Ghost on the Canvas
by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles
Castle gets up reluctantly after Kate and walks her to the door of his bedroom, their hands linked loosely. He doesn't want to cling. No, he wants to cling, but he won't. He'll be good. He'll take it as it comes.
"I've just got to talk to her," Kate says, turning before she gets to the door. She curls her fingers as if she doesn't want to let his go.
Castle nods. "I should shower."
Except he can't help leaning in once more, brushing the corner of her mouth with his lips. Kate brings her free hand to his cheek and skims her fingers along his jaw, light and teasing.
They break apart gently, hovering close, her eyes on him. Castle strokes his thumb across the back of her hand, that tender and soft and delicate skin.
He won't say it again, not now, but he knows his eyes say it. Too loudly perhaps. But she only watches him and accepts it.
"Go," he says finally.
Because even going isn't going far.
He's only just gotten out of the shower, pulled on jeans when the knock on his door, and then the knob twisting alerts him to Alexis coming through into his bedroom.
"You schemer," he teases, grabbing a tshirt and pulling it on over his head. "You and Beth, huh?"
Alexis scuffs her toe against the rug. "Was that. . .too much?"
Castle glances over at his now-empty bed, remembering how Kate curled against him. "I think you did good."
Alexis grins at him from under the fringe of her hair. She sweeps it back in one hand and pulls a rubber band from her wrist, tying it back in a pony tail. "So you're not upset."
"Well. No. But I don't think it's such a great idea to push Kate like that on a regular basis."
Alexis grins though, and reaches up to cricle her arms around his waist. Rick grins and hugs her back, squeezing. "Dad, it was Beth's idea."
"Somehow I don't really believe that. . ."
"Well, I mean, it was my idea. But it was her idea to put Kate in your bed."
"Alexis," he huffs, completely uncomfortable with the way his daughter just tosses that around. "You can't just. . ."
"Why not?" she asks, all innocence and smiles.
"Ah, I don't know exactly. Except to say that I want to keep my little girl a little girl?"
She hugs him a little harder and pats his back then steps away, putting her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "You know I'm not a little girl anymore."
He sighs dramatically. "Yes but let's avoid phrases like 'in your bed' as if you're used to a parade of women in and out of our lives. Okay?"
Alexis smirks at him again. "Well, Dad, you haven't had a parade since Kate. So I guess your peace of mind is safe."
"I *never* had a parade," he says. "A parade? Seriously?"
And unfortuantely, a finger of doubt slides through the crack in his armor of self-deprecating humor. He never meant to expose his daughter to any of the almost spiritual wandering he'd been through the past few years, the years before Kate. He'd been searching for something, for meaning, for a way to be more than just a playboy with a gift for story and a lot of money.
This. This is what he was looking for.
"It was a discreet parade, Dad." Alexis laughs. "But you do know. . .once you started up with that interior designer-"
"Let's not bring up names, shall we?"
"You don't remember her name."
"I do too! In fact, I had her help us on a case." Castle smirks back at his daughter and reaches for his watch, snaps it on.
"You did? Like. . .in front of Kate?" Alexis wrinkles her nose.
"Yeah. Well, okay. It was at the very beginning. Back when I was trying to impress her."
"You were trying to *impress* Kate with the interior decorator?"
"Designer," he automatically corrected. "Yeah?"
"Oh my word, Dad. What exactly is supposed to be impressive about you not being able to say no to any woman who crosses your path?"
And while Castle was assuming this conversation was a fun distraction from the real one, he realizes now that this goes directly to the heart of whatever it is that Alexis has been wrestling with lately.
Alexis is still going, the smile dropped off her face. "There's nothing impressive about bouncing around from woman to woman, going to stupid parties with your sunglasses on like you're some kind of stud, flirting with anything that moves-"
"Alexis." He puts his hands on her shoulders and eyes her, reasserting some control here. "Whatever you think of my. . .behavior a few years back, I don't think you need to worry about it anymore."
Castle can see her jaw working; she's got a glimmer in the corners of her eyes that looks suspiciously like a prelude to tears.
"Yeah, but Dad. . .I just want to make sure that you understand that this is. . .different."
Definitely needs to make sure his daughter understands. "Hey. Alexis. Sit down for a second."
She plops into the chair beside his open closet door and draws her knees up, clasps her hands around her legs. She's not crying, but Castle can tell she's teetering on the edge of some great frustration.
"Kate is different. I think you know that."
She nods shortly.
"And hopefully, you know that I'm different too."
Alexis turns intense eyes on him, so much longing there.
"Hey, pumpking, I promise. That guy who killed off Derek Storm and moped around the apartment and went home with different women whenever possible? That's not me anymore. It's not just Kate, you know."
She swipes at her cheek, where a lone tear has escaped. "It's not?"
"Kate is amazing. She's definitely the biggest part of it. But this work we do? That they let me help with? It's pretty amazing too. It gives me a sense of purpose and. . ."
"Belonging," Alexis finishes, dropping her feet to the floor and leaning in to catch his hand. "I know, Dad. I can tell. You know you belong here too, right?"
"Yeah. Always will. You won't get rid of me." Castle sighs. "But I like belonging to Kate."
The young woman jumps a little at the call of her name, stops her humming and half-turns, careful to keep her sudsy hands above the sink.
Her sister is leaning against the kitchen island, all dark hair and concerned eyes, looking absolutely adorable in the red shirt that used to be Beth's.
"You should keep that," Beth smiles, turning back to the remaining two plates. "The color suits you."
"Right, because our skin tones and hair colors are *so* different," Kate teases, coming closer. "You didn't have to do the dishes, you know," she adds in a different voice, lower, uncertain.
"I know," the younger Beckett replies gaily. "But I like it."
There's a short silence.
"Right," Kate replies slowly. "I had forgotten that."
Beth unplugs the drain, watches the water swirl out for a second before she reaches for the towel and dries her hands, one after the other. Then she swivels, assesses the look on her sister's face, the sadness lingering in those green eyes.
"No need to beat yourself up for something like this," she says with a smile, arching an eyebrow. "Truth be told, I'd rather not be remembered as the person who enjoys doing the dishes."
Kate's face relaxes, her eyes lighting up with an almost smile that doesn't touch her mouth.
"Better if you don't have to be remembered at all," she points out slyly.
Ah. Well. Beth has been expecting that conversation. She sighs, chews on the inside of her cheek.
"Kate. You know I'll probably leave again, right? This is just… the way I am. I can't stay put."
"Yes, I do know," Kate answers, holding out a hand and squeezing one of Beth's. "Not trying to pressure you here. I'm sorry. It's just – it's good to have you around."
"It's good to be around," the young woman admits, letting the warm feeling in her heart translate into a soft beam. "And, well, it'll probably be harder to leave this time. But leaving means I get to come back, too." She wiggles an eyebrow, adds, "Isn't that the best part?"
She's rewarded by one of her sister's rare laughs, and to her surprise, Kate tugs her forward, brushes her hair back, tucking a lock behind Beth's ear.
Wow. This is a big deal; Katie Beckett is certainly not famous for the amount of touching she does.
"You tell me," Kate replies, smiling. "You're the expert here, sis."
Oh. The affectionate moniker undoes Beth a little, and she buries her right hand in the pocket of her jeans, trying to keep it from trembling. Her sister watches her with knowing eyes – their mother's eyes – and gives her a minute to catch herself, before she asks gently, "Will you come upstairs with me? I have something for you."
Beth's brow furrows as she mechanically follows, glancing at Rick's bedroom on the way. She hopes Alexis is doing okay in there.
What can Kate possibly have for her? Is it a present or something? It's strange. She half-expected to get told off for their little trick this morning, the whole breakfast-trap thing, and instead she gets rewarded. Uh. Well, gift horse and all that.
A few seconds later they're back into Kate's room, the sun streaming through the windows even though the curtains have only been half-drawn – it wasn't Beth's or Alexis's main focus earlier.
But now Beth is distracted by the quiet gorgeousness of the room, the eggshell blue of the walls contrasted by the navy bedcovers, and the lovely painting facing the bed, an interlacing of harmonious lines that merge into an almost face.
She is distracted, and thus absolutely unprepared when Kate says, "This is yours," and holds out her hand.
In her palm rests their mother's bracelet. Beth's breath catches in her throat, her eyes widening at the sight. She had almost forgotten. Almost.
But it's all here, the pretty rose gold color, the fine links, the delicate-looking clasp. Beth sees herself, eight years old maybe, asking her mom if she would give her the bracelet when she was older. The attraction it once held to her is measured against the repulsion she feels for it today – as if by asking her mother for the piece of jewelry, she had brought about her death.
It's silly, of course. She knows it.
But it doesn't mean she can help it.
"Kate…" She whispers, her voice giving out, tears forming in the corner of her eyes. She shakes her head desperately – against the emotion, or against the bracelet, she's not sure.
Her sister's voice is gentle, determined, exactly like it was when they were children and Kate was trying to talk her out of a craving for a doll or some ice cream. Beth breathes deeply, lets herself be calmed down by that soft voice that she hasn't heard in so long.
"You were right that day, when you told me you didn't need jewelry to remember Mom," Kate says. "I don't either. But Beth, I know, I *know*, that she would have wanted you to have it. And… Yes, you don't need a reminder, but – don't you want to wear it as a tribute to her? Don't you want to claim that connection, want everyone to know that she was your mother? Aren't you proud that she was?"
Beth is breathless. She hears the words, of course, but she also hears something else behind them, also sees that crack in Katie's eyes, the little flicker of need, of sadness. Oh, god, if her sister thinks –
She holds out her wrist without even thinking about it.
"Can you fasten it?"
And it's worth it, all of it: the slow, beautiful smile that spreads on Kate's lips, her imperceptible sigh of relief, the feel of the slowly warming metal, at home against Beth's skin.
Her eyes catch on the glimmer of gold in the semi-darkness, and suddenly it feels like there's no air in the room. Beth opens her mouth in a vain attempt to get some oxygen, but instead the fat, heavy sob that has been pressing hard against her ribs seizes that chance to come out; moments later her cheeks are wet with tears.
And she finds herself pressed into her sister's willowy frame, Kate's arms strong and supportive around her, her mouth feather-like against Beth's hair, whispering kind words in her ear.
"I know, I know," is what the younger woman hears through her irregular, jagged breaths, and it's all she needs. She clings, hard, to her sister's waist, feeling like she's ten again.
But no, when they were ten, their mother was still alive; when they were ten, she wouldn't have been wearing the bracelet because it would have been on Johanna's wrist, and –
This is too much. Maybe she hasn't been doing such a wonderful job of dealing with their mother's death as she thought; maybe Kate was right. Maybe she just ran from her issues. But she's not running now, and god, it hurts.
That ache in her chest, the way it wrings and twists and tears at her heart – it's the most painful experience she's ever been through.
But Kate is there to help her, to draw soothing circles on her back, to sing in that very low voice that is so much like their mother's, until slowly the sobs quiet down, until Beth stops shaking so badly.
Even then, the youngest Beckett doesn't let go. She remains snuggled into her sister's embrace, a fuzzy feeling gradually warming up her insides.
She's got Kate back. And if this was the deal – accepting her mother's death in order to have her sister back into her life – well, Beth thinks it was a bargain.
It's been awhile since Kate and Beth went upstairs, but Castle is not interrupting. He's beeing good. He's being patient. They've got all day.
His stomach flips to think of it. They've got all day. A Sunday at his loft. If he knows Kate, she'll want to apartment hunt online, probably scout out a few places. That thought brings him back to reality, but it's not like she can stay in his loft indefinitely.
Well, she could. But she wouldn't want to.
Castle checks the kitchen, but the dishes are all in the drying rack or stacked in the dishwasher. Alexis is at the kitchen bar with a book, looks like Dickens. He wanders into the living room, goes to pick up the remote, and hears someone on the stairs.
"Hey, StepCastle, nails remember?" Beth calls out, stopping at the top of the landing. Alexis looks up from her book, then back to the page as if debating, then hops off the stool and leaves Dickens on the bar.
"Coming. Can we do the crackle paint you bought?"
Alexis bypasses Kate on her way up, stopping to give the woman an impulsive little squeeze that clearly throws Kate for a loop. But Castle gives her kudos for hugging back and continuing down the stairs.
She looks better than she did before she left him at his bedroom door. And it's not like she left him looking all that bad, just that now. . .something is lighter about her. A burden is gone.
"It went well?" he asks, standing to meet her.
Kate lets her smile off its leash, not exactly radiant but not shy either. Like she's easing into it. Happiness. Castle can't resist that smile and he grabs her by the wrist and tugs her close enough to kiss.
"Ow," she yelps into his mouth.
"Damn," he breathes, letting go of her bandaged arm. "Forgot. Does it hurt?"
"Only when you stop," she teases, shaking off his concern by drawing him back down to her by the nape of his neck.
He apologizes with his tongue, tracing the edge of her bottom lip, the corner of her mouth, tasting toothpaste and strawberries. He likes this slow seduction, the tug of her hands, the slide of his palm, the brush of her thigh, the expanse of skin he can get to just under her shirt.
Castle releases her, eases away from that mouth, and waits until her eyes open before he speaks. "What do you want to do today? We've got all day."
She tilts her head, a sly look in her eyes. "You already *know* what I want to do all day. Why'd you stop?"
Castle darts back to her lips, unable to help himself, but she detours and smudges the lines of his jaw with her mouth, brushing and nibbling away.
He lets out a soft groan, a sound of wonder, and wraps his arms around her, holds her in place against him, trembling. His mouth at her ear.
"Gotta stop," he pants. "Kate. Kate."
She laughs, evil, evil woman, and breaks off her assault, descends gracefully to the couch where she gestures to the cushion beside her. Castle takes a reluctant seat, trying to control the skipping rhythm of his heart.
"Don't you think we should talk?" he says finally.
She slides her feet up on the couch and shrugs. "About what?"
About what? "About. . .are there rules? Are there things I need to know?"
"Rules?" she questions, pushing her toes against his thigh. "Rules about what?"
Castle wonders if he's maybe dreaming. This seems. . .surreal. Is this really Kate or did Beth somehow switch with her? "About us. About the 12th. About us at the 12th."
"No." Now she's the one who looks uncertain. "What kind of rules?"
Is this really just not that big a deal? He feels like it's a huge deal. A very huge deal. "About. I don't know. PDA and stuff."
She looks concerned now, like he's grown a second head and she wants him to see a doctor. "Castle. . .I've dated guys at work before."
His heart flips a little. "Dated?" Inference being that they are now the ones dating.
She grins, casting her eyes to the side. "Whatever."
She snorts. "Like him. You think Will had rules?"
"Uh. . .yes?"
"Why do you think there'd be rules?"
"Because otherwise. . .how do they keep their hands off you all day?" he asks, and the thing is, he's totally being serious.
She laughs, soft and low; he can practically taste her arousal in the air. "We're both adults here - oh no, wait - I misspoke. I'm an adult. *You* are a large child-"
"Castle. If you try to cop a feel while I'm briefing the Captain, I'll rain down a world of hurt on you. And I know you know that."
He nods eagerly. Submissively. Can you be whipped by a woman before you've ever been with her?
"You've been at my side for a year now. The only rule I have, and you know this, is don't put my boys in harm's way. Don't make my job more dangerous than it already has to be."
"Never," he breathes.
Her fingers slide over his lips. "You haven't. At least, you haven't in a long time. Castle, I gave you my gun last night. We made a plan and we followed it through. And it worked."
He swallows, feels her fingers fall from his lips to trace the hollow at his throat.
"Because you did as I asked, we came out alive. If you're doing something stupid, it makes it harder for me to protect you."
He nods. "I know." He doesn't add that running in after her wasn't part of her plan; she told him to free Shaw and go get backup. Instead, he'd been her backup. But she must trust those decisions he makes as well.
"You do know." She watches him intently and then leans in to brush her lips under his eye, a tickle of her mouth. "So let's get back to the good stuff."
He chuckles and wraps his arm around her loosely, trying to be more mindful of the fact that she got tossed into steel containers yesterday and body slammed to a concrete floor.
She leans up to kiss him, hovering along the edge of his lips, when a thought occurs to him.
"Can I tell everybody?"
She jerks back. "What?"
Ah, there it is. He knew there were gonna be rules. "Ryan and Esposito. Lanie. What about-"
"Castle. Do you need me to make an announcement in the bullpen? Or should I ravish you in the interrogration room for everyone to watch?"
"Uh. . .are you being facetious?"
Kate rolls her eyes, thumping his skin. "No. I'm being fa-serious."
Fa. . .serious? Oh.
"That's a joke."
"Castle." Is that laughing?
"I can't tell anyone? It's a secret?"
She huffs and gets to her knees, as if she needs the advantage of height to make him understand. "It's not a secret. The moment I do so much as touch you, the whole place will know. Making an announcement would be redundant. But if you want to, I'll turn the tapes off and we can steal some time in Interrogation before I go on shift."
All thought completely leaves his brain.
Did she really say-
"You're gonna touch me inside the precicnt?"
She stares at him.
"Oh that sounded dirtier than even *I* thought."
"Castle. What the hell is your deal?" Kate sinks back to her feet, her hands on his thighs, peering into his eyes.
"I - I'm trying to get my head around this. So we just. . .walk in Monday morning, maybe I'm holding your hand, you're smiling at me, and then we do our usual thing, I get your coffee, you kiss me a thank you, we stare at the murderboard, I give you a superb if somewhat creative theory which I believe you have recently called silly-"
"You've got a script for this?"
He tilts his head. "You don't?"
A flicker of a smile across her face. "Not that precise. I tend to like more. . .spontaneity. Surprise me, Rick."
A hot flush pours through his body and he surges forward, trapping her head in his hands, laying claim to her, ruthlessly staking the mine of her mouth, marking his territory. He bites on her lip and she shudders, pushes harder into him, sliding a knee forward. He grips her thigh and yanks her closer, sucking hard on her jaw just under her chin, rocking his hips towards her.
He feels her fingers digging into his shoulders, her chest pressed to his. Her leg between his is hard and hot; her breath is ragged against his ear. When she growls and chokes off with a moan, Rick slides his hand under her shirt, clutching her hipbone, releasing her lip.
They break apart to breathe, sucking down air and staring at each other. This is more. This isn't just a breakdown of their better inhibitions, their rational intellect. This is *having,* this is a raw connection sparking between them like a hand to a static electricity globe, but binding them in a way no mere spark ever could.
"You're right," she says suddenly and he's amazed at how collected, how together she sounds. "You're right; we've got all day. And all night."
Oh yes. Yes. All night.
"And Monday morning, when you bring me my coffee, you'll just have to wait and see how I thank you. When you spout your theory, you'll just have to wait and see what I do."
His heart pounds watching her, because he knows. He can see it. Everywhere he looks, he can see it: her burning eyes, her round ear, the frame of her lashes, the soft slope of her nose, the hand clenched around his shirt.
"You love me." He brushes a messy curl behind her ear and strokes her cheek. "You love me and you'll press that soft sighing kiss against my mouth, but I won't let you get away so quickly. I'll say something you won't expect, do something you won't expect. I'll surprise you."
She swallows hard and the teasing glint is gone from her eyes. "You always do." And then she closes her eyes, barely even a moment, before she opens them again, at rest. "Sometimes your silly theories turn out to be right."