I won't bother saying that I'm horribly sorry for taking so long to update. I'm sure you guys know that already. Right? …Right? XD No, really. Blame Writer's Block on this one. It kicked me. In the face. :P

Anyway. When we last left our team, Castle was dragging them shopping…oh, joy… ;)



The entire interior was brighter than humanly necessary, every wall blanketed by overtly-chic pinstriped wallpaper in burgundies and creams. Circular racks of formal and semiformal clothing punctuated the main floor, with jaunty, superior-looking mannequins every twenty feet, judging from featureless faces in their tuxedoes and their evening gowns. Even the stream from the in-house radio was annoying: a constant loop of a cookie-cutter Muzak samba, ready-made for elevators everywhere.

Thirteen seconds in, and Beckett had already predicted that she hated it here. Twenty minutes later, and nothing had changed. Now she was positive of it.

"Oh, man! Beckett! You gotta come look at this one. They make it in auburn suede."

There he went again. Battling the urge to go Medieval on someone with every bone in her body, Beckett slowly rotated around, amusement-less glare in place. There was their writer, being as Castle as only Castle could be. He held a dinner jacket up to himself with every bit the expression of a seven-year-old at Chuck E. Cheese.

"Isn't it great?" he prodded.

"Sure. So buy that one." Beckett kept her reply as monotone as possible to ensure minimal conversation about it.

Apparently she was going to get conversation anyway. "I wonder if I should get one in each color - they make three."

"I thought you hated shopping, anyway?" the female detective couldn't help but ask.

"Yes, if you're counting what my mother and Alexis do. But what my mother and Alexis do is not 'shopping.' It's more like a…hunt-and-pick ritual that lasts for hours or sometimes days and can only be compared to hunting season on the Serengeti." Castle looked lovingly down at the jacket, fingering the sleeve until he came up with the price tag in his hand. Upon reading the number, he made a face and dropped it instantly, but kept up his speech just the same. "This is very different. There's something socivilized about picking out some finery for the evening just knowing…" Beckett didn't even realize he'd moved behind her until he dropped into a theatrical murmur. "…that you'll be having a wonderful time. Good friends, good drink - "

"Wearing a gun," Beckett finished.

"…Yes. Well." Clearing his throat, the writer stepped back outside of his partner's 'bubble' and went back to browsing the next rack. "Obviously this particular fête is, you know, the, ah, exception. Got a killer to catch." He glanced up, finding Beckett still standing with her arms crossed. "You should start looking," he said, completely serious.

What? Oh, no. No way. "I told you, I have things at home, Castle. I'm fine."

"Okay, fine: home is all well and good, but you're here now. And according to your timetable, I don't think we're going to have a lot of spare time to swing by your apartment so you can pull an Oscar host."

"A what?"

"Quick-change." He swirled a finger in the air to mime a rotating door.

Beckett rolled her eyes. She could've made a drinking game out of the action by now. "This was your plan all along, wasn't it."

"Why Detective Beckett - " he batted those eyelashes " - whatever do you mean?"

"Uh-huh." With a wry smirk that said she would get him back one day, Kate turned around and walked off. The regrettable fact of it was: he was right. They had to get into this event and had borrowed time to do it, so as long as they were here with time to spare, she had better get browsing. First, though, she made a detour when she caught a glimpse of a shopping attendant, arms laden with plastic-wrapped suits on hangars, heaping them into the arms of an unsteady-looking Ryan.

Beckett stepped up behind the silver-haired attendant, tapped his shoulder, and slapped on a practiced sweet smile when he turned around. "Yes. Can I help you miss? I was just recommending some select choices for the gentleman here; I'd be happy to assist you as well…"

"Hi," she cooed. "Do you mind?" She wasn't really asking. Sliding past the man, Beckett lifted the suits from Kevin's arms - who shot her an immediate telepathic 'thank you' in relief - and handed all but three of them back to Jeeves over there. "He's in civil service - we all are, actually - so I'm going to guess he can't afford half the multi-thousands' of dollars' worth of Gucci you just heaped off on him. So we'll start with these. And I think I'm fine on the 'assistance.' But thanks."

"…Of course, miss."

Ha. Turning to walk away, Jeeves almost looked sort of…what was the word again? Oh. Owned. Beckett released a victorious smirk and turned to Ryan, dropping the whole 'polite customer' thing. "There. That should keep the vultures off for at least ten minutes."

"Thanks," Ryan exhaled. "I wasn't sure what was crying louder; my wallet or my spine."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't make a final decision on that one 'til we're all out of here."

"No decision." Castle was with them again. His voice came from behind Kate, then his head popped up between the two of them, hands full of hangars with various suit pieces draped through them. "I thought we talked about this? Anything for tonight goes on my tab, no arguments."

"Castle, we're not gonna just - "

"Ahp bup bah, Kevin Ryan, I do believe that's an argument."

Ryan shrugged, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth twice in a row, and went back to inspecting the collars of the three suits he was holding. Beckett wouldn't be bought - pun unintended - that easy. "Castle - "

"Tick tock, Beckett - and I'm not talking Ke$ha." Castle pointed up at the old-fashioned clock on the wall. "Two hours and twenty-seven minutes until Bundytime."

Oh, fine. Sighing the same dramatic way that used to make Johanna just shake her head and smile, Kate turned around, shook her own, and headed in the direction of the women's department. On the way, she passed by Esposito, who was examining the shoulders on a suit by the vest display.

"Shoot me," she said in passing.

"Not at these prices," her detective fired back.




There. She had it. In fact, since Castle had been so insistent on being Papa Doc for all this, she'd rung it up already, too, straight to his in-house tab as instructed. And was almost afraid to look at the price tag, for that matter. But what was done was done, and, forty minutes later, Detective Beckett re-appeared in the men's section, carrying a garment box whose contents he was not allowed to preview. Served him right for making her shop.

Castle sensed her standing there and looked up from his thorough evaluation of the bow-tie display. His eyes lit up when he did. "He-ey, you found something! I knew you would. Lemme see."

"Nuh-uh," Kate replied, smirking in sick amusement when Castle's puppy-face fell through to China. "Not yet. Wouldn't want to overexpose it before the gala."

"Ooh, Katherine Beckett, there's a special realm of hell for teases like you."

"I try." Beckett swung the clear plastic bag that held the box back and forth a little. "So. I listened. Can we be done now?"

Castle pretended to ponder that. "Talking, no. Shopping…no." To her flat expression, he defended, "Ryan and Esposito haven't found anything yet!" Then his eyes sparked with mischief. "…Though, you know, with a woman's input, this might go a lot faster…otherwise it's just me, and…" He gestured up and down to himself, indicating the sadly mismatched day suit he'd been wearing.

Was there no end to this day? Twisting over her shoulder, Beckett looked back at the boys, neither of them looking anywhere near ready to go undercover and catch a criminal, much less go out in public.

She turned around to Castle. "You haven't been helping them?"

"Well, I…I was, but then I got caught up with Majorie…she's, an attendant here; big fan. I signed her Heat Wave."

Rrgh. Yeah, there was going to be another homicide today, partner or not. As long as he wasn't really on the payroll, she was pretty sure she couldn't get written up for that. "Come on," she said to Castle, beckoning him along with one finger. She strode in the direction of Ryan and Esposito. "Hey guys."

"Beckett. Whadja buy?" were the first words out of Esposito's mouth.

"A muzzle for you if you ask again, Esposito," she retorted smoothly.

"Ah." With a ten-year-old's smirk, Ryan looked toward his partner. "Gotta mean it's somethin' she don't want us to see."

"Mmhm." Javier fist-bumped him.

Beckett felt her eyes going on their four-thousandth roll of the day. She was going to buy them Frequent Flyer Miles. Noting the clock, she quickly changed the subject. "You two. What've you got?"

Suddenly, their demeanors changed. Funny. "I, ah - "

"Well, see - "

"The thing is, we, ah - "

"Yeah, we have no idea what we're looking for, here."

"You can so tell they're totally green," Castle stage-whispered from somewhere off her left.

Yeah, well. She'd suspected as much. Throwing an indeterminable little look Castle's way, Beckett reluctantly but efficiently got to work, rattling off the first specifications she could come up with. "Esposito," she began, turning to him first. "Stay away from the blues; leave that to Frankie over there." She jabbed a thumb toward Ryan. "Go basic. White shirt, jet-black tux, dark red tie, and don't stray. We want to get out of here before they have to bury us in the storage room."

Espo seemed satisfied enough with that. "You got it," he said, looking equal parts surprised and impressed as he turned around to get to work.

Beckett pivoted to her other detective and continued. "Ryan, I'd go with a cobalt shirt, something dark, and a pinstriped suit - but very subtle; you want to look rich and bored, not like Elton John."

"On it," Ryan nodded, and then he too was off amongst the racks.

Watching them go, Kate shook her head. What is it with guys, anyway? Coordinating their way out of a paper bag was apparently not in their basic training. She was yanked out of her thought by an enthused fingersnap from Castle. "Ah, perfect! And because we're all going together and I don't want to clash, I will go in - "

Beckett cut him off. "Purple."

Castle blinked at her. "I…was going to say green, but since you so love emasculating me, yes, purple it is."

"I'm wearing green," she corrected him.

"Not red?" The writer waggled his eyebrows.

Indulging the return of the witchy-powered smirk, Kate retorted, "Kills you, doesn't it," before nodding at the department ahead. "Shirt. Purple. Go."

"Right." And off Castle scurried.




The clock shed another thirty minutes, and by the time it had, the four of them had made their final purchases and reached the mutual decision to avail themselves of the store's dressing room. One call to Jeeves had made sure of that, and the tip that Castle was extra sure to slip him got rid of any lingering resentment, Kate was sure.

Her hair was easy to swirl to the back of her head, and she did it with practiced skill. The dress… The dress she'd chosen had been as easy to slip into the second time as it was the first. Soft, silken material in a grey-tinted emerald green, one-shouldered, draping elegantly to her knees at its lowest. At its highest, it rode against her outer thigh, and then the hem gave way to nothing until four-inch Prada stilettos.

Oh, the wonders of a Richard Castle bank account.

The guilt still chewed on her for accepting that. Or at least, it had, up until the writer himself had seen her emerge. The second his jaw hit the floor, they were even. In fact, maybe he owed her. This was so subjective.

"Wire it shut, Castle," was the only thing she'd had to say.

Thankfully, the boys had dismissed her with less - she assumed that either they were unfazed, or that her death-glare had kept them from commenting any further than a wolf whistle. Now that they were all beyond that, it was down to the final touches.

Ryan was still futzing with his bowtie in the mirror. Letting out a stubborn sigh, Beckett came up behind him and tapped his shoulder, motioning that she'd fix it herself. "Turn."

His eyes did a three-quarter circle. "I think I can handle it, thanks. What are you, my mother?"

"No, I'm your…work-sister. More importantly I'm your superior and I don't have time for this. Turn around."

Reluctantly, the detective heaved a sigh of his own before he followed orders. "Jeez."

Beckett's hands went at his throat for about thirty seconds before she stepped back, surveyed the result, wrinkling her mouth a bit, and decided it wasn't worth it. With one - slightly agitated - tug, she undid the whole knot and slipped the tie off of him, flinging it backward over her shoulder. "Open collar," she decided. And he had no say.

Apparently it was 'aside' time: Castle looked to the female detective, brow curiously furrowed. "Hey, how come you'll admit to being their work-sister but you won't say you're my work-wife?"

"Probably because I'm not your work-wife."

"Then, where do I stand in this little precinctial family of yours?"

Beckett thought for only a second, well aware that she was under the amused eyes of Ryan and Esposito, waiting for their Rufio to deliver the 'Bangorang'…or else incriminate herself by vocalizing some sort of feelings for their writer. Which, naturally, she wasn't planning on doing. "You're our annoying work-cousin-twice-removed," she pronounced. Before he opened his mouth, she preempted, "And you'll see how many other times you can be removed if you ever bring that up again."

The writer's lips buttoned inward. "Duly noted."

A dry smirk, one that had certainly seen more amusing times in its life, twisted Beckett's mouth as she turned around. "Everyone satisfied now?" Hey, after all, Castle already knew he was her unofficial partner. Why bolster his ego if he was just going to keep picking at his title, trying to upgrade?

"Fine by me," Esposito chipped in, turning to get a sidelong view of his suit in one panel of the mirror. "I gotta admit, Castle. Not. Bad. Not bad at all."

"Thank you," Castle beamed.

"I think he was more complimenting himself than you," Beckett jabbed, giving the writer a light elbow.

Esposito shrugged. "Hey, if you got it, you got it." Fastening his last cuff, he stole a glance at his watch. "Yo - go time."

"How're we gonna get there?" Ryan inquired. "I mean if we went through all this, I doubt we're gonna impress anyone rolling up in cop cars."

"Ah, leave that to me," Castle said grandly, already lifting his cell phone to his ear. "I've got this completely taken care of and one-hundred percent under control."

"Wish we had your confidence, Castle," Javier remarked, and Kate couldn't help but agree there.




Camera flashes spotted the entrance to the Pennsylvania, but of an entirely different breed than CSU. The night was young, the rich and elite were milling, and, at the end of the sidewalk, a heel lowered down from the interior of a black-tinted Towncar.

For the first time all night, Kate Beckett felt a discreet twinge of nerves.

"Showtime," Richard Castle whispered in her ear.



HA! Another one done. ^_^ Sorry that it's shorter than the others, but I did warn about that: the sections tend to run shorter and there are always more commercials toward the end of the episode. So this one is about half the length of the last one.

So! They made it through the shopping ordeal alive and have finally arrived at the party. Aaron Bundy doesn't stand a chance…or does he? You'll just have to stick with this to find out - and THANK YOU to those who have been. Like I said, I'm sorry that this story has been so troublesome for me, but I WILL get over my Writer's Block to finish it at some point or another. Only two more chapters to go. ^^

As I always say, anyone who's interested in a written Castle RPG should go check out the bold paragraph in my profile. And PLEASE REVIEW! After all this time, I'm really happy with how this chapter turned out and all the team-bonding-ness, so I'd ADORE your comments! That would be fantastic.

Thanks everyone. Coming up next: the takedown goes down! ;)