The Sweet Taste


What a night for a dance

You know I'm a dancing machine.

With a fire in my bones

and the sweet taste of kerosene.

-Revelry, Kings of Leon


Kate closed her eyes, took another shallow breath. Her ribs ached fiercely, her back pulsed with sharp pain, and her head pounded. But she wanted to remember this night, wanted to remember the good being done, and not the memories of everyone lost, everything broken.

It was the first time in almost a year that she was alone.

She opened her eyes and looked out over the balcony to the people below. The band had started up awhile back, and there were couples dancing, but most of the attendees stayed at the edges of the floor. The room glittered in silver and green, tasteful and swank, while a collection of beautiful people in beautiful clothes made the rounds.

She was grateful to note that the auction tables along the right side of the ballroom still held an energetic mix of people. Castle was down there as well, teasing and prompting, flirting and nudging, pushing people to bid on the silent auction items displayed on the tables. She could make out the distinct lines of his shoulders from up here; she could hear his laughter boom out over the french horn's jazz.

Some were still finishing dinner, delicate bites with their eyes on the musicians, their ears tuned to the latest gossip. The guests were a strange combination of her mother and father's old world, old money, and her partner's city-wide, power-player connections.

All of them were attending her mother's memorial dinner and silent auction. Finally. Her father was down there too, easing into his role as companion to a ghost, smiling with well-wishers and shaking hands with the city's elite. Her father had done this kind of thing before, back when her mother was alive. He'd promised her that he wouldn't have any trouble tonight.

Kate was alone. She ached all over, and if she were absolutely truthful, she probably shouldn't be here. Her abdominal muscles were still weak, with a tendency to cramp if she stood for long periods of time, let alone in heels.

Modest heels. Barely heels at all. How depressing, to be in a fancy dress, and beautiful hair, and stunning to Castle, but wear matronly shoes.

She wanted to be better. She wanted to be better so badly that she ignored her body and did what she wanted. She was, at least, that well. A couple months into her desk duty and she had even managed to sneak out with Ryan and Esposito to grab a witness. Although the new Captain had come down hard on her. And she'd spent the night trying to hide her tears of agony in the pillow, furious with herself.

Months ago, Castle had stopped hassling her about it; she thought he'd finally given in. He hadn't tried to push the painkillers down her throat any more, hadn't insisted on a more moderately-paced physical therapy schedule. He'd shut up about all that.

And so, Kate was alone. Blissfully, blessedly alone. Up above the crowd, far from the smiles and money and dancing, in a kind of white noise of silence.

She was grateful of course. Planning her mother's event was just about the only positive thing she'd been able to focus on this past year, holed up in Castle's loft with him, rearranging seating charts or picking out side dishes or creating the band's play list. It had felt, oddly, like they were planning a wedding.

And it was a way to honor her mother even while her mother's murderer continued to elude them. The case cold, the evidence disappeared or stolen, the investigation stone-walled.

She had things she needed to say to Castle about that; she was certain the boys were keeping information back from her. She was in a dark place when it came to this case. She was still somewhat under guard by the outfit Castle had hired; she was at a frustrating impasse.

But tonight? Tonight she was wearing a beautiful, elegant green dress that dipped so low in the back that she could feel every one of Castle's fingerprints against her skin, warm and urgent, like need.

Tonight she wanted to dance with him. She wanted to hold *him* captive for awhile, see how he liked it. She wanted to ignore her half-broken body and be the Kate whose mother was proud of her, whose mother understood that she was doing the best she could.

"How'd you slip away?" Sultry, low tones, rich and unsteady.

She turned her head and Castle was making his approach down the open-air hall, having just come up the stairs. His eyes were brilliant and searching hers for telltale signs, but he looked like he wanted more than that.

Kate kept all the aching out of her face and gave him a slow smile.

"Magic."

His lips quirked, and he held out a hand to her that she actually took.

"Going well?" he asked.

"Seems to be. People are bidding?"

"People are," he answered and took another step closer.

She knew what he was doing, and met him halfway, so that their hips touched, her shoulder against his arm, nearly as tall as him but not quite.

"My dad seems to be ok," she said, tossing something out there because the things she wanted to say seemed wrong for right now.

"I think so. Ryan and Jenny were looking for you. Wanted to say good-bye. I told them I'd relay the message."

"Message received."

What she wanted to say was, Tell me again. Tell me again, Castle, and this time I won't die on you.

But she didn't say that either. Because it might have been a dream; it was a dream. She had that dream where he held her down against the grass so hard that her chest felt like it was splitting in two, but he said it, he said it, and she died anyway. Was it a nightmare or a memory?

"Make me dance," she said instead and pushed into him enough to get him going.

He stepped back a bit, in the direction of the stairs, and gave her a strange look. "Make you? Kate Beckett, no one makes you."

"You do," she countered, and she knew, she knew, that too much was showing in her eyes but she couldn't help it.

"You look beautiful," he said suddenly, and used his hold on her hand to pull her closer. She went because she had her eye on the dance floor, and because she wanted the heat of his body to ease the ache in hers.

"You look. . .not so worried," she said, lifting her free hand to smooth a finger down the remnants of the lines along his forehead. "Less worried about me."

"I guess I am," he admitted, his lips twisting into a sad smile. "Less now than. . .six months ago. But sometimes. More."

"So make me dance."

She shouldn't. They both knew it. She shouldn't be standing up for as long as she had been already, but the fire in her bones seemed unquenchable.

The sweet taste of kerosene. Where had she heard that before? She knew, now, what it might have meant.

They were too close, their mouths too close; their bodies drew too close, moth and flame. Who would burn alive, who would just burn?

"Dance with me, Kate."