Worst of Times
In honor of Carolina17's birthday. Happy birthday, babe! You're the best.
"You can either be the guy who makes my life easier, or the guy who makes my life harder." -Kate Beckett Season 1, Episode 1
Sitting on the other side of the interrogation table from Detective Beckett, Richard Castle's first thought? Let him be both.
Second thought? Much the same as the first, but in vivid pictures of just how hard he can be, just how easy she can be. There are handcuffs involved in that one too.
Third thought? Well, mostly a lot like the second one, and the ones after it. But the next thought he has that doesn't involve doing lewd acts with Detective Smoking Hot Beckett? He wants, so very badly, to be the guy in her life. Period.
"Beckett. . ."
"Beckett. . ."
"Beckett. . . "
Her head snaps around, her eyes flashing. "What, Castle?"
Uh-oh. "Never mind."
"Unh-uh. No you don't," she retorts, leaning across the side of her desk to get very, very close to him. He smells cherries. He hunkers down in his seat to ride it out. "You've been pestering me for the last hour, Castle. Now you have my attention. Talk."
Not a good time for this. He will wait. (He hasn't been able to wait. He's too excited.) "It'll keep," he says, giving her a weak smile.
"Castle, I swear to God-"
"In your current frame of mind, I don't think He'd be very happy with that."
She half-rises, looking seriously like she might actually do him bodily harm, but then snatches her coffee mug and stalks past him.
Esposito gives him the evil eye from across the way. "Good job, Castle. You get to abandon ship, but we gotta stay here with *that* after you riled her up. Didn't you read the sign?"
Castle looks at him blankly. "What sign?"
"Do not tease the animals."
Rick narrows his eyes and gets up, heading for the break room. "*I* am not the tease. She is the tease."
"Sure, sure. Just go fix that before you leave, punk."
Castle grumbles to himself but finds Beckett pouring the crap coffee into her mug. "Are we back to you avoiding the espresso machine?"
"Castle. Now is not a good time."
"It's kinda the only time I got."
"What are you talking about?" She clanks the coffee pot back onto the warmer without looking, her eyes shooting straight to his, her face washed out.
Castle rewinds the scene, then realizes what he's said, or at least how it sounds. "No, no, no. I didn't mean I'm gonna die, I mean, this has been the only time I'm not crazy busy or you're not crazy busy. Summer's coming; I'm trying to finish the next book, you're. . .you."
Her face has managed to regain some color during his explanation, but he notices that she has wrapped both hands around her mug. As if to keep them from shaking. Adrenaline. "I'm me," she says slowly. "Well, what is it you just have to tell me?"
"It's more like a question."
"No. I'm not going with you to the Hamptons," she says and moves to brush past him.
"If that was a joke, it's not funny." Castle reaches out to grab her as she passes. Last summer's issues were put behind them, he thought.
She shoots him a death stare that should shrink his balls, but maybe he's getting used to those looks because he doesn't let go. "Castle."
"Kate." He knows his quiet seriousness has gotten to her; the veil of pissed irritation drops. That thing in her eyes that he's seen, so rarely at first but more and more lately, that thing flares to life with such fierce intensity that he takes a step back.
And ruins it. The wall is back. He silently curses himself for proving her right, proving that he *can't* handle her. He knows what's wrong, knows that she expects to be dropped the moment he gets bored. He still hasn't proved himself. Still.
He steps closer, trying to erase the distance, and curls his hands around her forearms, his fingers caressing the back of her elbows. "Not the Hamptons, Kate."
"Then what?" she asks. He can hear her struggling to maintain that sneering I could care less, but it fails. He hears instead the Don't hurt me again behind it.
"What?" She startles backwards, breaking his grip on her.
"Dinner. Someplace nice. You and me."
"No." She frowns at him and tries to move past.
Castle catches her again, drags her back around in front of him again. "Kate."
"Castle," she says back, eyebrow raised.
"Dinner. You and me."
"I heard you the first time."
He presses his advantage and pushes her to a seat; she stands back up immediately, and Castle taps her shoulders to push her back down.
"You might have heard, but you aren't listening."
"Castle, this isn't a good time."
He swallows hard but doesn't relent. She's trying to warn him off, but he won't be intimidated. He isn't backing down now. "If I don't take my chance, Kate, something else will come between us. Someone else will come along. This is the right time. This is the only time."
"No." But she's hunched over in the seat, her hands clasped together on her knees.
"Dinner," he insists, sitting down across from her and clasping her hands between his, stroking the outside of her fingers slowly. "Dinner with me."
"And you'll never bring it up again?"
"No," he says honestly. "I'll ask again and again until you say yes to a second date. Even if the first one bombs. Even if the first date gets interrupted by a body dropping or a family emergency or another terrorist attack. I'll ask again. And again."
"Are you serious?" she moans, and withdraws her hands from his to bury her head.
She looks up; he can see her wavering. "No, Castle."
"Yes." Castle snags her hands again, drawing them down from her face to cradle them between his own. Castle presses a kiss to her knuckles that pulls a startled gasp from her.
"Castle," she protests, meeting his eyes finally.
He raises one hand to caress her cheek, push that hair back from her face. When they first met, her hair was short, spiky on the ends, rather cop. Lately, she's let it grow out, let it fall past her shoulders, let it curl. It makes her softer. Every time he looks at her now, it's like a hook in his gut. He wants to twist her hair in his fist and bring her against him, rough and gentle at the same time.
She captures his wandering hand, leans back. "Not here, Castle."
"That means somewhere else?"
She shoots him a look and scoots back, getting to her feet again. "Just. Not here."
He takes that as a yes.
He has reservations for Friday night and ambushes her at work dressed in his best suit. She stares at him in disbelief. When he produces a bouquet of flowers, she takes him by the ear into the conference room.
"Ow, ow, ow!" he yelped.
"What the hell, Castle? I told you- -not here!"
"If not here, where else would you be?"
She's furious, but he knows what lies behind it. Knows he saw a moment of longing in her eyes the other day. And that's what he banks on now. He doesn't say a word, just stands there in his suit, and presents her the flowers again.
She snatches them out of his hand and smacks his arm. "Castle."
"No. I'm not even dressed for this."
"I have a car. I can either take you home first, or you can wear what I picked out."
She steps back. "You bought me another dress?"
Castle shifts, but tries to keep still. Show no weakness. "Yes."
"Please?" He knows it sounds a little desperate, but it's apparently just the right thing to say. He sees her relent, sees her shoulders slump as she gives in.
"Fine. Let me finish up my paperwork-"
"Ryan's got it." Castle gestures over her shoulder.
She turns to see Ryan waving at them through the window. "Castle," she growls.
"He doesn't know it's a date!" Castle steps around her to block her view. "He thinks I'm just taking you to get dinner. Long day. Long week."
She frowns and crosses her arms. "And you're dressed in a suit, with flowers? Right."
"I told them I had a benefit later."
She doesn't look convinced, but she is already relenting. He has her. "Come on. Time to go, Kate."
She makes him wait a long, long time before she heads for the door. He follows at a safe distance until she reaches the elevator; he tries to keep his smile from showing. When the doors open, she gets in and asks, "Where are we going?"
He grins, doesn't try to hide it. "To dinner."
She just sighs.
"You bought me a dress."
"I did it before. You didn't seem to mind."
She sighs. "But that was for a case."
"That was for the job, Castle."
He leans toward her in the car, across the great divide, clasps her hand with his. "This is most definitely not for the job. But it's a classy dress. A little slutty, but not too-"
"Castle!" She jerks her hand away to give him the death stare.
"They'd have to revoke my man card if I bought you a dress that covered things." He gives her a pitiful look, like it's completely out of his hands.
Why does he have to look so damn attractive? It makes her furious. She's going because there isn't really a good reason not to go, but she wants there to be one. A reason. Doesn't she? An excuse. Anything to reroute this track they're taking. It's going to hit them like a ton of bricks when the train comes through.
"I'm not wearing that dress."
"I'll just bring it up with me. How about that?"
"You think you're coming up with me?" she snaps, withdrawing against the door.
He nods happily.
"Think again, Castle."
Somehow, he's at her heels at her front door as she unlocks it, the box in both hands, on his tiptoes with excitement. Bouncing. She shoves open the door, yanks her key out of the lock, and spins on her heel to glare at Castle as he comes in behind her. That ever-eager face of his, his eyes peering around to take in every detail, sucking her soul out of her just by looking at the place. She remembers hearing somewhere that certain Native American tribes didn't like to have their picture made back in the day because they felt it robbed them of their souls. It feels like that now, as Castle clicks away in his head, storing all this for later.
She unclips her badge and unbelts her holster. She handles the gun expertly, carefully, as always, but makes a point of letting Castle see it. The display doesn't dampen his enthusiasm, and she huffs again and heads for her bedroom and the box.
Everything goes back in the box: the gun, the badge, the watch, the ring on its chain. The pieces of her armor put away one by one. The elements of justice. Without those four things, she's left standing alone in her bedroom, fighting the urge to open the hanging bag and try on whatever is inside, like a little girl playing dress up with her mother's clothes. Her hands are shaking.
She closes the lid, closes her eyes for a moment of breathing room, and hears Castle coming down the hall.
Towards her room.
"Are you decent?"
"Yes," she grumbles.
She meets his mirth with a glare, but he places the hanging bag on her bed and stands there waiting. Waiting for her to open it and see.
"I have my own clothes, Castle."
"Just look at it," he says softly, and it isn't his normal excited voice. It's something different, a pause in their usual back and forth, just enough real expectation and unmitigated hope that she can't refuse him. He's nervous. She heard it in that voice.
She makes a fist and digs it into her thigh, praying she can stick to her guns, but determination deserts her. She reaches the bed in two quick strides and has the bag unzipped with a flip of her wrist.
Just a little black dress. She pulls it out; it tumbles down to knee length, a slit up the skirt that is both modest and appealing, with a deep v-neck that probably will be flattering. Would be, if she were to wear it. Not at all slutty. Quite classy. And just holding it, holding it, makes her feel beautiful.
Damn. She chews on the inside of her cheek, trying to formulate a response that doesn't sound as schoolgirl as she feels.
"I'll let you change," he says softly, that voice again, and touches her elbow as he turns to leave. But she's already seen the pleasure in his eyes.
She takes her time because she can, and because, if she's being honest, it matters how she looks. She thinks about straightening her hair, to be different for once, but that will take an hour or more, and she's not sure he'll wait that long. Instead, she pins it up halfway, letting it wave around her ears, tumble down to her shoulders. She uses her mother's hair clips, costume jewelry really, but the mother of pearl shines in the light and highlights the pink in her cheeks.
She uses lip gloss and reapplies her eyeliner, a little heavier, bolder, then uses eye shadow to suggest that her eyes are a more brilliant green than they really are. She dusts powder across her forehead, along her nose, studies the shadows under her eyes critically. If she uses concealer, it'll be cracked and settled into the lines around her eyes by ten o'clock. Instead, she dusts white eye shadow beneath the corners of her eyes, and the shadows lighten.
Kate brushes her hair back over her shoulder and turns around to the hanging garment bag. The black dress is tucked inside, so she pulls it back out and holds it up against her body. It will be a perfect fit of course. Probably a little tighter than she cares to wear, if she goes by his past acquisition for her. That red dress fit her like a glove, although, honestly, it'd probably be a little looser now than it was then. She's lost some weight this past summer, with everything and Castle leaving and-
Well, stress twists her stomach in knots, and she's been stressed.
She unzips the side and steps into the dress. Form-fitting, the pencil skirt clings to her thighs. She zips it up under her arm and smooths the material down over her torso, then half-turns to check it out in the mirror.
She looks good. She knows it. Castle's going to-
Best stop right there.
Kate checks her make up again, then twists full circle to make sure she hasn't left any deodorant spots or smudges of powder on the dress.
It's elegant and sexy, and she feels powerful in a dress like this. She steps into atrociously high heels with a peekaboo toe, grabs her clutch (which still has her snub-nosed .38 special in it, cleaned only yesterday), then dumps stuff out of her jacket pockets looking for her id and some money. She goes back to the box holding her service weapon and badge, debates over whether or not she should bring it, but decides that leaving it at home is just asking for something to happen. So, in the bag goes the badge, the .38 special, her phone, id, some cash, and her lip gloss.
Ready now, Kate takes a deep breath, constricted a little by the strictures of the dress, and faces herself in the mirror.
You can do this, Kate.
Castle is rifling through her books, skimming the titles, when he hears the door to her bedroom open behind him. He spins around, eagerly anticipating the dress, the look, and is stunned into immobility by Kate's appearance.
He breathes out, nearly choking, and watches her walk towards him slowly, like a minx, sleek and dark and divine. Castle's fingers twitch with wanting, but he can't move.
She stops right before him, smooths a hand down her skirt, and he realizes that she's nervous, that the whole walk down the hallway to meet him was an act.
"God, you're beautiful," he murmurs, stepping in close because he can't help himself, places two hands on her hips and a kiss to her cheek.
She flushes pink; he's delighted by that blush and how she doesn't draw back. He keeps his hands on her hips, smiling so wide it hurts.
And then she pushes against his chest and breaks his hold. "Let's go, Castle."
He happily follows her out of her apartment, waits while she locks up, staring at her up and down. Her legs are long, the flash of skin at the slit of her skirt tantalizing, and the smooth expanse of her back-
"Stop staring, Castle."
"Staring is caring," he retorts, and reaches for her hand once she has her door locked. Her step falters, and she tugs back, but he won't let go. Her hand is warm, a little sweaty, and now he's really certain: she is totally nervous about this. He laces his fingers through hers, squeezes, and pulls her hand close to his thigh so that she has to walk a little closer to him.
She stumbles in her heels (he's never seen her stumble, not once), falling into his side. Castle catches her, waits until she gets her balance back, but doesn't let her get much further away from him.
"Are you going to let go?" she says, turning to him and frowning. "You're throwing off my balance, Castle."
He grins and jiggles her hand. "No way. Get used to it. You can adapt."
She rolls her eyes at him, but doesn't try to jerk her hand away. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise. But I'll give you a hint. There's dancing."
He has a good clip going down the hallway when she stops suddenly, bringing him up short.
"I'm not dancing with you. I don't dance, Castle."
"That's a lie. You dance."
She says nothing, just stares him down. He's not having it tonight.
"You dance," he insists and tugs on her hand again. "And you'll dance with me. After dinner."
Castle ignores that and draws closer to take her elbow, propels her towards her elevator. "Come on, Kate. We have reservations."
She's freaked. Definitely freaked.
They're in the West Village now, the car sliding through traffic easily, driving them ever closer to whatever Castle has planned for tonight. She's this close to panicking, but she can't let it show. That will only inflate Castle's ego. Or maybe the opposite. She's not sure, exactly, how far she can push Castle before he gives up on her.
She's always been too much.
She sucks in her breath and tries to keep her abs tight. The dress is a little unforgiving. She shifts in the seat, her hand still trapped by Castle's, and watches the city skyline. West Village. Where in the West Village? She needs to breathe.
"Here we are," Castle says as the car pulls to a stop.
Oh my word. Oh my. . .
The white archway, the ancient brickwork, the alley, the two planters in front of the door.
"One If By Land?" she asks, but she knows the answer. One If By Land, Two If By Sea is one of the most expensive, romantic restaurants in the city.
"TIBS," he agrees.
"That is my name."
"This is too much. This place is seriously expensive." And seriously romantic. And she isn't ready for that right now.
"You do know I'm seriously loaded, right?" He gives her a look and steps out of the car, then reaches back to hand her out.
There's no sign out front; it's that elite. When they walk through the front doors, the hostess greets them with a clipped smile and takes Kate's wrap as Castle gives his name. He puts his hand at her back, and that's okay, she thinks it's okay, and follows the hostess towards the back.
The place is seriously romantic. Dim light, a pianist working the keys of a beautiful baby grand. Fresh flowers decorate every table, the brick walls rise above their heads to meet sparkling chandeliers. Two large fireplaces at one end crackle with flames, warming the drafty room. Lovely wood beams frame the arched doorways leading to the kitchens and private rooms; the windows are french doors that lead out into a garden.
Their table, draped in a white cloth, is near that garden, and five tables around them in a circle are graced with reserved signs, which gives them a modicum of privacy in the restaurant. Castle waits behind her chair to push it in once she's seated, and then he moves around, holding his tie against his chest, and sits down himself.
"It's a chef's tasting tonight, so the menu is mostly set. But if there's anything you don't like or want, just let them know and they'll switch it out." Castle looks to the hostess who nods her affirmation.
"Can I take your drink order?" the girl says, her hands behind her back. "Your waiter will be over in a minute."
"Can you bring us a bottle of-?"
"No. Just a glass of house white for me," Kate interrupts.
Castle looks over at her, raising an eyebrow, his lips quirking. "Make mine a house white wine as well."
When the hostess leaves, he leans forward. "I hope their house stuff is worth it. If not, I'm so changing our order."
She raises an eyebrow back, leans forward with some approximation of confidence, and said, "Castle. I make my own decisions."
He leans back, blowing out his breath with a grin. "Point taken, Detective."
He likes to watch her eat, delicate and cautious, the fork not hitting her teeth (which he totally loves, in a weird, OCD kinda way). She savors every little thing; he can tell even though she's trying so hard to keep it from showing on her face. And she knows how to eat too; she takes a few bites of each course, enough to taste, but not trying to fill her appetite. The carrot soup is first, which tastes like sweet potato soup and is oddly a lot better than he expected, but Kate doesn't take more than a few mouthfuls. Now that they're on the third course, the lentil soup, he realizes the wisdom in her approach.
"Have you been here before?" he asks, blowing on his soup before putting it to his lips. He has a sudden image of Josh and Kate sitting at this same table, doing the same things, and it makes him irritated.
Castle watches her face as she debates lying to him, then sees her shoulders slump as she decides on the truth. "No. How many times have you been?"
He puts his spoon back to his bowl, giving up on the soup. "I've never been."
Her spoon clatters out of her fingers. He looks up at the noise and sees absolute shock written across her face.
"You've never been here before?"
"No. It's pretty good though. I mean, the food is just. . .excellent. You like it?"
"Wait, Castle. . ." She shakes her head at him. "You're telling me you've never brought anyone here before?"
Ah, so that's what this is about. "You're the first."
She sits back from the table just as their waiter unobtrusively withdraws their bowls and replaces it with their duck bread appetizer. The bread is crisp, the duck fat melted perfectly on top with swirls of cheese and pepper. Castle reaches out and takes a piece, puts it on his plate, and cuts into it. Kate's still staring at him.
"I hear the duck bread is the best," he says, trying to restart their conversation.
"Oh no you don't, Castle," she says, her eyes narrowing at him. "You can't just drop a bomb like that and brush it off like it's nothing."
"What bomb?" He knows teasing her isn't the best idea, not when she's like this, but it's so fun to see the flash of irritation in her eyes.
She jabs the fork at him. "You've never been here before!"
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"This is one of the most expensive and romantic places in New York, and you're telling me you never took anyone here? None of them?"
He raises an eyebrow at her indignation. "None of them?" He smirks at her. "Just how many to you think I've had?"
Flustered, she drops her gaze, puts her fork down on the empty plate. She's beautiful, flushed and a little angry at him, for what he isn't exactly sure, and her blush travels down the deep v of her neckline.
"No way, I'm interested now."
"Never mind, Castle." And she's truly ticked, stabbing her fork at the bread and bringing some to her plate.
"If you're asking about real relationships, there haven't been as many as you think. If you're asking about how many women I've had sex with-" Her entire face flushes deep crimson, to his utter delight. "-a gentleman never kisses and tells."
She won't look at him now. It's amusing, but it isn't exactly how he wants this date to go.
"Kate, I don't know what you think of me sometimes, but surely you didn't expect me to take you to places I've taken other women? You're extraordinary, and you deserve-"
"Castle," she says softly, shaking her head at him, and he knows her well enough to stop, to let it go for now. But if there's anything he wants to do tonight, it's prove to her that he isn't the man she seems to mistake him for, that he can be and he will be good enough for her.
"Eat some duck bread, Kate. It's sinful."