Kate was out of bed bright and early Monday morning. It was amazing how restorative a little downtime could be. Working a homicide squad in New York City was never anything less than hectic, and Kate was beginning to feel that Old Man Time might be starting to catch up with her.
It had just been little things at first, signs that she was no longer a fresh and eager recruit from the police college. A bit less energy, not as much resilience, a few more aches and pains – especially that old bullet wound near her left knee joint that acted up in damp weather. But luckily, today, the New York sunshine was in full force, and if the humidity was still a little high, it wasn't oppressive enough to quell Kate's good spirits as she entered Headquarters at a brisk pace and called out cheery "Hello's!" to the people she knew. When she reached the doorway of the large room where her squad's desks were located, however, she pulled up short and let the contented smile slide from her face.
Castle was there, sitting behind Kate's desk, using her stapler to bind together what looked like photocopies of newspaper clippings, and if the empty coffee cups and crumpled McMuffin wrappers were any indication, he had already been there for quite a while.
Looking up and wearing a far too cheerful grin as Kate approached, Castle called out across the room, "Don't worry, there hasn't been a murder!"
Kate narrowed her eyes and ground out a carefully controlled, "Yet," before adding, "Good morning, Castle, and just what is it that brings you here so early this fine day?"
Before there was time for him to answer, Kate received her second surprise of the morning.
"'Lo, boss," Esposito mumbled through a mouthful of cheese and English muffin as he came around from behind her and sat down in one of the visitor chairs set in front of Kate's desk. The second chair was quickly filled by Ryan who, since he had apparently finished eating and was now only working on a cup of coffee, was able to manage a clear, "'morning, Detective," before setting his half-empty cup down on Kate's desk and carefully unbuttoning his jacket so it wouldn't wrinkle.
Kate only let her jaw swing open a tiny bit before she caught herself and stuttered out, "What are you guys doing here so early?"
Ryan looked a little confused. He put his hands in the air in front of himself as if to ward someone off and swiveled his head around from Kate to Castle and back again.
"Uh, Rick called us in?" he said warily when he registered the calculating look on Kate's face, the one that usually meant she was about to pull rank.
Instead, she narrowed her eyes and glared at the seemingly oblivious author, who had somehow managed to staple the button placket of his shirt just above his belt to a handful of papers and was carefully inspecting his navel area and trying to decide what to do about it.
As though he could feel Kate's steely glare on him, Castle raised his head sharply and, facial muscles slack, managed to grunt out, "Huh?"
When Kate hissed the single word, "Castle," past clenched teeth and tight lips, Esposito and Ryan took the opportunity to quietly flee, hoping that their boss' full attention was now on the author and not on them.
Still trying to free the newspaper clippings from his shirt front, Castle placed the stapler onto the desktop, then stood and pulled the tail of his shirt from his pants and proceeded to unbutton it from the bottom up. He was so intent on the task that he was a bit startled when Kate's long, slim fingers entered his field of vision followed by the back of her head as she stooped a bit and moved closer to deal with the problem.
Castle froze only momentarily before dropping his hands to his sides and allowing the detective to take over. A grin pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he turned his head from side to side to see if anyone was looking. He hoped so. This was too good to miss.
Finally detaching the clippings, Kate pulled them away from Castle's abdomen and straightened up. When she saw the look on Castle's face, she allowed herself a small eye roll before stiffening her free arm in the direction of one of the visitor chairs on the other side of the desk and barking out, "Sit!"
Once Castle had scurried around the desk, hastily tucking his shirt back in as he went, and sat down opposite her, Kate, assuming a somewhat regal manner, lowered her bottom onto her chair as though she were reclaiming her rightful territory, and she continued to glare at the man opposite her for an extra second or two so she could be sure he had gotten the point.
When this little impromptu ceremony was concluded, Kate glanced at the sheaf of photocopies that were in her hand and moved her other arm through the air just over the surface of her desk, fingers spread and palm up, to indicate the other stapled and unsorted newspaper articles.
"What's all this?" she asked Castle.
As she spoke, Esposito and Ryan got up enough nerve to return to the area and they edged close enough so they could stand behind Castle. Kate took in the eager looks on their faces and the fact that the two detectives were almost bouncing on their toes with an excitement that telegraphed itself to her and caused her to perk up a bit. The energy coming from the pair even began to dissipate her impatience with the infuriating man-boy who sat calmly now and gazed at her, a smug and serene look on his face.
Castle's unaccustomed stillness gave Kate the opportunity to note some details about his face that she hadn't really seen before. He had lovely long, sandy eyelashes framing light blue eyes, and behind the attitude he was currently pulling – in fact, behind whatever attitude he happened to be pulling at any given moment – Kate could see a basic kindness and gentleness that was rare these days, especially in a man as arrogant and conceited as Castle usually made himself out to be.
Kate gave herself a mental shake and pulled her attention back to the clippings. They all seemed to be from the society pages. She turned her face partway towards the trio and, while keeping one eye on the men in front of her, started to flip the pages one by one.
"Just a little thing I like to call a stroke of genius," Castle answered loftily, and when her two detectives actually began to look gleeful, nodding their heads like demented dashboard dog ornaments and almost giggling out loud, Kate felt that maybe if she slammed her forehead onto the surface of the desk in front of herself a few times she just might be able to keep from throttling all three of them. Instead, she just stared levelly without moving until Castle's face adopted a more serious demeanor.
"Right," he began, clearing his throat. "We're already working on the theory that these murders have something to do with the privileged information that Mandy provided about the City's plans for provision of infrastructure to mostly unused Manhattan real estate along the waterfront – sewer upgrades, electronics conduits, eventually subway service and the like."
At this point, Ryan sat down on the unoccupied chair next to Castle while Esposito dragged another chair to his other side and also sat down. Castle, a master at playing to an audience, looked around the small circle of faces and waited until he had gotten nods from each one, which indicated to him that they were all paying attention.
"So what I figure is who is interested in buying undeveloped real estate?" he queried, eyebrows raised.
"Um, developers?" Kate supplied dryly.
"Wrong," Castle said forcefully, jabbing a forefinger in the center of the nearest pile of newspaper clippings. "People with money. Or, more to the point, people who have money who want more. And in this case, people who need to know that their investment will be a sure winner."
Despite herself, Kate was intrigued, and she leaned over her desk a bit more, frowning at the clippings with a puzzled look on her face. It only took about three heartbeats for the detective to work through the logic, and Castle began to smile once more when he saw the flash of recognition in her eyes.
"And they know it's a winner because they have the City's plans," she declared decisively.
"Yes," Castle continued eagerly along her train of thought, "and they need to know about the plans because it's imperative the new development makes back their investment."
"With a healthy profit, of course," interjected Ryan smoothly.
"Naturally," said Castle, turning his head to look at the young man for a moment. Turning back to face Kate, he explained, "And so I thought our suspect is probably from a wealthy family – or at least from a family that still has some wealth now. Somebody who's come down in the world, desperate to recapture the good old days of prosperity and power that they can see slipping through their grasping fingers."
He paused for dramatic effect before concluding with, "Someone desperate enough to kill so they can succeed."
Kate smiled for a moment before positing what she thought might be the $64,000 question. "And what happens after we identify some probable suspects?" she asked.
The tone of voice Kate had used seemed slightly belligerent, even to her ears, and even as the words were coming out of her mouth, Kate had no idea why she was challenging Castle's self-labeled "genius" plan. Was she really so caught up in her role as smart detective that she couldn't let someone else have good ideas? She quickly figured that this was something she should examine later, once they had worked this case, and she filed the thought away in her memory for future examination.
"Well," Castle said, "we infiltrate, you know, step into the lion's den. I know a lot of these people so access isn't a problem. You can just follow my lead so you don't make any mistakes. I bet you clean up real nice too," he added before noticing that Kate's eyes were narrowing again as she began to do a slow burn.
The author's casual words had stung horribly and served to squelch the detective's optimistic mood from earlier. It wouldn't have bothered Kate so much if she hadn't, just two days earlier, been doubting herself and her ability to "clean up real nice," as Castle had put it.
As she struggled to get past his hurtful words, Kate found it beyond her power to do so at the moment, and she let the full extent of her anger and resentment show in an effort to mask the vulnerability Rick Castle had suddenly laid bare so easily.
A whispered, "Uh-oh," came to Castle's ears from Esposito, and the boys once again quickly stood, scraping their chairs back in their haste to ensure they could make a clean getaway.
"You. Are. The. Most. Arrogant – oh!" Kate spit out before springing to her feet and whirling abruptly away from her desk.
Castle looked at the detective's retreating back as she stalked out of the room, fists clenched, elbows locked, holding her arms stiffly by her sides. Her long, powerful strides and severe expression caused more than one person to jump out of her path so she wouldn't bowl them over in her anger.
"Guess she's not a morning person," Castle observed in a detached manner, turning to look at each of the two remaining detectives for confirmation.
"Nope," and, "Unh-unh," added Esposito and Ryan simultaneously, the first biting his bottom lip slightly, the second shaking his head slowly from side to side with a pensive look on his face.