The heavy clouds roll in around 5 p.m. Castle and Beckett dodge the first droplets on their way back to the car. Once inside, Beckett drums her fingers briefly against the steering wheel while Castle watches her think.
The cabin was deserted. They haven't found much to give them insight into the murder of the victim. White male, 42 years old. Investment banker, divorced, father of two; possessor of a completely unprepossessing life, and of a timeshare on Lake George that he'd left abruptly on Saturday to drive back to the city. Nothing at his house or in this cabin explained his murder or the white garlands draped over his corpse.
Beckett is not happy. Castle can tell this because of the scowl creasing her forehead and the tapping fingers. He congratulates himself on not being the cause of that annoyed look. He's been very good lately. Not just today, during the interrogation of the victim's best friend and the hours-long drive up to Lake George, although there had been that business with the radio station—but that had been resolved quickly enough (Touch the radio one more time and I'll cuff you to the door, she'd said).
No, he's been good, relatively speaking. This is because he has a plan: get Kate Beckett to let him kiss her.
The groundwork has to be laid, of course. The moment has to be right. He's started by bringing Kate her favorite takeout after particularly hard cases. That's innocuous enough. Next, he'll get her to her drop by his apartment to go over some files for work and sweet-talk her into staying for dinner with the family, which will lead naturally to coming over for a movie or meeting them at one of Martha's plays. Eventually he'll fix up some sort of bet where she has to let him take her to dinner. It'll be somewhere fancy but discreet where they won't be photographed. She'll try to play it off, of course, but she can't escape the Castle charm, and she won't resist when he kisses her goodnight after their first official date. It's airtight; it's inevitable; it's the perfect plan.
Beckett's glaring at him.
"What?" he says innocently.
"I am not smirking." But he kinda is, because she's definitely looking at his mouth and he'd bet all the cash in his pockets that she's thinking about what he's been thinking.
She starts the car. "I know a smirk when I see one."
"If you say so." He shrugs and lapses into silence just to punch her buttons. And, yep, after five minutes she's shooting suspicious glances at him, because Rick Castle doesn't capitulate and he doesn't ever shut up.
"What?" she finally asks over the steady beat of the wipers.
Castle studies the rain. It's really coming down heavily now. In a month it'll be snow. "Just thinking it's about time for dinner. It's a long drive back to the city."
"Not that long," Beckett says, but he senses her wavering.
"I could really go for some pie."
Her head cocks to the side. "Pie," she muses, and Castle smiles to himself.
They pull off I-87 around 6:00 and take a back road. Beckett won't tell him where they're going. It's already getting darker and soon Castle has no idea where they are.
They pass a scary-looking motel. Down the road is a tiny restaurant. The spotlight on the restaurant's sign is broken, but "Open" blazes neon in a window. Although the parking lot is inhabited by well-used trucks, there's only one couple eating at a table in the corner. Beckett herds Castle toward an empty table.
After an indeterminate amount of time (the clock on the wall is broken), a waitress emerges. "What'll ya have?"
Beckett orders for them. Burgers, fries, shakes. Comfort food, something that'll last them all the way home.
"You've been here before?" he asks.
She nods. "My family used to go camping up in the Adirondacks in the summers. We stopped here a few times."
"Like what those folks do up in Lake George? RVs or cabins?"
"Tent camping." She's amused. "We hiked a lot. Rented a canoe a couple times and paddled out to a campsite. What about you?"
He'd gone twice with friends from school, both times in campgrounds just down the road from civilization. Both outings had ended badly (bee stings and a terrible cold). He wishes he'd been tent camping in some wilderness or other so he could impress her with tales about close encounters of the ursine kind, or snipe hunting, or fish this big that got away. "Camping was never really my thing. I mean, what do you do if it rains?"
Beckett smiles reflectively. "Read. Play cards. Tell stories. It gets boring after a while, but it's kind of relaxing. You go to bed early, because there's nothing else to do, and fall asleep to the sound of the rain falling on the tent. If you're lucky and you've got enough tarps, you won't wake up to find everything wet."
Castle glances at the rain that's now coming down in sheets. "Personally, I prefer hotels and such. Hot water, mini-fridges, TV, guaranteed to be dry. All the comforts of home."
She rolls her eyes at him and turns to watch the storm outside. "You're missing out, Castle. There's something about being out in the elements that's ... exhilarating. Maybe it's cliched, but I always felt more alive when we were out there."
He can picture it now: the two of them, away from civilization, stuck with each other for days. Having to move their sleeping bags close together for warmth. Rain beating against the tent ...
... probably streaming into the tent and giving one of them pneumonia, with his luck.
Okay, it's my fantasy. I can rewrite it.
He can picture the two of them stuck in a motel room down the road, because the storm's gotten worse and the roads are impassable. The power goes out. He can see her leaning against the window, watching the rain streaming down. Her profile is limned by lightning. He comes to stand close to her, trapping her against the window. Waits for her to turn her face up to him, and then—
"Castle!" she snaps. He blinks, realizes this isn't the first time she's said his name. Thankfully, he's saved from having to explain the current expression on his face by the arrival of their food.
They eat and discuss the case a little. Castle tries not to zone out again. He orders cherry pie and they split it. Of course the rain has stopped by the time he swipes the check from her and pays, so there goes his little fantasy. But that's okay. He likes his original plan so much better. Castle goes over it again in his head. She'll be too tired after driving all day to want to spend any time with him tonight. Maybe he'll buy her lunch tomorrow ...
He thinks Beckett's having trouble seeing the wet road, because she keeps craning her head at an odd angle to look out the windshield. When she pulls over and turns off the car, he's not sure what's going on, but he follows her out anyway.
It's chilly and damp. The gravel road beneath them is muddy as he picks his way over to Beckett. She's leaning against the hood, head thrown back. He looks up too, stifles a gasp, and lets his eyes range over the expanse of sky.
Beckett breaks the silence. "It's been a while since I've seen the stars. There isn't as much much light pollution out here, and it's even better further north."
"Orion's rising," she says conversationally, as if talking about a friend. "Canis Major's a little low for us to see right now, but if you look up there you can see the Pleiades."
"It's all Greek to me."
Beckett looks at him, catching the truth in that pun. He shrugs and says, "I recognize Orion—that and the Big Dipper. Not too good with stars. But I can tell you the myths behind them."
"You're serious? You never learned the constellations when you were a kid?"
"All right ... " She stretches out an arm. "See there? That V-shape to the right of Orion? That's Taurus, the bull. The brightest star is Aldebaran."
"Ah, Taurus. Representing Zeus in the myth of Europa."
"Europa. That sounds familiar."
"The Phoenician princess he seduced. The old boy sure got around ..."
"Right. Speaking of which, over there are the Pleiades being pursued by Orion."
"The seven sisters transformed into stars by Zeus, who fathered a couple of them." He scans, doesn't see it. "Where are they, exactly?"
"They're kind of hard to see; you have to squint or use your peripheral vision. Here—" She pulls him down beside her on the hood and leans close. "Do you see?"
"No ... "
"Look where I'm pointing."
"I'm pointing right at it."
"I'm looking! I—oh."
When he looks back at her, stars imprinted on his vision, the expression on her face is ... well, he begins to understand why she loves camping and the rain so much.
He turns his face back to the sky and reaches for ancient words. "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?"
"The book of Job," she says, surprised.
Castle shrugs, his shoulder bumping hers. "Kind of a downer. But some great lines."
The wind picks up. Castle closes his eyes against the breeze, feeling it blow right through him and clear away the cobwebs of fantasies. His plan seems insubstantial against a rain-washed sky and the reality of Kate Beckett warm against his side in the chill fall air.
He slips an arm around her waist and she turns to look at him. Castle leans over and slowly, excruciatingly slowly, brushes his lips against hers. He pulls back slightly. Kate doesn't react. His heart sinks, but he tries again. This time she puts a hand on his chest and creates some breathing room. He can't see her expression in the dim starlight.
They hang there, motionless in the dark under the Hunter and the Sisters, and Castle wonders if the space between them will ever decrease.
Her hand's still on his chest. She has to feel how fast his heart's beating. Maybe he shouldn't have gambled. Maybe he should've stuck with the progression of takeout and family and fancy restaurants, no matter how long it takes—
But her hand is moving up his chest and neck to settle with surprising gentleness on his jaw, and she guides him back to her.
There's nothing for a long space after that but unhurried exploration of each other's mouths. Her hands tangle in his hair and slide inside his shirt. He has one arm around her back and the other hand on her side, moving down her leg. The wet hood has almost soaked through the seat of his pants but he doesn't even care—he's finally kissing Kate Beckett and she hasn't shot him yet.
They're so lost in each other that they don't even notice the passing car until it honks at them and dopplers away into the darkness. Castle stares, open-mouthed, and musters up the presence of mind to flip the bird only after the driver has passed. He's almost afraid to look over at her for fear she's remembered the gun at her hip.
Kate looks embarrassed but is laughing a little. Castle's grateful for that. He squeezes her hand and slides off the damp hood. He's more than ready to continue where they left off, but recognizes that the moment's passed. If he has any chance of continuing his plan—and once he's safely in the car, shielded from astronomy and mythology, he sees that he can—he has to take things slowly.
Beckett starts the car again and they pull out in oddly comfortable silence. Once they've made it back to the highway, she switches on the radio. Classical music. Castle reaches for the dial and she starts to slap his hand, but he pulls back in time.
"Driver picks the music," he says, holding up his hands in placation.
She hums under her breath for a few miles.