The Monday morning after the nuclear-fallout-that-wasn't, Kate Beckett and Richard Castle stood outside his building, at their respective, car doors. They were finally noticing just how "puffed out" the other looked. But no jokes came, no comments at all. Only small smiles of understanding. And along with them, a silent promise to never talk about why there may have been extra layers on under their coats today.
Getting in the car, Beckett soon started it up, cranking the heater. Within seconds, she pulled away from the sidewalk, and right into standstill traffic. Castle remembered the tin foil-wrapped breakfast in his hand, and began freeing it.
"Why didn't anyone tell me there was a blue moon last night?" He asked, speaking his first words since they'd left his loft.
"Geez, Castle, you act like this is the first time I've picked you up," replied Beckett with an eye roll.
"It's not just the door-to-crime-scene service," he expounded, "though you have to admit, that doesn't happen often. It's the entire morning taken as a whole, so far." Gazing much too longingly at his food, he continued, "Not only do you bring me coffee and the awesomest five pounds of flatbread-cocooned-"
"-artery hardening-" She interjected.
It was called, "The Whole Nine Yards." Jam packed with scrambled egg, sausage, ham, potato, cheese and green peppers, the detective could only imagine eating such a concoction on a rare, lazy Saturday when she had no plans to leave her couch. Because she wouldn't be able to move.
She swore years of Castle's life were melting away with every enraptured bite he took.
But he'd cut in again. "-deliciousness this side of Manhattan, you do so after nine o'clock, and then allow me to eat in your car. What did I do to earn such generosity?"
"Saved the city."
"Oh. Right," he spoke as though he'd forgotten. Maybe he was trying to. A beat of silence followed as they made it past the light, then, "Didn't do it alone, though."
She smiled. "Right. That's why I got a three day weekend."
He blinked and stared wordlessly, his mouth half-full of food. "One of these things is not like the other. How does three minutes of utter, breakfast perfection, rivaling even my very own 'Smorelett,' compare to-"
"Three minutes?" Her gaze snapped to his, brow lifted curiously, despite the off-putting visual she now viewed. "Castle, chew, or I'm telling your mother," she sternly ordered. "And oh please, your life is one, long weekend. So why don't I just get out my violin?"
"My mother doesn't believe in chewing," was his reply after making a show of swallowing. "Actors don't chew, not if they wanna win an Emmy. And stop interrupting m-"
"What in the freaking heck is a Smorelett?" Beckett questioned suddenly.
The author's eyes practically twinkled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
She purposefully returned her focus to the road, turning them down the next block. "No, not real-"
"Wait, so if I ever have any hope of this morning repeating itself, I have to save the city again?" He asked, abruptly sending the conversation backwards.
It was a good thing she'd gotten used to verbally multitasking with him.
"I didn't say that-strongly implied it? Absolutely." A slow grin spread across her face. "But I thought you'd love feeling like a superhero. Narrowly averting certain doom..."
He shrugged, sobering somewhat. "Sure I would...if I actually felt like one. Instead it just feels-"
"-like we had dumb luck on our side?" She finished his thought.
"Exactly," he nodded, the sigh easily heard. "Besides, if you hadn't been there? There's no way I would've been that brave."
She didn't know if she believed that, but she could tell he did. "It's funny. For as gigantic as your ego is, you don't give yourself enough credit sometimes."
Over the last, two years, Beckett had learned plenty about the famous novelist riding shotgun. She'd seen just how much of his public image was bull, and how much was merely exaggerated. She'd also seen sides he wouldn't dare show in public, because playing the rouge-ish playboy helped sell books and keep those financially-invested in him, happy.
Those other sides were for a select few. Not even all his friends saw them. But his family did, and so did she. Beneath the image was an earnest, giving man with a heart almost too big, especially for this city. It was amazing how rarely it'd been walked on, considering what a target it made. He never hid it from her, even when his flippant persona came to the fore.
He would try, but it didn't work anymore. So Castle could pretend to be some cowardly writer cliché, but a coward he was not. While she had resigned to fate, to vaporizing there in the street, he refused. Knowing there was one, last, desperate, "no-way-in-hell-this-is-gonna-work" option left, he placed his hand on a nuclear bomb, and took it. The writer refused to accept an unhappy ending.
"Dumb luck, remember?" Down to four-and-a-half yards, he balled up the tinfoil and dropped it in the empty, Styrofoam that'd been on the floor where his feet were, since last week. "The only thing more fickle than fate. I'd rather avoid pissing it off."
Her mouth dropped open. "'The only thing more fickle than fate'? Did you seriously just quote Derrick Storm? You stole your own character's ridiculous line? About women?"
Her hands squeezed the steering wheel. From complimenting to contemplating making him regret not wearing a seatbelt-this was life with Richard Castle. An emotional rollercoaster ride she couldn't get off of, despite her better judgment.
Castle shrunk down, yet defended his artistic choice nonetheless. "His wife just shot him in the stomach! He was bitter!"
"Something tells me he wasn't the only one," she retorted accusingly.
"There are many, different, therapeutic avenues, Detective..." Soon his voice was as small as his shrunken form. "...don't judge me."
"Why not?" She frowned teasingly, and just like that, her anger was gone.
Tipping his invisible hat to her, their conversation hit a natural lull, and for a while, they headed to the crime scene in companionable silence.
Well, until they were minutes out anyway, when Castle brought them backwards once more. "Technically, since I wrote Calm Before the Storm-which apparently, you not only read, but also remember better than I do-I can't steal from it."
"Fine," Beckett conceded, "then it's just tacky."
In his best Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that means what you think it means."
"Oh no, it does. But at least you're becoming a better thief. Good for you," she said, although this particular compliment was nowhere near as genuine.
"Thank you." He had earned himself two, eye rolls in a single car ride. He felt a sense of accomplishment. "Say, wanna know what my name would be if I were a superhero?"
"The suspense is killing me," came her dry response.
"MightyPen," he announced with unfazed, boyish glee.
She blinked once, and after a pause, "MightyPen?"
"I'd give dastardly swords everywhere such a pinch," he pledged.
"I have no doubt," she smirked, shaking her head. "Just don't expect me to pay for your Tetanus shots."
And then he waited for the inevitable. And waited. And waited. And wai-
"Okay...can't believe I'm asking this...what name-?"
He grinned. "Lady Extraordinary. Wouldn't even need a costume." Her next question was via expression only, and he could see her already regretting it. "Because you'd be naked. Baring all for truth, justice, and the American-"
"How didn't I see that coming?" She was disappointed in herself, she really was.
"It's this face," he answered while stroking his chin self-appreciatively. "The New York Times once deemed it, 'deceptively adorable.'"
It was deceptive, all right.
"Quiet, MightyPen, or Lady Extraordinary's gonna kill you with her pinky," she threatened rather ominously, causing him to respectfully gulp.
At another red light a few minutes later, she found herself casually revealing, "Josh and I broke up, by the way."
This was his cue to choke on his final bite of bliss. He'd drawn out the experience after being admonished, slowing down considerably.
"Told you to chew, didn't I?" She could barely contain her pleased laughter.
"Uh, wow," he sputtered as soon as he was no longer dying. "Shortest Chance Ever."
Her face gave nothing away, but his certainly did. How'd he ever beat her at poker?
"Guess it was." She could see the scene-gawkers up ahead as green permitted her to go.
Unable to read her whatsoever, and wanting to not get shot, he figured he should probably act like the friend he was supposed to be. "Sorry. What happened?"
Her features visibly softened, and she opened up to him. Rather effortlessly. She seemed to do that a lot anymore. "He wanted me to go to Haiti with him. Today, no warning, for a month. Just pack up my life, walk away from the job..."
She exhaled. "For better or worse, being a cop is who I am. I love the chase, Castle, almost as much as I love getting the collar. Makes me feel closer to my mom. It's like," she cleared her throat so she didn't crack, "like I'm picking up where she left off."
"Well, as your second, biggest fan? I love being there when you do," he told her sincerely, implying her biggest fan was her mother. "You're my superhero."
She rewarded his sincerity with a grateful, shy smile. "Anyway...a week would've maybe been a different story, but a month? It sounded like an ultimatum. Josh wanted me to be somebody I'm not. And if I'm being honest, I wanted him to be somebody he wasn't. That isn't fair."
"Maybe not, but wanting to be understood? Wanting to be accepted for who you are, and who you aren't? Isn't a bad thing," he put in his two cents as she parked across the street from their alleyway destination.
"You're right." She knew he was. "Except, when you both wake up every day still stuck at square one because you keep trying to force it, then the whole relationship is probably a bad thing. Or just the wrong thing."
He gave her hand a supportive squeeze. "Ah. A lesson it took me two divorces to learn. And one, ill-advised, attempt at a do-over," he said lightly, drawing another smile. "You seem okay. Considering."
Beckett simply couldn't resist what followed. "I am. I mean, he was obscenely attractive, especially right after he'd gotten out of the shower and would just drip from-"
"Hey, look! A dead person!"
Just like that, Castle snatched his coffee and was out the door.
"I know who our victim is! Not only that, I know who killed him," Castle exclaimed as Beckett (sipping her coffee) joined he, and a crouched Lanie and Esposito at the body.
"Guy's buried under a piano, bro," Esposito pointed out, which was his way of saying the writer couldn't possibly have a single, damn clue.
"Yes, yes he is," agreed Castle excitedly. "Which is how I know. It's Marvin Acme! Our murderer, gentleman and ladies, is none other than Judge Doom himself. He's trying to take over Toontown!"
Then it happened. Detective Kate Beckett giggled. Unmistakably, without a doubt, giggled. She obviously meant to cover her mouth, but she was too late. The sound sent shockwaves of shock through everyone present.
The first year Castle shadowed her, her exasperated, annoyed glares whenever he'd spout some joke "theory" at a crime scene were honest reactions. Over the second year, they became more and more for show, until he'd turned from shadow into partner. Entering year three now, she'd ditched the pretense, and would just quietly smile.
Yet something was different today, because it happened.
"Who found the body?" Beckett asked, hurriedly adopting her most authoritative tone.
The medical examiner gave her boyfriend a helpful elbow in the side.
"Uh, she's...yeah, over there." Esposito gestured back up the alleyway to where a pair of uniformed officers were questioning a pink-haired woman on their side of the barricade.
"C'mon, Castle, let's...see if she knows anything," Kate shoved her coffee cup into his free hand, turned right around, and fled very professionally towards the witness.
She'd made eye contact with no one.
Castle followed numbly and obediently. He was no fool. Besides, his brain was still processing what he'd heard, and its potential meaning. He barely greeted Ryan as the other detective passed him by.
"Hope you're ready to pay up, baby," Lanie said once Beckett and Castle were out of earshot.
Esposito stared at her, then stared at the retreating duo, then stared at Lanie again. He went for denial. "Naw. No."
"Mmhmm. 'Fraid so." Outside, Lanie was maintaining the proper attitude one should have when dealing with someone crushed by a piano.
Inside? Not so much. Inside, she didn't know what she wanted more-to kick Kate's behind for letting her be just as blindsided as the boys, or to thank Kate for the lovely nest egg of winnings she was soon to receive.
When Ryan reached them, his, "I'm completely lost" look was priceless.
"What's up with those two? I miss somethin'?" He wondered, and the couple shared a private smirk. "Man, I did, didn't I? And...you guys aren't gonna tell me, are you?"
They offered nothing.
"Okay, be that way. It's fine. Because just for this? You're sitting with Jenny's Crazy Uncle Burt at the reception. And no, they don't call him that 'cause he's wacky fun. He's just whacked."
At just after one in the afternoon, Beckett and Castle pulled into the precinct's parking garage. Once the piano was moved, the victim's wallet provided I.D. Then they went to interview next of kin, and then Lanie had preliminary autopsy findings. They kept busy with the case, and Castle kept unusually quiet.
Their journey around the city, unlike this morning's, had been banter-free. Beckett was about to say something, anything to get them back in their rhythm, when-
"Love you, y'know." Talk about going all in.
She had to hand it to Castle. Unintentionally or not, she'd opened a door earlier, and he not only walked through it, he locked it shut behind him. He sounded so offhanded, but he looked terrified. That was how she knew it was real.
She turned off the car. "Just like that?"
He watched her nervously, wanting her to face him, but dreading it at the same time. "Just like that."
It was almost funny to think not that long ago, her biggest fear about getting involved with Richard Castle was that she'd quickly become yesterday's woman. Her biggest, current fear? Becoming the woman, his woman...and nothing else. And she needed everything. She needed to still be his partner and his best friend. She wanted to build on their relationship, both working and personal-not completely redefine it.
Nor did she want to redefine herself. She was a detective with the NYPD. It took her a long time to carve out that identity, and even longer to garner respect. She didn't want the first thing people thought upon seeing her to be, 'Look, it's Rick Castle's girl.'
But she pushed past that fear, because it wasn't rejection that terrified him. Those "case-necessary" kisses they didn't bring up? They could write off every other moment, every flirt, but not them. They couldn't deny their feelings were as strong as they were mutual.
He didn't want their relationship to lose anything either, or her to. He understood her fear, shared her fear, but still went for it. Brave man. She didn't know what would happen, but at least they'd stumble into this on the same page. Not to mention together.
"Eh, kind of figured," she finally spoke, nonchalant.
With those words, she firmly defined how they'd be with each other from this point forward. Which seemed comfortably familiar. At their core, they would remain who they'd always been. Both immediately relaxed.
And Castle didn't miss a beat. "Shut the front door."
She turned toward him. "Speaking of stealing..."
"What can I say? I'm a hack."
"Hmm. You've only got eleven steps to go. I'm so proud," she grinned.
Now his eyes got to roll. "That means a lot." Then he ventured, "Did you really...?"
"Uh huh," she confirmed. "So how about telling me something I don't know?"
"You love me back." Some of the fear crept back in at that bold statement.
Beckett entwined her fingers in his, her smile wide and reassuring. "Nope, sorry, already knew that, too."
"Just like that?" He parroted back her own question.
"Just like that. Wanna try again, Ricky?"
Honestly, if she didn't have a job, she could do this all day. It was entirely much too fun.
He'd gone from looking terrified to looking as if he'd won the lottery on Christmas Day. "Nah, think I'll try quitting while I'm ahead this time. Dare I ask what's next?"
"Here's what won't be. When this gets out? I am not your girlfriend," she poked him in the chest to emphasize this. "Make sure Paula knows that. Being 'romantically linked' to Richard Castle is going to be bad enough."
She was kidding, but then again, she wasn't. It all tied back into the fear. The only way to hang onto her identity in the public eye was to cement it before the media did.
Castle huffed. "Like I'd wanna be your boyfriend."
"Partners, then?" She suggested, knowing he got it.
"In every sense of the word," he agreed softly, eyebrows waggling.
They were in the elevator on the way up to Homicide when Beckett pushed the "emergency stop" button. She couldn't go sit at her desk yet. They'd just admitted to loving each other like it was no big deal, and in one sense it wasn't, but she wasn't ready to just move on with her day and pick "them" up later.
Plus, she wanted to tease him some more.
"You couldn't have waited, I dunno, a day before lamely claiming to love me?" She questioned before he'd even really figured out the elevator had stopped.
"Lamely?" He bristled melodramatically.
"I did just get out of a relationship," she kept going.
"Unlike Doctor Motorcycle Boy, I value my chance, and wasn't going to miss out," he returned her volley. "It's not like you were all that 'broken up' about it."
She shot him a "very funny" look. "That's not the point. There're, you know, rules. Social rules."
He played faux-surprise like a pro. "There are? Darn. It's no fun breaking rules you've never heard of."
"Of course you haven't. Because you have no actual social skills. Though you fake it surprisingly well. For a man-whore," she needled. It was her best yet. Medal-worthy.
He resisted the urge to tip his invisible hat again. That would ruin the game. "I'd be hurt if I weren't oddly turned on. Besides, then wouldn't that make you-?"
"-out of my mind?"
He invaded her personal space at that, until she had none left. Her back was against the rear wall of the elevator. "I find crazy people very, very hot, have I mentioned that?"
His voice had taken on a husky quality.
"If you call me anything deep-fried..." Beckett vaguely warned, low.
"Kate Beckett a guilty pleasure? Never." He was insulted by the idea on her behalf.
He'd lowered his head so his mouth was right at her ear. She felt his breath against her hair, and what he spoke next, he spoke slow and deliberate. This got awful sexy awful fast.
"You're...you're a finely-cooked filet mignon. The kind that's just...the right...shade...of pink. The kind I could eat every day. Better yet, every meal."
"You, uh...don't think you'd get tired of it?" She stuttered in reply, feeling herself blush. "The same thing, all the time?"
"Not when it's something I love," he promised, and pulling back, he saw her cheeks. "Told ya. Pink." The sexiness had left the building.
"Wh-what?" She asked as her equilibrium returned.
He began to gloat victoriously. "Showed you lam-"
Yanking him by the lapels of his coat, she reversed their positions, slammed him against the elevator, and proceeded to plant one on him that Natalie-Freaking-Rhodes wished she had the skills to match. When sufficiently satisfied, she released him.
While Castle clung to the rail, she pushed the button to get them moving.
"I win," she declared, impish.
Air returned to his lungs and strength to his legs, he also had a declaration. "I am well-struck! But our battle has only just begun! Next time we meet, Lady Extraordinary, the tide will have-"
"-dragged the idiot I had to fall for out to sea."
He grumbled, "You aren't gonna stop interrupting me, are you?"
"Writers should be read, not heard," she joked, on fire today.
"Henh. Infinite Henh."
"Now will you shut up so we can go solve a murder?" She requested in a harsh whisper as their floor approached. "If we make halfway decent progress, maybe we'll get outta here early enough for my partner to buy me dinner."
"Ooh! You know what I could go for?" He equaled her volume, the grin back.
"Yeah, and I guarantee it won't be anywhere on tonight's menu."
With her eye roll hat trick, he did a little fist pump.
As the doors slid open, she got in the parting shot. "But there'll be others. Can't let you blow your chance too soon, can I? Stamina, Castle-it's all about stamina."
"Tease. Amazing, amazing tease," he said, in step with her as they left the elevator.
She chuckled, and just like that, they went to work.