Title: Merge Right
Summary: Detective Beckett is absolutely no longer slizzard.
Spoilers: Here we go again. "Toxic" by Britney Spears, "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Shots" by LMFAO, "Higher" by Taio Cruz, "Power" by Kanye West. (Yes, these still aren't spoilers, but they still are songs that are obliquely referenced in the aforementioned order in the following fic, and I'm still very sorry about that. Real spoilers are not that many; you can assume this diverges from cannon sometime during the earlier part of the third season and that it takes place in an ever-so-slightly-A/U future).
Author's Notes: This fic is a sequel to the ridiculousness that is Curves Ahead. Honestly, if you're an astute reader who can make an inference or two (and I am sure that you are; you seem very intelligent), you can probably skip Curves Ahead and glean what you need to from this fic, but for the complete experience, you might want to read that one first. Also, I am sure you are astute enough to puzzle this out, but in case you are sleepy or something, italics are flashbacks here (this is only confusing because I did not want to put the flashbacks in past tense, so don't let it frighten you; it will all probably be okay).
"Whatwhere," Castle mumbles, the words tumbling from his mouth before he's fully awake.
His back hurts. His head hurts. His eyelids hurt.
Also, he is suddenly certain that there are warm body parts pressed up against him. Warm, toned body parts. And there is music. What music? Why music?
He opens his eyes and tilts his head around. He is slumped on his living room couch. The too-bright light illuminates what would usually be a very pleasant reality: Kate Beckett slouched on his shoulder, her warm, pliable, gorgeous body snuggled against him. Of course, in his dreams, Esposito's head is not in his lap, and Ryan's calves are not draped over his feet, and Lanie's ankles are not resting on his stomach. Not, he quickly spares the thought, that he doesn't like Ryan and Esposito and Lanie, it's just that they really don't regularly feature in his fantasies in quite the same way as Beckett.
The music continues to thrum through the room.
"Spanakopita!" Ryan exclaims, suddenly jerking upright on the floor.
"Oh, God, why?" Lanie moans, peeling herself up and off of Esposito.
"Me estàs jodiendo," Esposito groans, lifting his head off Castle's lap.
Beckett slumbers on. At some point, a damp patch of what he decides is most likely drool has formed on his shoulder beneath her mouth.
"Please make the noising stop," Castle whimpers, and it is then that he notices his daughter, looking far too perky, standing in the doorway.
"Good morning, Father. Doctor. Detectives," she says brightly.
"Why is there Britney Spears?" Esposito moans plaintively at her.
"How do you know this is Britney Spears?" Lanie hisses, squirming the rest of the way off Esposito's stomach and shoving his legs off the couch.
"This song doesn't – remind you of anything?" Alexis asks, eyeing the group.
"My misspent youth?" Ryan questions.
"Third year med school," Lanie mutters.
"Police academy," Esposito adds.
"That two-week California book tour where I never got to sleep."
"Think more recently," Alexis prompts.
"Something hazy's there," Lanie says.
"None of you have any recollection of staggering through the front door at five fifteen this morning, singing Toxic in five-part harmony?" She pauses, tilting her head. "Actually, I'm not sure 'harmony' is the quite the correct word."
"We did not," Castle protests reflexively, although now the memory of stumbling out of a cab, singing loudly and drunkenly about a taste of a poison paradise, is half-forming in his brain.
Esposito blinks, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out something crushed and flat and crumbly. He takes a small bite. "Why is there pita in my pocket?" he asks, squinting in what appears to be a combination of befuddlement and hangover.
"I knew I tasted spanakopita," Ryan says victoriously.
"Well," Alexis says, "this is sufficiently embarrassing for all of us."
Luckily, if there's one thing Richard Castle is adept at sloughing off, it's embarrassment. "So you decided to blast some Britney to – torture us?"
"Just thought it was apropos," Alexis says archly. "I'd clattered around the kitchen loudly enough and none of you even twitched. Anyway, I wouldn't have done anything, being as you all looked so peaceful lying there on the couch, but it's one in the afternoon and Ashley's coming to pick me up for a movie and I wanted to make sure you weren't dead." She turns to Castle. "You weren't very responsive when I tapped your arm. I didn't want anyone to choke on their own vomit."
"Your offspring is so considerate," Esposito grumbles to Castle.
The doorbell chimes, too loudly. Alexis walks over and taps off her iPod. "Feel better," she calls before deftly slipping out. "No," Castle can hear her saying just before the door closes, "you should use the bathroom at the theater instead. Our house is broken."
The warm weight on his shoulder trembles slightly. He looks down to see Beckett blink her eyes open.
"Morning, sunshine," he murmurs.
"I'm going to be sick," she says as she pushes away from him and staggers toward the bathroom.
"Who wouldn't be, waking up on Castle," Esposito grumbles.
The sudden sound of retching echoes through the living room.
"Oh, that makes me nauseous," Ryan moans, letting himself flop back down onto the floor.
Castle, Lanie, and Esposito all look at each other blankly for a beat.
"Well," Lanie says, "I'm not the one who had my tongue down her throat last night."
Castle tries not to let his eyes glaze as he gets lost in that particular image for a moment. "Mmmm," he manages to murmur.
"Focus, boys," Lanie says, flinging her arm heavily across both of them in what Castle supposes is an attempt at a swat.
"To the rescue," he mutters as he throws himself off the couch.
"Someone buy the man a white horse," Esposito says, sprawling into the space that Castle just vacated.
Castle stumbles valiantly toward the retching. "I'd settle for some Advil and a coffee," he tosses over his shoulder.
The bathroom door is open, and Beckett is curled miserably around the toilet, a strap of her tank top hanging off her shoulder, her skin sheened with sweat.
"Oh, Beckett," he murmurs, walking forward and pulling her hair off her neck.
"Go 'way," she manages to choke out.
He keeps his fingers curled around her loose ponytail. "Really?"
She finally stops vomiting, rests her head on her forearm. "No," she moans.
Castle forces himself to his feet and fills a glass with tap water. "Get that godforsaken thing away from me," she says.
"Hydration is important," Castle insists, nudging her bicep insistently with the cool glass.
A flash of the night before bursts through his brain – he hasn't forgotten it, not necessarily, but the memories have been hazy, slipping away when he grabs too hard at them.
"It's water, Beckett," he says, bumping a plastic cup rhythmically against her knuckles as she studiously ignores him, leaning over Ryan's arm and motioning to the bartender. "Just pretend it's vodka and choke it down."
She flicks her eyes over him before shaking her head and angling back toward the bar. Sometime on the dance floor (he's almost certain it was when Katy Perry had been busy demanding that they let their colors burst) one or the other of them had removed her hair tie, and now a cascade of waves tumbles over her cheeks and shoulders and back.
"Five flaming dragons," she says at the bartender. "And then" – she quirks her head at the lyrics echoing through the room, someone rapping vehemently about various types of shots – "five Jagerbombs."
Castle starts frantically tapping Lanie's arm, which is draped casually over Esposito's shoulder.
"Honey," she starts, "not that I don't –"
"You want to stay, you drink," Beckett says firmly. "My party, my rules."
Lanie shrugs helplessly at Castle. "I tried."
Ryan hunches over his phone, shaking his head and vaguely muttering, "Sorry, Jenny," as he taps out a text.
Five shots appear on the bar. "Beckett, did you just order us shots that are on fire?" Castle questions.
Her response is to deftly distribute the flaming drinks to each of them. "Blow it out first, Castle," she says, quirking an eyebrow. "This is not a good night for you to burn your mouth." With that, she brings the shot up to her lips, inhales or sips or something, blows a thin stream of fire in his direction, blows out the flame, and knocks back the liquid.
"This cannot be real," Castle says, puffing warily on his own shot.
"You blew fire at me," Castle says as he runs his knuckles over the vertebrae at the top of her spine.
"Is that a metaphor?" Beckett asks, leaning away from the toilet, back into his hand. Then, one beat later, "Oh. I did, didn't I?"
"That shot was truly vile," he says.
"Well," she replies, gathering her legs beneath her, "it served the purpose." He gently spans her ribs with his hands as she shoves herself shakily to her feet.
"Of making the remainder of my night very fuzzy, or of giving me a killer headache this morning – sorry, afternoon?"
She's on her feet, a breath away from him, and he finds himself incapable of removing his hands from her body or stepping away. "I think you have more than the one shot to blame for that," she says, then blinks at him. "Castle, I just vomited, believe me, you don't want to kiss me right now."
It isn't until after she says it that he realizes he's been staring at her lips the whole time she's been standing. He forcibly moves himself several inches away, opens the drawer under the sink, and pulls out a packaged toothbrush. "For the record," he says as he peels off the flimsy cardboard backing and presses the plastic into her palm, "I'd kiss you any time."
The words spark another clip of the night before, a grainy, slow-motion video of the murky club.
The shot burns his chest and makes his eyes water.
"So," Esposito says, "now that we've all had something to drink –"
"Can't hear you," Beckett says tersely, and suddenly her hand is clamped firmly around Castle's wrist and she's dragging him back onto the sticky dance floor.
At some point during the drinking at the bar, the club had gotten just a little out of sync with him, so that he feels like he's moving through water, or buoyed in quick, silvery liquid. It's sensation he hadn't felt since partying with Meredith, when they would do the kind of things that by all rights should have irreparably damaged a vast number of his brain cells. Now, he's not quite sure what to blame. There's the influence of five shots in fifteen minutes, and while he could have handled that with something like aplomb when he was twenty-five, he's not used to anything of the sort anymore, as his right knee keeps insistently reminding him when he bobs to the music. There's the intoxicating effect of Beckett's lips, the smooth heat of her mouth on his mouth, his jaw, his neck, that unanchors him from his previous conception of reality. Maybe it's just Taio Cruz, singing about getting higher and higher and higher off the ground.
"Beckett," he starts, slurring only ever-so-slightly, edging closer to her body, which is already gyrating in time to the music.
"I didn't brink you out here to talk," she says, and though her voice is steel, no edge of sadness or softness or drunkenness (how can she sound so sober?), she can't keep the plea out of her eyes – Not now, not now. But then she must see how much he sees, because she smiles, only a little wryly, and asks him, "You bored of kissing me already?"
"That must be it," he says, stepping into her, even though it's a hugely awkward song to be so close, a song more to encourage wild flailing (except that he's still weightless, floating, and yes, yes he's tied to a couple hundred helium balloons, and yes, yes, his body is so plateaued on a level that just feels so infinite), and their hips clash and bump awkwardly for a moment before her body melts into his, a length of sinew and warmth, and her fingernails scrape lightly along the base of his neck, and as he drags his lips along the arc of her jaw, he thinks that just this once, he has surpassed the need for words.
Ryan's fumbling with a coffee filter when they emerge from the bathroom. Esposito is splashing water onto his face from the sink. Lanie sits on the counter, watching Ryan with bemusement. Beckett surveys the scene, shakes her head, and hauls herself up on the counter next to Lanie.
"Thank you Christ," Ryan says, stepping hurriedly away from the machine. "I got as far as boiling water. You and your burr grinders and your milk frothers. I just need caffeine."
"We almost went to Starbucks," Esposito says, patting his cheeks dry with a dishtowel.
"But it would have felt wrong, slinking out while you were in the bathroom after spending such a magical night together," Lanie continues.
"We're going to have to keep this on the DL," Ryan begins. He cuts himself off before he adds the fatal last words, but the damage is done – at the 12th hangs in the air, and Beckett's eyes darken in a way that has nothing to do with her undoubtedly killer hangover.
Esposito leans forward and cuffs him on the head, whispering "idiot" on an exhale.
"So," Castle says, shifting slightly in the suddenly-heavy silence of the too-bright kitchen, "last night get a little hazy for anyone else after the Jagerbombs?"
"There were Jagerbombs?" Ryan asks, rubbing a temple.
"And fire," Castle supplies helpfully.
"Riiiiiight," Ryan says, raising an eyebrow and then wincing ever so slightly.
"And then you two," Lanie coughs meaningfully, "danced some more."
"Oh. That," he says. Beckett narrows her eyes at him, but he's pretty sure that if she were the type to blush, her cheeks would be pink.
"Coffee," Ryan prompts, gesturing a little desperately with a frother, and Castle remembers the task at hand, pulling a gigantic French Press out of a cabinet.
Everyone's silent as he heaps beans into the grinder. Just on the edge of his vision, he can see Esposito start to talk two or three times, but each time he catches himself and falls silent. It's not, Castle thinks, that they have nothing to talk about outside of work. It's just that the rhythm of the Precinct, the ebb and flow of cases, the neat lines of the murder board, the mesh of timelines and motives, is tangled inside and throughout them all, woven into every conversation, and it's hard, impossible, almost, with a sudden taboo on it.
"So," Esposito finally manages, "The Giants are playing this afternoon. Anyone want to have a beer at my place and watch the game?"
"Oh God," Lanie groans.
"Why would you even say that?" Castle asks.
Beckett just shakes her head.
"Best cure for a hangover," Esposito says, shrugging. "And I might even have all the stuff to make nachos."
A timer beeps shrilly. "I have a thing," Ryan says as Castle plunges the press and starts pouring the coffee into mugs.
"Does it involve going back to sleep on your couch and drooling all over yourself?' Beckett asks.
"And no alcohol," Ryan adds. "No alcohol ever."
Feeling chivalrous, Castle nudges the first mug into Beckett's hands. Lanie whimpers a little. "Hurry up, Writer Boy," she says. He wisely shoves the next mug at her and smiles as she inhales gratefully.
They lapse into silence, the only sound the clink of spoons against mugs as Ryan and Esposito take matters into their own hands and crowd up next to him to procure their caffeine, then all of their soft sighs as the liquid scorches down their throats.
They're clustered at the bar when the lights flick on harshly. He blinks, his eyes stinging after so long in the dark. He can see things he doesn't want to in the hard florescence – the degree of extra slope in Beckett's shoulders. The smudge of shadows under her eyes.
"Well," Ryan says, and Castle's awareness expands to the rest of them, to the awkward quiet that's hummed to life with the lights. "Is that an accordion?" The music sounds louder in the brightness.
Lanie cocks her head.
"Weird, bro," Esposito says.
"I know, right? What kind of club music is this?" Ryan asks, gesturing expansively.
"You noticing. That's what's weird," Esposito clarifies. Ryan glares.
"It's Romanian pop," Castle says.
"Now I want Greek food," Esposito says.
"Really, Javier?" Lanie looks at him skeptically.
"Greek and Romania are practically next door!"
"After you wade through the entire country of Bulgaria," Beckett says, knocking back the final swallow of her last Yuengling.
"Bulgaria," Esposito says, waving dismissively, "isn't gonna help my craving for moussaka."
"Well nobody's stopping you, Esposito," Beckett says.
Everyone glances quickly toward her, and Castle finally catches it in the rest of them – their hesitance, the desire, threaded into and through all of them, to stick with her, even at 3:55am after what has undoubtedly been a long week for everyone.
"Come on, Beckett," Castle whines, bumping gently into her shoulder. "If you don't buy me a pita to soak up that last absolutely disgusting Coors Light you made me drink, you're responsible for the ensuing disaster."
He can tell how drunk she is by how quickly she capitulates. "You spill tzatziki on me like that one time at the precinct after you swore up and down you wouldn't…"
He raises left hand and places his right hand on his heart. Well, his ribs, and then his heart. And a little harder than he meant to. He can tell Beckett notices by the way she smirks at him. "No spilled tzatziki. For real this time."
Esposito stares at his watch, the look on his face going from eager to despondent.
"Gyrating gyros," Ryan says, tapping Esposito's watch insistently.
"What?" Esposito asks, turning to stare at Ryan.
"You know that's not how you say gyros, right?" Lanie asks.
Ryan blinks at her like she's stupid. "That's what it's called. Gryrating Gyros. The Greek food carryout slash hour dance club in SoHo."
"Really?" Beckett asks, narrowing her eyes.
"I'm not sure they started out intending to be a Greek food carryout slash dance club. Maybe they were a respectable Greek restaurant with a decent musical selection, and gradually more and more people would be, well, gyrating in line, and before they knew it, they woke up one morning and… there it was." Ryan nods smartly.
"Next time we go anywhere, you're cut off after three drinks," Esposito says, then, reconsidering, revises. "Two drinks. You're cut off after two drinks."
"I've got the cab fare!" Castle says, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. He knows only that it's important to maintain momentum, that he's not ready for this surreal night to be over. He sees it already: he'll go to sleep in his own bed, she'll go to sleep in hers, and they'll both wake up the next day massively hung over and she won't be a cop anymore, and maybe she'll remember kissing him and maybe she won't, and maybe she won't pull away from him, draw into herself until one day he's only a distant memory, but, then again, maybe she will.
"So," Beckett finally starts, after he's more than halfway through his coffee and the awkward silence still reigns. Both of her hands are wrapped around her mug. There's a slight scrape on her right knuckle, a scrape he hadn't noticed last night. She's starting down at the rim of the ceramic. "You guys goin' in today?"
Nobody's dumb enough to ask her what she means.
"Look, Beckett," Esposito finally starts, voice low. "Montgomery didn't process anything. Won't, probably, for a long while. Your job's waiting –"
He trails off at the sharp shake of her head. "I just wanted to check. I got most of the paperwork done but I never sat down with Barlow, and you know how he is."
"Gets a lot of convictions, though," Ryan murmurs, staring vacantly at the floor.
"Kate," Lanie starts.
"Forget it," Beckett says abruptly. "I shouldn't have… you know how to do your jobs."
Esposito drains his coffee in one long swallow. "Not like you, Beckett," he says, swiping the back of a hand across his mouth. "I should get going. Last night's clothes starting to feel a little sticky and all."
Ryan shifts tentatively. "You need anything, Beckett?"
Lanie just watches her as she shakes her head, and somehow they're all hugging, hugging goodbye, awkward embraces where elbows jar into ribs and bones jut into bones, but he can see by how her eyes close briefly, tightly, that she savors it, the harsh press of their angles into her angles, the vibrant, vital currents of their connections.
Finding a minivan cab coming out of Gyrating Gyros was infinitely harder than finding one going there.
"I never knew spanakopita could make you so sleepy," Ryan says, shivering slightly and blinking rapidly.
"We should p'rolly take different cabs anyway," Lanie slurs, leaning into Esposito, "seeing as we're all heading different places."
Beckett starts to nod in agreement. An icy panic cuts through the drunken blear of Castle's thoughts.
"Or," he says quickly, "or you could just all crash at my place. There's the guest room and the sofa's an amazing pullout and there's an air mattress, but it's a pillowtop air mattress that's really just divine, and it's so close, and really you all live so far."
Beckett stares at him like he's lost his mind. "You want to… have a sleepover."
He blinks, backpedals as well as he is able. "Or coffee. I could at least feed you coffee and then get a driver to take you home."
"Coffee," Lanie sighs longingly, and then a minivan cab is rounding the corner and Castle is hailing it and ushering Beckett into it before anyone has a chance to think or protest.
Ryan dives for the front and rattles off Castle's address, Lanie flops across the back seat (Esposito carefully nudges her feet over, carving out half a seat for himself), and Castle somehow gloriously ends up sitting next to Beckett in the middle row, the length of his thigh flush against hers, their hipbones pressing sharply together. Her eyes are smudged with mascara, her pupils dilated, her lips slightly parted and sticky with the glossy chapstick he saw her applying as she graciously declined both a souvlaki and an invitation to dance to the Kanye song thrumming through the room.
He's drifting, being pulled inexorably closer to her, and it suddenly occurs to him that they haven't kissed in forever, not since the lights blazed on at Curves Ahead, and how can he have gone that long without feeling the slow, hot drag of her mouth over his? He must have had superhuman willpower, but it's gone now, his mouth a whisper away from hers, her pull drawing him ever closer.
He parts his lips to kiss her.
"You can't quit your job," he hears, too loud, and Beckett jerks away. For a heartbeat he curses whatever asshole is interrupting their moment, but then he realizes that that was his voice.
"Tonto tonto tonto," he hears Esposito murmuring from the back.
"What the hell, Castle," Beckett snaps.
His brain supplies: I'm sorry, I don't know where that came from. Please can we make out now? But somehow the words that come out of his mouth are different: "You're a cop."
"Not anymore," she says icily.
"Look, Beckett, tragedies happen," he blunders on. It's an out-of-body experience. Tragedies happen? Really?
"Don't pretend like you know anything about my decision," Beckett snaps. Yells, kind of.
The cabbie punches the button of the radio. Britney Spears is singing about how it's dangerous ands she's falling, and somehow that wraps into the frustrated ball that's suddenly coiled tightly in his chest.
"You're too goddamn good to quit," he growls, the tiny, logical voice in his head, the one that continually asserts not the right time not the right time, growing smaller by the second.
"And you're too goddamn stupid to let me make my own choices," Beckett snaps, looking a little too much like she wants to punch him in the jaw.
He opens his mouth to respond, but he's cut off by a husky voice from the back seat.
"Spinning 'round and 'round. Do you feel me now? With a taste of your lips I'm on a ride…" Lanie's voice has the raspy, boisterous edge of the very drunk.
Ryan's voice chimes in from the front seat, "You're toxic; I'm slipping under…"
Esposito joins: "With a taste of a poison paradise…"
Beckett's jaw is still set dangerously, but he feels his anger drain in a sudden wash of amusement and affection for all of the passengers in the cab. He listens to Lanie and Ryan and Esposito stumble though a verse before he hears his own voice again, pitching sharp and then flat, helplessly far away from any type of normal key. "I'm addicted to you, don't you know that you're toxic? And I love what you do, don't you know that you're toxic?"
Beckett stares, eyebrow raised, looking slightly less like she's about to dismember him. The cab slows and then stops in front of his apartment, and he's chucking some money at the driver and tapping forward at Ryan's shoulder and back at Esposito's knee to get them out. As they're exiting he slings an arm over Beckett's shoulder, and, miraculously, she doesn't shrug him off. He can feel the heat of her radiating in the sudden chill of the air as they step out of the cab.
Esposito bumps up against his shoulder, and for some reason all of them are still stumbling through the song, dropping words and notes but the lyrics tangling them all together, even Beckett (who's singing too softly for him to hear, but he can feel the rumble of the lyrics vibrating deep in her chest). And they're drunk, yes, and underneath the bonelessness of Beckett's drunkenness are the sharp edges of her armor, and underneath those he can feel the vibrating current of her sadness, but even so, even so, he wants to keep this moment, the tattoo of half-remembered dance music thrumming through his blood, the sharp, warm planes of her shoulders shifting against his arm, his tuneless voice stumbling along next to her husky perfect pitch. He wants to keep this moment forever.
He can't quite stop his sense of wonder that Beckett hasn't followed Lanie and Ryan and Esposito out the door, that somehow she's watched them walking away but remained at his side.
"So," he says, mindful of the tilt of her body back against the counter, of the certain looseness in the curl of her fingers around the mug, "you need a nap?" He leans back next to her, angles into her, bumps his thigh gently against hers.
"No," is all she says, though the tone underpinning the word is I slept until one in the afternoon and I've only been up for an hour, moron.
He hedges his bets, leans in a little more, revels in the sharpness of her hip, the soft length of her thigh. "You wanna talk?"
She pivots around her hip so that her front is flush against his. Her fingers drag lightly over his back. "No," she murmurs, her voice low and gravelly.
"Oh," he says, all oxygen abandoning him in a giant rush.
She crowds even closer against him in a way that sends shivers spiking down his spine. Some distant vestige of his brain shoves a warning at him. "Um," he starts, "I feel like you're slightly emotionally vulnerable right now, and while I'd like nothing more than to ravis –"
He breaks off at the feel of her teeth scraping firmly against his lower lip. "Castle. Learn."
"This feels familiar," he murmurs against her mouth.
"Not for long," she says, grabbing the front of his shirt and spinning him around so that she's walking him back towards the bedroom.
Her mouth stays on his, and he loses any last shred of protest, loses everything but the feel of her lips skidding over his, her nails digging into his neck, her sides working double-time under his palms. He loses everything but her.
I would like to say a huge, ginormous thank you to everyone out there who reviewed Curves Ahead and continually (but always lovingly) harassed me for the above, even if it is so long overdue that you've undoubtedly forgotten about the first installment by now. It was a hugely difficult task to even approach the obviously superlative literary merit of that fic (I mean, what can come close to a masterpiece that had the working title of "Slizzard"?), so I can only hope that this was up to that Herculean task. (Also, for some reason, my brain wanted to keep the songs in the same time frame of Curves Ahead. So, sorry this play list is tragically less hip than the first one. And that there were no explicit sexytimes, but for more info re: that, read below.)
Although this was far, far longer than I had ever intended it to be, I have a last piece of this floating around in my brain tentatively titled "The One in Which Carto Sucks it the Hell Up and Writes Something M Rated." So, stay tuned, unless you're smart, in which case maybe you should run, run away.