A/N: Set early season 4, any time after 4x05. 'Eye of the Beholder'.

"The closest I came to taking an art class was posing for one, as a model."

"Wait, posing in...?"

"Not a stitch."

When her close friend from college calls after they ran into each other a few weeks ago at the art museum, tells her he's in need of a model for his art class, she's ready to assist in any way she can, but when Chris mentions posing nude, Beckett backpedals.

"Listen, Becks, I'm not asking you to pose nude in front of the class," Chris reasons over the phone while Kate rolls her eyes at the use of her old nickname that she still hasn't managed to shake. "All I actually require is a nude photo, selfie style for the lesson I'm currently teaching on modern technology and-"

"If you didn't have a husband at home, I wouldn't be buying this for a single second," she mutters, kicking off her heels in the doorway of her bedroom and listening to Chris chuckle from across the line.

"Aside from the evidence of my sexual preference excluding any ulterior motives," he continues, causing a flicker of amusement to tease along the corners of Beckett's mouth. "I can promise you my intentions are pure. I wouldn't bug you about this if I knew a better model, Becks, but the girl I had booked dropped out last minute and as I'm sure you can recall from that art class we did together in school where you were the subject, you're pretty much a pro."

"That was different," Kate huffs, plopping down on her bed and leaning back against the headboard. "I was young and it was a professional, private class."

"Excuse me," Chris tosses back, his tone infused with full offense. "You would not be the first nude body displayed in my class of aspiring and wholly professional students. This is a high level course, Kate. Serious art majors only and if it's privacy you're worried about, I can assure you that no one will even know it's you."

Beckett's eyebrows quirk. "Oh yeah? How's that?"

"Well, either you can purposely exclude your head from the frame when you take the photo or I will crop it out. Then, I'll change the quality of the photo, eliminate any personal touches the background may offer, and finalize it by altering it to black and white. I can even erase that tattoo of yours," Chris explains, bragging a bit, and Kate sighs, relents.

"Fine, but I have to approve of the version you intend to show your class beforehand," she bargains, hearing Chris's hands clap with victory.

"You've got yourself a deal," he replies all too happily. "Now, let's talk poses."

Kate aligns her body in front of her closet's full length mirror, her iPhone in her grasp as she angles her hips, her torso, setting up for the demure shot of her figure. Her arms cover the majority of her breasts, leaving only hints of cleavage, a glimpse of the swell just above her ribcage, while her legs strategically cross, the sideways angle of her frame shielding the most vulnerable pieces of herself. She tilts her chin, lets the waves of her hair tumble over her shoulders, kiss her clavicle, but lifts her face from the frame of the shot.

She touches her thumb to the button on the screen to capture the image of herself in the mirror, tapping it twice to ensure she has a clear photo before drawing the screen to her face, pulling up the pictures and assessing them with a critical eye.

Her cheeks threaten to flush even as she reminds herself that the photos are nothing but art example pieces, not to be seen by anyone except a trusted friend and his selective class of dedicated art students. Chris has even promised to confiscate cellphones on the day of this particular lesson to ensure the image is never circulated in any way, other than on the students' expensive canvases.

"I'll be the only person with the original, Becks. Promise."

Kate takes a deep breath and uploads the photo to an email, types in Chris's address in the required bar, and prepares to hit send while she shrugs her robe back on. A message from Castle comes through just as she's hovering over the icon and Kate can't help but smirk.

If only he knew what she was up to tonight.

He's been writing for over an hour now and despite having a decent flow of the chapter going, it isn't long before Castle is growing bored, hungry, and texting Beckett. She doesn't respond right away to his request for Chinese and a movie here at the loft, but it's still early. His mother and Alexis are out, and after the case they had, he wouldn't mind the company, especially if it's the company of Kate Beckett.

Order my favorite.

He grins down at his device, dials the number for the restaurant and places the order.

It'll be waiting for you by the time you get here, he texts her back afterwards, not expecting any sort of reply, but minutes later, his phone buzzes from the kitchen island.

Rick pauses in his retrieval of the wine glasses, his brow furrowing at the alert of an email from Kate. Rarely does she email him to begin with, let alone when they just spoke via the convenience of a text message, but he opens it nonetheless, because if it's from Kate's personal email instead of the work address, it has to be important.

Castle taps on the attachment, grabs the wine glasses while it loads, but the second the image blooms to life on the screen, he drops the glasses in his grasp, drops his jaw too, and stares in shock and a good dose of awe at the sight of her. Bare, bold yet bashful in the tasteful display of her body, and beautiful. So very beautiful.

He doesn't understand how she managed to send him this (because no way was it purposeful) and he quickly tears his eyes away from the photo of her to check the names in the address bar, fearing an accidental mass email, or even worse, a hacked email scenario. But no, there are only two names – his and some guy named Chris and who the hell is Chris?

The knock on his door startles him so badly, he nearly drops his phone too, nearly stumbles into the shards of glass now littering his kitchen floor, but even as he tiptoes out of the room and for the front door, his mind is racing, torn between the glorious image of her body imprinted on his brain, the striking lines and taut curves, the hard angles of her bones and soft dips of her skin – and why she was sharing these kinds of pictures with some guy named Chris. But the prior wins out when he swings open his front door, expecting Chinese delivery and finding her instead.

She looks panicked and somewhere in his muddled brain, he notes that it's probably because she's realized the mistake that's now in his possession, realized all he's seen.


"You're stunning," he chokes out, like an absolute idiot, and Kate lifts a hand to her face in obvious mortification. But after that first dominant, overwhelming thought comes another and it leaves his filter-lacking mouth without permission too. "Wait, who's Chris?"

"No need to ask if you got the email, I'm guessing," she sighs from behind the splay of her palm covering her eyes.

"I – I didn't know what it was," he mumbles and Beckett drops her hand to her side. "Was it – are you-"

"Chris is a good friend from college," she explains and his stomach begins to clench, because no, not again. Not another boyfriend, another man who can love her when he can't- "Castle, he's just a friend," she adds, apparently sensing his inner turmoil and rolling her eyes at him for it. "A friend who has a husband and is in the process of adopting a little girl."

Oh, oh, thank god.

"I'm – he's a professional art teacher and... long story short, he needed a model for a lesson and I said yes, but when I sent the email, I somehow added your name to the addresses, probably because you're both C's, and can we just forget this ever happened?" she finishes with her cheeks bright red, more embarrassed than he's ever seen her, and he doesn't want to torture her, but he can't abide by her request either. Not honestly.

He really doesn't want to.

"I wish I could, Beckett," he murmurs, his eyes begging to sweep downwards, caress the body he knows lies beneath the yoga pants and t-shirt with his gaze. "But I can't forget that."

"Rick," she groans, scraping a hand through her hair, and that really isn't helping either.

"You're the most... gorgeous thing I've ever seen, Kate," he confesses, letting the raw truth of it bleed into his voice, the desire, watching her chest hitch. "Doesn't surprise me that it was for an art class."

"That's not how you were supposed to - I didn't want..." He watches her blow out a breath and cross her arms over her chest.

"You hid your scar."

Her eyes flick back to him, startled and dark, and Castle swallows down his nerves, reaches out to touch the collar of her shirt, staying in the safe zone of her collarbone and tugging gently. Kate catches his wrist, her eyes never wavering from the lock of his gaze.

"I did," she affirms, pressing her thumb against the inside of his wrist, able to feel the quickening of his pulse, he's sure. "It's not something I wanted to share."

"Not with them," he murmurs, his heart leaping, tripping, when Kate steps in closer, her eyebrow arching in question.

"You think I'd share it with you?" she inquires, but it isn't a challenge. Her question is soft, tender like her gaze has turned, and the tightness in his chest begins to unwind.

"It's a part of you and I want-" He can't help it, finally allows his eyes to soak in the entirety of her, every inch that he saw in that photo, adoring the sharp points of her hips and the subtle curves of her sides, the branches of her ribs through the thin fabric of her t-shirt and the hollow of her throat. "All of you."

Every bone in his body goes stiff when she releases his wrist to fist her hands in the sides of his t-shirt, but he lets her pull him in, holds his breath when her eyes fall from his gaze to his mouth, rise again.

"Castle, I-"

"Uh, order for Rick Castle?"

Kate's lips purse and her fingers unfurl from his shirt at the tentative voice of the delivery boy behind them and Castle leans forward in a moment of bravery, stains his lips to her forehead.

"Hold that thought," he says, pleads, before letting her drift past him into the loft while he withdraws a few bills from the pocket of his jeans, exchanges them for the two bags of Chinese food.

Kate is waiting inside when he closes the door, assessing the crime scene of his kitchen.

"I'm assuming this is where you opened the email?" she quips, half amused, half horrified, and Castle releases a wary chuckle.

"Yeah, I'm going to need to clean that up. Don't tell Mother her wineglasses were sacrificed by my surprise," he mumbles, setting the food down on the living room's coffee table instead. "You can go ahead and eat, Beckett. I'll-"

"I'm not so hungry anymore," she admits, standing between the warzone of his kitchen and the living room, and he approaches with caution.

He's never quite sure where they stand, other than on opposite sides of a wall, but he's more uncertain than ever now.

"I'll delete the email, the picture," he assures her, coming up to stand in front of her. "And I'll – we never have to speak of it again."

Kate bites down on her bottom lip and shakes her head. "You said it yourself, you can't forget what you saw. It'll always be... there."

"Well, kind of, but Beckett-"

"No, listen," she sighs, but then she's tugging down the collar of her shirt and he can't listen, can't hear anything past the building roar of blood rushing through his ears.

He's caught glimpses of her chest before, during a rescue from the inferno of her apartment building, in front of his favorite bar when she indulged his "pop one more button" suggestion, but this is different. Because it's not just the bare flesh of her chest, the bones of her sternum, on display, when she drags the front of her t-shirt down to expose the round, still healing scar of a bullet between her breasts.

Castle drifts towards her like a magnet, unable to help it, and zeros in on the sight of the evidence of her survival, the hole in her chest he's always known existed, but has never had the chance to see.

She sucks in a breath when he touches his first two fingers to the raised flesh, her eyes fluttering at the gentle brush of his knuckles.

"Still beautiful," he confirms, not that she needs it.

"Only with you," she rasps, reeling his eyes upwards, just in time to watch her face as her hand rises to curve at the nape of his neck, her fingers burying in his hair. "You're right, I'd only share it with you. You're the only person who'd see any beauty in it, Castle."

"That photo is just more proof that there's not a part of you that isn't beautiful," he argues, catching the twitch of her lips at his protest. "Seriously, Kate, you're striking, you're-"

She's silences him with the seal of her lips, the soft pressure of her mouth fitting a kiss against his and taking all of his breath, his words, his brainpower.

Castle drapes his hands at her back, framing the blooming lattice of her ribs, and sucks her bottom lip into his mouth, reveling in the rise of her body into his, the same way it had nearly a year ago amidst a ruse that had felt all too real.

"Not so bad yourself," she echoes words from a room in a hotel room, a night they'd almost crossed a line he always regretted leaving untouched.

But maybe it was for the best if he could have this. Even if it meant watching her endure the pierce of a bullet to her chest, feeling the life bleed out of her and stain his hands, and proceed to accept months without her, waking from nightmares of her death all alone – he'd do it all again if he knew he could have this.

"Don't stop," he murmurs, trailing one of his hands up her side to reach the column of her throat, cradling the harsh angle of her jaw, and savoring the blossom of her smile against his mouth as she kisses him again, attends to his lips with reverence, slips her tongue inside with hot determination.

Her phone vibrates from the front pocket of her pants, buzzing against his thigh, and Kate parts from him to glance down, pluck the device from her hip and check the message on her screen, burying her face in his shoulder.

"What?" he chuckles, the sound of his laughter mangled, breathless, because Kate Beckett just kissed him.

"Chris," she replies, shaking her head against his collarbone. "Making fun of me because I sent a nude photo to the guy I'm in - that I'm... to you, when I always told him I refused to send naked pictures to anyone. Ever."

"Oh Beckett, if we'd been dating before this, I totally would have convinced you to send me naked pictures a long time ago," he muses, hiding his grin in her hair when she scoffs at him.

"You wish."

"Mm, I kinda do," he teases, huffing when she pinches his side, but he's smiling like an idiot as she raises her head, steals another kiss from his mouth that he all too willingly lets her have. "Do you still want to do dinner and a movie?"

"Mhmm, maybe a little more than that," she mumbles, her lips brushing the corner of his mouth and setting his skin aflame.

He should be asking about walls, about waiting, about being ready. He has no intention of letting that discussion go unspoken, but in this moment, he has her in his arms, not freaking out after accidentally sending him a nude photo of herself, and asking her for anything more would risk disturbing the joy swarming his chest.

"Kate," he murmurs, grazing his thumb to the sensitive skin beneath her hipbone, feeling the heat of her breath skitter across his cheek. "I like your tattoo."