A/N: Greetings. So, I got a little distracted this holiday weekend. Clearly. Working on a tale that leans a bit heavier on plot like Apprentice makes me itch for character-centric stuff. This 'story' is merely a place to let my mind wander to that effect. I'm not sure if any future chapters are going to be related. Frankly, this starting point is both amusing and kinda sad, so even it's genre is up in the air. I hope you enjoy it regardless. Chronologically speaking, Cops and Robbers is referenced as being a closely preceding event. Whether that position in canon endures is likewise undetermined.

Oh, and for my Apprentice readers, the next chapter for that monster is currently in beta mode. It ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I'm going to hold off posting at least until the chapter which follows it is also beta-worthy. Or close to it. I'm aiming for Sunday. I hope you all had a good Fourth.


It was shaping up to be one of those days.

Detective Katherine Beckett didn't have an active investigation underway and, for the time being, her cold-case files had been revisited as much as circumstances allowed. An absence of murder wasn't a bad thing. Never. A marked overabundance of free time while sharing a bullpen with Javier, Kevin, and Richard Castle, however, most certainly had the explosive potential to be. Her team's good behavior hinged upon a consistent level of challenge. Take that level of engagement away…

Beckett glanced up from her computer screen amidst a shifting fall of shadow and frowned to see her partner resting his jean-clad ass upon on the edge of her desk instead of his usual chair. Her fingers curled into fists above the keyboard. Don't engage, Katie. That's no accidental perch. She would not be baited. The man's boredom wasn't a crime she was responsible for solving. The clacking of computer keys continued under her care and admittedly halved attention. Dat ass though. Dayum. Has he taken up running?

"So," Castle was saying to the pair situated across the way at their desks, "I agreed and read her the latest chapter over the phone. I mean, she was my literary agent. Why wouldn't I?"

"Uh, maybe because you'd already emailed it to her?" Javier returned dryly, clearly bored and attempting to hustle the narrative along. "Aren't book people supposed to read shit?"

"I rather hope that's not the assigned genre of anything I send them."

Kate pursed her lips into a firm line to prevent a smirk. Tappity-tap went the keyboard.

"Anyway," Ryan inserted impatiently, "you read it to her. What happened?"

"Nothing," Rick answered with a slight shrug of his shoulders. The motion made Beckett's desk shiver subtly and give a soft whine of protest from its aged joints.

"My day in a nutshell," Espo grumbled.

A-fucking-men, Beckett echoed internally. She reached to her right for a pen.

"I read through three-quarters of it and she was dead silent the whole time. It worried me, I admit. This was a rather pivotal moment in the story, after all, and she wasn't hitting any of the giggles or gasps that I had imagined someone might while I was writing it."

"Oh gosh," Kevin issued worriedly. "Your agent wasn't actually dead, was she?"

Espo perked up at that potential plot twist.

The author scrunched his features in displeasure. "No. Stop guessing. Especially when you're suggesting something more amusing than the reality I have in store for you." In the immediate wake of the complaint, he yelped and shot away from the desk with a palm smacking protectively against his wounded fanny.

Baited after all. Worth it. Beckett pretended to stoically assess her pen for damage from the poke she'd administered, puffed a breath across it like the smoking barrel of a sidearm, and dropped it back into the cup which housed a host of similar implements.

"Serves you right, bro." By then Javier had sunken low in his chair again with disappointment. "Now you know how it feels. This story is becoming a pain in my ass."

"And you stop commentating," Rick lectured mildly, undeterred. He shuffled farther right and glanced warily at his customary seat cushion for surprises before sinking down into its embrace. "She had me on mute, okay? That's what I'm telling you. I didn't realize it since I'd been reading from the manuscript all that time. After some growing concern for the lack of reaction, I asked if anything was wrong. I could tell she'd taken me off mute before she told me everything was fine and to keep reading. But then she put me right back on mute again. It was weird."

"You're weird."

"And you're still commentating. Did you notice how I learned from my pain a moment ago?" Castle jerked a thumb in Beckett's direction. She noticed at her peripheral while pretending to do no such thing. "You could take a page out of that book."

"Maybe she was multitasking," Ryan interrupted by way of suggestion, frowning slightly. "Making dinner for her kids or something while you were reading. People have busy lives. Responsibilities. You shouldn't judge too harshly when those temporarily overlap for someone at your expense."

"Oh, she was multitasking alright," Rick confirmed with a single nod. "I realized that about ten minutes later when I checked in on her and again she took me off mute to have me keep reading. Poor thing, she either hit the wrong button after that or didn't nail it quite right. As I continued the scene, she in turn provided, well, all the commentary I guess I could've hoped for and more. She was masturbating."

Kate stopped in the middle of the email she was typing, stricken.

The boys gaped at the storyteller.

"Yup. It included a sex scene, you see—the chapter I'd been reading her."

"Holy shit," Esposito spouted and laughed.

"Whoa," Ryan echoed, blue eyes wide. "Uh. Whoa." His gaze twitched over to Kate and he blushed somewhat.

Rick's eyebrows lifted at the latter's flustered countenance. "What're you looking at her for?"

Yeah, that. What'd I do?

Javier eyed his partner askance and smirked. "He isn't comfortable being lewd in front of big sis."

"Oh. That's fair. Though I submit that our fairer comrade is a grown woman. Why I bet even she has hormones which demand placation now and again."

Beckett's eyebrow shot toward her hairline. Excuse me?

Judging by the slight gap at Castle's mouth there had initially been more to add, but he jolted to a stop right there, blinking and looking at the other two men and their open expressions of alarm on his behalf. "Uh. One moment. That came out wrong."

Espo snorted amusedly. "No shit." He looked over at Kate, but she had managed to conceal her surprise by then. She stared flatly back at him.

"What I meant is that she probably sympathizes as much as anyone with the struggles involved in, ah, making time for herself." He stopped again and scratched at the back of his neck. Eyes as blue as the summer afternoon sky took in one fellow's strained expression and quivering broad shoulders, then the other's deeper mantling. Rick sighed aloud. "I-I really have no idea where I was going with that anymore, but I'm certain it would've ended up being something respectful, complementary, and downright eloquent. Listen, can one of you toss a flashlight and some snacks down into this hole for me?"

Beckett huffed softly, torn between amusement and annoyance. She shook her head and refocused upon transcribing her case notes. The last sentence she'd typed read: We followed the suspect back to his place of residence, assumed a level vantage point upon the fire escape of a building across the street and, around 9:30 PM, observed said suspect engaged in hot phone sex. The detective winced, snapped agitatedly at the delete key, and retyped: engaged in the use of narcotics.

By the time she was tuned into the chatter again, Rick had moved on and was explaining, "Now, whenever she calls, which is exceedingly rare if you can imagine, her assigned ringtone is 'I Touch Myself' by Divinyls. God bless the Australians for allowing me such an exceedingly appropriate designation."

The other men chortled in appreciation.

"I would've gone with Green Day," Beckett heard herself mutter.

Whoops. Baited times two.

She glanced up and found all three stares fastened upon her. Welp, too late to turn back now. "All By Myself," she clarified. "It's a secret track from their Dookie album."

"Oh yes, we know about the song," Rick deposited with a slow smile. The man just couldn't let her slip gracefully through the cracks one time. Oh no. "I didn't realize you were participating in the conversation is all. What a splendid surprise. Welcome."

"It's hard not to be partially aware at this goddamn range," Kate replied crossly while shifting her attention firmly back to her computer screen. Ahem. Work.

"Dare I ask," Kevin posed to Castle, "what you set my ringtone as?"

"The Blood of CuChulainn. And yours is 'Living La Vida Loca'," he told Esposito, though the latter hadn't seemed poised to query upon the matter.

Espo shot upright in his seat with his mouth agape in protest. "Wha'? Are you serious?"

"Call me."

"No! Dios mio, no. I don't wanna hear it. Change that ringtone right fucking now."

"Seriously," his partner stated with his arms crossed at sternum height. "That's kinda racist of you on both our behalves, dude."

Rick's lips conformed into a plump line of disagreement, but he hesitated with a snappy reply to consider their matching scowls. Ultimately, he uttered an uncertain, "N-no it's not. Is it?"

"I'd call that a bit of a stretch in your case," Javier provided evenly. "But that song still sucks," he added more animatedly, "and I want a better one. Now. I wanna see you change it, bro."

"It's my phone."

"This is my fist."

"Fine," Castle grumbled and began prodding at his cell phone.

"Mine too," Ryan supplied grimly with a waggling digit indicating the device Castle held.

"Why you too?" Esposto queried dubiously of his counterpart. "'The Blood of CuChulainn' is a pretty sweet tune. Actually, I'll take that one if Ryan doesn't want it."

"H-hold on now. I mean, yeah, it's good and all, but…"

"But what? It's Irish and you are too? It's a cool song and you're a cool cop. Find the association that makes it work for you. That's how I deal with bias."

"It was not an expression of bias," Castle complained.

"It's also not true," Kevin refuted mildly. "You punch your way through biases. I've seen it happen."

Espo shrugged. "Yeah, well, I associate it to a necessary ass-kicking. That works for me."

Beckett quivered minutely where she had been temporarily forgotten, rested a fist at her chin, and laid the knuckle of a crooked finger against her lips to control them.

"Technically, it's a Celtic folksong," Castle provided, rejoining the conversation like a pop-up to deep left field. It was plain by the erratic movements of his thumb that he'd swapped from hunting ringtones to playing one of his many games.

"Irish, Celtic—same thing," Kevin said. Everyone paused in their respective tasks to stare at the man. Not even Kate found herself immune. "What?"

"Wow," Espo deposited. "You, uh, might wanna brush up on your world history, bro."

"And you called me racist?" the writer among them murmured, eyes wide. "You just lumped together and superseded an umbrella of ethnicities that spanned a fair chunk of ancient central and western Europe." He bent in a mocking bow from shoulders. "You win, man. Good game. GG."

Beckett had to hand it to Kevin, his hasty distraction from being the center of unwanted attention was a capable choice. He looked at Castle and asked, "What's Beckett's ringtone?"

The mystery writer among them winced slightly, flicking his gaze aside at her. She'd automatically looked at him too and the connection sent his fair skies fleeing back to the pair of men before him. "Ah, one thing at a time," he said with a waggle of his cell. "Who wants what song?"

"Nah, we want that answer," Esposito stated with ruthless amusement. "Swapping can wait."

Beckett had been less curious about the matter prior to Rick's show of reluctance. After that, of course, she felt a burning desire for clarity kindled to life within her breast. She would've guessed the man's selection to be something hilariously filthy. Maybe it was. If that were the case, though, wouldn't he be gleeful about divulging it? One hand began straying to a desk drawer at her right where her purse was tucked in, cell phone included. Wait. Is it a love song? Something sappy or romantic? That would still be kinda funny in her estimation, but Kate wasn't in a hurry to mock the author's sentiments if that was the case. The bombing that ended the recent robbery and hostage standoff was too close. Too fresh. She was still waking up in the night having played out terrifying alternative endings in her nightmares.

"I'm gonna get a refill," Kate announced with a feigned show of boredom as she stood with her empty mug. "Maybe when I get back we can all do some actual police work, huh? Y'know," she concluded dryly as she walked away, "change things up to keep the day excitingly unpredictable."

Unfortunately, her shadow must have put up a determined resistance to the boys' usual prodding. When she was on her way back into their workspace several minutes later Rick was only just then conceding aloud, "Alright, alright. Just...don't say anything, okay? I mean it. Keep an eye out for me, Javier."

Their matriarch-of-sorts darted behind one of the nearer red-brick pillars with her steaming mug. A voice in the back of her mind warned her to retreat. Far and away. A peeked glance at her partner's face didn't reveal playful anticipation. He looked...embarrassed. Ashamed? Something. Something bad. No. Something goddamn disastrous. Get out, get out, get out! An inner version of Lanie's voice overrode all caution with a whispered: Don't you dare, honey.

Beckett darted back out of sight against the pillar when Espo glanced her way. Shit. He didn't interrupt with a word of caution as to her presence, though, so she seemed safely concealed. Safe being relative in this case.

It ended up being a song selection she never would have predicted.

A slow, sweet piano piece began to unfurl. Distinct low-middle notes fed into one another with a ponderous, even melancholy tempo. Amidst the bustle and chaos of the bullpen, or maybe because of its contradiction to the boys' unruly behavior all morning, the piece was a shocking difference to find laid upon the midday air. Ringtones only allowed for twenty-second clips with Rick's phone service provider. It ended far too quickly.

"You have the whole song?" Ryan asked neutrally. "Play it," he instructed after what must have been a nod or similar mute confirmation from Castle.

"She's gonna come—

"I'm watching for her," Espo rumbled. "Do as he says. Play it."

The song resumed. The sweetness of the exposition ascended gradually into feathery, higher keystrokes when it played out past the point at which it cut off previously. Not whimsically, but with the deliberate tonal quality of looking backward at better times and missing them—missing them dearly. That theme endured throughout the developmental movement where it dipped middle again, back and forth between the two or, at times, weaving them together. Mournful strains of a cello began to accompany the piano. The sense of being torn free of both the past and present tumbled loose throughout the third, recapitulation movement. A unique kind of momentum built steadily upon itself. A second cello was added. It's lighter voice resonated harmonically through the notes of the other two instruments like it had been born to be there by its aching contrast. The song swelled sublimely around its apex. And dimmed, dimmed, dimmed to a final, brief coda until it was over.

Crushing silence reigned in its wake.

Rather, it had seemed to for at least one of the listeners. The rest of the floor never ceased its movements throughout the song. Indeed, few had looked up or seemed to notice. Beckett, however, was a painful mass of quiescence. She felt her scars tingling as if reacting to a sharp spike or plunge in ambient temperature.

Ryan cleared his throat, said, "You had a different ringtone for her once. When did it change?"

Castle sighed, almost inaudibly. "I don't know."

"Bullshit," Espo snapped. He lowered his voice immediately, but repeated with similar bite, "That's bullshit. But so was the question," he added more calmly, thoughtfully. "It was after the cemetery, huh?"

Oh, Rick. Kate's dark hair listed backward against the pillar supporting her slumped figure. The detective was not moved to tears easily, and indeed she was not at that moment. But the warmth of their possibility prickled behind her hazel eyes. The floodgate denying them an exit was a tangible lead weight in her breast.

The author shifted where he sat—she knew his chair's telltale creaks and groans—and said, "Look, there's a reason I didn't want to share it. I know how it sounds. It's...a sad song. That's not the way I think of her, okay? She's never been a wilting rose to me or otherwise weak, not even when she was gushing the same blush of red all over my hands. I didn't choose that ringtone because she conveys sadness to me. I chose it because—

"Because you were at the time," Ryan concluded quietly. "I mean, she was gone after that. It almost felt like a kind of death in the end, didn't it?"

Oof. Fuck.

"No," Richard stated firmly. "That is not it. I'm glad she took the time she needed. Maybe I wish she'd called or that I'd taken the initiative to connect but I'm not resentful."

"Then why this song?" Esposto asked.

"Because, damn it, it kills me that when she finally came back I couldn't set aside my own concerns long enough to greet her the way I should've. Maybe some people would call it being a chump to roll over and accept the hurt a summer worth of silence caused without complaining, but I…" Beckett couldn't deny a glance. She needed the added connection of seeing him. Her partner was facing the other way, though, as if the confession to his friends demanded some privacy. His expression wasn't available but the hands fisted tautly upon his jean-clad knees spoke volumes. "I look back at that moment and all I can see is the kind of man I wished I'd been. I could've backed her play. I could've said or done something to make her smile, maybe laugh. Do you know h-how long it had been by then since I'd experienced or even allowed myself to imagine either of those things?" The author's voice cut sharply to quiet. He sighed softly again. "I was—am sad, yes." His face turned forward and downward towards his lap. The curl of his hands opened to hover before his middle with both palms displayed. "What a rare and beautiful opportunity to have delivered right into my hands. Wasted on behalf of insecurity and wounded pride. This ringtone. It's a reminder. To be better."

Better.

Hearing him long aloud for the exact same quality of character Kate sought in order to feel worthy of him, of an attempt at them, utterly annihilated any remaining composure. It shook her apart at the shoulders first and soon rocked her upper half wholly where she leaned. A palm sealed across her lips narrowly prevented the betrayal of sound. The detective fled with urgency and by necessity to her own version of privacy. Some people took notice as she passed them by in the hall. They saw.

They didn't glimpse the half of it.