. I haven't had a good birthday in a long time."
He picks up his mug and clinks it against hers. "To great birthdays from now on."
"To great birthdays."
Just as they finish their coffee, Michelle arrives with fully-loaded plates. "Apple-stuffed pancakes with cinnamon and maple syrup, and fried ham steaks. I'll bring the pie when you're done with this."
"Are they your apples?" Kate asks. "From the tree in your yard?"
"Please. Why would I use any one else's?"
"I hope the ham didn't used to be a pig you know," Castle says.
"Not by name," Michelle replies.
Kate laughs. "Would you like to join us?"
"Thanks, honey, but I gotta get ready for the lunch bunch. And I think you lovebirds need time by yourselves."
"Can we move here?" Castle says as the chef-owner disappears.
"Not sure this town has much need of a homicide detective. But there's always vacation time."
"And weekends. Not that bad of a trip."
Discretion keeps them from licking their plates, but they leave nothing behind. When they go to the counter to pay, Castle gives Michelle their mugs. "I think we're going to come out this way as often as we can. Do you think we could hang these up on the rack?"
"I already made space for 'em," she says, pointing at the wall and two shiny new hooks. "I'll see ya when I see ya. Don't be strangers."
"We won't," Kate says, reaching over to give the other woman a hug. "Thank you."
They're almost at the car when Michelle appears at the door. "Hey, Rick? Got a second?"
"Sure," he says, lifting an eyebrow at Kate before he trots back to the diner.
"Come on in," she says. "I just got one thing to say. Next time you're here I wanna see a ring on her finger. And it better be as fancy as that bracelet I bet you gave her today."
"You're on. Consider it done."
When he slides into his seat, Kate looks hard at him. She can tell he's working hard to suppress a grin. "What did she want? You leave her a huge tip?"
"No, she just had a question for me."
He turns the key.
"And I said yes."
A/N Thank you for the prompt, Roadrunnerz, which took me to places I don't usually visit in FF. Thanks to everyone else for coming along on the trip. Your kindness means a lot to me. Later this week I hope to post the first chapter of a new story that begins where S3 ended.