A/N: Just this: enjoy~


In the same way that one looked at a brooding sky and deduced an impending downpour, Katherine Beckett took one glimpse of the woman who had been suspended from the monkey bars in her underwear and braced for precipitation of filthy comments and lewd suggestions.

The first glance her tag-along spared to the body was hard to miss for all it lacked by way of the man's typical wealth of curiosity and macabre exuberance. It wiped his expression blank. Every amused crinkle common to the edges of those cerulean eyes crystallized into clarity and smoothness. The bitter chill of the early March morning had nothing on it.

In a way, Castle went on to fulfill Beckett's initial expectations with a few strokes of peripheral commentary. Lanie's personal observations prompted a latched grasp and feigning dumbfounded in the query to Ryan: Does she know that we can hear her? The single line of bemusement at Beckett's forehead waned. She decided her pre-caffeinated brain had fed her unreliable data.

"Caramel, huh?" Ryan tilted his head some at the prone victim. "Maybe the doer has a sweet tooth in addition to liking bondage and public play."

"At the very least, it seems safe to assume that he's no casual fetishist," Richard said by way of agreement and crouched to run his gloved fingertips along the cuffs that had been latched around the victim's wrists. He opened the pliable catch on each to further glimpse their design.

Beckett's gaze automatically slid to the medical examiner. The other woman was staring back at her, dark eyes widened slightly in bewilderment. They shot mutual suspicious glances at the man.

"Why do you say that?" Ryan asked.

Thank you. Yeah, Big Rick, why?

The author didn't notice the added scrutiny. He was already cast adrift upon that oceanic imagination, seeking currents by which to merge evidence and theory. The distant quality in his voice gave it away. "This is full-grain leather—top tier. Most manufacturers use lower quality and compensate with an overabundance of cheap lining. Also, the stitching is too elaborate for machine work. It's a custom piece."

Lanie flicked her gaze back to Kate and mouthed the words: Custom piece?

Beckett shrugged, equally baffled.

Normality returned for a time as the M.E. shared additional information about the condition of the body. Ryan and Esposito called them away afterward and tag-teamed a bit of show-and-tell around the park, pointing out unusable footprints and tracks from a rolling suitcase. Having Castle muse aloud about the conflicts of behavior between an elaborate staging of the scene versus a passionate cause of death was almost enough to forget the points of unusualness.

It was until the boys lamented their lack of clear direction to start investigating from.

Then Castle added, "We have the restraints for now. Get a detailed picture of the stitching. That's almost as good as a signature for whoever made it. It shouldn't be hard to track down; BDSM shops in this city comprise a small, closely-knit community and only a handful do commission work."

Sadly, the boys didn't share Kate's consternation for the sexual proclivities implied by the mystery writer's knowledge of the subject matter. Dammit. Her peers took the data and ran minus any further digging on her behalf. It's not like they weren't given ample opportunity to step up either. Perusing a website full of BDSM devices at the precinct later should have been more than enough to open a line of inquiry. Illegal in twelve states indeed. Who even knows that?

"Those two were gawking at a picture on some website," Kate complained to Lanie at the OCME office later, "asking how the subjects could even get into their positions which, admittedly, was a pretty advanced form of sixty-nining. It looked like the guy was holding the woman in the air upside down and backward by her waist. She had her thighs draped over the guy's shoulders around his face and her upper half was bowed around like a 'C' with her cheek nestled into his crotch. Anyway, Castle takes one glance up from his phone and says it's a sex swing. No giggling. No colorful add-on. No nothing. They might as well have asked what time it was. It was a swing advertisement, of course. The site photoshopped out the wires and positioned the guy's hands at her waist to conceal the harness and make it look like a more clever product than it is. Thing is, you wouldn't know that unless you understood the position and its extreme unlikelihood without a support mechanism. But do either of them question Castle picking up on that so fast? Hell no. All they could do was ooh and ahh like drooling, bumbling numbskulls. They're the worst unwitting proxies ever, I swear."

It wasn't until after the tirade ran its course that Kate sensed her friend wasn't getting in on the indignation with the same enthusiasm. She turned from the length of floor space she'd been prowling and fixed her besty with a bemused frown.

Lanie shone a deadly smile back at her.

Uh-oh.

Kate managed not to wince. "What?"

"Oh, I think you know what. I mean, damn. I'm curious. You're fu-fu-fu-furious," she concluded with a mocking stutter for effect and giggled afterward, entirely too pleased with herself.

"Well," Beckett began lamely with a shift of weight from one hip to the other, "it kinda offends my sensibilities as a fellow investigator, y'know? I can't help it."

An inelegant scoff issued from the back of the other woman's throat. "I believe the second part."

"Look, whose side are you on here?"

Lanie shook her head and turned the chair outward at her desk. Its aged joints gave a squeal as the woman settled in facing her companion. "I think I'm more surprised that you're a little shaken up about Castle having kinks. Name one person we know who possesses more latitude for exploring them."

"I'm not surprised exactly. Everyone has kinks. But he didn't say anything about that and he hasn't since either."

"Is that what bothers you? Or is it that he didn't ask anything for once—about you?"

"Huh. See, that's a great point. This is weirder than I thought."

Lanie's gaze ventured to one side in contemplation. "He's not exactly an open book in general, is he? I mean, with the real stuff. I feel like you've mentioned that before."

"I have and he isn't," Kate grumbled. "The scales between the meaningful information he asks of me versus what he offers in return is so far out of balance by now it's more of a vertical line pointing down at a sucker." She raised an arm to point illustratively at the top of her head.

The other rocked with humor. "At least he's consistent."

"C'mon. You don't find this a little weird?"

"Honey, he shares a helluva lot less with everyone who isn't you. What's strange is that you're allowing the imbalance to slide. Open up that pretty mouth hole and do something about it. But, hey, I give you a lotta brownie points for owning up to at least being curious in the first place."

Beckett started to huff at the woman's teasing but stopped. She frowned, shifting the arms crossed at her sternum against a sudden pricking of concern. "Really?"

"What?"

"Do I convey such a lack of interest in him that it's surprising it exists?"

Her besty ably intuited the underlying twinge of self-crimination. She started to inject an automatic denial by way of reassurance but likewise halted mid-stride. Plump lips resealed. She considered again and her expression was swept into remorseful confirmation. A moment later she added, "In fairness, anytime you encourage the man to take an inch it tends to become a country mile. Look what happened after you told him about your Mom."

Beckett sighed as well, but the reminder provided didn't kindle the same anger it once had. "Y'know, looking back at that now, I feel like Castle's the first person to breach that barrier with a desire to see me gain closure rather than looking like a hero to me for doing what I couldn't. Even with Will, I could tell my past lent me something of a damsel semblance in his estimation. Not too much. It was subtle. But it was there."

Lanie said nothing. Bless her.

"Good intentions don't excuse going behind my back. It's just…" Kate stopped, not knowing what else to add. So she didn't. "That's kinda my point though. After everything that's happened between us, I can't have him thinking that I'm not even…" Shit. Words failed her again.

"Interested?" Lanie provided smugly.

"Curious," Kate corrected with another shift of her weight. It graduated into motion, ferrying her to an eventual set of her butt on an open corner of the M.E.'s desk. The resolute shelf of the detective's shoulders rounded into a little slump. "I can't have Castle of all people thinking that, Lanie, jeez. There're limits to my hypocrisy."

"What the heck does that mean?"

Beckett meant his books. Castle's writing had intruded upon the desolation of her grief long before the author initiated a literal and less graceful attempt of the same. Few characters or plot twists he created were one-sided things. Every tale was complicated if one looked closely. That was his real marvel to her as a storyteller: he satisfied both shallow and deep readers with the same strokes of narrative. Kate was definitely the latter, and because she had looked for more and consistently found it, slowly but surely the younger version of herself had gone from asking 'What does it even matter anymore?' to asking instead: 'Doesn't it still matter?' Maybe to some that wouldn't seem like a terribly dramatic shift of perspective but, for Kate, it had been downright pivotal at the time.

"Honey?"

The investigator focused on her friend and offered a wan smile. "Nothing. Nevermind."

"Girl, I'mma smack you."

Kate expelled a gust of humor as she arose and straightened her top to a smoother lie. "You've prodded plenty already, trust me. It's good," she concluded softly with a shift of her gaze to the other from beneath the downward angle of her brow. "Thanks. I think I know what I need to do."

"What you need to do is share with the class. Don't leave me confused."

"Gotta go," the detective lilted airily on her way to the door. "See ya."

The squawk slipped out through the lessening sway of the morgue's double doors in the detective's wake. "You suck!"

"That's not what I'm planning," Kate chided amusedly. "Love ya, pervert."