Title: Beach Music
Spoilers: Through 3x24 Knockout
Word Count: ~4300
Summary: Five times Castle invited Beckett to his house in the Hamptons.
A/N:Thanks to ziparumpazoo for beta reading.
Castle drops into the chair by Beckett's desk. He leans back, crosses his ankles, and radiates with his very being his usual level of cheek.
"Lobster," he says by way of greeting, apropos of nothing, but delivered as though he's continuing a conversation she's sure they've never had.
The logical response would be something like, "Lobster? What about it?" But as far as Beckett's concerned, it's better not to let Castle get the upper hand in a conversation. Ever. So, "I don't like lobster," she says without a trace of hesitation.
"Yet," he parries.
"What?" she ripostes cleverly, then pauses for a moment. She's been reading too much Derek Storm again, she thinks, if she's narrating herself with words like 'riposte.' Especially when she's never fenced anything, never so much as picked up a sword, or whatever it is that they're called. She wonders idly if Castle's editors can tell what activities he's been engaging in recently by what kind of language he peppers his prose with – and then, decidedly not idly, she wishes she'd never wondered, since several of his more vivid scenes involve things she really shouldn't be imagining Castle doing.
Fortunately Castle's far too involved in the argument he's still busy making to notice her momentary lapse; but she'd best get her head back in the game – or the match – if she's not going to blow that 'keep Castle from getting the upper hand' thing.
"You don't like lobster yet," he's saying, wearing his 'I'm very sage' expression as he leans forward and rests his arm on the pile of folders perched at the corner of her desk. Precariously perched, actually, and getting more precarious the more Castle leans and the more he talks and the sager he tries to look. In fact, if he keeps it up, those papers are going to make a rather abrupt transition from desk to floor.
She tugs the pile out from under his elbow and moves it to the other side of her desk.
"Ow." He's not looking particularly sage now. He's looking more like his funny bone got smacked when his elbow hit the desk.
"Does it need a kiss?" she asks, mock-sweet.
"Yes," he says, pointing the elbow in her direction, and she rolls her eyes and bites down to hide her smile. But she's pretty sure by the way he's staring at her lips right now that she didn't quite manage. Or maybe she shouldn't have said the word kiss while he was sitting quite so close.
And she did not just catch herself staring at his mouth right back.
"So, I don't like lobster yet?" she asks, and that, she's sure, is a feint, albeit a weak one.
"No, because you haven't had it in The Hamptons. You know, at my house. Or one of my neighbors. Or this little restaurant I know that also happens to make the best cherry pie you've ever had in your life. I swear it."
"Scout's honor. So what I'm thinking is, you and I blow off all this boring old police work," he waggles a finger at the stack of folders, "hop into the car," and his fingers start walking across the desktop," and drive our little old selves out to my place for the weekend."
"Or …" she says, drawing out the word and raising an eyebrow at him.
"We could stay here –"
"That's good too."
"And you," she points her finger at his nose, "can start going through all these old reports," and she thumps the pile of folders back in front of him, "and looking for something that resembles a clue."
"Because I obviously haven't got one right now."
"Okay. I always did like a girl with a good backup plan."
"Right." He opens the top folder and picks up the first page. "Reports."
The upper hand. Always important to keep it.
Castle looks up again. "But if I were a betting man – which I am – I'd bet you'll visit eventually." And he starts folding the page into a paper airplane.
Well. It's not quite the upper hand. But it's close enough.
"Come on, Beckett. It'd be fun. Just a weekend. We'll hang out, I'll show you around the town, then you can come back here to your boring old desk in your boring old precinct and work on your boring old cases while I stay in the lap of luxury and write about Nikki Heat hobnobbing with the rich and famous."
Beckett keeps typing, her eyes on the computer screen and the report she's preparing to file. "Oh, that sounds like fun. Really."
Castle taps a pencil against the arm of his chair. "Maybe she can dig up an old scandal. With a celebrity. A British royal. Or hey, a Kennedy – that's always got some game."
"It's not Martha's Vineyard, Castle," Beckett says. "And anyway, do you want to write me into a giant cliché?"
He taps some more. "Classic plots are classic for a reason, you know." But she raises her eyebrows and regards him steadily. After a long moment, he shrugs and wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, maybe not."
She turns back to her report once again. She types, and Castle taps. He says nothing for so long that she starts to feel nervous. "Castle, what exactly is it that you think is going to happen out there?"
"Sex." He's still staring at the ceiling, but he nods once, firmly. "Lots and lots of sex."
"What?" she asks. Well, shouts, if she's honest. She's sure her eyebrows have climbed up into her hairline. He's stopped staring at the ceiling and is staring at her instead, horrified and backpedaling as fast as he can.
If she weren't so shocked, she'd be laughing her ass off.
"For Nikki Heat! I meant Nikki Heat! Not …" he pauses and takes a deep breath. "Not you and … you know … well, I mean, of course you can have sex if you want, lots of sex, just go pick up a rich guy on the street corner and …" he stumbles to a halt. "Oh. My. God."
Now she is laughing her ass off. "Alexis couldn't have said it better herself."
"Are you saying I sound like a teenage girl?"
"If the shoe fits, writer-boy."
"Your cliché is showing there, police-girl."
His response sets her off again.
He crosses his arms and sits back in his chair. "So. Any way I can exit the stage with my dignity intact?"
She's still smirking as she waves a hand at him. "Go away, Castle. Go on vacation. Before I actually injure myself laughing and you have to find a way to write that into your novel."
He tilts his head to the side as though he's giving the idea serious consideration, so she waves him off again, a slow, deliberate shooing motion this time. He pushes himself up from the chair and gives her a jaunty salute. "Tallyho, Detective Beckett," he says, and heads for the door with that signature Castle swagger.
But halfway there he pivots, paces back to her and leans in as though to read over her shoulder. And when he's close enough for her to feel his breath against her neck, and she's completely, thoroughly confused, he starts to whisper into her ear. "Lots …" – his hand brushes against her hair – "and lots…" – his thumb rests at the nape of her neck – "of sex."
She sits up, jerks her shoulders back, and swats at him like a bug. "Shoo, Castle. Get."
Beckett's not sure if it's his high-pitched "Ow!", his giant leap backwards, or the hands he's now holding up in surrender, but whatever it is, she sets off laughing once again.
"I'm getting!" he assures her, still in a near-yelp. "Definitely getting! Right away, ma'am."
And then he's out the door and gone, leaving Beckett to chew on her lip and wonder if that's regret she's feeling, mixed in with the last of her laughter.
She shakes her head and settles in to write her report.
Kate's not sure what she's doing here tonight.
Ostensibly, she came to drop off a book Castle had loaned her the week before, but there's no reason it couldn't have sat on her desk at the precinct until Monday morning. No need to have returned it on a Saturday evening a mere half-hour after she'd finished reading it.
Yet here she is anyway. And having come, there doesn't seem to be any easy way of leaving. She'd been ushered in by Martha, larger-than-life as usual; had been seated promptly at the kitchen counter with a glass of wine and told she must, she absolutely must stay for dinner, but Martha was on her way out and did Kate mind? Castle was just in the office on the phone and Alexis would surely be down in a moment because really, how long could one girl do homework, after all.
Kate had barely stammered out an "Oh, really, I –" when Martha breezed out of the apartment with a wave and a "Ta ta!" As the latch clicked shut, Kate turned, bemused, to find Castle standing outside his study, leaning against a bookcase with his eyebrows furrowed as he stared across the room at her.
She hadn't meant to stay after that.
She'd meant to make her excuses as soon as she'd handed over the book. She definitely hadn't meant to sit down at the table by the fire. The same way she hadn't intended to eat the food Castle and his daughter piled on her plate in excessive quantities, or to drink two and a half glasses of wine with dinner, or to be waved off when she tried to insist on at least helping with the dishes.
But with her good intentions all blown to bits, she's sitting on Castle's couch and swirling the last half of that third glass of wine while Alexis hums behind her at the kitchen sink. Castle, on the other hand, is banging around near his desk on some mysterious 'wait right there, Beckett' sort of mission.
She's not sure what she's doing here, but she's surprised to find that it's nice. Nice, and easier than it should be.
Kate takes a sip of her wine as Castle re-emerges from the other room. His hands are full of glossy tri-fold brochures, with a couple of books sporting bright, colorful covers shoved under his arm for good measure. He dumps the whole pile on the coffee table in front of her.
"Maybe," he says, picking up one of the brochures at random and thrusting it into her hands, "these will convince you to come someday."
Kate unfolds the paper in her hand, first one side and then the other, and quirks her lips in a half-smile. "Do you try to annoy everyone into doing what you want, or am I part of a select few?"
"Well, I'm not sure." He drops down onto the couch beside her and picks up his own wine glass. "You can ask my mother, but you'll have to wait here until she comes back." He hands her one of the books. "Might as well take the time to study up."
Their banter's different than usual, softer somehow. Kate feels a little warmth creep up at the back of her neck, and she finds she's at a loss for words. She covers by bending her head to look as she flips pages randomly, pictures of beaches and houses flying by anonymously but providing a welcome distraction.
Behind them, the water cuts off and a cabinet thumps shut and the pad-pad-pad of sock-covered feet draws closer. "What's up?" Alexis asks, perching on the arm of the couch.
"She's never been to the Hamptons!" Castle explains, his voice incredulous. "Clearly an oversight, but she doesn't want to fix it. So I'm changing her mind for her."
Alexis snorts and says, "Dad, you're doing it wrong."
"Oh, am I?"
"Yes." She nods.
"Then show me how it's done, O Master," he says, rising from the couch and directing a slight bow in his daughter's direction before heading back to the kitchen with his now-empty wineglass.
"I think I will." Alexis hops down and pads across the room, crouching down by one of the shelves. Carefully, she extracts a box from behind several knick-knacks and carries it back to the couch. She sets it down atop Castle's pile of Hamptons propaganda with a friendly pat to its lid.
Despite Castle's usually expensive taste, the box is flimsy, the sort of generic, mass-produced cardboard photo-box found at any old drugstore; but it's cheery, with little-girl pink and yellow flowers printed all over it. Kate's sure Alexis picked it out, and that she did so a long time ago. And the telling thing is that neither father nor daughter has ever replaced it, nor have they exiled it to Alexis's room upstairs.
"So, what's this?" Kate asks, and Alexis smiles as she settles on the couch and lifts the top off the box to reveal labeled slots and the photos stored inside them. She plucks out a group of pictures from the slot labeled Hamptons and flips through them, one by one – shots of the beach, of their house, and of Castle surrounded by slightly fuzzy landscapes or with sideways-tipped horizons behind him.
"I've got better," Alexis says, "I mean, newer ones, after I actually learned how to shoot. But they're on the computer."
"No," Kate says, taking the stack when Alexis holds it out, "I like these. They're beautiful."
Almost by reflex, she glances up at Castle, now sitting in one of the chairs across from them. She's expecting some kind of response from him, some 'see, I told you' sort of retort, but all he does is lift an eyebrow at her, so she returns to studying the photos. She flips through a few more, with Alexis narrating here and there, and then comes upon a set of shots where Castle clearly stole the camera from his daughter: pictures of Alexis on the beach, Alexis dressed up for dinner out, Alexis running after a seagull with an abandon far younger than her then-twelve or so years.
Alexis snatches the stack of pictures. "Oh my god, dad, why are these in here?"
Castle grins. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"There were people here, dad. Last weekend. Looking at these! Because you got them out! They didn't need to see me when I was twelve."
He shrugs. "Most of them knew you when you were twelve."
"Not the boys!"
"So?" he asks, and Alexis sticks her tongue out at him.
Beckett smiles at the exchange, but her attention's diverted as she glances down at the box on the table. She reaches to the last slot, unlabeled, and runs her fingers across the tops of the photos there. "What are these?" she asks.
Alexis follows her gaze. "Oh, dad took these. They're ancient." She looks back up at her father and sticks her tongue out again, leaving the 'like him' unspoken.
Gently, Kate pulls the stack out of the box. They're dog-eared, obviously well-loved and fading a bit – pictures of Alexis at the playground, at the ice cream parlor, on the couch in the much-smaller apartment they lived in long ago. It's the before-we-were-rich analogue to the set Castle had taken at the Hamptons. The clothes and the surroundings were much simpler, but the caring eye that framed each one was exactly the same.
She's a little surprised that Castle's so silent; Castle, who would usually find it so impossible to stay still, who she'd have expected to be the first to jump in and start telling stories. But when she looks up, he's just sitting there on his chair, chin resting on his folded hand as he watches Kate and Alexis flip through the photos there on the couch.
Kate can't quite read the expression on his face, but she holds his gaze for a long time before returning to the photos in her hand.
Alexis is bored with the record of her preschool years long before Kate is; Kate's still thumbing through image after image, but Alexis moves on, back to the ones from the beach. She pulls out a series of pictures of houses that are so big Kate can't wrap her head around them, quite, and starts naming off the owners, celebrities and politicians and the wealthy whose names Kate only knows through the news and her job. She remembers her previous conversation with Castle and laughs softly to herself.
"What?" Alexis asks, curious.
"I'm wondering," Kate says, pointing at the mansion in Alexis's hand, "Which high-profile socialite's murder Nikki Heat's going to solve?"
"Oh, I know!" Alexis says. "Do you want me to tell you?"
But Kate smiles and shakes her head. "I think I'd like to keep wondering."
Kate snaps her cell shut and closes her eyes. She can still hear Ryan's voice in her ears, his "We've got something! We finally got something," followed by two minutes of one word tumbling over another in excited explanation. A tiny new tip had come in this afternoon, suddenly making sense of about five things that had never seemed related before. A huge break – the break they've been waiting for, working for – and part of her is elated. The other part is curiously ambivalent.
It's the first case of its kind since the Captain died, since Kate lay on the grass at his funeral and nearly bled out herself. The sort of case that breaks her heart and defies her capabilities all at the same time. Grieving children left behind when their custodial grandmother was killed for no reason anyone's been able to ferret out; a murder with no leads at all that's as likely to end up a cold case as not. That is, after it doesn't get broken by the homicide squad's days and weeks and months of boring, repetitive, and exhaustive police work.
Kate's been shaken – by the case, by the Captain, by everything – though she doesn't want to admit it. But she's begun to suspect that taking Castle's invitation, tentative in a way unlike any he'd delivered before, was her way of running away, a chance to leave the burden to Ryan and Esposito for a few measly days. To let them handle the task of going through the background checks and the financials and the surveillance videos one more time before they would have to admit they had nothing left to do. To escape, even if only briefly, her guilt at adding one more case to the tiny pile of cases she simply couldn't crack.
And maybe it is running away, but she's determined to go anyway. Because when it comes to the people in her life, she may delude herself, but she's not completely stupid. She's at least smart enough to realize that even if leaving is running away from the case, bailing on Castle's trip now is another sort of running away. This thing between them is so new and if she looks at it funny it might break, and then where would she be? Because she's lost so much yet again. And Castle deserves better, anyway; better than her bolting on him.
But then her phone rang, and she's left standing in the middle of her living room not knowing what to do.
Or knowing, but hating it.
To give herself time to think, time to postpone the inevitable, she moves from living room to bedroom and pulls her overnight case down from the top shelf of her closet. She opens dresser drawers and makes piles on her bed and is about to start packing the bag when she hears the key in the lock.
She freezes, a stack of folded clothes hanging from her hands, and she's still standing there when Castle walks into the room. She expects to see something on his face – expects to see him prepared to be disappointed, or surprised to find her packing, or something – but his expression stays neutral as he crosses the floor and pushes her bag to the side so he can sit on her bed.
"So," he says. "I talked to Ryan."
"Me too," she responds.
"He and Esposito will follow up." She shoves the clothes into her bag. "They'll need to talk to the next-door neighbor again, and call that uncle in Virginia –"
"And by the time we're back next week, we should be able to –"
He grabs her wrist. "Kate, you can't come."
He's right, of course. But "I'll do what I want," she says anyway, and he nods. At her tug, he releases her arm and leans back on his hands.
"Well," he says, his voice lighter, clearly trying a different tack, "I'll give you the keys if you still want to go, but you'll be stuck doing your own laundry."
"Because I've got work to do here."
She sits down on the bed beside him. The overnight case falls to the floor, unheeded. "Yeah," she says on the end of a long sigh.
"It's not like you," he says quietly, "running away. Not like you at all. And I don't want to be just an excuse, Kate."
She looks at him, anguished, and wishes she could tell him that it wasn't like that. But Roy's death – everything that came before, everything that came after – has left her grasping for anything she can reach to help her haul herself onto her own two feet once again. And Castle's chosen to stand right next to her the whole way.
Kate's silent for a long time, until he shifts slightly and brushes the back of her hand with the tips of his fingers, and she bites down on her lip hard.
He runs gentle fingers up her arm, then reaches in to fish her phone out of her pocket and hold it out in front of her. "Call Ryan," he says.
She takes the phone and slowly stands up. Then she flips open the phone and dials.
Kate's in the kitchen poking through the cabinets when Castle walks in the door.
"What are you doing?" he asks, and she turns, feels the coolness of the counter pressing firmly against her back, calming her momentary spate of nerves.
She'd seen him earlier, when she'd arrived at the house; he'd been standing out on the beach, staring off over the waves and looking alone in a way that Richard Castle almost never looked alone. She could have joined him, taken the short walk out the back door, down the steps, and across the beach to tell him she'd arrived, but she'd decided against it. After all, interrupting a sulking Castle wasn't always the best idea – or so she's learned – even when the reason for his grey mood was that he'd had to leave for the beach without her to accompany him.
Besides, it gave her time to acquaint herself with the house. It's a very nice house. And knowing where the bedroom was couldn't be a bad thing, could it?
"I heard there was lobster," she says now, smiling across the kitchen at him as he stares at her, still nonplussed.
"Well, not in the cabinets," he responds. "Or if there is, you'd better watch out for your fingers."
"I'll take that under advisement."
He takes a few steps closer. "What are you doing here?" he asks, trying again.
It's a fair question, since she's supposed to be in Tennessee following a lead on a high-profile case, on her own after the boss banned Castle from accompanying her. "I finished early." She pauses, tilts her head and smirks. "You know, because you weren't around to distract me."
He shrugs. "I can be very distracting."
"I've heard that," she says, and since he's standing next to her now, leaning against the counter and raising a hand to brush the hair out of her eyes, she's feeling like a pretty good authority on distractedness. She bites her lip and shifts a little bit closer to him.
"Why didn't you call?" he asks. "Text, write, hire a plane with a banner …?"
"Well," she says, moving again so her leg presses against his, "You left your door open."
"Ah. I've found that the pretty girls don't like it when I make 'em crawl in through the window."
"Hmm," she says, leaning in the rest of the way, and he kisses her, slow and deep as she runs her hands up his arms and winds her fingers into his hair.
"Hi," she says when they pull apart, and "Hey" he says back.
She's pretty sure she's grinning like an idiot.
"So, do you pick up all the rich guys you meet and hit them up for food?" he asks after he's done kissing her again.
"Only the ones that look especially desperate." She traces her fingers down his jaw, but he pulls away.
"Rick Castle," he says seriously, "is never desperate."
"Ah." She gestures toward the door. "I'll just go home, then? Since you're feeling so un-desperate."
"Okay, hold your horses there, detective. Could we draw up a compromise? I could go for slightly desperate."
Kate tilts her head, considering. "All right. Deal. I can live with that."
Castle kisses her on the nose and then releases her completely. "So, dinner? I'm thinking lobster."
She punches him in the arm; he rubs at it and says "Ow," mock-injured, before he reaches over and takes her hand and tries to pull her out the door. But she pulls him back and kisses him again and then she's pulling him toward the bedroom door instead.
"I'm telling you," he says, "I know this place that makes great – "
"Castle?" she interrupts.
He grins and lets her lead him off. "You bet."