Disclaimer: All Castle characters are the property of Andrew Marlowe and ABC.
Author's note: Last chapter for this one, though there may be a follow up at some point in the future (probably not quite the same tone though). But this one is nice and long, with a fair bit of shameless innuendo and some sickeningly sweet fluff thrown in for good measure. My one fear with this one is that Kate may be a little OOC, but then I remember the nightclub and the "one more button" scenes, and I think maybe not. Enjoy!
She knocked at 8:26. It took a minute or two, but finally the door opened. Richard Castle stood before her, his hair mussed from sleep, his eyes not completely open yet. At least he was dressed, she figured, though he was currently barefoot and his maroon plaid shirt was only half buttoned, leaving several inches of tanned skin open to her perusal.
"Mornin' Castle. Ready to go?"
He yawned in response, bringing a fist up to rub at his eyes.
She rolled her eyes.
"Man up, Writer Boy. You've gotten up earlier than this to come to crime scenes."
"Yeah, but usually there's a body waiting for me."
She smirked at him.
"Well, there's a body waiting for you this time too," she said, allowing her eyes to rake appreciatively up and down his tall figure. "And it's not even a cold one."
As expected, he blushed. For a man who regularly dealt out innuendo, he was surprisingly easy to embarrass, she had found.
"Besides, I brought coffee."
He perked up immediately when she extended a tray with two warm paper cups, her helmet tucked under the other arm.
"What, no bear claw?" he teased.
She glared, though there was no real malice in the look, and watched as he took a long sip, closing his eyes in appreciation of the warmth and the caffeine.
"The coffee shop across the street was all out. Be glad you're getting some coffee in the first place."
"Oh, I'm always glad to be getting some, Detective," he said, opening his eyes to reveal a mischievous glint. "Especially when it's you doing the giving."
The coffee had apparently worked quickly, and she took his renewed wit as a sign that he was conscious enough to safely go for a ride with her.
She rolled her eyes, and he grinned, wisely saying no more. He took another long sip and gestured toward the kitchen.
"Make yourself at home. I think Alexis made muffins last night. You're welcome to have one. I know you've got your coffee, but there's juice or milk in the fridge if you'd like."
She nodded, and he smiled before wandering off toward his bedroom, presumably to find his shoes and finish getting ready.
Perching herself on one of the barstools, she snagged a muffin - apple cinnamon, by the smell - and pulled the newspaper toward her, scanning the headlines and sports scores. The loft was quiet, for once. Aside from the faint sounds of the author shuffling around in his bedroom, and the ever-present low hum of electronics, she could hear nothing. His daughter was still asleep it seemed. And Martha, either asleep or not yet asleep, at least in her own bed.
She wondered sometimes what they thought about Castle following her around. They seemed to like her well enough, but she wondered how much he told them about some of their cases, how they would feel if they knew how often he'd been in danger while shadowing her.
She was pulled from her thoughts and blank stare at the paper by a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, are you okay?"
She looked up to meet the curious blue eyes of the man in question and gave him a small smile.
"Just a little tired, y'know?"
He nodded, the question in his eyes melting into compassion.
"Yeah, it was a late night. We don't have to do this if you don't want to. I'm sure you'd rather just rest on your day off, not put up with me."
He gave her shoulder a light squeeze, but she just shook her head.
"Thanks, Castle, but it's fine," she said, genuinely touched by his concern.
"If you're sure." "I am," she affirmed. "Actually, I've always found that a long, leisurely ride can be very relaxing."
She smirked as she watched his Adam's apple bob in an obvious gulp. He was really far too easy sometimes.
"Well then," he said, stepping back, "Shall we get this show on the road?"
She slipped off the stool and gave him an appraising look.
"Sure you're up to the challenge? You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks."
He narrowed his eyes at her.
"I have every confidence in your..." he paused, "teaching abilities."
Then he leaned ever so slightly forward, not touching her, but well within her personal space.
"Of course, with dogs, the key is positive reinforcement. You know, some kind of treat."
She grinned and lifted her hand to his chest, his surprisingly warm and solid chest, and pushed him away.
"Sorry, Castle. I'm fresh out of liver snaps."
He shrugged lightly as he headed toward the front closet.
"Mother did a play with a dog in it once," he threw over his shoulder. "Food never worked with him."
She sensed that he wasn't done, and sure enough, he turned to look at her as he slipped on a brown leather jacket and pulled down the new helmet he'd bought.
"You know what did?"
She had a sudden feeling that she'd rather not know, but quirked an eyebrow at him anyway.
"A good belly rub."
And then he was throwing the door open and walking out of the loft, glancing back at her from the doorway.
"You comin', Beckett?"
She pursed her lips and shook her head at the smirk on his face.
"Right behind you."
Once they were in the elevator, he bumped her shoulder with his.
"Hey," he said quietly.
She turned to meet his eyes, finding them crinkled at the edges.
"You're welcome," she said, giving him a soft smile. "It'll be fun for me too. I don't get to ride as often as I'd like. I'm kinda looking forward to it, even if the company does leave a little to be desired."
He just shook his head good-naturedly at her gibe and followed her out of the elevator when the doors opened.
"Are we staying in the city?"
"Nah, I figured we'd find some open road where we won't have to worry about traffic so much."
"Sounds good to me."
As they had before, she straddled the bike first and he clambered on after, settling himself behind her. His hands spanned her hips and she felt him give her a light squeeze, signaling that he was ready when she was. She checked that they were clear and the two of them sped off.
They rode for a good while, navigating through the busy streets of New York until they saw fewer and fewer cars. After they'd been riding for nearly an hour and had taken a few turns into a more rural area, Beckett pulled off onto a tiny road, bringing the bike to a stop.
"Ready to give this a try?" she asked, slipping off the bike and standing next to him.
He grinned and nodded, sliding forward to place his hands and feet where hers had rested a moment before. She quickly ran through the basics with him, answering his questions and giving clarification where needed.
She showed him how to put the bike in neutral and watched as he carefully pushed himself forward, learning how to hold the bike steady as it moved. When he'd mastered that within a few minutes, she had him shift into first gear and gradually let out the clutch, moving slowly and keeping his feet down for balance.
He rode a few yards down the road, and a little unexpected pride bloomed in her chest when he managed to safely turn and come back to her without further instruction.
"Did you see that?"
She rolled her eyes at the pleased grin on his face.
"You're a regular prodigy, Castle."
He laughed off her teasing as he came to a stop beside her.
She looked around a bit and then pulled her phone from her jacket pocket. She checked the GPS and noticed that the road she'd chosen made a large loop.
"Next, we see if we can get you going with your feet up. Turn around."
Carefully, with the bike back in neutral, he walked it around, stopping to await further instructions. She stepped up next to him, and placed her hands on his shoulders, throwing her leg over and sliding on behind him. As she positioned her hands at his waist, he tensed, and she wondered if he'd stopped breathing for just a moment. But he recovered quickly and turned his head toward her.
"So what do I do now?"
"Exactly what you did before," she said. "Shift down to first, let out the clutch smoothly, accelerate a little, and get going with your feet down. When you feel like you've got your balance, pick your feet up. Just take it slow and steady."
He tapped his foot down on the shifter, still gripping the clutch tightly. He hesitated on the accelerator and she lightly squeezed his waist in encouragement. It startled him though and he let the clutch out too quickly. The bike jumped underneath them and then stalled. He glanced back at her.
"Takes some practice to get the rhythm right," she observed. "You'll get it."
He started the bike again, and she released his waist with one hand, reaching forward to tighten her fingers over his on the clutch.
"Forget the accelerator for now. Just focus on smoothly letting out the clutch."
Her chest pressed into his back, and she kept one arm tight against his stomach in case they took off suddenly, but her eyes were focused on their joined hands. She wove her fingers with his, and then slowly loosened their grasp on the clutch. The bike started to roll forward.
"Perfect, Castle, that's great. Now accelerate just a bit. Just ease into it."
She could see his grin in her peripheral vision, but she said nothing more. He pulled back with his right hand and they sped up, but only slightly.
"A little more," she encouraged. "You can go a little faster, just take it smoothly."
"Is this okay?" he asked, as the bike picked up speed.
"That's good, Castle. How does it feel?"
"It's good, yeah. A little faster maybe?"
"Sure," she said, raising her voice a bit so he could hear her over the growing roar. "Find a speed that's comfortable to you. Too slow and we won't go anywhere. You'll just fall over. But don't go too fast or you'll lose control."
He didn't respond, but cleared his throat, and accelerated a little more, slowly lifting his feet as they moved forward. She pulled her left hand back to join her right at his waist, and they traveled onward for a few minutes.
Before long she could see a curve coming up, and she leaned in close to his ear.
"You'll want to slow down a bit as you come into the curve, but speed up as you move through it."
He nodded his understanding and she continued.
"I'll move with you, and you can put your foot down if you need."
The turn was a success, and they continued to ride, the bike gaining speed as Castle gained confidence. They completed a few more turns and made the loop, then again, and one more time, before the writer finally slowed down, pulling to a stop in front of a large, shady oak tree a few hundred yards in from the entrance to the road.
"Ready for a break?" Kate asked as he turned off the bike and lifted his helmet over his head.
"Yeah, it's harder than it looks."
"Maybe," she nodded, dismounting and removing her own helmet.
"But you did well, Castle, especially for your first time."
He threw his leg back over the bike and gained his balance back on the ground. Kate glanced around them and when she turned back to look at him, he was taking a moment to stretch his back, thrusting his hips forward as he curved his spine and raising his arms above his head. His jacket rode up his sides a little and she noticed that his crimson shirt was starting to come untucked from his low-slung jeans.
She was close enough to hear the slight exhale of contented breath that he let out as his tense muscles relaxed and he lowered his arms.
"Mind if we sit for a few minutes?"
She nodded her assent and watched as he unzipped his jacket, wiggling out of it and folding it over one arm. He slid his phone from his jeans and looked at it for a moment before dropping it into the front left pocket of the jacket.
"I'll treat you to lunch in a bit, if we can find someplace to eat around here. Unless you need to head back, that is."
She shook her head.
"No other plans today. But actually, I brought some stuff."
He lifted his eyebrows.
"What kind of stuff?"
She shrugged and turned back to the bike, lifting the flap of the bag on the side.
"Nothing fancy. I just wasn't sure how far from civilization we'd be, and I didn't want to have to put up with your whining about how hungry you were."
She pulled out a brown paper sack and headed back to where he was standing in the shade.
"Hope you like peanut butter and jelly."
She expected a rebuttal to her comment about his whininess or teasing about her lack of culinary prowess. What she got was surprise. His mouth opened slightly and he just stared at her for a moment, the expression on his face a little taken aback.
His brows furrowed and when he spoke, it was quiet.
"You made us lunch?"
She shrugged again before sitting down on the soft grass in front of the tree and setting the sack next to her before she pulled off her own jacket.
"You hungry, or what?"
Her words jolted him out of his distraction, and he followed, dropping down at her side and spreading his leather jacket in front of them. He began to empty the contents of the the bag on the jacket, pulling out a pair of sandwiches wrapped in plastic, two bottles of water, napkins, a bag of chips, a small container of baby carrots and another container whose contents could not be seen.
"Dessert," she said, in answer to his unspoken question.
He grinned, and rolled up his sleeves to his elbows.
She reached down to retrieve one of the sandwiches, but he stopped her with a warm hand on her wrist. Her eyes met his, and there was something there that she saw from time to time. Genuine affection, if she wasn't mistaken, mixed with gratitude.
She returned his smile with a nod.
"It's no big deal, Castle."
He shook his head.
"No one's packed me a lunch in a very long time," he said, his voice gentle.
His expression was open and his blue eyes said too much, told of things she wasn't ready to know, not now. She continued on her path for a sandwich, his fingers sliding over her forearm for a moment as she moved until he released her to pick up his own sandwich.
"Consider it your belly rub for a job well done on the bike," she joked, opening the bag of chips while he lifted the lid on the carrots.
She glanced back up at him with a smirk to find the too-soft sparkle in his eyes replaced by the familiar glint.
"Too bad," he said, pausing to take a quick bite of his sandwich. "I was hoping for a more literal interpretation of that particular treat."
He took another bite and grape jelly squirted out onto his fingers. He brought them to his mouth, his tongue slowly laving away the sweet substance, his eyes never leaving hers.
She leaned down for a carrot, lifting it to her lips as she looked up at him through half-lidded eyes. She had his attention. Good.
"In your dreams, Writer Boy," she drawled and crunched down hard on the carrot. He winced, but didn't look away.
His eyes flicked down to her mouth, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flicker of movement.
He was reaching toward her, his large hand almost at her cheek, and she felt her heart rate increase. Her free hand rose to his arm, grasping just above his wrist, but her long fingers didn't quite span the muscles there. He paused, bringing his eyes back to hers, but then his thumb darted out, swiping across her lips and the corner of her mouth. She froze, but felt her fingers tighten on his arm involuntarily as he drew back, sucking his thumb into his own mouth, his eyes drifting lazily shut. For a moment, she just watched him and then his eyes snapped open.
"Hey," he said, indignantly. "How come I got grape when you had strawberry?"
Her hand was still wrapped around his arm, and she allowed to nails to dig into his skin, just enough to pinch.
He yelped, and pulled away, narrowing his eyes as he examined the small crescent shapes now imprinted into his tan skin.
"I should report you for police brutality," he whined, looking up to see her smirking as she finished off her sandwich.
"Kinda hard to do if I leave you out here."
He raised his eyebrows and stuffed the last bit of his own lunch into his mouth.
He swallowed and she knew he wasn't totally sure that she wouldn't leave him in the middle of nowhere.
"Fine," he grouched. "Then I'll just report you on the tip-line."
"You'd need a phone for that."
He patted his hands against his thighs, but didn't find his cell. He reached for his jacket, but she'd been quicker, plucking his phone from the side pocket before he remembered where he'd stashed it. He lunged for it, but she slid it into the back pocket of her own jeans.
He leaned back on his haunches.
"Is that supposed to stop me?"
She quirked an eyebrow.
"If you value your life. And your ability to reproduce."
She started to smirk in triumph at the horrified look on his face, but then he lunged again, pushing her down onto the soft grass.
For a moment, he loomed above her, grinning, but it only took a second for her to regain her composure and put her training to use. She hooked her ankle around his and flipped them, landing on top of him with a thud that had him gasping for breath. He struggled, but she had him well pinned, leaning over him and holding his hands above his head.
"Now, you have two choices. You can be a gentleman and realize that I could have broken your wrist for touching me without my permission, not to mention complaining about the lunch I brought you, and we can sit up and eat our dessert and have a nice day. Or, I can take your phone and leave you here to walk to the nearest house so you can ask to use their phone, explaining that you got beaten up by a girl. Which would you prefer?"
He was breathing hard, but still smiling, and she had a difficult time keeping the laughter out of her voice.
"Depends," he said, his eyes twinkling. "What's for dessert?"
She shook her head and released his hands, unhooking her ankle, and rolling to his side.
They lay there in silence for a minute, and she wondered exactly what she'd done to end up with him as her shadow, and whether it was something she'd done wrong or something she'd done right.
"Kate?" his hesitant voice broke her from her thoughts.
She turned her head to see him gazing up into the branches above them.
"I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. You know I'd never push you into anything, right?"
She rolled to her side to face him fully, reaching out to squeeze his bicep and trailing her hand down across the light hair of his forearm to curl her index finger around his.
He turned to look at her and the uncertain expression on his face made her soften further.
"I know, Castle," she said, and tightened her finger. "I push your buttons, you pull my pigtails. It's just who we are."
His lips quirked up, and she saw the undisguised affection return to his eyes.
"Thanks for lunch, even if you did keep the strawberry for yourself."
She laughed, and he grinned at her.
"You're welcome, Castle. We haven't even gotten to the best part, though."
His eyes lit up and she continued.
"I made my grandmother's brownies."
"You made brownies? Best muse ever!"
She glared at his use of the term, and he gave her an apologetic look, lifting their joined hands to his lips and pressing a soft kiss to her index finger. She felt her cheeks flush, and she thumped his nose, pulling her hand out of his grasp.
She sat up and looked down to see him staring at her with a small measure of disbelief.
"You thumped my nose! What am I, a puppy?"
"Didn't you say you wanted a belly rub?"
He had to laugh then.
"Well-played, Detective. Well-played."
"You touch things you're not supposed to touch, you get thumped on the nose. You do what I tell you, you get a belly rub."
In a moment of unthinking boldness, she illustrated her point, reaching over to pat him on the stomach. She felt his muscles clench under her hand and she glanced up at him, noticing the way his eyes had darkened in that fraction of a second.
"Kate," he said, and his voice sounded a little huskier than usual.
She looked back at her hand and willed it to move away, but instead it fisted into his maroon shirt, the tension drawing the fabric up out of his jeans and revealing an expanse of smooth, tan skin, broken by a thin vertical line of dark hair.
"Kate," he repeated, and her eyes darted back to his.
For a few seconds, neither moved, but when his mouth opened to say something else, she tugged on his shirt, then released it and stood.
"Come on, Castle. Time for dessert."
She stepped over him and settled on the ground on the other side, packing up the remnants of the first part of their lunch and looking anywhere but at the man next to her. She heard him sit up after a moment and then he was leaning over to reach for the brownie container, nudging her with his shoulder as he did.
"These look amazing," he said as he lifted the lid. "Are those peanut butter chips?"
She turned to see him reaching in for a gooey piece.
"Butterscotch," she corrected.
"Even better," he said, and she watched as he lifted the dessert to his mouth, taking the first bite and chewing slowly.
His eyes flashed to hers and then slid shut as he finally swallowed.
"Is that cream cheese in the middle?"
His eyes stayed closed, but his free hand reached out and unerringly found hers.
"Marry me, Beckett."
The brownie she'd picked up dropped back into the container, and he opened his eyes.
"Marry me, and make these every day for the rest of our lives."
She laughed and shook her head.
"I guess the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach."
"Mmm...you know it. Between brownies and belly rubs, I'd never let you go."
She felt her face heat up again, but played along anyway.
"And what do I get out of the deal?"
"An adorable red-head, and access to my Ferrari whenever you want?"
She laughed and dropped his hand.
"One, I don't need to marry you to spend time with Alexis. Two, a Ferrari would be nice, but it can't beat the feel of my bike, the rush of that raw power underneath me."
He coughed, and she handed him his water bottle.
"So that's a no?"
"That's a no, Castle. But let me know if you come up with a better offer."
"I'll get back to you."
"Come on," she chuckled, standing and extending a hand to him. "We should probably head back. Besides, if you're good, I've got more brownies at home."
"Now you'll never get rid of me."