Disclaimer: Does anyone read these? Still not my sandbox, I just like to play in it.
I began writing this story a long, long time ago. I got at least halfway through it, but could never seem to get all the plot points to gel, so it's been languishing on the proverbial back burner. Then spoilers began coming out for the episode we'll see this week, and similarities between my story and the new episode made it very clear that I was going to have to either finish Thaw or write contrary to canon, which I find extremely difficult to do. Unwilling to abandon it entirely, I finished it, although it's substantially lighter on plot development than I would have liked. For Nathan fan, who requested that I write something "fluffy", and for ignacio2012 who asked, nay, demanded, that it be finished.
"It's another cold case." Castle shivers as they enter the meat locker. Even with the door propped open, the temperature is right around freezing. The room is relatively clean except for the puddle of blood pooled beneath the body suspended from the ceiling. "Can we call the victim Captain Hook?"
Beckett glares at him over the rim of her latte.
"I know, I know, respect for the deceased and all that, but sometimes they just make it so easy." He does his best to look contrite.
She ignores him and calls out to Lanie, "We have a time of death yet?"
The coroner pulls a thermometer from the corpse and says, "Hard to tell until I can look at the tissue samples. I'm going to guess about ten hours, maybe twelve. Not much of a blood pool, but there wouldn't be, not at this temperature."
"So that puts time of death somewhere around 7 p.m. last night. Do you mind, Castle?" Kate puts her half-drunk coffee into his free hand and circles around the victim to get a better look.
The man is huge—over six feet and at least 350 lbs. The cause of death is pretty obvious: someone shoved a meat hook under his rib cage and hung him by it.
Castle's phone rings, and he tries to answer it while holding both of their coffees. The juggling act is a dismal failure, and he loses his grip on her cup. It falls in slow motion, tumbling twice before hitting the floor. The lid pops off, spraying her drink all over a two-foot radius. He grimaces and says, "Oops."
She gives him a look that would turn his blood to ice if he weren't so damn cold already and points to the door. When he opens his mouth to protest, she growls at him. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, he goes. Maybe he can pry some information out of Ryan or Esposito later on.
When she doesn't return to the precinct with the body, he decides to make a visit to the morgue. Not surprisingly, Lanie isn't happy to see him, either.
"What are you doing down here, Castle?"
He pulls up a chair and sits disconsolately while she conducts her visual inspection of Capt—the victim. "I don't feel so good. Thought maybe I should see a doctor."
"You see a psychiatry shingle outside my door?"
He ignores the comments and continues. "I can't figure her out, Lanie. One minute, she seems to enjoy having me around, and the next, it's like she can't wait to get rid of me."
She sighs and puts the corpse's hand back on the table. "I'm going to go against my better judgment and give you some advice that's worth at least twice what you're paying for it. You willing to listen?"
"Good. Now, the first thing you have to do is apologize."
"I tried—" he starts.
"You want a gold star? Try again. Try harder. You committed two cardinal sins. You dropped her coffee in the middle of her crime scene. All you had to do was make some rude comment about the body to make it a trifecta."
"I, uh, might've done that, too."
She throws her gloved hands up in the air. "Why do I bother?"
"Because, if I can make things right, she'll be willing to put up with me again. That means you won't have to."
"I see your point. So, after you apologize, you give her space, and lots of it. Try to push things, and you'll wind up cold and alone. And if you ever, ever, tell her about this conversation, I will make sure that, in the extremely unlikely case that your body is eventually found, your death looks like an accident."
"Got it." He gets to his feet. "And Lanie? Thanks?"
She scowls and makes a shooing motion as she picks up her scalpel, but he can still see a ghost of a smile flit across her lips.
He gives Kate several hours to cool off before making his way back to the precinct in the early evening. Ryan and Esposito are at their desks. She's not.
"She went back out to the scene," Ryan says. "We're having a hard time figuring out how he got hung up there. Probably took two or three guys, at least, and most murderers like to keep their crimes private."
"Thanks. You think she's cooled down enough to listen to an apology?"
"You might be okay," Ryan says cautiously.
Esposito snorts. "I don't know about that, bro. Hope you wore a cup."
Castle cringes reflexively. "That bad? Still?"
"That bad," Esposito says. "Good luck. You're gonna need it."
When he gets back to the meatpacking facility, everyone seems to be gone for the day, but the door is unlocked. He makes his way back to the storage room where they found the body and knocks gently on the door to get her attention.
She looks up sharply from the blood (and coffee) stain on the floor that she was inspecting. "I swear to you, Castle, if you touch anything..."
"I won't. I promise. I just wanted to apologize—" He takes a few steps forward while holding his hands out in front of him. That's probably the reason that he never sees the rubber doorstop that's propping the door open. He trips over it, dislodges it, and the door swings shut behind him.
"No!" she yells as she charges toward him.
Castle steps out of her way. "What's wrong?"
"What's wrong," she says through gritted teeth, "is that this place is one enormous OSHA violation. We figured out this morning that the handle on this side doesn't work." She pulls at it to illustrate her point, and the door remains securely closed, with them on the wrong side of it. He adds his weight, and they both pull in tandem, but the door doesn't budge.
"Cell phone," Beckett says, pulling out her device. "Damn, no signal. How about you?"
He checks his phone quickly. "Nope, nada. Can we shoot our way out?"
She pulls her service piece, examines the door closely, and then holsters the weapon again. "No," she says, "I won't risk it. Not yet, anyway. It would probably take more than one round to do any significant amount of damage, and a ricochet in here could easily hit one of us."
He looks around desperately. The room is lit by a single bulb, and the hook is, thankfully, gone. He didn't get much of a chance to take an inventory of his surroundings this morning, but a quick scan of the room doesn't reveal anything that might help them escape. There is, however, a heavy parka suspended from a peg on the wall. He reaches for it.
"That's evidence," she says sternly.
"I'm just checking the pockets," he says. "Maybe there's a walkie-talkie or a Swiss Army knife or something that might be useful in here."
"CSU already checked. The pockets are empty," she says grimly.
He puts it back with a sigh and folds his arms across his chest in an effort to hold in some of his body heat. "It may be evidence, but I have a feeling we're not going to care about that before too much longer."
"You may be right, Castle, but we need to hold out as long as we can."
They both wrap their arms around themselves and pace back and forth across the small room, trying to maintain circulation. After what seems like an eternity, but is only fifteen minutes by his watch, Castle breaks. "That's it. I don't care if it's evidence. We need to warm up, and soon."
He reaches for the parka again, and this time she doesn't stop him until he moves to wrap it around her shoulders. "You first. Women handle hypothermia better than men."
"Suit yourself." He looks at the label. "Triple XL. Do you suppose this was our victim's coat?"
"It may have been."
Castle pulls the oversized coat on, slides his arms into the sleeves, and pulls up the zipper. It's not exactly The North Face, but beggars can't be choosers.
"Better?" Beckett raises her eyebrows.
"Much." He pulls the coat a little more tightly around himself, relishing its warmth until he notices that Kate's lips are beginning to turn blue. This won't do at all. He remembers Lanie's advice, but waiting is not an option any more.
He pulls the zipper down and waves her closer. "Come here."
"What do you have in mind?" She's shivering violently now.
"Nothing nefarious, I promise you. It just occurred to me that there's enough room in here for both of us."
"You mean, together? At the same time?"
At his nod, she forces out a chuckle even though her teeth are chattering. "I think we'll be fine taking turns."
"Think again." He needs her to understand just how serious this is. "I know a thing or two myself about hypothermia. I did a lot of research on it for Storm's Last Stand. The effects can be long-lasting, and some of them aren't pretty. Fingertips lost to frostbite, sometimes toes, ears, or noses too. I mean, I know some good plastic surgeons, but their nose jobs don't usually run to prosthetics. Then you have the psychological effects, including loss of memory and judgment. Here in another few minutes, I bet I could talk you into a little game of truth or dare—"
"Enough. I'm convinced." She approaches him nervously. "How do you want to do this?"
"Just put your arms around my back."
He's more than a little surprised when she actually does just that without hesitation, and he shivers as her icy hands wrap around him and come to rest a little above his waist.
Even though her touch is cool, it reminds him of a warm spring day when he was just a boy. He was playing in the park and found a young sparrow that had fallen from its nest. He picked the fledgling up carefully and felt a rush of wonder as he cupped the wild thing in his hands. Panicked, it fluttered furiously between his palms and he held it just a little tighter for fear that it would try to flutter away and injure itself. After a few moments, it simply gave up, finally relaxing enough for him to deposit it safely back in its nest.
This feels much the same.
Castle can feel the tension coiled inside her, and he knows how unwise it would be to push her too far, or too fast. He simply pulls her a little closer to him, just a little tighter. He wonders if she feels the almost-painful inevitability of this moment. They were made to hold each other like this; he's sure of it. Now it's just a matter of convincing her.
Her hair tickles his nose and her heart is a triphammer vibrating against his chest. Ever so slowly, he manages to fasten the zipper and pull it up her back. "There. Nice and snug." Her breathing gradually slows as she leans into his warmth and rests her head on his shoulder. He slides his hands into the pockets on the front of the coat, realizing a second too late that the fabric inside the pockets is also the fabric now covering her ass. He freezes guiltily and hopes that she doesn't notice. Because that's likely.
Her voice is tight, but it's not without an undercurrent of humor. "I still have my gun, Castle, and I'm going to count to three. One..."
He moves his hands with two seconds to spare and rushes to change the subject.
"I've been trying to think warm thoughts," he offers. "I once spent a week in Switzerland at a ski lodge with this gorgeous instructor named Inga. They had this real bearskin rug in front of the fireplace and we were—"
"I think I get the idea."
"Right, um, anyway, I rolled just a little too close to the fire."
She snorts softly. "How close?" she asks. "You didn't burn off anything important, did you?"
"No, just got a little singed. No permanent injury."
"Well thank heaven for small favors," she says wryly.
"How about you?" he asks. "What's your hottest moment?"
"Law enforcement symposium in Las Vegas about four years ago. I stayed an extra day and drove out to Hoover Dam. I had rented a convertible and the morning was cool when I set out, but when I tried to put the top back up later, it jammed. I ran into some construction and I ended up with a two-hour drive back at 105 degrees. When I got back to my hotel, I grabbed a book, ran the tub full of cold water and soaked in it for the rest of the afternoon."
"Oh, so what did you read?" Her body stiffens a little against him, and he takes a wild guess. "It was one of mine, wasn't it?"
"Dead Man's Chest," she admits. "It's still one of my favorites."
"That's terrific," he chuckles. "Now I can tell everyone that you took a bath with me."
"You wouldn't," she says threateningly.
He shrugs and tries hard not to notice the friction that it creates between their bodies. "I can't help it. It's too good a story not to tell."
He hears the warning edge in her voice, but it doesn't affect him nearly as much as the fact that she begins pulling away from his protective warmth. He backpedals as quickly as he can. "I'm sorry," he corrects, "what I meant to say was that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
"Good idea." She puts her arms more firmly around him again and he enjoys the warmth of her fingertips against his back.
His own fingers, however, feel like they're going to fall off. He opens and closes his hands repeatedly, and tries to wave his arms around a little to get some blood flow going.
"Castle, what the hell are you doing?" she asks.
"It's just my hands. They're starting to get really numb."
She sighs deeply and then pauses for several seconds. "Do what you need to do, Castle."
He's glad that she can't see the smile on his face. He eases his hands back into the pockets and gets to enjoy the warmth for just a few seconds before the pins and needles begin doing a number on his flesh. He grits his teeth and waits for the feeling to pass.
They stand like statues, and minutes seem to stretch into hours. He can feel the cold fogging his brain, slowing down his thought processes. They need to get moving. "Dance with me," he says.
"You heard me. Dance." He starts humming under his breath. "If it'll make it easier, imagine that I'm Brad Pitt or Vin Diesel, or whoever it is that lights your fire. Do whatever you need to do, but keep moving, okay?"
"Okay." She slides her hands from his waist up along his chest and puts them tentatively around his neck. Once they find a rhythm, their bodies begin swaying together of their own volition, and he doesn't bother humming any more.
"You're right." She seems a little more alert. "This helps."
"I know," he smiles. "Just like senior prom, right?"
"Except my date was a lot better looking."
He laughs and thinks that, if they die in here, one of his biggest regrets will be that he never persuaded her to take a chance on him.
"Kate—" He stops and listens intently. There are voices outside. She must hear them too because she raises her head from his chest and begins struggling against him. He knows that she'd rather be caught standing over his bleeding corpse with a smoking gun in her hand than be found in this position with him, so he unzips the coat quickly. She steps backward out of his embrace and he feels the sudden shock of the cold air against his midsection.
There's a loud thump and a wave of warmth as the door is pulled open. Ryan gives Castle a withering look. "Really? One coat, and you're keeping it to yourself?"
Esposito elbows him sharply. "She doesn't exactly look frostbitten, if you know what I mean."
Ryan opens his mouth for a second, thinks better of it, and shuts it again momentarily. "We thought you might like to know that we're off the case."
They all gather around the table so that Dr. Parish can explain her findings.
"I was suspicious even before I got his medical history, but it only confirmed my findings. Mr. Hutton here had two heart attacks in the last five years." Lanie takes a pair of forceps and pushes apart the flaps of the dissected heart. "Over here you can see the damaged tissue. The hook caused this huge tear here through both the ventricle and the atrium that we first assumed was the cause of death, but after I found the evidence of his prior MI's I ran his cardiac enzymes on a hunch. You remember how there wasn't a lot of blood at the scene? This man died from a heart attack before he was hung on that hook. Sorry folks, but this was no homicide. Somebody just wanted to make it look like one."
"But why? Did he have life insurance?" Castle asks.
"I remember seeing something about that." Ryan begins leafing through the file in his hands. "With his medical history, he couldn't qualify for conventional life insurance, but he did have a policy that paid in the event of accidental death, and there are no exclusions for murder."
"It makes sense," Kate says. "He was supporting a wife and a couple of kids. He saw the writing on the wall, probably knew he was dying and had a few friends make it look like murder. I say let the Fraud Division sort it out. I'm going to finish my paperwork and call it a day."
When they make it back to the bullpen, Castle pulls the guys aside. "You sure took your time finding us."
Ryan looks embarrassed. "Yeah, well, when neither of you answered your phones, we figured you were still," he clears his throat, "apologizing".
"Look," Castle protests, "I don't know what makes you think that—"
"It's not what we think, bro, it's what we see," Esposito adds. "And believe me, we see plenty. Are you telling me that we're way off-base?"
He wishes he had an answer for them.
Things aren't the same afterward. This thing between them—this attraction that they can't act on and can't deny—is stronger now. She no longer recognizes any right he has to personal space. Sometimes, when they walk side by side, he feels her knuckles slide against the back of his hand. Just a ghost of a touch, there and gone again, and he's never sure if she intended it or not, because, as usual, her face betrays nothing. She leans close to him while sharing notes and case files—close enough for him to catch the smell of cherries, and, on one memorable occasion, to feel the whisper-soft brush of her hair against his cheek.
He spills her cup of coffee on the way to a crime scene. It's déjà vu all over again, and, while he tries to apologize, she simply shrugs, smiles, and helps herself to his own half-drunk cup. When she hands it back to him with a faint imprint of her lipstick on the white lid, he takes another sip and wonders if kissing her would be as warm and sweet as the peppermint mocha is. Then he remembers Lanie's advice, and he resolves (for what has to be the tenth time) to keep his distance, even if it kills him.
One night, about two weeks later, she shows up at his loft. He invites her in and is thrilled when she consents. She approaches him hesitantly. "I just wanted to tell you—that was a nice thing that you did, Castle." She draws herself up as though steeling herself for a difficult task, and brushes her lips all too briefly against his cheek. "Good night."
Whatever measure of self-control he managed to develop over the last couple of weeks evaporates into thin air. As she turns to leave, he puts his palm flat against the door, preventing her from opening it. "Tell me what I'm supposed to have done so that I can do it again."
She smiles and shakes her head. "There was this anonymous donation to the Hutton family—enough money to meet their expenses for several months."
"And what makes you think it was me?"
"Are you saying it wasn't?"
"That all depends." He runs the tips of his fingers across his cheek. "Do I have to give the kiss back?"
"I think that's a given," she says without thinking.
The phrase carpe diem was written for moments like this. "In that case, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Before she has time to protest, he puts his other arm behind her back and pulls her roughly into his arms. He presses his face into her neck and feels her pulse thrum frantically against his lips. Castle kisses her there, then again on the corner of her jaw, and he waits for her to tell him to stop, but the words don't come. He takes her face between his hands and lowers his mouth to hers. She doesn't resist, but she doesn't engage him either, and for a moment he's reminded of the sparrow in the park. He expects her to try to take flight any second now, but, instead, she softens in his embrace and her lips come alive under his. Her hands steal up and over his shoulders, tightening across the back of his neck, and now she's the one kissing him, pulling him even closer and burning his skin with her heat.
She pulls away from him abruptly. They're both breathing heavily, and they stare at each other for several seconds.
"I should go," she says, and he can't tell if she's trying to convince him or herself. He puts a restraining hand on her arm.
"No, you shouldn't. You should absolutely stay."
"Alexis and Martha..." she starts weakly.
"Alexis is at a sleepover with a friend, and my mother is at a premier party; she'll crawl in at dawn. We have the place to ourselves. Besides, they love you." He swallows hard and hopes his voice doesn't break. "Almost as much as I do."
She goes stock-still beneath his touch and looks deeply into his eyes. He's all but lost in that calm regard. "You really mean that, don't you?"
He pulls her into his arms again and plants a kiss in her hair just above her ear. "You know I do," he whispers. "Please, Kate. Stay."
After the years that it took to get to this point, it turns out that she's even more impatient than he is. He kisses her until they're both breathless, but she's the one who pulls his shirt out of his pants and reaches for his belt buckle. He tries to slow things down, touching her in ways that he expects to soothe and comfort her, but they only seem to inflame her even more. He eventually stops trying, because he never could deny her anything that she wants.
So he gladly gives her everything she needs from him and more, and holds her tightly to him as she finally comes apart. This time, she's not a sparrow, but a phoenix, and he watches in wonder as she burns brightly beneath him and the pleasure consumes them both. They move together slowly until all that's left are dying embers, and, as he drifts into sleep, he wonders what kind of relationship will be born from the ashes.
He wakes up a few hours later, momentarily disoriented by the fact that there's a very naked detective in bed with him. He watches her sleep and enjoys her nearness, but, unfortunately, something else is pressing on him, and it just won't wait. He gets out of bed, dresses quietly, and heads for his office.
She finds him at his desk an hour or so later. His groin tightens when he looks up and sees her in the doorway. Her hair is mussed, he eyes are predatory, and she looks far better in his shirt than he ever did.
At her questioning look, he clears his throat and says, "I need a name."
"What's wrong with the one you've got?"
"No, I need a name for the next Nikki Heat novel. I just finished the first two chapters."
"You always write after sex?" she asks curiously.
"Not often," he says. "It's just, after I woke up, I suddenly had all these ideas..."
"I've got some ideas of my own." She settles herself on the corner of his desk and crosses her legs demurely, which is a pretty significant feat considering her wardrobe. She tilts her head toward his laptop. "So what happens to them in the end?"
"Who? Nikki and Rook?"
"Do they live happily ever after?"
"I suppose that depends on how Nikki feels." He runs a hand up along the inside of her thigh. "You think she can resist his charm?"
"Maybe," she says, "probably, even, if charm was the only thing he had going for him."
This could be good. "What else does she see in him?"
"Intelligence." She toys with one of the buttons on her borrowed shirt for a few seconds before undoing it "Humor." She undoes another one. "Empathy." And another. The placket's hanging mostly open now, showing broad swaths of skin above and below the lone holdout, centered just below her sternum. "Plus, he's kinda hot." She undoes the last one, and his shirt falls open, revealing her entire body to him.
"Yeah?" He pulls her off of the desk and into his lap, knowing full well that she can't help but notice the effect she has on him. The fearful, wonderful reality of his situation finally sinks in. Kate Beckett is resting comfortably in his arms—wearing his shirt and nothing else.
"Yeah," she laughs and ruffles his hair as he plants a kiss on the skin just over her heart. "Now come back to bed."
She doesn't have to ask him twice.