IMPORTANT STUFF: First and foremost, if you recognize it, I don't own it. Second, this is written from Beckett's POV. Third, there are a lot of flashbacks in this story. I have tried to set them apart so it doesn't get confusing. Basically, if it's in italics, it's a flashback.

This story is dedicated to Harleyzgirl – I promised you a birthday fic that involved Castle and Beckett. I hope this lives up to your expectations and I apologize for the delay, but it literally took on a life of its own. Also, to carolina17…happy birthday. This is the real story.

I owe a huge thank you to IMW for the unending support. This story would not be what it is without her.

I opened the door to find Lanie standing there with a bottle of vodka in one hand and her face firmly encased in a smile.

"I am here and I brought alcohol as requested," she stated as I stepped back to allow her into the apartment. "So what happened?"

"Thanks for coming, Lanie." I closed and locked the door, taking a deep breath to calm myself as I did so. I had asked her here because I desperately needed to talk to someone about what was going on, but now that she was standing in my living room, I realized just how scared I was.

Lanie merely watched as I walked into the kitchen and retrieved shot glasses before once again joining her in the living room. It wasn't until we were both seated on the couch that she raised an eyebrow in question.

I acknowledged the silent question with a pointed glance at the vodka.

"I might need a little liquid courage first."

Lanie scoffed at that, even as she handed over the bottle.

"Oh, please, Beckett. Like you've ever needed alcohol for courage."

I poured us both a shot, leaving the lid off the bottle as I sat it on the coffee table. I had a feeling we were both going to need more once I started talking. I lifted my glass to hers before I tilted it to my lips, swallowing it in one gulp, feeling the burn as the alcohol made its way down my throat.

Lanie followed suit, knocking her own shot back and reaching for the bottle to pour us a second as I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes.

"I think I'm in love with Castle," I blurted out.

Lanie was quiet for so long that I finally cracked one eye open and chanced a glance at her. She held out the now full shot glass and smiled at me.

"Is this why we're drinking tonight? You've finally come to the same conclusion the rest of us arrived at months ago?"

I took the glass from her and downed it as quickly as I had the first.

"No," I said as I reached for the bottle and filled my glass again. "We're drinking tonight because I'm an idiot who quite literally pushed the man I love into the arms of another woman."

"Relax, Kate. I'm certain things between Castle and Brenda aren't that serious."

"I'm not."

"Anyone who spends more than five minutes in a room with you two can pick up on whatever it is between you. Trust me on this one."

I shook my head and turned on the couch to face her.

"You don't know the whole story, Lanie."

Lanie lifted her glass to her lips and drained it before her eyes met mine.

"Then start talking, Kate."

I sighed as I sat my glass on the table

"I kissed him this afternoon."

"Castle?" Lanie asked for clarification.

I merely nodded.

"When? Where? Why?" Lanie prodded.

I ignored her questions.

"It wasn't the first time either."

Her eyebrows climbed into her hairline at my admission. I reached for the bottle of vodka and filled both of our glasses again. I took a sip of mine this time and then held the glass loosely between my fingers as I stared into the clear liquid.

"The first time was three months ago."

If possible, Lanie's eyebrows rose even higher.

"Hold the phone, girlfriend! You and Castle…three months…and I'm just now hearing about this? I think you'd better start at the beginning and tell me everything."

The lights were low and the music pounding inside the crowded club. Castle motioned to a passing waitress, indicating she should bring another round of drinks to the table, even though he was the only one actually drinking. I was sitting in the booth next to him as his date, and Ryan and Esposito were keeping post on either side of the table as his bodyguards.

"It looks like Lewis's buyer just arrived," I said as I leaned in closer to his side and craned to get a better look through the throng of people.

"Should we hit the dance floor again?" Castle asked, and I could see the struggle on his face to not turn and look for our suspects.

"That would probably be a good idea," I replied.

Castle slid out of the booth and offered his hand, which I accepted gracefully.

"On your toes, boys," I said as we stepped between Ryan and Esposito. "It's show time."

The two detectives, dressed completely in black for this particular assignment, barely even nodded in acknowledgment. They merely followed us to the dance floor, staying close enough to actually look like hired security, but staying far enough back that we could carry out our charade.

We had been tracking Danny Lewis for two weeks on a tip that he was trafficking in drugs and stolen weapons, since one of his henchmen had ended up in a dumpster and nobody was willing to talk to us for fear of crossing Lewis. When we'd finally discovered that he liked to do business in a back room of "Club Hot", I'd asked Castle to use his connections to get his name on the V.I.P. list, and ensure us entrance at the popular night club. It had been my idea to accompany him as his date with Ryan and Esposito as his bodyguards. So far, the ruse seemed to be working.

In fact, the only problem with the plan up to this point was that while waiting on his buyer to arrive, Lewis and his date had spent quite a bit of time on the dance floor. So in order to not stand out, Castle and I had made several trips to the dance floor as well. Several trips where our bodies were pressed against each other as we kept time with the beat; where Castle smiled at me while we teased and flirted; where his hands had unwittingly found the bare expanse of my lower back where my blouse criss-crossed from shoulders to hips, leaving more skin visible than covered. In essence, several trips of the most exquisite torture I'd ever submitted myself to.

It had taken me all of about five minutes into our little act to realize that I'd made a drastic miscalculation in suggesting I play the part of Castle's date. It was hard enough to control my body's reaction to him when he didn't have his hands all over me, but in blurring the lines between play-acting and reality, I was losing the battle to keep my arousal in check.

I kept reminding myself that we were undercover…merely acting out our parts, but there were moments when my body refused to listen as I reminded it that this was my best friend I was dancing with. If I had to judge based solely on Castle's physical reaction, I would have to say that he wasn't faring much better in that department. On more than one occasion when our bodies had been pressed together, I could feel the undeniable evidence of his arousal. While I know I should have been embarrassed by that fact, the truth of the matter was that it made me feel pretty damn sexy knowing that he was just as turned on as I was.

Castle glanced over my shoulder as his hands found my waist and pulled my body flush against his again.

"They're going back to the private rooms," he said, practically yelling to be heard over the noise of the club.

I felt my blood thrum through my veins in time with the music as I lifted my arms to wrap them around Castle's neck. Feeling his hardness pressed against me again was testing my willpower. I couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to just give in and do a little "dirty dancing" there on the dance floor.

"Perhaps we need to take this party somewhere a little more private?" I suggested as my gaze met his.

Without missing a beat, Castle turned me in his arms and wrapped himself around me from behind. "Lead the way," he said as he lowered his head to my neck, making it appear to anyone who might be watching that he was nuzzling me. I resisted the urge to tilt my head in invitation. However, I couldn't control the shiver at the feel of his breath on my neck. This was Castle after all.

I continued to play my part, lacing my fingers through his where they now rested on my stomach as I led us off of the dance floor.

As soon as we stepped through the door leading to the private rooms, Castle released me, and I felt him take a step back as I stepped back into my role of lead detective on this case.

"Keep your eyes and ears open," I whispered to Ryan and Esposito as the four of us started down the hallway.

Castle took up his usual position behind the three of us as we spread out and listened at doorways to find the one Lewis had claimed for the evening. Esposito pressed his ear to one of the doors and then signaled to the rest of us that he'd found the room. We quickly made our way down the hall as Esposito keyed his mic to let the surveillance team outside of the club know that we were in business.

The plan was to wait until the sale had been conducted and then pick up both Lewis and his buyer before they could leave the club. From the information we'd been able to glean, Lewis was not a man for pleasantries so we expected the sale to be quick.

"The team is moving into place," Esposito whispered.

Just then, the voices inside the room grew louder, indicating the occupants were getting ready to exit the room. Not wanting to blow our cover, I moved quickly. I grabbed Castle by the lapels of his jacket with a whispered, "Play along!" to my team.

I used his jacket to pull Castle against me and I didn't stop moving until my back was pressed against the wall. Ryan and Esposito immediately stepped into position, playing their parts as bodyguards keeping their client from unwanted prying eyes. Castle's eyes went wide at his unexpected position, but his hands found purchase against the wall on either side of me just as the door opened and our suspects exited the room.

"Come on, Ricky," I practically purred as our suspects glanced in our direction, allowing my hands to move from his jacket to the solid wall of his chest. "Give me what I want and I'll give you what you want."

To his credit, Castle played along perfectly. His voice sounded as casual as always when he replied, "And what is it that you think I want, baby?"

I smiled and leaned forward to whisper in his ear, "Send Ryan into the club to score some drugs and a room for us. And act like I've just whispered your hottest fantasy into your ear."

Castle was grinning when he pulled back to look at me, his eyes locking with mine even as he addressed his "bodyguard".

"Kevin, see what kind of party favors you can round up for us in the club, and then find out about using one of these rooms for a few hours. It seems my kitten wants to play for a while."

I couldn't help the slight eye roll at him calling me kitten, but I covered it with a delighted squeal and wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him into a hug. I watched as Ryan stepped away from the group, noting that our suspects had stopped and turned back to watch the exchange. When Ryan nodded to Esposito, our other "bodyguard" shifted to the side to block us from their view.

With my arms still around Castle's neck, I could see Lewis say something to his buyer and then turn back towards us.

"We need to convince him of this act," I whispered in Castle's ear as I allowed my lips to brush against it.

I felt a shudder run through Castle when he realized exactly what I was asking him to do, but he merely pulled back slightly to look me in the eyes, and then lowered his mouth to mine. As soon as his lips brushed against mine, I completely forgot that we were just role-playing. His lips were soft on mine; his taste more intoxicating than anything I'd ever consumed in my life. In the space of a heartbeat, I was lost.

I tightened my arms around his neck, holding on for dear life as his mouth moved over mine. One of his hands found its way to the back of my head, while the other moved to my waist. Unable to resist the urge, I opened my mouth beneath his, my tongue snaking out in invitation as I slid my hands down to his waist. I bit back a moan when his tongue brushed against mine, forgetting not only that we had an audience, but also that this was my best friend I was kissing.

I lifted my right leg and wrapped it around his calf, finally giving in to my desire to feel him pressed so intimately against me. I felt more than heard his groan at the contact and then he was pressing against me, his hips rocking against mine as his hand found my thigh and slowly trailed up under my skirt. My hands slid around his waist, finding purchase on his ass and pulling him more firmly against me.

It wasn't until I felt his fingers hit the leather of my leg holster that my mind cleared enough to remind me that we were working. I felt Castle's touch on my leg gentle and slowly shift direction, returning to my knee and then easing my foot back to the floor.

Not wanting to lose contact with his body, I kept myself pressed against him even as I moved my hands back up his body until they were around his neck. Our lips parted slightly and our gazes locked. Seeing the desire reflected back at me from his blue depths nearly made me lose focus again. However, I forced my attention to the conversation taking place around us even as I leaned forward and brushed my lips over his again. He returned the caress and I took the opportunity to lightly tap him on the back of his neck to indicate that he should release me.

"I told you, man, this is a private party," Esposito stated, his voice low and threatening.

"I might have something your boss would be interested in," Lewis replied.

Castle pulled his lips from mine then, taking a quick breath to calm himself before looking over his shoulder.

"Javier, what the hell is the problem?"

"Sorry, sir," Esposito replied with only a brief glance in our direction. "This gentleman was just leaving."

"Actually," Lewis interrupted. "I couldn't help but hear you send your guy looking for some party favors and I thought I might be able to help you out."

Castle turned his attention back to me, his eyes locking with mine as he continued the conversation.

"And what kind of party favors do you have?"

"Perhaps we could step into my office and chat?" Lewis suggested as he glanced nervously around the hallway.

Castle lifted his eyebrows in question and I gave him a nearly imperceptible nod of my head. This was exactly the break we needed.

Lanie fanned herself as I finished my story.

"Damn, girl. I always knew you two would be smoking hot together!"

I shook my head at her enthusiasm.

"I totally lost control, Lanie."

"It's good for you to lose control once in a while, Kate," she assured me.

"Not like that," I replied. After another sip of my drink, I continued. "Things were…strained…between us for the next few days."

"How long before you jumped him again?" Lanie asked with a smile firmly in place.

"Looking back, I wish that's what I'd done, Lanie."

"Are you really going to sit there and tell me that you and writer boy got it on hot and heavy while undercover no less and then you didn't do anything about it? I don't buy it for a minute."

I let out another sigh. Looking back over the last three months, it wasn't hard to pinpoint the exact moment when things between Castle and I had changed. It wasn't when I'd lost control and given in to the attraction between us. In fact, if anything, giving in to that attraction had just seemed to up the ante on what was going on between the two of us. No, giving in wasn't what had caused the problem. It was when I made the unilateral decision that the two of us wouldn't work and never even gave Castle the opportunity to convince me that we could.

"We need to talk, Kate." His voice was a whisper against the back of my neck as I waited for my espresso to finish brewing. He was standing so close that I could feel the heat radiating from his body.

"There's nothing to talk about, Castle," I replied, ignoring the goose bumps that arose on my skin at the feel of his breath on my neck.

"There's plenty to talk about," he replied. "You can't keep pretending that nothing happened. I was there, too. I felt the way your body responded to mine. You know as well as I do that there's something there."

I shook my head.

"Let it go, Castle."

"You can't just ignore this forever," he said. "You can't ignore us."

I knew he was right, but I wasn't ready to face my feelings for him. The last three days had been nerve-wracking. Ever since our "incident" at the club, I was questioning Castle's motive in everything. He was still the same Castle, but my perception of him had suddenly shifted. He still took every opportunity to invade my personal space. He would brush his fingers against mine when he handed me a cup of coffee. He would sit close enough that some part of our bodies were touching while we studied the murder board. He would send me texts in the evening; sometimes it would be about something that had happened with Alexis; sometimes it would just be a stupid joke; but always it was a reminder that he was thinking about me, even if he never came out and said it. Only now, I was acutely aware of the fact that underlying our friendship was an attraction that could quite literally knock me off my feet.

It was too much for me. The idea of being involved with Rick Castle terrified me. I needed more time. I turned around to face him, not surprised at the close proximity of our bodies.

"I'm not ignoring anything," I stated with more force than I intended. "What happened the other night was a mistake, Castle. We got a little carried away with our undercover assignment. That's the extent of it. I don't know what kind of story you've weaved in your mind about what happened, but you need to back off. There is no 'us'!"

He took a step back from me as if I'd physically struck him and there was no mistaking the hurt that flashed across his face. In that instant, I hated myself. His blue eyes sparkled with something I couldn't identify and then he took another step away from me. He nodded once in acknowledgement.

"My mistake, Detective. I keep forgetting that I'm not really a cop and therefore not as thoroughly ingrained in the intricacies of undercover work as you are. I won't mention it again. " With that, he turned and walked from the break room, leaving me alone to ponder what I'd done.

I closed my eyes and turned back to the espresso machine.

"I'm so sorry, Castle. But I just can't go there with you," I whispered, hating myself for not being able to tell him why. "If things didn't work out, I'm not sure I would survive the fallout."

"What happened after that?" Lanie asked, pulling me back from the memory.

I shook my head to clear it, starting to feel a slight buzz from the alcohol in my system and wondering why I hadn't had Lanie make us margaritas instead of doing shots.

"Absolutely nothing," I replied. "Castle went back to…well, being Castle…and I tried to pretend that everything was the way it should be."

"And then Brenda?" she prodded.

"And then Brenda," I agreed. "It was a couple of weeks after the Lewis case when they met. Things between Castle and I had fallen back into our usual routine…the banter, the teasing, the occasional flirting, and basically just being best friends. He still invited me over for dinner with his family; and I still called him in the middle of the night when something about a case was keeping me awake."

"We'll come back to Brenda in a minute," Lanie said. "First, tell me about that routine, because I've seen the two of you together at crime scenes and in the morgue and quite honestly, I always feel like I need a cold shower after watching the two of you together. What's normal for you and Castle?"

I rolled my eyes and got to my feet, grabbing the vodka and carrying it to the kitchen. Lanie followed, making her way to the freezer where she pulled out the frozen drink mix while I got down the blender.

"Normal?" I finally asked once we had things set up and Lanie was mixing drinks.

"Normal for you and Castle," Lanie repeated

I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn't sure that my relationship with Castle could really be classified as normal. Our partnership had to be the most unorthodox association in the history of mankind, but it somehow worked.

"We just work, Lanie."

"No, you don't just work," she countered, deliberately misunderstanding me. "I'm familiar with that aspect of your relationship. Tell me about the rest of it: those late night phone calls and texts; the family dinners; the occasional flirting in spite of the fact that the man has a steady girlfriend. I haven't forgotten that you started this conversation by telling me that you kissed him this afternoon. I want to hear about that, but I want to hear it in the context of what's been going on since you opened the lid on Pandora's Box. So spill."

I hopped up on the counter and watched as Lanie added the vodka to the mix. It reminded me of being at Castle's the week after our kiss so that's where I started.

I stepped up to Castle's door and took a deep breath to calm myself. It had been a week since our undercover assignment had gone awry and true to his word, Castle hadn't mentioned it again. In fact, he'd gone out of his way to act as if everything between us was normal. When he'd called me earlier in the afternoon to invite me over for pizza night, my initial reaction had been to tell him no. However, I'd quickly tamped down on that and decided to follow his lead. It wasn't the first time he'd invited me for pizza night. Turning him down based solely on the fact that we had shared a kiss would be in direct contradiction to allowing things to get back to normal for us, so I'd accepted.

I finally lifted my hand and rang the doorbell. The door opened only seconds later to reveal Alexis.

"Hello, Kate!" Her enthusiasm was instantly contagious and I found myself smiling as I stepped into the apartment.

"Hi, Alexis," I returned.

"Dad's in the kitchen," she told me as she closed the door behind me. "I'm going to go get the movie ready."

I watched as she disappeared down the hallway and then made my way into the kitchen. Castle was grating cheese into a bowl, two large pizza crusts sitting on the counter in front of him. He greeted me with a smile.

"Bex, glad you could make it."

"You know how I love pizza," I replied as I made my way over to his side. "Can I help?"

He shook his head as he continued to grate the cheese. "I'm almost ready to begin assembling them. You just relax. There's wine in the refrigerator if you want some."

I reached past him and snagged a bite of cheese, laughing when he smacked my hand.

"Hands off!" he said. "I've already had to run Alexis out of the room."

"If you don't want us to eat it while you grate it, you should just buy the shredded kind at the grocery store," I told him, returning to a discussion that we had every time I joined them for pizza night. It had surprised me the first time I'd seen him hand grating the cheese and when I'd questioned him about it, he had assured me that it made the pizza better. Having tasted the finished product, I wasn't going to argue that point. However, it didn't mean I wasn't going to tease him about being a cheese snob.

"And ruin pizza night?" he asked, a look of indignation on his face.

I reached past him for another bite of cheese and lifted it to my mouth with a smile.

"Guess you're just going to have to deal then."

Before I finished my sentence, he'd set the cheese down and turned to face me. In a move I didn't see coming, his hands found their way to my waist and he effortlessly lifted me off my feet and planted me on the counter behind him…well out of the reach of the cheese.

He reached behind me and handed me an empty wine glass and then opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of wine.

"If you promise to behave, I'll let you stay in the kitchen," he said as he held the bottle out to me.

I took it with a sigh, watching as Alexis snuck back into the room behind Castle's back. Trying to keep from laughing, I made quite the production of opening the bottle and pouring the wine into my glass before handing the bottle back to Castle. It wasn't until he'd returned the bottle back to the refrigerator and turned back to his task that he noticed the block of cheese he'd been grating was missing.

He turned back to look at me again and I could no longer control my laughter. His eyes narrowed as he took a step closer to me and I held up my hands in defense.

"I've been sitting right here the entire time," I stated.

He turned in a complete circle, his eyes taking in every surface in the kitchen before landing back on me. He then shook his head.


I lifted an eyebrow, but refused to give him the confirmation he wanted. I already knew that if she made it back to the kitchen before he could confiscate the cheese, she would share it with me. It was a game we played every pizza night.

Castle's eyes sparkled as they met mine and in that moment I realized that this was what had been missing between us for the last week…this sense of being comfortable with each other…this friendship. I was glad to realize that we hadn't lost it.

"He calls you Bex?" Lanie asked as she turned and looked at me.

I shrugged even as I avoided her gaze. Lanie had gotten the full brunt of my agitation the one time Will had tried to pin a moniker on me so she knew how opposed I was to nicknames.

"Sometimes," I admitted.

"Girl, I'm not even going to touch that one," Lanie replied with a shake of her head. "Keep going."

I sighed as I jumped down from the counter and retrieved glasses for our drinks. Somehow, giving voice to the thoughts that had been running rampant in my mind for the last several weeks suddenly didn't seem like the brightest idea. It was too late to back out now though. I handed the glasses to Lanie as I continued the story.

The answer was there somewhere. I just had to keep looking until I found it.

I turned away from the murder board and reached for my coffee. Finding the cup empty, I decided it was as good a time as any for a refill.

The precinct was quiet this late at night, but then again, it usually was. Castle had left early to meet Alexis and Martha for dinner and I had sent Ryan and Esposito home over an hour ago. Sometimes, I did my best thinking at this time of the night. Tonight did not appear to be one of those times. For some reason, I was having trouble focusing on the evidence in front of me.

My phone alerted me to a text message as I made my way back to my desk…full cup of coffee in hand. I smiled when I saw it was from Castle.

Brought cheesecake home for dessert. Tempted?

I never should have mentioned how much I loved cheesecake. I quickly composed a reply.


I returned my phone to my pocket as I settled in front of the murder board again. It was only moments later when it buzzed again.

Bex…you work too much. Be there in 20…with cheesecake.

I smiled in spite of myself. As much as I wanted to tell him not to bother, I knew it would be a waste of time.

Don't forget the fork this time.

His response was almost instantaneous and consisted only of a smiley face. Maybe cheesecake and Castle's perspective on this case would finally shed some light on what I was missing.

I picked up the case file and looked over my notes again; starting with my initial observations of the crime scene. I had just turned to the last page when I heard the ding of the elevator. I glanced at my watch and realized that it had been twenty-five minutes since Castle's last text. I looked up as he approached my desk and offered him a smile.

"You're late, Castle."

He sat a large paper sack and a drink carrier that held two large cups of coffee on the corner of my desk, being careful not to disturb the files I had opened.

"I stopped for coffee," he admitted as he handed one of the cups to me.

I sipped the coffee, knowing it would be my favorite flavor before it even hit my tongue.

"It's decaf," he warned. "I figured that you're eventually going to want to sleep tonight."

"Thanks, Castle."

He pulled a large Styrofoam container from the sack and opened it to reveal a chocolate chip cheesecake. Reaching back into the sack, he made a production out of pulling paper plates, napkins and plastic forks from it. I couldn't help but smile as he handed me a fork.

"It's good to see that you're starting to pay attention to the details, Castle."

He cut two rather large pieces of the cheesecake and handed one of the plates to me before he picked up the other and settled himself into his chair beside my desk. "So what's bothering you tonight, Detective Beckett?"

I lifted a bite of the cheesecake to my mouth and closed my eyes to savor the flavor. It didn't disappoint. Castle had yet to bring me a flavor that I didn't enjoy. Granted, there were some I liked better than others, but not a single one that I hadn't thoroughly taken pleasure in. I waited until I'd finished another bite before I picked up the case file and turned my attention back to the murder board.

"I think it's the timeline," I said.

I watched as he absently lifted a bite of the cheesecake to his mouth; his attention on the board in front of us. His eyes scanned the timeline briefly and then moved back to the left of the board and slowly worked his way across.

"How positive was Lanie on the time of death?" he asked, his eyes never leaving the board.

"Within that two hour timeframe," I replied.

His eyes narrowed at something on the board and I bit back the urge to ask what he was thinking. I knew how fragile those threads could be at times. Instead, I reached for my cheesecake and began to eat again as I allowed my mind to drift over the details of the case.

It was several long moments later when he broke the silence that had stretched comfortably between us.

"Perhaps we're looking for someone who has paid too much attention to the details," he suggested with a grin in my direction.

I lifted an eyebrow in his direction as I allowed his words to sink in, knowing that he would wait to see if I came to the same conclusion before he actually gave me his opinion.

"Too much attention to detail?" I pondered as I once again focused on the board in front of me. As my eyes raked over the pictures and timeline spread out before me, I suddenly realized what it was that had been bothering me. "The victim's brother."

A quick glance in his direction confirmed that Castle was thinking the same thing. He was practically bouncing in his chair trying to control his enthusiasm.

"Where were you last night, Beckett?" he asked. "Say between 9 and 11 p.m."

I looked back at the board and realized that our victim's brother had given a very detailed account of his whereabouts for our window of death. Castle had a very valid point. There were too many details in that initial interview.

I felt a sense of calm wash over me as I pondered the possibility, my nagging suspicions suddenly at rest. I allowed a smile to cross my face as I leaned back in my chair and reached for my coffee.

"Good thing you brought decaf," I offered. "We're going to need to get an early start in the morning."

We had made it back to the couch with our martinis and I glanced over to find Lanie staring at me.

"What?" I asked.

"This is normal for you and Castle?" she asked.

"It's what we do," I replied with a shrug. "We're partners."

Her eyebrows rose at that.

"I've never known you to have a partner, Kate."

"I never wanted one," I replied.

"Until Castle," she stated.

"I sure as hell didn't want Castle for a partner," I reminded her. "I did my best to get out of this arrangement."

"And now?"

I dropped my eyes from hers. I'd never told her about Castle trying to quit after the incident with Dick Coonan and how I'd convinced him to stay. Or about how I'd been furious when I'd found out he was planning to forego any more Nikki Heat novels for a certain British spy. Even then, I'd been terrified of him no longer being a part of my life.

"He's my partner, Lanie."

I expected her to push, but instead she got to her feet and made her way over to my hall table. Picking up the take-out menus, she glanced over at me.

"Pizza or Chinese?"

"You choose," I replied as I leaned my head back against the couch. I listened half-heartedly as Lanie called in an order from my favorite pizza place, allowing my thoughts to drift to earlier that afternoon when I'd once again lost control and found myself wrapped around Castle. He had tasted exactly as I remembered; his chest solid beneath my hands; and his body fitting perfectly against mine. His eyes had sparkled with laughter as he'd teased me and I'd been relentless in retaliation until I'd found myself practically drowning in those blue depths. Suddenly, the air had practically crackled with tension and I'd been unable to look away, my entire being longing to feel his lips on mine again.

"Pizza will be here in an hour," Lanie said as she moved back to the couch.

Her voice caused me to jump and my body flushed with heat at the memory of Castle's lips on mine.

Her eyes raked over me, but instead of asking the obvious question, she settled back on the couch and reached for her drink.

"Tell me about Brenda."

"We got called out to PS215 when one of the basketball players was found murdered in the locker room. It was during that investigation that Castle met Brenda."

Castle followed me into the high school guidance office for a meeting with Mark McGowan's counselor. I stopped at the reception desk and showed my badge to the young woman sitting there.

"Detective Kate Beckett to see Brenda Owens."

"She's expecting you. Down the hall, first door on the left."

"Thank you," I replied.

"This brings back scary memories," Castle said as he followed me down the hall.

"Got called to the office a time or two did you?" I teased.

"I think I spent more time in the office than I did in the classroom," he replied. "How about you, Beckett?"

"Wouldn't you like to know, Castle?" I replied with a raised eyebrow in his direction as we reached the office door.

I turned my attention to the woman making her way from behind the desk. Her dark hair was cut to shoulder length and framed a heart shaped face. A welcoming smile graced her features, but I could sense a sadness lingering in the redness surrounding her eyes. She carried herself with the grace of a model, and if I hadn't known that she was a high school guidance counselor, I would have easily made the incorrect assumption of her profession. Her voice immediately set me at ease and I had no trouble picturing her corralling teenagers with nothing more than a stern word.

"Detective Beckett?"

I held out my hand with a warm smile.

"Ms. Owens?"

"Please, it's Brenda," she said as she took my offered hand.

I nodded over my shoulder at Castle.

"This is Rick Castle."

"The mystery writer?" she asked as her eyes darted to Castle's.

"One and the same," Castle replied as he flashed a smile at her. "Are you a fan?"

Brenda's face reddened slightly as she stepped back to allow us into the office.

"Actually, I'm not a fan of the genre, Mr. Castle," she replied. "However, several of my students are big fans and I've read more than one book report based on your books."

I glanced over at Castle to gauge his reaction and was surprised to see him smiling.

"See, Detective Beckett, there is some educational value in my books," he said as we took seats across from Brenda's desk.

I ignored him, choosing instead to get focused back on our investigation.

"Brenda, when was the last time you spoke with Mark?"

Brenda opened one of the files on her desk.

"I met with Mark last week about making sure he had everything in order for the NCAA Clearinghouse," she said. "He had every intention of playing basketball in college and had spent his four years here working towards that goal…not only on the court, but in the classroom."

"Did he mention any problems with other students or anything going on at home?" I asked.

"Not specifically," Brenda replied. "But I got the sense that he wasn't being completely up front with me. I asked how things were going at home and he said that his dad had just gotten a promotion at work and that his mom was only a couple of classes away from completing her nursing degree. He talked for a few minutes about his younger brother, Jake, who is a wrestler in the 8th grade. Mark was incredibly proud of his brother's accomplishments."

"He didn't mention anything about problems with classmates?" I probed.

Brenda shook her head.

"Mark was a good kid, Detective Beckett. He got along well with the student body and the teachers enjoyed having him in their classes because he actually seemed interested in learning. I can't imagine anyone wanting to do this to him."

"Could you give me the names of Mark's closest friends?" I asked as I opened my notebook. I was interested to see if there were any discrepancies between who Brenda thought Mark's friends were, and who Mark's parents thought his friends were.

"Zac Thompson, Zeke Dublin and Peter Moffitt were his three best friends," Brenda replied. "And in the last couple of months, he'd been talking to Jessica Hayes, but I don't think he was willing to get serious with her knowing that he was leaving for school in a couple of months."

The names read exactly as they had when I'd asked his parents the same question, so I nodded and closed my notebook. I pulled one of my cards out of my pocket and reached out to hand it to Brenda. "Thank you so much for your time, Brenda. If you think of anything that might be helpful, please don't hesitate to give me a call."

Castle got to his feet beside me, but instead of heading towards the door, he reached for a post-it note on Brenda's desk. I paused at the door to wait for him.

"If you're interested in a guest speaker the next time you're doing a section on fiction writing, give me a call," he said as he scribbled what I assumed was his number on the piece of paper.

"Thank you, Mr. Castle," Brenda said as she took the note from him.

"Rick is fine," he replied.

"Thank you, Rick," she quickly amended. "I assure you that I will take you up on the offer."

"Excellent," he replied.

Seeing the smile on his face as he finally turned to follow me, I averted my eyes, not quite sure why I suddenly had what felt like a horrible case of indigestion.

"Girlfriend, you are so completely jealous!"

The ringing of my cell phone interrupted my automatic protest. I reached for it and then practically dropped it when I saw Castle's smiling face announcing the call was from him.

"Cute," Lanie commented as she looked at the picture i.d. Castle had loaded into my phone.

"It's Castle," I stated unnecessarily as panic filled my chest. I lifted my eyes to Lanie's. "What do I do?"

Lanie smiled and shook her head.

"Answer it."

"I can't," I protested as I continued to stare at the offending object in my hand. He was going to want to talk about this afternoon and I wasn't ready for that yet.

"Answer it, Kate," Lanie said again.

My thumb hovered over the "answer" button as I stared at my phone. This whole situation was my fault. I owed him an explanation. But then again, this was Castle. He'd understand if I needed more time. I moved my thumb to the "ignore" button and lifted my eyes to see Lanie watching me.

"He's your partner, Kate."

Her words pulled me up short. I needed to make a decision and I needed to do so quickly. I pressed the button before I could change my mind. After a deep breath to calm my nerves, I lifted the phone to my ear. "Beckett."

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? I'd love to hear what you think.