A/N: Never thought I'd be writing anything for Castle, and this is far from an original premise (I'm sure). Nonetheless.
Chapter 10 (a story about smut, containing none)
He writes smut. But that's okay. It's justified smut: justified by the characters, by his prestige, by the high-quality paper on which they print his books (he's not writing pulp, here).
But when he sits down at his laptop, white screen blank at the part of chapter 10 where there needs to be a few aggressively salacious pages, he can't help but feel a little...cheap. He has a method for producing those pages, and it doesn't make him proud.
It doesn't 'just happen' the way he likes to say it does in interviews. Erotica is a different kind of writing. Sex isn't plot or denouement or the garden-variety banter that comes so easily to him. Compared to the juicy parts, the rest of the book just about writes itself.
The guys at his poker table give him shit for what they like to call his 'performance anxiety'; they tell him it isn't as hard as he makes it out to be. It's just sex. Everybody does it, and everybody does it the same way. Castle doesn't call them out on the fact that he can think of at least a hundred different ways to do 'it,' only a few of which he's ever tried (but plenty of which he'd like to).
The old writers split their pricey, alcoholic gifts from agents and publishers and they tell him what words to use, what words to avoid, and even the cadence of fucking. One paragraph for anticipation, one for foreplay, and penetration comes in the third, right before the fade-to-black.
Castle swallows hard and pretends that this is extremely useful advice.
But when he's back home, alone with the page, he knows he can't stomach being responsible for even one of those generic, full-breasted, hot-rodded cringe-fests.
And he knows how he's going to avoid it.
He gets himself a bottle of wine, putting off the inevitable because, as helpful as it's going to be, it's nothing he feels good about doing.
For hours, Castle tries - really, he does - to do the work himself, tries to smash his sincerity into letters and spaces, but it comes out naive and it reads like a high school literary magazine. He doesn't understand how he can be good at everything else and still be so terrible at this.
At midnight, he takes out his cell phone and puts it on the table next to his laptop.
He pours the wine.
He downs the wine.
"Beckett," she answers. There's no trace of sleep in her voice but he knows she was trying for it, laying in bed awake, reaching for the phone when it buzzed and not bothering to check the caller.
"Hey," he says, fraudulently calm.
"Castle," she says. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Of course." The pause he takes is too long for an impatient city cop.
"Right." He exhales. "So, I was thinking about Alexis. Actually, I was thinking about that thing you said: how you were, once upon a time, a tattooed, motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket sniffing-"
"Be careful, Castle, I still own that leather jacket."
"Get to the point."
"Point is: you said lots of girls go through a...phase like that. So. What if-" he stumbles, "-what if Alexis isn't one of those girls? What if this thing with her friends and the stealing isn't a phase?"
"Well, what if?" she asks.
"I mean," he says, "what if she doesn't stop at harmless accessory to larceny? What if she goes full-on card-carrying Hells Angel?"
"You're saying that would be a bad thing," Beckett says, and on the phone it's so hard to tell when she's kidding.
"You trust her, don't you?" she demands.
"I do," he says.
"Then you're fine. She's going to be the same person now as she will when she gets that first leather jacket," she tells him. He believes it. "Just more..."
"...scary?" he finishes.
"I was going to say cool."
"Right," he says, but he keeps driving the point: "But, see, I trust her, Beckett. The rest of the world makes me worry. What if she brings home some guy on the back of her...hog? Is it hog?"
"Hog. Bike. Chopper. Whatever."
"And what if that guy...isn't a nice guy?"
"What are you saying about bikers, Castle?" she challenges. She's smirking; he knows that much. He sighs.
"I just..." He leans forward, resting his elbows on the table. "How is it that a badass like you can end up with Captain America?"
"Don't call my boyfriend Captain America," she says.
"Doctors Without Borders? All he's missing is the magic shield. Should I stick with Dr. Motorcycle Boy?"
"No. Thank you." Beckett pauses, thinking, organizing Castle's scattered line of questioning in her head. "So. What you really want is for me to reassure you that bad girls can still like good boys."
"Yes," he says cautiously.
"Come on! I need a little more than that."
"Like...why? Why do you like him?"
"Why do I like a man who does great, selfless things for the world, looks like Mr. September from the FDNY calendar and treats me like a queen? Gosh, Castle, I don't know."
"There's an FDNY calendar?" His eyebrows arch.
"Oh god, yes," she says, and the tone of her voice makes his eyebrows arch higher.
"Wow. Should I...I mean, you have a half-birthday coming up-"
"Not unless you want me to have an extra copy for the office."
"Probably not necessary," he agrees. He thinks for a moment. "Hey, ever thought about maybe putting out an NYP-"
Castle smiles into the phone. For a minute, both sides are quiet. "What do you see in him?" he asks, finally, in a voice significantly smaller than it was before. He sounds tired, even to himself. Beckett, to her credit, actually considers the question seriously.
"I see myself," she says. "And that makes it easy." She waits for him to speak, but he doesn't. "Castle?"
"This wasn't one of those questions that's secretly about Nikki Heat, was it?"
There's a blip in his facade, a tripped-up pause. "What do you mean?" he asks casually.
"Like, when you call me up and ask me a bunch of questions for character research, and then swear that's not what you're doing?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he says. "Goodnight, Beckett."
He hangs up and starts to type:
"What do you see in him?" Castle asked. Beckett's boyfriend thing was getting to him. He'd thought he'd finally been getting closer to the mysterious detective, but apparently, he'd been wrong.
"He's a nice guy, Castle," Beckett said. Obviously he was a nice guy: another three dates and Beckett's desk would be its own ecosystem, what with all the flowers. She looked like a deer in a meadow, sitting at her chair, mostly up to her neck in blossoms.
"He clearly doesn't want you to get anything done," he pointed out. "Though maybe he's just trying to help you stay organized: murders get filed in the hydrangeas, missing persons in the tulips, crimes of passion in the roses."
"Sad that nobody sends you flowers?"
"Maybe a little." He leaned down to smell a lilac cluster. "Lilacs are a little immature, don't you think? Symbols of the first stirrings of love, a portent of new romance...shouldn't he be a little further into the process by now?"
"You make it sound so romantic, Castle, you really do."
"So he's a nice guy. That's what you go for, nice guys?" He leaned on the corner of her desk, irritated with how much of his leaning space had been co-opted by vases.
"Does that surprise you?" she shot back, trying not to be distracted. "Should I be waiting at the prison for the next wave of parolees instead?"
"I just never would have thought: Kate Beckett, professional honey badger, would find happiness dating some adorable Prince of Lightness."
Beckett looked up at him from her case file. "Do you feel like actually working a case today? Or would you rather we knock off early and go discuss my love life over cappuccinos?"
"I know where we can get the best foam in town."
She shook her head. "I'm not a professional honey badger," she said, eyeing him severely, "though I'm not even sure what that means." Castle was about to tell her, but the look she gave him meant that he really, really shouldn't. "But I'm dating him because I like him for him," she said. "End of discussion."
Castle nodded. "Can I say one more thing, then, before the pollen count renders me permanently incapable of speech?"
"Maybe," she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
"I know you," he started, "and I know you don't like him for him. You like him because he reminds you of you." He could see her open her mouth for rebuttal, but he didn't give her the space to get a word in. "You're with him because he's so much like you that you don't have to think about how to fit yourself into another person, one who likes you because you're not just like them. You're scared of how that would work, and you're terrified that it wouldn't work because you don't really have anywhere or anyone to go to if that person let you down."
He moved around the desk toward her.
"Mr. 1-800-Flowers is easy; he's not going to let you down. Look at these ridiculous things - he's falling all over himself to keep you happy. But you're missing something, and it bothers you, because you don't like to settle for less than the best you can have."
"What am I settling for, then?" she asked, going for strong and defiant but succeeding at something much, much softer.
"The real question is: what are you getting? And what do you want?"
"And you think you know? You think you know what I want?" Beckett crossed her arms over the file in front of her. "Why don't you tell me, then; I need a good laugh."
"I'm not saying this as a friend or a partner," Castle said. He was almost all the way around the desk, hanging at the last corner. "I'm saying this as a writer."
"Is that significant?"
"It's the most serious level of significant. If you haven't noticed, I'm a critically acclaimed, best-selling judge of character."
"Whatever, Castle," she said, and tried to hide herself in the photos of the dead girl partially obscured by her forearms.
"You want to be challenged," he continued, uninvited. "You want love to be this unsolvable thing that moves, evolves, keeps you guessing, and you want a partner, not a reflection. You're dying for someone to outsmart you at your own invulnerability and give you the feeling that you don't know everything there is to know."
"And where would that get me?" She looked up again and maybe she resented what he was saying but she wanted to hear more.
"Scared. It'd get you scared. And worried, maybe. But definitely intrigued."
"And that's the essence of true love, isn't it," she growled. Castle pulled his rolling chair to where he stood and sat on the edge of its seat, elbows on his knees, head cocked toward her to shield her face from nosy passers-by.
"You think it is. You know it is," he said. He watched her fake-read a note in the file. "Why aren't you a desk detective?"
"I'm more effective on the street."
"You're happier on the street."
"Well, hell, Castle," she said, as sarcastic as she could make it, "no correlation there, huh?"
Castle shook his head. "You're a risk-taker. You like the risks because you know the reward is worth it: you put yourself out there to see the limits of what you can do. And you like what you see."
Her eyes were changing. Getting softer, sadder.
"You're perfect at this job," he told her. "Everyone here knows that. You know that."
"What's your point," she whispered.
"You don't know who you are, outside of this job." He put a hand out on the desk, next to hers but not touching. "And it's just easier not to take the risk of finding out."
"I know who I am," she said, a spark of rage in it. "I know exactly who I am. And you can't sit there and tell me-"
She stopped dead when he put his hand on hers.
"-tell me-" she tried to continue, but couldn't.
"How does this make you feel?" he asked her. "Comfortable? Does this feel easy?"
She shook her head. The way he was looking at her was making everything blurry at the edges.
"When Captain America touches your hand, does it feel like this?"
Shook it again.
"No," he said. "It wouldn't. Because everything about him is easy for you."
She bit her lip.
"Beckett. You hate easy." He took his hand away and watched her shoulders fall from where she'd drawn them together. She removed her hand from the desk, where he might take it again. Rubbing her wrist, she had no idea what to say.
"I'm not easy," he said. "And I'm way past the point of sending lilacs."
He stood up, pushing the rolling chair gently in the other direction.
"I'm going to sit this case out," he said. "But I'll be at home. If you need me."
She watched him go, wishing she hadn't heard the way he'd said that last part.
When she knocked on his door, she was terrified. Terror was a relatively novel feeling for her, but she was finding that she did almost enjoy it, after all.
He opened the door with a shirt unbuttoned to the fourth button. If her boyfriend - her ex-boyfriend, since an hour ago - had been Mr. September, Castle was Mr. January-through-June.
"Castle," she said, dropping her chin to avoid his eyes.
She smiled in spite of herself.
"Come in," he offered, and she accepted, skirting past him. His kitchen smelled like the remnants of takeout. "Saved you some panang."
"I didn't come for food." She hadn't meant to be so direct: it'd just come out of her mouth that way. He stopped halfway to the fridge and turned to watch her walk toward him.
"Pleasure of my company, then?"
"In a manner of speaking." Five steps was all it took to put her in front of him. "Scare me, Castle," she said.
He smiled slightly, studied her face and then made as if to put his arms around her waist, but stopped. "'Scream 2' scary, or 'Exorcist' scary?" he asked, and for a second she thought she'd kill him before they'd been together a week.
"Do you really know me at all, or was all that talk before just for show?" she asked.
"Cutting to the chase, then," he said. His hands locked behind her. She was surprised at how clearly she could feel his heartbeat against her chest, even through his shirt, but then he dipped his head and kissed her, hard, and she stopped thinking about his heartbeat at all.
Castle hit [Enter] and kept going, letting the words spill out of him the way he felt it in his hands, his chest, his whole body. The way he would do it, if he could.
An hour passed and he barely noticed, until it was four in the morning and he had a headache from staring at the screen. And then it was done, the whole sweaty, breathless thing.
Pushing back in his chair, he stared up at the ceiling, wondering if he should be feeling guiltier that it wasn't Rook and Nikki's names splashed around in Courier New. Maybe someday, he would.
Maybe someday, he wouldn't have to.
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