They watched from the relative safety of their vantage point in the break room, feeling sorry for the poor tech support guy on the other end of the phone who was getting his ass handed to him by Beckett for the second time that day. Her computer had been freezing up on her as she entered the final reports into the database for the upcoming audit, and her patience had just run out. Of course they both knew that it wasn't just the computer being on the fritz that had her a little more snappy than usual.
"Man, she's been edgy these last few days," Esposito observed, turning from the blinds to fill his cup with coffee. "Reminds me of the old Beckett."
"The "old Beckett"? Refresh my memory- when exactly did we trade her in for the newer, improved model?" Ryan replied dubiously, flinching a little as she slammed the phone down in its cradle and pushed her chair back from the desk forcefully, grabbing her cell phone as she stood.
"Aw, come on, bro'! Isn't it obvious? The way she keeps checking her phone when she thinks no one is looking. That's how she was at the beginning of this summer when he was gone too. And how serious she's been all week long. Definite "B.C. Beckett".
"B.C. Beckett?" Ryan asked quizzically.
"Yea. B.C. Before Castle," Esposito said matter-of-factly. "All work, no play."
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose."
"Come on, man! She's a different person since Castle's been around. I mean she still kicks some serious ass. Definitely glad I'm on her team, not on the other side. But Castle, he just makes her more..." Esposito turned back towards the coffee maker, just in time to see Beckett's figure at the door way, hand on her hip, looking more than a little annoyed at him.
"He makes me more what, Esposito?" she said with a less-than-amused glare usually reserved for the currently absent writer-in-question when he was pushing her buttons.
"Busted..." Ryan said under his breath as he attempted to breeze past Esposito, slowed by a playful punch in the shoulder from his partner as he made a beeline for the door.
Kate shook her head, unable to suppress the beginnings of a smile they had brought to her face for maybe the first time all week. She helped herself to some coffee and sighed with disgust at her behavior. So Castle hadn't called. So what? She'd done almost 4 months, what was 6 days in comparison? She sighed, the truth quite apparent: he meant more to her now. The more she thought about it, the intensity of her feelings since his return surprised her. Hell, everything about his return had surprised her. The way they had run into each other at the court house. The way he had listened so patiently as she came to terms with the emotions surrounding her birthday. The way he had obviously put a lot of thought into their first date... the way he had kissed her.
She could feel Esposito staring at her as she took a sip of the coffee, almost choking on the bitter liquid that was leftover from the late morning brew. She avoided his eyes, electing to drink the unappealing beverage rather than be forced to talk to him. There was more truth in Esposito's words than she cared to admit. She was different when Castle was around. Better somehow. The problem was that he wasn't around at the moment, and though she hated admitting it to herself, she really missed him, even if she was annoyed at him for going incommunicado again so soon.
He had texted her from the road the morning after their date at Pinot and Picasso to let her know that he was headed back to the Hamptons to grab a few forgotten items from his house and to take care of some "unfinished business" before most of the shops closed up for the off season. He had also indicated that he would call her "soon". Apparently his definition of "soon" was quite different from hers, and of course Kate was just stubborn enough to hold him to his word, resisting the temptation to break down and call him first. She knew it was petty, but she'd be damned if she gave in.
She sighed as Esposito turned away from her to answered his cell phone, and thought back to earlier in the day when she had started to feel a gnawing sensation in the pit of her stomach. Maybe something bad had actually happened to Castle. Maybe he was hurt and that's what was preventing him from calling her. But her fears were soon quelled when she caught Ryan checking Facebook, pointing out the "awesome pics" of a party that Castle had posted from the night before.
Unfinished business my ass, she had thought sitting back at her desk and scowling at the paperwork that greeted her there. This was just before her computer had frozen the second time around and she had decided that she officially hated today.
"So, Friday night. You got any big plans for tonight, boss?" Esposito said, sliding his phone closed and coming around to face Beckett as she glanced down at her own phone absently.
"No," Beckett said turning to look towards the elevators, almost expecting Castle to breeze through at any moment. "Apparently not," she added under her breath, knowing that Esposito had heard her, but too frustrated to care. She was actually more frustrated at herself and how she had let him take ahold of her emotions in such a short time. They had gone out on one date after all. It wasn't like they were in a relationship or anything, so why should she expect that he would call her while he was gone? The entire summer was evidence to the fact that he wasn't exactly the best correspondent, but the romantic in her had thought that maybe, just maybe, this time around would be different.
Esposito pocketed his phone and turned to study his fellow detective and friend as she stood in silence. He had known Kate Beckett for almost five years now, working with her the entire time he had been a homicide detective. He admired her grit, her intensity, her perseverance. But damn, she was stubborn sometimes. He knew that the summer without Castle had been torture for her, and by extension it had been rather unpleasant for he and Ryan as well. But unlike this summer, he could see now that she wasn't just angry, she was sad. While he had caught on that something was different between she and Castle after witnessing them getting cozy at the bar during Lanie's party, seeing Beckett's reaction to Castle's absence now was just the confirmation he needed that the mystery writer had finally wormed his way into her heart. He smiled as he watched her frown into her mug pensively.
What she needs right now is a real drink.
"That was Lanie on the phone. We're going to go grab a beer at The Shield in a bit. I think Ryan may come too, if you're interested," Esposito said pouring the rest of the coffee down the drain and rinsing the pot.
"Yea, sure. Why not," she said half-heartedly. She walked over beside him, pouring the stale coffee from her mug into the sink and cursing silently as she was reminded of how Castle always made her a fresh cup of espresso in the afternoons so that she wasn't forced to reheat the inferior precinct blend from the morning pot.
"I was going to text Castle, see if he wants to come meet up with us too," Esposito announced, testing the waters. He turned to catch Beckett's profile, the slight pursing of her lips the only indication she had even heard what he said.
"Yea, well, good luck getting him to call you back," Beckett said as she exited the break room, the annoyance spilling into her voice of its own accord.
Esposito shook his head with a smile. So that's why she was so snippy. It's not just that Castle was gone, he hadn't called her. Again.
"Castle, Castle, Castle," Esposito muttered under his breath, pulling his phone out to text the writer about their plans and maybe drop a hint that he should give his muse a call sooner rather than later. "When will you learn, bro'?"
Beckett entered her apartment almost three hours later feeling exhausted. The buzz from her two and a half beers was quickly fading and all she wanted to do at that moment was take a warm shower, turn on some soft music, and fall into bed. She had stayed at the cop bar longer than she originally intended, mostly because she wanted to prove to herself that she could have a good time without Castle around.
And she had. For a while at least. She drank and laughed and played darts, even flirted a little with an off-duty guy from narcotics who paid for her drink. He had been bold, kissing her on the cheek and slipping a napkin with his number on it into her hand as she left. While she had been flattered, the napkin had found the trashcan as soon as she got home, her mind and heart still clearly preoccupied by thoughts of Castle as she found her body gravitating towards the bookshelf in her bedroom almost immediately. She pulled out one of his well-read hardbacks from the shelf, flipping it open to the folded over portion of the dust jacket that contained his bio and picture. His piercing blue eyes stared back at her for a few seconds before she slammed the book shut and slid it back on the shelf, heading to the bathroom to wash away the tension of the day.
She had just stepped out of the shower and into her favorite silk purple robe when she heard her phone beep indicating that she had a new voicemail. As she retrieved the phone from the kitchen, a firm knock from behind the front door caused her to let out a small yelp, nearly drop the phone in the process. She stood frozen for a few seconds, a surge of adrenaline coursing through her body as she looked down to see Castle's name filling the screen as it began to ring again. The pounding on the door returned, this time accompanied by a male voice.
"Kate? It's me. Are you okay? Kate?" Castle's voice questioned from behind the solid wooden door. Even though it was muffled, she could still hear the tinge of panic due to her lack of a response.
She sighed, silencing the ringer. Of course he would show up now, just when she was finally feeling relaxed. She slid the chain lock from the door, opening it slowly. Castle stood there for a few seconds, stunned by the image of her in the robe that came barely to mid-thigh. Her cheeks were flushed from her recent shower, hair still damp and loose around her face. She cleared her throat self-consciously, feeling his eyes focusing on her legs.
"Castle, it's late. What are you doing here?" Kate asked curtly, noticing that he was carrying an insulated grocery sack. She stepped back from the doorway, effectively inviting him in as she took the sack from him.
It was then that Castle really looked at her face. Although Esposito's text had hinted that she was not having a good day, it only took a glimpse of her fiery eyes to realize that she was annoyed about something. He smiled meekly, seeing no change in her expression. Make that really annoyed. He removed his jacket and made his way into the kitchen behind her, racking his brain and trying to think of what he could have possibly done to cause this type of reaction. After all, he hadn't even been in the city in almost a week. He decided he'd take the approach of acting oblivious to her death stare and see if maybe she'd cool off on her own.
"It's Friday night- ice cream, remember? I brought homemade ice cream from my favorite spot in the Hamptons- Dottie's Place. You didn't think I'd forgotten our date, did you? I've been looking forward to it all week," he added lowering his voice and giving her a half-smile.
Kate sighed, finding her anger lessened a few degrees by the prospect of homemade ice cream and by the fact that he had remembered their date. However she wasn't ready to let him off the hook just yet. "Honestly, I'm quite surprised that you remembered," she said softly, feeling more hurt than angry at this point.
She saw his smile drop with her words. A part of her felt like she was blowing this whole thing out of proportion, but she just couldn't shake this feeling, the same feeling that had crushed her when he had left for four months with his ex-wife, the feeling that he would never be a permanent and stable part of her life, even if she wanted him to be.
"Why didn't you call?" she asked, watching as he took a step closer to her.
"Huh? What do you mean? I did call. Not 20 minutes ago. It went to voicemail," he answered, still oblivious to the real intent behind her question.
"No, I mean call this week. I know we, this... whatever we are is new, that we haven't defined what we are yet, so the logical part of me knows that l don't have a claim, that I shouldn't be as bothered as I was by it... " her voice trailed off. It struck him then just how much he had upset her by not calling.
"Hey, Kate, don't," he said shaking his head. He stood in silence, trying to form his thoughts. The truth was he hadn't called because he was uncertain of what to say. How to have a simple conversation with her when all he could think about telling her was just how unbelievably good she made him feel. Despite how well their date had gone, there was always the fear of rejection with her, that she might push him away. But he knew that was no excuse. "We may be new, but our relationship, it's real, it's...powerful. And, you're right. It deserves better than me coming and going as I please and my poor communication." He closed his eyes with a sigh. "Even if I didn't call, I certainly thought about us. A lot," he said reaching out and grabbing her hands and giving them a squeeze for emphasis.
He swallowed hard, feeling his nerves kick in. He knew this wasn't the time to skirt the issue. He needed for her to know how serious he was about making a relationship between them work. "As hard as this may be for you to believe, I guess I'm a little intimidated by what's going on between us. I mean, I came back unsure if you'd even let me work with you again, let alone take you out on a date. And I didn't expected that you'd share all those things with me about your mother's birthday. I felt so grateful that you would confide in me like that." He lowered his voice, a carefree smile finally gracing his lips as his fingertips danced with the damp ends of her hair. "And I never expected you'd let me hold you and kiss you like you did."
Kate felt her cheeks warming at the mention of his lips pressed against hers at the end of their date.
"I guess I'm a bit surprised at how you've let me in." He dropped his hands to her waist, pulling her closer. "But really, I have no excuse for my lack of communication other than that I'm an idiot sometimes. I'm sorry I didn't call. Truly."
"Well, I certainly didn't expect any of this either," she said smiling a little as she traced her fingers up his arms and around his neck. "And, to be fair, I guess I could have called you too."
"This is also true. But you're very stubborn, so I wouldn't expect you to call first," Castle said tauntingly. Kate rolled her eyes, swatting at his shoulder with her palm. His face then turned serious. "I think the lesson here is that we both need to work on our communication skills. Both verbal..." he paused leaning down to capture her lips with his for a brief second, "...and non-verbal." He kissed her again, this time lingering until she broke away.
"Hmm, somehow I don't think non-verbal is a problem for us," she said, searching out his lips again.
"Well, as they say 'practice makes perfect'." He kissed her hungrily this time, tongue teasing her in a way that made her stomach burn with pleasure. She pressed into his grasp, feeling his hand lock behind her neck. As he ended the kiss, he allowed his fingers to roam along her exposed collar bone as she eyed the insulated sack sitting on the counter.
"So did we establish what ice cream flavor you selected?" she said slightly breathless from their impromptu kissing session. He loosened his grip on her waist, allowing her to turn towards the sack that contained the slightly melted treat.
"Flavors. Plural," he said correcting her playfully.
He grinned as she squinted at him curiously. She then opened the sack, laughter quickly filling his chest as she proceeded to remove half a dozen quarts of ice cream. "Rick! Why so many?"
"Why not?" He shrugged as if it was the most normal thing in the world to bring home six quarts of ice cream. "They're all so good, I couldn't decide on two or even three, so I decided on all. Dottie makes them fresh everyday and wait until you get a load of the names." He held each carton up as he recited the flavors. "Here we have "Straw-Berry Nice to Meet You" made with the last of this season's fresh strawberries from her garden. Next is "Death by Dark Chocolate". Think Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies in ice cream form- to die for!" he exclaimed as Kate opened up the container and helped herself to a spoonful of the chocolatey decadence. She took a moment to savor the crisp mint and chocolate taste. He was right- to die for.
"And then we have my personal favorite, "Don't Spill the Vanilla Beans," made with real vanilla beans, nothing artificial here," he said already pulling off the top and stealing Kate's spoon to take a bite. He closed his eyes dramatically, swirling the melting sweetness in his mouth.
"Vanilla? That's your favorite? With all these others to choose from?" Kate said arching a brow in disbelief. "You don't seem like a vanilla-guy to me."
"Hey! Don't knock it 'til you try it, Detective. A good vanilla ice cream is like, the best comfort food in the world," he said defensively. "Kind of like me," he added with a wink.
"I'll hold out for the others," Kate said trying to sound unimpressed.
"Fine. More for me," he said replacing the top on the carton before moving onto the next flavor. "Next, is "Charlie Brownie Peanut-butter"! Fun, right?" he said beaming as he presented the carton to her ceremoniously. Kate forced herself to keep a straight face, but inside she was dying at just how endearing it was to see him so excited by the ice cream names.
His face turned to disappointment at her sober expression. "Oh come on! Charlie Brown? Peanuts? Charles Schulz? That's clever!"
Kate finally revealed a smile as she tasted the brownie-peanut butter concoction which, she had to admit, though extremely rich, was delicious. "Yea, I guess it's pretty clever."
"Humph. I bet you were one of those girls growing up who sided with Lucy, rooting for her to pull the football out from poor Charlie Brown every time he went to kick it," he said disapprovingly.
"Of course I was," Kate said licking the spoon of its peanut butter remnants as she talked. "Boys are just so easy. They put their blinders on, one track mind and all..." she said noticing that his eyes were intently focused on her lips as she pulled the spoon from her mouth slowly.
"Huh?" he said blinking several times as if coming out of a trance.
"My point exactly," she said dryly. "What's up next?"
"Ah. That would be my second favorite: "The Devil's Food Cake Made Me Do It". It's by far Dottie's most popular flavor."
He dug a heaping spoonful out of the carton and guided it to her lips. Kate hesitated only a heartbeat, finding that the act of him feeding her actually felt very comfortable, and also very intimate. She took the spoon into her mouth and nearly moaned when the cocoa flavor hit her taste buds. "That is..." She paused, savoring the richness and unable to find words to describe it.
"Sinful," he finished for her, helping himself to a spoonful as he watched her reaction. "I bought an extra carton of that one. I had a feeling you'd like it."
After enjoying a few more spoonfuls, she helped him put the cartons in her freezer as they were almost half melted from his trip back into the city. She leaned against the refrigerator, watching as he proceeded to wipe down her now sticky counter top with a damp sponge and smiling at how surprisingly domestic he could be. As he finished his cleaning, she approached him from the side and wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him closely. "Thank you for bringing me enough ice cream to last me until next summer."
"Oh, I seriously doubt it will last that long. After all, I'll be back over here frequently to help you finish it off," he said turning so he could wrap his arms around her. "I'd give it through mid-October at the latest."
Kate laughed and squeezed him closer as they stood in comfortable silence. Castle sighed deeply, causing her to look up as he contemplated what he was about to say next. "I have something else for you," he said loosening his embrace. "It's a belated birthday present." He reached over to his jacket and pulled a card shaped envelope from the inner pocket.
"Castle..." Kate said cautiously.
"Just open it," he said quickly. "I promise, nothing is going to jump out or sing at you."
Kate eyed him suspiciously, picking up on the fact that he was nervous about what lay behind the envelope's seal by the way he was studying her face. Kate slid her finger under the edge slowly and removed a card that had one of Monet's Water Lilies on the front. She opened the card to read the printed words:
We at the Museum of Modern Art are pleased to acknowledge that a donation
has been made to our "I Heart Art" school program in the names of
Katherine and Johanna Beckett
in honor of your special day.
We thank you for your support and love of the arts.
He spoke as she reread the words, "If you'd prefer your names not be in the donation listing, I can always call the museum and tell them to take it off. " Her eyes fluttered to the handwritten cursive note below the typed font:
I always thought wishing someone just one day of
happiness out of the year seemed stingy.
Hoping that I can bring you a little bit of happiness everyday.
She stood motionless, rereading the card again, feeling a hot stinging in the back of her throat. Castle suddenly felt panicky, unable to read her reaction as anything other than shock. "I remembered you mentioning how your school didn't have the best art program growing up. And I thought it was a nice tribute to..." he stopped, unsure of how to continue. He watched her for what seemed like an eternity, feeling almost nauseous by the time she finally looked up at him. "I actually debated about including your mom's name at all, but it just seemed right..."
The next thing he felt was her hand on his cheek, her lips on his mouth, and his heart soaring.
"It is right," she said in between kisses. "So right."
"Right," he echoed back before finding her lips again and corralling her into the corner of the kitchen against the counter.
He spoke to her in a hushed tone, not willing to break contact with her skin for more than half a second. "So in the spirit of us communicating better," he began before dusting his lips against her cheek. "I need to tell you something."
"What?" she whispered into his mouth, breathing in the smell of cocoa and vanilla.
His hand found her cheek, angling her head up towards him. "I've been falling for you slowly for awhile now," he paused, closing his eyes as he pressed his lips to her hair. "But now it feels more like a free fall, totally out of my control at this point."
"Sounds dangerous," Kate said teasingly nipping at his lips with her teeth.
He smiled at her, his fingers flirting with the tie of her robe. "Well, I'll admit, at times it's been quite the turbulent descent. You're not always easy you know," he joked before placing a tender kiss to her neck, lips dancing down to her shoulder.
"Any...regrets?" she said, a slight hitch to her voice as he brought her skin between his lips gently.
He pulled his head up looking her dead in the eye. "None. Zero."
She smiled broadly, her voice warm against his skin. "Good. Cause I'm pretty sure I'm falling too."
A/N: And so it ends. This was my *first* fanfic that I started way back last year so it feels kind of weird to be done with it after all this time. I know I've been slow at updating, so I sincerely thank each and every one of you for sticking with it. I hope you all enjoyed this fluffy ending as much as I do.
Now, go eat some ice cream! :P ~KB