AN: As is becoming clear, I'm sure, I'm not the quickest when it comes to updating. But I WILL update.

My thanks to JSQ for the read-through.


Chapter Seven: Bigger and Badder

As it turned out, the team at the 12th didn't have to wait long to find out that the potential lead they had uncovered at Gantz's club had dead-ended. The reference to a "Mr Miller" in some of the transactions the club had entered into with a repeat supplier took them to the door of a legitimate business, run by a Louis Miller, which provided special effects lighting to the club.

Beckett put down the receiver, and shook her head.

"What? Nothing?" Ryan asked as he rocked back on his heels and ran his hand through his hair.

"Shaw says "no". The Miller in the accounts isn't the same one who paid off Gantz. It's coincidence, nothing more."

"So we're still nowhere, and unless Shaw gives us the go-ahead to get our thumbs out of our asses, we're gonna stay nowhere. Geez, this is bullshit!" Esposito cursed and went back to his desk, his partner quickly following suit.

Beckett tamped down her own frustrations by jumping to her feet and going in search of coffee. As she was steaming the milk, she felt him at her side. She didn't look up, just sighed, and continued to hold the stainless steel milk jug in place. Seconds passed. She knew he was struggling, uncharacteristically, for something to say - something that would buck-up her spirits.

Eventually, he spoke. "So, the studio in L.A. sent me over a rough cut of "Naked Heat".

"Are faux Ryan and Esposito still as creepy?"

"More so, actually. But I've only seen the first few minutes. I thought maybe you'd like to come over and watch with me?"

"Hmm, won't that be a little…now, how did you once describe it… 'Meta'?"

"You think?"

"Well, Castle – its me watching me, sort of…and I'll be watching with you, the you that invented the 'me' on the screen."

"Well when you say it in those terms."

"Besides, I'll probably be here, working late."

"But didn't you just say that your lead dead-ended?"

"Yes. But just because we've drawn a blank on Gantz, doesn't mean that my other cases have disappeared off the face of the earth. I've got a mountain of paperwork to get through."

"Okay. Understood. Maybe another time?"

He looked disappointed, and she felt compelled to offer him something. Because the truth was she was disappointed, too. She wanted nothing more than to follow him home, order in takeout from that ridiculously expensive Japanese place he loved and curl up on his sofa. But she wasn't ready. Once the thought of telling him how she felt and telling him that she knew how he felt about her didn't fill her with anxiety, she would take that leap. For now, she was tethered to her fear, her inability to foresee a happy ending, but she had faith that it wouldn't always be that way.

"Yeah, Castle, some other time. I promise." She swayed to her right a little and knocked her hip against his side.

He looked at her out the corner of his eye, as he placed his own cup on the drip tray and hit the 'espresso' button, but said nothing. But she caught his smile, and for now that was enough.

Together, they walked back over to her desk. He sat off to the side of her, like always, and they sipped their coffee and talked over some of the other cases currently taking up room in her in-tray. At just after six pm, he left for home and Beckett stayed on until nine. Just as she was opening the door to her car, her cell vibrated and sang.

"Beckett." She said as she inserted her key into the door lock.

"Girl, tell me you're free this evening?"

"Lanie?"

"Well?"

"Um, sure…I mean, I was about to head on home."

"Beckett, I'm in need of some girl talk and a big plate of fries – can we meet at Remy's?"

Beckett really didn't want to. But she told her friend that she'd be there in twenty minutes. She pulled out of the precinct's parking garage and turned left instead of right when she reached the exit. All the way the way over to the restaurant, she wondered what had caused Lanie's voice to take on that pleading tone. A tone she'd never heard before. She believed the answer might take the form another of her friends – Esposito. And if it did, well then, this had the potential to get messy. Unlike Castle, she abhorred gossip, avoided conversation on the 'down low' and generally liked to communicate face-to-face, not via a third party. She knew Lanie wouldn't mean to put her in the middle, but that's just where she'd end up. And she hated that.

She found Lanie sitting at the bar. A large glass of red wine sat within her grasp, but from what Kate could see, the other woman hadn't touched it. This was going to be worse than she feared. Lanie was a cocktail drinker. She only drank wine when she was upset, or when there wasn't anything else on offer. She slid onto the bar stool next to her and raised her hand as the bartender turned to look her way.

"Thanks for coming, Beckett."

"No problem. I could use something to eat anyway. So, what's up?"

"It's him."

"Espo?"

"Yeah."

The bartender had finished ringing up another order and made his way over to them. Beckett ordered a white wine spritzer – needing the taste of alcohol, but wanting to limit her actual intake. She'd probably be driving them both home after.

"When it was good, it was better than it's ever been with anyone else. I think he feels the same way in that respect. But when things started to fray around the edges, we buckled big time…then we ran in opposite directions."

"And now?"

"And now I'm left remembering everything that was good, and it's driving me crazy. God, that man knew women. He knew…ugh, he knew just what to do and together we were amazing. And it wasn't just the sex that was good, we connected, we had fun."

Beckett shifted around in her seat because images of a shirtless Esposito floated around in her mind and she really wanted them gone. She wasn't blind - her fellow detective walked around with a certain knowing twinkle in his eye, and maybe if she wasn't his superior, and there was no job to worry about and no Castle to contend with, she might be tempted to maybe…maybe go there. But all those factors were in place, and so the last thing she wanted was to be having this conversation about her friend and colleague.

"Well maybe you two should talk. If there's something there, it has to be worth fighting for."

"That's what I'm thinking…so, you think I should speak to him?"

"I think if you want to see if you two can be a couple, then you need to speak to him. But maybe you both need to be honest with yourselves – do you want another fling, or do you want to build a relationship around the attraction that you obviously feel for one another."

"That's good advice. Hey, you're good at this." Lanie smiled and pushed her own wine glass off to the side. "I'll never know why people rave about wine. It's dry and frankly awful tasting."

Beckett grinned, mostly at the compliment she'd received, and again caught the bartender's eye. It wasn't difficult; he'd been checking her out since she sat down. She order Lanie's favourite: a Blue Hawaiian, and the two women slid as gracefully as they could manage off their barstools and found a table in the dimly lit restaurant area.

Three hours later, they asked their waiter if he could call them a cab. Lanie had parked in the lot at the back and Beckett would have to leave her car parked on the street outside. The cool late night air hit them as soon as they stepped outside, and they rushed over to the taxi and jumped in. Lanie's place was closest, so they headed there first.

"Thanks, Beckett. It's been too long since we did this. Actually, I'm not sure if we ever did 'this', but it's been fun and it's been great to get all this Esposito stuff off my chest."

"I had fun, too. You're right; we definitely need to do this more. I'll see you in the morning?"

"Probably not until the afternoon. I've got a couple of John Doe's I need to work on first. But I'll be by to attend Agent Shaw's briefing. I may not have anything to do at the moment regards the Gant'z case, but she's keen to keep all of us in the loop. Gotta say, I like her style."

"Yeah, Shaw's one of the good ones."

"So you aren't still pissed to be toppled as lead investigator?"

"I wouldn't go that far."

Lanie smiled at her honest response and jammed a wad of money in her hand. "This should cover the fare here and then back to your place."

Beckett knew better than to argue. She asked the driver to wait until her friend had climbed the few steps to her front door and then closed it behind her. Then they pulled back into the still steady stream of traffic. "Your place" - the truth was that she didn't have a 'place' anymore. The hotel she now called home wasn't home, and her job kept getting in the way of her efforts to find a more permanent arrangement. Right now, all she wanted was her own furniture around her, her own bed, her own sheets and duvet cover. She could have all that, of course, but that would mean spending the night in a storage container downtown, and well that wasn't appealing either. She bet Castle had the best bed. His sheets were probably handmade by elves and his duvet made of clouds. Her head rested back against the headrest and the inside of the cab spun a little. She could probably lie horizontally on his bed and both her head and feet would still be miles from the edge. Castle's bed…mmm. Castle. A bed... A bed and Castle.

"Ma'am, we're here. Ma'am?"

Shit! She sat bolt upright, muttered an apology and passed over all the money Lanie had given her. She didn't even count it. "Does that cover it?"

"It more than covers it. But, here, let me give you some change. This is too much…way too much."

She got out of the car and walked around to the driver's door. Most of the money she had handed over was handed back to her. "Thanks, she said as she noticed a $50 dollar bill in amongst some tens. That's honest of you."

"No problem. Besides, I can spot a cop a mile off."

Beckett tapped the roof of the car twice and then walked around and stepped up onto the sidewalk. She dug inside her purse for her key card and then navigated the revolving door of her not home. The kid manning the small reception desk looked up briefly from his magazine but on seeing her, he looked down again. She decided to take the stairs up to her room instead of riding the elevator. The cool air in the stairwell would do her good. God, she and Lanie had drunk way too much. The sound of her toes and then substantial heel against the metal staircase echoed around the enclosed square funnel. Tap. Bang. Tap. Bang.

Exiting on the fourth floor, the sound of her footsteps died as she walked down the carpeted hallway to her room. Her hotel room smelled funny, and she sighed as she remembered that she'd forgotten to empty the small bin by the side of the desk. The half-eaten breakfast burrito inside was doing its best to stink up the place. She walked over and bent down, tying the two ends of the plastic bag in the bin together and then placing it in the bath, ready to be ditched in the morning. Then she brushed her teeth, twice. She stripped where she stood, leaving only her bra and underwear on. The rectangular dressing was still in place. She knew she should clean the almost healed wound, but she lacked the hand-eye coordination to do it. Turning off the bathroom light, she padded barefoot into the bedroom come living room, and slid into bed. Remembering to set the alarm on her cell phone, she then closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.

…Four hours later – 4:40am: she awoke to the sound of her cell phone ringing. Thinking it was the alarm; she slid the comforter over her head and turned over. But the sound didn't stop, even when she reached for the phone and pressed the function button to set it to snooze mode. Finally, the ringing stopped, and she fell right back to sleep. But then the noise came again. And again.

"Beckett", she practically growled into the phone.

"Yo! What kept you?"

"Espo?"

"Yeah."

"What's up?"

"We're down at Port Newark. Shaw's guys found some more of that stuff Gantz had in his lock up."

"The container port? Um, how much more?" She said as she struggled to sit up.

"Enough to convince everyone here and up at City Hall that this thing is bigger and badder than we thought."

"Where'd they find it?"

"In one of the shipping containers which arrived overnight."

"From where?"

"Germany."

"Shit! I'll call Castle and we'll meet you over there."

"Writer Boy is already here. We've been calling you for like an hour!"

She mumbled a brief apology and hung up. The room spun as she climbed out of bed and willed herself into believing that she could be vertical again. She walked on unsteady legs to the bathroom, which now also reeked of spicy tomato sauce and onion, and cleaned her teeth. She could have done without the dry heaving as she tried to run the toothbrush over her bone-dry teeth and tongue, but she had a feeling that today just wasn't going to be her day.

All in all, it took her twenty long minutes to get herself showered and dressed. She rode the elevator all the way down to the parking garage before she remembered that she'd abandoned her car near Remy's. Not only was she likely to have picked up several parking fines by now, but also she'd be lucky if the damn thing was even there by the time she arrived to collect it. And so it was approaching 7am by the time she made it through the defensive line of Port Authority security guards, cops, and government agency suits and located her team. Or, more accurately put, Agent Shaw's team.

She could feel the tension in the air all around her as CDC techs suited-up and ducked back inside the hermetically sealed red shipping container. Even Shaw looked unsettled. Beckett understood – sometimes all the training and on-the-job experience can't prepare you for the moment when you stare evil in the face. She had, of course, encountered evil before during her successful time at the FBI – but such indiscriminate hatred on this scale? Beckett doubted it. Her gaze wandered to take in the image of Castle standing two people over, listening intently to the instructions falling from Shaw's lips. She was about to look away, to direct her attention to where it should be, but then he looked right at her. He looked sad and scared, but he smiled a greeting anyway. She smiled back.

Agent Shaw finished her briefing, and within seconds, men and women, beat cops and agents, techs and dog-handlers fanned out and disappeared amongst the rows upon rows of different coloured storage containers that stretched as far as the eye could see. Shaw gave a brief nod to Beckett and then was carried away on a sea of black suits to the command post, which was still in the process of being set up.

"You know this port is the second busiest in the world, right?" Esposito said as he, Ryan and Castle approached her.

"Nope. God, this place is huge!" She said, the enormity of the task on their hands just now sinking in.

"It's also one of the most high-risk terrorist targets in the US." Ryan added.

"And the Germany connection…where are we on that?"

"Well according to the Port Authority guys, the largest volume of imports comes in from Germany. So it may not mean anything. Espo and I don't think this threat originated overseas, just that maybe our guy pulling the strings decided to mix it up a little, set the hares running, you know?"

"What's to say our guy doesn't have friends abroad who support his cause, or maybe he went to Germany and loaded the shit into the container himself." Esposito followed-up, all the while his partner was nodding in agreement.

"So, for now, we're still nowhere?" Beckett sighed, squinting against the early morning sun, which just about peeked over the top of the mountain of containers all around them.

"All we know is that things just got a whole lot worse." Ryan summed up, as silence fell over them.