Chapter 37: Happy endings
Beckett surveys her apartment with some pride. It's amazing what a couple of tables and the photos have done to improve matters. She'd bitten the bullet, gone out to a discount store, managed some nice wine glasses and even put a vase of flowers on the table. The fridge is full of beer and pizza as well as some wine; there is soda in the unlikely event anyone doesn't want liquor, and there are many cartons of ice-cream in the freezer. She knows her friends' tastes inside out. As she looks round again, the first knock on the door arrives.
It's Ryan and Esposito. They arrive inside, and stare around.
"Spacious," Ryan says. Espo looks as if he would say Spartan, if only he knew the word. Neither of them have brought anything with them, not even a bottle of beer or wine. Or soda. Or even a card. Beckett reminds herself firmly that expecting presents – even a small housewarming tea light – is spoilt and grabby, and gets them each a beer. While she's doing that, the door sounds again: with Lanie's cheerfully lecherous grin on the other side. She bounces in, and examines the apartment.
"Still a bit bare, girlfriend." She stops, abruptly, on Beckett's glare. "But classy," she adds rapidly.
"Want some wine, or beer?"
"Wine, please. You having some too?"
"Yep." Beckett efficiently opens and pours the wine. She is more than a touch disappointed that Lanie also came empty-handed. However, good company is always a good thing to have. Ryan is peering out of the windows, and jumps when she speaks.
"Yes." She turns round, and surprises Espo whispering in Lanie's ear. They leap apart when they notice her. She smirks evilly. "Don't mind me. You can go make out in the corner there." Both of them glare at her.
For the next twenty minutes, every time Beckett turns round to talk to one of her friends the other two start whispering behind her. Honestly, it's like being a schoolmarm. She is unutterably relieved when the door sounds. She hopes that'll be Castle, whose tardiness is also a tad disappointing. She'd have thought he'd be here early, but he's almost half an hour late. O'Leary is more understandable: Central Park on a Friday can be a little lively.
She wanders over to the door and finds it full of the O'Leary mountain range.
"Hey," he rumbles, and looks straight past her at the boys. "Need you guys," he says. Ryan and Esposito dash for the door, almost knocking Beckett down in their hurry.
"What?" she says. "Where are you going?"
"Need them," O'Leary says again, and all three men disappear.
Beckett looks at her open door, looks at her wine glass, and downs the contents in one. "I thought we were having a party?" she says to Lanie, as she shoves the door shut.
"Men," Lanie shrugs. "Have another drink."
Beckett thinks that's a good plan. A hell of a good plan. "They're all rats. And Castle hasn't even showed up." The renewed wine level drops noticeably.
"I'm sure they'll have a good reason."
"They better. Or Ryan and Espo will spend a month investigating Dumpsters. Castle can help them."
At which point there is a loud banging on the door. Beckett stalks over to it and flings it open – and gawps. "Uh?" she emits.
"Out of the way, Beckett!" Espo orders. Stunned, she shifts. The – oh my, four – men march themselves in, carrying – she is utterly dumbfounded – a second, matching, small table and lamp; a set of pine bookshelves with the same simple, clean lines and style as the tables she had bought on Sunday, with two large boxes delicately balanced on them; and a covered roll.
Castle, bringing up the rear with the roll of something unknown, grins at her. "Sorry I'm late. Traffic was bad. We got a bit stuck."
"Uh?" Beckett says, speechless and brainless.
"We all got together," Ryan explains. "The four of us and Lanie. Castle went bargain hunting and we all chipped in for your housewarming gift."
Beckett falls on to her couch. "Thank you," she manages, and buries her over-emotional face in her wine.
"C'mon, we need to put these in place."
The table and lamp arrive at the other end of the couch. The small pathetic pile of books is moved, and the bookshelves inserted. The pile becomes shelved.
"Looks a bit empty," O'Leary notes, grinning widely.
They open the two boxes, and fill the bookshelves. Beckett can only stare, left wholly wordless and very close to tears at their actions.
"Lift your glass up," Castle tells her, kneeling over the roll. She does. O'Leary and Espo lift the coffee table, and, in best Arabian Nights style, Castle unrolls a warm-toned, golden shaded rug. It has a border of elephants, linked trunk to tail, all the way around.
"It's gorgeous." Her voice cracks. "I can't believe it. You shouldn't… it's too much. You…"
They all look at her as if she's crazy. "You'd'a done it for us," Espo points out. "In fact, I think you did. Didn't you get Lanie a set of bookshelves when she moved?"
"You got me stuff," Ryan adds. "Okay, so I never used the tablecloth" –
"Yeah you did," Espo contradicts. "Christmas time."
"Okay, anyhow, you did. You got me a load of stuff when I moved in."
"Iffen you don't like the rug, I want it. It's got elephants." As if she hadn't noticed, O'Leary.
"My elephants," she says very possessively. "It's perfect. Thank you." She sniffs. "Beer? Pizza? Wine? We need to celebrate." She moves to the fridge. Opening it hides the fact that she is close to crying with happiness.
Castle sneaks up behind her. "You okay?" he murmurs. "You're not mad at us?"
"Mad? No. No way. They're… it's great. You – I know this was all your idea – it's perfect." She sniffs again, and hands him four bottles of beer. "I'll put the pizzas on, if you share the beer out?"
Castle doesn't mention that putting pizza on will give her time to recover her composure. Hidden by the open fridge door, he briefly runs a hand over her back. She curves a little into it, but she still sounds a little shaken, a lot emotional. If they were alone, he'd cuddle her in, and hold her close (and definitely not tell her that he'd insisted on paying for almost all of the housewarming gifts, over considerable disagreement from the others, on the grounds that it's perfectly proportionate to the success of Nikki Heat and the relative incomes of the five of them) and kiss her all happy again. But they're not. Still, the door is hiding them both…
He pinches her ass.
"What the hell?" she hisses.
"That's better. Now you're cross with me, not sniffling." He smiles beautifully and raises his voice slightly. "I like pepperoni pizza. Tell me you got lots with pepperoni, Beckett?"
"Nope. They've all got pineapple."
"Becke-eetttt! You know I hate pineapple on pizza. It's an abomination. A blasphemy. A traducement" –
"Enough. Of course I got something you like. I got something everyone likes."
"You – you played me!"
"You're so easy."
"You'll find out just how easy I'm not later on," he purrs dangerously. Beckett lifts an eyebrow. Castle smiles lazily, and takes advantage of the fridge door to stroke her ass again, stopping less than one inch shy of utterly obscene. She glares. Castle smirks smugly and wanders off with the four beers, locating the opener on the counter and distributing the beer to the counterpoint of Beckett's familiar irritation at being unable to get the last word.
As the beer level fluctuates and the pizza mountain is whittled down (mostly by O'Leary, who has an unfair advantage in both reach and appetite), the tone of discussion becomes more bantering and sillier. Currently the game is Let's suggest décor for this apartment.
"I'd have crossed rifles between the windows," Espo (naturally) offers. "Polished, an' workin', a'course."
"I'd do curtains," Ryan says mischievously. "Chintz, with pretty flowers. Maybe pink." Beckett growls viciously.
"Nah. Wouldn't go with the couch," O'Leary notes. "But I did see some four-foot wooden elephants in some craft shop, an' since wooden elephants ain't edible" – everyone sniggers – "you could get one an' put it right there." He points. Everyone follows his gesture.
"Wow. I can just see that."
"It would be great," Castle says enthusiastically, dreaming of a polished teak elephant.
"I guess you could hang your coat on the trunk." Ryan ruins the mood. Everyone glares at him.
"Not this month," Beckett says. O'Leary's enormous frame droops. "But next month's paycheque, now all of you've got me the things I was planning on getting, might work." O'Leary perks up again.
Lanie decides to get in on the act. "If you've got some spare cash next month, you and me can go shopping." Beckett cowers. "Yep. I found this little patch of stores with all sorts of pretty things. You need some pretty things."
"Lanie, you are the world's most chi-chi ME ever. Your apartment is full of samplers and embroidered cushions" –
"Don't you diss my embroidery, girl. You do that and I won't give you any." Beckett does not look notably frightened by this thought. "Anyway, you need some pretty things."
"I'll have the elephant."
"She got us. We're pretty things." Everyone howls with laughter at Esposito's statement.
"I'm ruggedly handsome," Castle preens. There's another collective howl of laughter. He pouts. No-one sympathises.
"Okay, everyone. Lanie, it's sweet, but I don't do collections of tea lights and porcelain thimbles."
"You should," Lanie mutters sotto voce. O'Leary snorts.
"But the elephant sounds good so if O'Leary tells us where the store is, we'll go buy it. 'Kay?"
Lanie grumbles something which sounds like tea lights. Beckett calmly ignores it. She doesn't do chi-chi, or frou-frou, or bric-a-brac. Nice clean lines, and plenty of space. And no tea lights. On the other hand, a couple of thick, heavy scented candles would be good. She'll tell Lanie that on the day. It'll be a nice surprise for her.
She smiles widely round her friends, and raises her wine glass. "To good friends," she toasts. "Thank you all."
"Friends," arrives back at her.
"An' elephants." O'Leary's megalith-tall grin carries everyone along, and the evening dissolves into more pizza, and more drink, and more jokes and stories and ragging.
Eventually the party breaks up. Well. Lanie grumps horribly about being on duty tomorrow, and reluctantly leaves, still muttering about tea lights and embroidered tablecloths and lots of scatter cushions but fortunately unable to see Beckett's affectionate eye-roll behind her head. Espo and Ryan follow her, and then there were three.
Just like there had been three when the whole mess of the case and unravelling of emotions had really begun. This time, however, everyone's on easy terms. O'Leary regards Castle with a benevolent and I'm-Beckett's-big-brotherly eye.
"Now see? Iffen I hadn't happened along, you'd still've been mis'r'ble. Ain't you lucky I'm your pal?" He grins happily. "I tol' you you should kiss 'n' make up. An' you did. Awwww."
"Just for that, we should take your beer away."
O'Leary grabs it and hugs it protectively. "Don't you do that, butterfly." He regards them rather inquisitively, like the world's largest curious hamster, nose twitching slightly. "I'd'a thought you'd be all snuggled up, now the others are gone. Not like they haven't guessed, but I guess you don't wanna frighten the horses."
Castle flicks a glance at Beckett. O'Leary watches both of them. Much to his interest, Castle doesn't do anything except wait. Bit surprisin', that, considerin' how Castle'd been like a dog with a bone.
Or mebbe – not.
O'Leary hasn't seen the photos or the tapes. He's no wish to, an' it's not his business either. But he hasn't forgotten the scene in the warehouse, or the two hours of hell before, during and afterward. He likes his pals alive. Ghosts ain't no good.
He continues to watch blandly as Beckett is the one who makes the move, reaching out to twine fingers. It's only after that, that Castle slings an arm round her. He'd not put Castle down as shy to take what he wanted, but that's definitely him waitin' for Beckett. Hmmm. A good guy, Castle. A very good guy indeed. Takes a strong man to hold back like that.
"Waaallll, time for me t' go." He downs the rest of his beer in one gulp. "Been a good party. Next time, I wanna see that elephant in the corner there."
"So long as you don't steal it."
"Told you, it ain't edible. I don't want it iffen I can't cook it."
He unfolds, stretches, just misses the ceiling light – thank the Lord for high ceilings – and pats Beckett on the head because it's always made her cross. She growls.
"Time I went."
Beckett stands up, out of Castle's arm. "Night, O'Leary. Thanks." She hugs him, and he envelops her, briefly.
"Now, you take care of my pal Castle. An' you, you take care of Beckett here. An' if I get to hear of any trouble, I'll be back to sort you out again."
By the time he's finished, Castle's reached them, and bumps fists with the mobile matchmaking mountain.
"Night," O'Leary says happily. "An' don't do anythin' I wouldn't do."
"Night," they say in unison, and he beams beatifically at them both, and ambles off.
"What'll we do now?"
"Tidy up," Beckett says, at which Castle's face collapses comically. "C'mon. I'll wash, you dry, and we'll be done in ten minutes." She develops a small, secretive smile. "Then…we'll see."
In fact, with two of them, tidying up takes less than ten minutes, even when the recycling is taken to the chute. Castle slips back in and shuts the door just as Beckett puts the last plate away, and slings an arm around her as she turns around.
"You waited, earlier."
"Didn't want you to spook in front of O'Leary."
She wriggles, uncomfortably. "Wouldn't have." Most likely she wouldn't have. But he wasn't willing to take that chance. "You've… look, don't treat me like I'm broken. Do what you want to do."
"Do what I want to do?"
He takes her mouth with all the passion and force that he's wanted to use since moment one, a year and more ago: diving full in and sweeping her along on the roaring tsunami of his desire, her want swelling the wave that breaks and drowns them in each other. He takes and owns and conquers: she gives back as hard, as passionately and adds a small, erotic nip to his lower lip which he returns, and it's harder, rougher: claiming and owning and wholly possessive.
She slows, not spooking but calming, as if she has the right to explore and tease and touch and taste (she does: oh God she does); slowing their frenetic pace to smoother, more seductive and less ravaging. He follows her lead, for now, for a moment, but there's still no hitch or hesitation in her actions and so he takes the lead again, angling her head and kissing her hard; a hand dropping to her ass to press her in against him, to curl around one thigh and lift her leg around his waist so she's open over his hard erection: he holds her there and she rolls as he grinds and she's perfectly placed and poised and sized to him.
He tugs again and she's tight against hard weight and firm length, right where she needs him: trying frantically to find the frictions he wants while he's duelling with her tongue: she's got a hand around the base of his skull to keep him on her mouth; pushing hard nipples against his chest through the clothes they're still wearing though she's so close, right there: he's pressing so hard and she needs him in her right here right now. Her hand opens belt and zipper, strokes and palms him and he emits an animal noise and plunges his own hand down to open her up and sweep through soaked hot folds and entire tight flesh and shove her pants and panties away and off and lift her and bring her down on him and it's exactly, totally what she wants and needs and he rubs one hard stroke of his thumb across her and she clenches and shrieks and he thrusts into her and they're both gone, that fast.
"Bed," he rasps, and simply carries her there, she still wrapped around him. He places her on the bed, still in her shirt and bra but nothing else; he's still fully dressed. He strips, desperate to be naked with her, skin to skin and nothing to stop them. And then he stops, and slows himself down: lies on the bed propped up on an elbow and looks down at her: swollen lipped, eyes sleepy; his hot gaze watching every little tell and flicker of movement.
"Kiss me," she whispers.
"In a moment."
He opens her shirt, spreading it apart and revealing the beauty below: sits her up and slips it off and away; flicks her bra clasp open and discards that too, leaving her as naked as he. He sweeps a long, admiring gaze across her, and follows it with a delicate line from a broad finger, which makes her wriggle.
"Mine," he rasps, and runs the finger back up to under her chin. "You're gorgeous."
She reaches up to him, and cups his face softly. "Castle," she murmurs. "My Castle."
And then she pulls him down over her and there is no more talking.
Later, she's curled up over him with an arm around his chest; his arms firmly wound around her, petting idly, without intent. She plays with a wisp of soft hair behind his ear; he draws tiny squiggles on her shoulder-blades and back. It's all very contented and peaceful.
Beckett snuggles closer. "I wish…" she mumbles, and trails off.
"Me too." He doesn't expand: it's not required. "But we're here now."
"Yes." She cuddles him closer, and hums in a small, satisfied way. "Mine."
"No games, just us."
"Mmmm." She runs her fingers along his now-shadowed jaw. "No games? No playing with you? I like playing with you." She demonstrates, the finger slinking along his lips. He draws it in, and nips lightly. His own hands move more intently. She presses a kiss to his neck, and he draws her up.
"As long as you only play with me." He moves, and she slips down to take him in. "Just like that." He waits a beat.
"No flags on these plays, Beckett."
Well, that's irritating. Thought I'd saved the a/n, clearly not! sorry.
Thank you to everyone who's come along for the ride: readers,reviewers, followers and favouriters.
Next up, a short Hallowe'en story, and some more of the Caskett Cats.
I will not abandon this fandom, though it'll take me a little time to write something new and first I have to find some inspiration for a long story. Short ones... there will be some of those.
But also, I'm working on an original story, which I hope will see the light of day before I'm eighty.