Disclaimer: I do not own the Castle franchise or anything associated with it. Wish I did. That would be SWEET.
Summary: Kate supposed it fit that the biggest step of their lives would be summed up in a gesture that would mean nothing to any normal adult.
Author's note: This idea came to me last night and I thought I'd take a break from writing my latest chapters to put this to paper (which doesn't mean those won't come out this week). I liked it, even thought it's a bit different from my two other Castle fics.
The premise is this: We're post-countdown by a number of months. You can assume that all of the episodes we've seen so far have happened, but nothing in the spoilers has gone down. I think the rest speaks for itself.
Feedback would be much appreciated.
"You look less than caffeinated this morning."
Kate glanced up and found herself staring at a cup of coffee. "Thanks, Castle," she replied, taking a grateful swig.
"Long night?" he asked, peering at her.
"No," she evaded.
Kate blew a hair out of her face and then turned back to her computer. "I'm not allowed to look tired? Sorry I'm not up to your standards this morning."
She saw him deflate out of the corner of her eye and bit her tongue. That had been harsh. She busied herself with shuffling papers on her desk and avoiding his eyes.
He just watched her for a minute. "You slept in the break room last night again, didn't you?" he asked quietly.
Kate sighed. She'd taken a shower and thrown on her spare outfit, put on make up—she'd done everything possible to mask the fact that yes, she had spent yet another uncomfortable night on the break room couch.
"I may have," she shrugged. "What's it matter?"
He just looked at her with his patented disapproving glare, telling her without words that he was not pleased. "You have a lovely apartment."
"It has a bed," he continued.
"I'm sure it's a nice bed."
"Don't you ever feel like you're neglecting it and it's getting lonely?" he asked.
Kate rolled her eyes. "My inanimate objects don't have feelings, Castle."
"Now you're just being mean."
"I have a murder to solve," she said, turning to look back at the murder board.
"I know," he said softly. "We're gonna get him. Pinky Promise." He held up his pinky.
Kate stared at him. "You can't pinky promise me that we'll catch the killer, Castle."
"It's binding, Beckett."
"It's a kids thing, Castle."
"Come on," he implored her.
She sighed and put her pinky through his. "Fine, Castle. I pinky promise that we'll catch the killer."
"Together," he added.
"Together," she nodded.
He smiled and then relinquished her hand so that she could go back to work. Kate looked over at him. He looked so sure, and she felt so defeated. It had been a week of run around. They knew who'd killed the little girl, laid out in the pure white dress, her cheeks as pale as her white tights, with a puddle of blood pooling beneath her throat. Dean Jacobson, the perverted owner of the shop where Lilian's father worked had all but confessed to the crime, but, of course, he hadn't. And they couldn't find any evidence to convict him, other than a prior for child pornography and a demeanor that every neighbor deemed, 'creepy.'
They'd turned everything upside down. They could prove he was in the right place at the right time, but they had no evidence. He'd done everything with gloves. There was nothing on the little body that could tell them anything about her killer.
"Lips," Castle said unexpectedly.
Kate relinquished the hold she'd had on her bottom lip with her teeth and opened her mouth. "Excuse me?"
"Lip marks are distinctive, right?"
Kate nodded. "Yeah…they're like finger prints. We learned that with Lady Irena."
"Exactly. We know that pervert…touched Lilian."
She watched him struggle with the thought. The only other thing they'd been able to figure out about the body was that, while she hadn't been raped, she had been molested, even though her killer was wearing gloves. Castle had needed to spend a good ten minutes in one of the smaller interrogation suites after hearing that information. When he'd come out, he was pale and still looked close to vomiting, but he'd plowed on and staunchly refused to leave the case, even when everyone offered him the option.
"Right," Kate replied gently, bringing him out of his thoughts.
"He touched her, so he probably kissed her, wouldn't you think?"
"Lanie's been all over that body looking for prints."
"Right, but once she didn't find any, she moved on to other things. What if she didn't catch it because she missed it?"
"It would have had to have been in some spot that wouldn't normally be examined," Kate added.
"The back of her neck, or just behind her ear," Rick said automatically.
Kate stared at him. "That's oddly specific."
"It's intimate," he explained. "This is a man who thought he had a personal relationship with this…this little girl. So he would want to experience that, right? Would want to…to…to make her feel special," he spat the word out as he fully articulated the thought.
Kate felt her eyes widen. She picked up her phone and dialed. "Lanie," she said hurriedly.
"I need you to check for lip marks on Lilian Chatlan."
"Lip marks. We think Jacobson may have kissed her. Try behind the ears or on the nape of the neck, specifically."
"On it," Lanie assured her.
Kate hung up and she and Castle looked at each other. "You may have just broken this case for us, Castle."
"I'll just be glad when this is over," he admitted.
She looked at him, really looked. His eyes were haunted and there were circles there that she didn't usually see. "How are you doing?"
He smiled. "I'm okay. I slept in a bed last night."
"God, Castle, you make it seem like one night on the couch is the end of healthy living as we know it," Kate sighed.
"One night's nothing. Two, three, four? That's pushing it, even for an insomniac like me. You need decent sleep."
"I need to get the guy that did this," Kate asserted. Her cell rang. "Beckett."
"I got your lip marks," Lanie said excitedly.
"Great, thanks Lanie. I'll send Esposito down to get them, and make sure he makes it back up here."
"There you go, spoiling my fun!" Lanie laughed.
They disconnected and Kate stood up. "Esposito! Could you go down to the morgue and grab the test results from Lanie?" He nodded and disappeared into the elevator. "Ryan, get me Dean Jacobson."
"On it boss!" he called and quickly picked up his phone.
"Were they a match?" Rick asked.
"We'll have to test for it when they get him in here, but I'm sure they are," Kate replied. "Thank you," she added a minute later.
"For ending this," she rubbed at her eyes. "It's been eating all of us alive, and who knows how long it could have taken otherwise."
"I try to be helpful," he shrugged.
Kate gave him a genuine smile. "You are, Castle. Much more than you know, I think."
He grinned. "Thanks."
They sat on the edge of her desk, staring at the empty murder board. It had taken most of the day to get Jacobson in; he'd been more than difficult to track back down. Then the interrogation lasted for forever. After that, there was paper work. And now, now Kate was staring at a blank white board, trying to wrap her head around all of it.
"Are you hungry?" Castle asked, glancing over at her.
"I should be. I just, I don't know if I can handle food right now," she admitted.
"It's over. We got him."
"But she's still dead, and he'll never be sorry." Kate slumped a bit and looked over at her partner. "And it's eating me."
He nodded and she felt his pinky wrap around hers. "It's eating me too."
They turned back to the blank board and Kate felt that bit of her heart that had frozen with this case begin to thaw. It had been weeks since she'd broken up with Josh. He'd gotten another offer to go to Haiti and he had asked her to go with him. She couldn't, and they were back at square one, fighting about how neither would give up the job. He'd said things. She'd said things. Eventually, he picked up his suitcase in the middle of a screaming match and walked to the door, grabbed her in a fierce kiss, and told her to find someone to make her happy. Then he was gone.
She'd thrown herself into every case with increased fervor after he left, finding that going home to an empty apartment was more than she could take. Castle had begun staying later, spending more time annoying her (making her laugh), distracting her (keeping her sane) and pestering her (making sure she ate and slept) once he realized what was going on. They didn't talk about it, but it went as a sort of unspoken rule that they had each other, and that was enough.
They'd been to a few movies, and even out to eat once or twice, or about twenty times, if you counted every trip to Remy's. She'd had dinner at his house and she and Alexis had begun having more meals together without her father. It was as though Tom and Josh and Gina had never existed, and they'd finally gotten back to that place they'd been in after her apartment blew up the year before.
If she let herself, Kate could admit that this was the most peaceful she'd felt in nearly a year. Josh had been wonderful, but he hadn't been there. And for all of the time she'd spent denying the facts, Richard Castle had been there with her through more than she wanted to admit. Here he was, staring at an empty board with her, because she was still horrified by a case.
He pulled her out of her thoughts as he stood and tugged her off the desk by the pinkies they still had linked together. They grabbed their coats and put them on. They got into the elevator and she slipped her pinky into his again, desperate for the tether he provided—desperate for the connection to him he provided.
"Remy's?" he asked as they rode down to the street.
"My place? I don't really feel like being with a lot of people," she suggested.
"Do you have real food there? You've barely even slept there this past week."
"Of course I…no, I don't," she replied.
He laughed and she slapped his chest. "Sorry, sorry. Okay, how about we go back to the loft and I can cook something for us? You liked that pasta I made the other night. I can whip that up pretty quickly."
"Sounds good," she said.
They got to the street and hopped into her car. Kate knew the loft would be as silent as her apartment. Martha was on tour again and Alexis was on a class trip. She was half surprised that Castle hadn't taken to spending every night with her in the Precinct, just to escape the emptiness. Though, to his credit, she had threatened to shoot him if he'd stayed, and when that didn't work, she threatened to get herself put on desk duty.
She easily found a parking spot in front of his building and they hurried inside to get out of the pouring rain. It was like the city was commiserating with them. They rode up to his floor, standing close together and he guided her to his door with a hand on the small of her back.
"Make yourself comfortable, and I'll get cooking," he said as they hung up their jackets and slipped out of their shoes.
"Nah, I'll help you. If I don't cook something soon, I may forget how," she replied, following him into the kitchen.
"I don't like that you haven't been sleeping," he said as they worked seamlessly. It was amazing how at home she was in his loft.
"I know you don't, but I'm a big girl, Castle, I can take care of myself."
He nodded and they worked on in silence for a few minutes. "I just…I like spending time with you," he said quietly, once they'd gotten the pasta in to the pot and started his pesto to simmer. "And I hate to think that at some point, you'll be so run down that I'll be seeing you when I go to visit you in the hospital."
Kate stared at him. He looked so serious. "Castle, I'm not that bad," she protested.
"But Kate," he'd used her first name, "you are. You look exhausted, and mind you, you always look gorgeous, but you're trying."
"I don't follow."
"You're naturally beautiful. But right now? That's concealer doing most of the work. I know those circles under your eyes are darker than they look right now. And you're pale, Kate. You'll be stunning even without the makeup, but you're working much harder than normal to look unflappable and effortlessly beautiful, and I don't like it."
Kate looked down. He was right. She'd been wearing much more make up than normal, and not just for this case. She wasn't sleeping. She hadn't been sleeping well since the bomb a few months ago. Even when Josh was there, she'd had trouble, and now that he was gone, the nightmares were back.
The only nights when it wasn't terrible, were the nights when she fell asleep watching movies with Castle. Maybe it was because they'd faced it all down together. Maybe it was because he knew everything about her—everything she'd never told Josh—and he was still around. Maybe it was because he made her laugh hard enough to forget about everything that made her worried or upset. Maybe it was because he was him.
"I'll try harder," she finally said, just as the bell dinged.
"That's all I ask," he replied. He poured the pasta into bowls, added the sauce, and then led her over to the couch, handing her a bowl in the process.
They sat next to each other, their legs propped up on the coffee table, bowls in their laps, and backs leaning against the couch, as was their norm. "What are we watching?" she asked as she happily popped a piece of pasta into her mouth.
"Dunno," he replied, nudging her.
This was their bit. Every time they tried to sit down and watch anything, they ended up going round in circles until one of them got fed up and found a random channel. Kate nudged him back.
"Just pick a channel, Castle, or we'll be staring at commercials all night."
He laughed and settled on the discovery channel to watch Mythbusters. Kate smiled. He was such a geek.
"You can't tell me that's not cool," he said a few minutes later as they watched Adam Savage escape a sinking car.
"No, guess I can't," Kate shrugged.
"Come on Beckett! I know you're a closet geek in there."
"Whatever you need to tell yourself, Castle," she laughed.
Soon their pasta bowls were resting on the coffee table and they leaning against each other, Kate's head on his shoulder and one of his hands playing with the fabric of her work pants on her knee.
"I'm really glad we caught him," Castle said quietly.
"Me too," Kate replied, lacing her fingers through his.
This small contact had become increasingly common for them as the weeks had passed. From nudges and pokes to hugs and sitting much closer than was professionally acceptable, they'd just seemed to give in to the fact that they wanted to comfort each other. Kate couldn't say what it had been, exactly, that had broken that barrier once and for all. All she knew was that one night he looked like he needed a hug, and she just gave it to him.
She chuckled at the memory. It had taken him a good thirty seconds to hug her back. And then, of course, he hadn't let go for the longest time. Not that she'd minded.
"Oh, nothing," Kate replied, glancing over at him.
"Come on, tell me!"
"It's not fair; you shouldn't get to keep the joke to yourself. I love jokes."
Kate laughed. "I know, believe me."
He really was a nine year old sometimes. "I was…" she started and then stopped. Should she really tell him she was laughing about their first non-case-mandatory hug?
"You were?" he prompted.
"I was thinking about, um…"
"Ooh, it must be good if you're stammering," he said excitedly. Kate shut her mouth and glared at him. "Okay, not a mocking moment. Got it." She just looked at him, trying to figure out what she wanted to say. "You can tell me, you know. I won't tease you if it's something personal."
Should she tell him? What would that do? Would it change everything? She was secretly enjoying their physical contact, so much that she'd begun initiating half of it. She stood too close to him. She took his hand. She leaned into him in the elevator, and bought him drinks after work. She invited him over for movies and out to eat. She happily spent her time with him, without Nikki Heat or the Mayor there to force her to do so.
"If it's really too much, I'll stop prying," he said, alerting her to the fact that she'd been silent for too long.
"No, I just…I like this, okay?"
"Watching TV? Most people do."
"No. I like…I like our after work time," she said quickly, looking down at the hands they had laced together on her knee.
"I like it too," he replied, giving said hand a squeeze. "Is that why you were laughing? The idea is that preposterous?"
Kate giggled. "No, of course not. I was, heh, um…the first time I hugged you? Not in the graveyard or in front of the bomb, you know?"
"A couple of weeks ago, you mean?" She was very glad that he hadn't called her on the fact that she knew exactly when their other two hugs had been.
"Yeah. I was just remembering, uh, how long it took you to hug me back."
"And then how I didn't really let go until you found my ear?"
Kate smiled. "Yeah. I was just reliving that moment. It was funny."
"Not for my ear," he grumbled, reaching up to rub at it with his free hand.
"Oh suck it up, Castle."
He laughed and she felt him leaning into her as his fingers slipped from hers. She was momentarily confused until she felt his arm wrapping around her shoulders. She smiled and allowed him to tug her closer, until she was wrapped up in Richard Castle, her head resting on his chest and her legs thrown over his.
It had been weeks of quiet contact—of long nights of movies and cuddling. And through it all, they'd never taken that next step. Kate couldn't decide whether that surprised her or not. She'd assumed long ago that if Richard Castle tried to get her, really and truly tried, he'd have her, and she'd basically be helpless to stop it, because she'd want it so damn much.
But now, she wasn't so sure of where they stood, since Richard Castle had been content to hug and cuddle her for weeks, without so much as one romantic advance. She blushed as his hands began to run up and down her back and she hid her face in his neck as he found that spot just below the nape of her neck that made her shiver. Maybe he wasn't so innocent after all; he did spend an inordinate amount of time touching all those places that made her lose her breath…even if they were only the kosher, above-clothing spots.
"Hey, hey," she said feebly as his fingers began to work under her camisole, rubbing across the small of her back.
"You want me to stop?" he asked, his breath hot against her forehead.
"I…" she sighed as his fingers made another pass, making her melt. Tension was literally pouring out of her. Of course she didn't want him to stop. "I…"
"You…" he said softly, a hint of teasing in his voice. "Don't tell me this is all it takes to get the unflappable Katherine Beckett to crack?"
Kate swatted at his chest with all the energy she could muster. She was so tired, and he was comfortable and warm and his hands were doing very nice things to her skin…she couldn't find it in herself to be snarky.
"Katherine Beckett, no. Kate? Maybe," she breathed.
She felt his chest hitch and all of a sudden he was pulling back, his hands finding her shoulders so that they could look at each other.
"Kate," he said unevenly.
So this was their moment. Kate took a deep breath as they stared into each others' eyes. The question he was trying to ask her, without actually saying anything, was obvious. And she found that she only had one answer. She nodded very slowly.
His eyes lit up and then his hands were on her cheeks, pulling her closer until their lips met in a tentative kiss that sent shockwaves up and down her body. Timidity gave way to familiarity as he tugged her back into his lap to cradle her against him as their mouths moved together. It was as though this was what they did every night; kissing was like talking and bantering and fighting. And they were good at it. Hell, they were great at it, Kate thought as she felt herself moan.
When they finally broke apart for air, Castle—Rick—leaned his forehead against hers. "That little moan you do? Sexy as hell, you know."
"You like that, huh?" she asked, breathless.
"Yeah," he murmured as his lips found their way to her neck.
Kate sighed and ran her fingers through his hair. "Rick," she said quietly.
He picked his head up instantly and met her eyes. "Yeah?"
"Are we…" she took a deep breath. She was Kate. She was strong. She was a woman. She could ask this question. Really, she could. "Is this?"
"Yes," he said simply, staring straight into her eyes.
"This is it."
She felt her stomach drop for a second, before her whole body tingled with the weight of his words. This was it. This was it. This was her 'one and done.' This was her forever. And they'd just kissed, really kissed, for the first time.
"Going too fast?" he laughed. "God, Kate, if nearly four years is too fast, then we're more messed up than I thought."
She laughed with him. "Okay."
"Okay?" he asked, his eyes very wide. She could see the excitement he was holding back.
"Yes," she said quietly. "Yes. It. Us. Always, Rick."
"You called me Rick," he grinned.
"Well, I'm certainly not going to call you Castle for the rest of my life," she laughed. For the rest of her life.
He seemed to be on the same wavelength. She found herself being pulled into a mind-blowing kiss a second later that left her toes curling and brain spinning when it ended some minutes later.
"Always," he whispered against her lips.
She smiled and tugged him closer, wrapping her pinky finger through his. "Promise?"
And, though it wasn't a contract, or a vow, or anything a normal adult would consider the be all and end all, Kate knew that this was it. They'd pinky promised on it, and that was binding.
PS. Does anyone know why my hit count chart is down? It's been saying I've had 0 hits for days…which I know isn't true because people are still adding my stories to their favorites/alerts. I'm so confused.