A/N: Nope, still isn't the sequel to A Death in the Family. This is... I don't know what it is, lol. I'll let you read and find out. There are like eight chapters so far, and probably more to come. And yeah, they're short. Sorry for those who have gotten used to my long, long chapters. This is, well, new. I wanna thank Laura, without who this story wouldn't be half of what it is - and without who I wouldn't have a title. You rock. I love you.
Disclaimer: Castle isn't mine, yadda yadda.
The sky above them is an uninterrupted blue; a clear, bright hue that looks like it's been washed clean of any clouds. Kate smiles and stops for a moment, enjoying the feel of the sun on her skin, the quiet ruffle of the leaves, the birdsong. It's a perfect day.
"How much longer?" The familiar voice of Richard Castle asks from behind.
The whiny tone makes her lips twitch in the briefest of smirks before she controls her face and turns around. Looking at him, she has to stifle yet another urge to smile, because if you forget the childish pout on his face, the man looks kind of cute in his hiking gear: beige shorts, a light blue shirt and a cap saying I'm Whipped, courtesy of Ryan and Esposito. His backpack matches the one she is wearing, and sneakers complete the outfit.
He has nice calves, Kate thinks fleetingly as her eyes linger over the strong, yet harmonious lines. She gives herself a mental shake, unwilling to go down that road again. When she meets Rick's eyes, she finds a glimmer of amusement dancing there. He doesn't even bother trying to hide it.
"Are you gonna ask that every ten minutes, Castle?" She finally answers in a stern voice, trying to regain control of the situation. "Because if you do, I'll just put in my earbuds and ignore you.
"And miss the pleasure of my 'vast arsenal of rapier wit'? I don't think so," the writer shrugs off nonchalantly.
"Just try me," Kate challenges, a dangerous glint shining in her green eyes.
Rick smiles, but keeps wisely silent. She almost comments on it, but her focus shifts when her eyes land on a nearby bush. Those look like mulberries, don't they? She squats down, picks one and tentatively tastes the small fruit.
She instantly regrets it; thank God Castle is holding his water bottle in his hand. She grabs it, drinks in great gulps, eager to wash down the bitter taste.
"Not ripe enough, I conclude?" he says, blue eyes crinkling, as she hands back the water.
"Be my guest and try them," Kate suggests wickedly. "But it's at your own risk."
He laughs and declines, and they start walking again, side by side, surrounded only by the smells and sounds of nature. It almost feels like they're the only human beings on the planet. Castle's hand nudges at Kate's, and she lets him entwine their fingers loosely. Doesn't shake him off.
About a mile later, they come across a fork in the path they're following. There are no signs whatsoever to direct them one way or the other, and Kate's brow furrows as she fumbles for the map in her back pocket, peers at it.
"Are we lost?" Castle asks, somewhat gleefully. Jeez, he's just waiting for something to go wrong, isn't he?
She doesn't answer immediately, intent on making out the intricate pattern of red and blue and green lines, and he goes on rather unfeelingly. "I knew it. I told you this was a terrible idea – now we're lost in the middle of nowhere, and –"
"Shut up, Castle, we're not lost," Kate interrupts with no small measure of annoyance.
"Oh, no? Then where are we?" He raises an eyebrow in challenge.
Her lower lip finds a home between her teeth, and one of her hands goes up to tuck a wandering lock of hair behind her ear as her eyes remain focused on the piece of paper. She can feel Rick's gaze resting on her, and she's not sure whether it's a good or a bad thing.
"We're…here," she says finally, pointing at a spot on the map. "Or maybe here," she amends in a lower voice, her finger following the path. She looks up to find a dubious expression on Castle's face and makes a small sound of irritation.
"We're in the south of France, somewhere between –" she glances at the map – "Réalmont and Lafenasse. There, satisfied?"
His blue eyes darken a little.
"Have I told you how hot your French accent makes me?" He asks in a husky voice, stepping closer. Kate rolls her eyes.
"You mean, as opposed to the way you butcher the words?"
Castle's French is actually quite good, as she discovered over the last couple of days; it's his accent that leaves something to be desired. He pouts, though she can't tell if it's in response to her quip or because she's ignoring his attempt at seducing her.
"Let's go right," she finally decides, folding the map and directing her steps that way.
"We're going to get lost," she hears him grumble behind her. "I said this was a bad idea…"
The detective turns around, so fast that she sees him jump a little. Well, he's damn right to be scared. She can take some teasing – a lot of teasing, even – but she'd rather not have him doubt her when she's already doubting herself.
"Richard Castle. I seem to remember we had a deal."
He keeps silent. He does that sometimes, when he feels that he's done something wrong, but doesn't know what.
"You remember it too, don't you? And that deal, I think, made mention of my being in charge of this."
Her words are met with more silence. She takes a threatening step towards him.
"Are you reneging on our deal?"
She has him; she won't let him off the hook until he answers.
"No, I'm not," he answers quickly. She arches an eyebrow, and he blurts out, "But I didn't think you'd actually go through with it!"
"So you thought you could trick me into forfeiting my part of the deal?"
She's playing dirty, using words like forfeit, when she knows his writer's mind will have trouble focusing on anything else. And indeed, Castle swallows, takes a few moments before he looks at her again, with that deer-in-the-headlight expression she's seen a few times before.
But then resolution settles on his face. He can be so expressive; she enjoys watching his thinking process play out in his eyes. She sees him hesitate, and yet his voice doesn't waver when he answers, "No. No. I did make that deal, and I'll hold to it. It's just…"
He sighs, but she keeps her focus on him, willing him to go on. He does.
"I've got all this money, Kate, and what good is it if you don't want to use it?"
Her eyes bore into him, intense, searching, and he doesn't flinch. Doesn't he understand what she's doing, where she's going with this? Well, yes, of course, it has to do with her being uncomfortable with Castle's money, but it's not just that. He's so used to expensive hotels, to his life of luxury; and she just wanted… She wants to show him how different it can be. She remembers the semester in Kiev, and then her tour of Europe, sleeping in youth hostels, or wherever they could find a bed. Life can be adventurous and fun in different ways than laser tag or throwing fancy parties.
And she also – she wants to show him that wild side to her, the one that blossomed fully in Kiev. Or whatever's left of it.
Maybe she expects too much out of this.
"Some things are worth more than money, Rick," she lets out at last, her voice soft.
He tilts his head, watching her closely. He's not getting it, not completely at least, but he seems okay with whatever conclusion he's reached.
"Okay," the writer replies. "Alright." His blue eyes suddenly twinkle with mischief, and Kate knows he's done being serious.
"So, fancy hotels are not your thing. But, Kate… Hiking? Seriously?" He scrunches his face at her in distaste, and she rewards him with a bright smile, and the faintest sounds of a laugh.
"Quit whining, Rick," she orders in that bossy voice that works so well on him. Then she switches tactics, and moves forward to wind an arm around his neck. Her fingers curl into his hair as she whispers in his ear, "Are you not happy to be here? With me?"
He won't resist the words, let alone the sultry tone she's using. She can hear him gulp before answering, "Yes…"
The detective feels a 'but' coming, and she steps back, gives him a teasing, challenging glance.
"Then walk," she concludes decidedly. "And if I hear more complaining, I swear, Castle, I'm knocking you out and leaving you here, at the mercy of wild beasts."
He stares at her in mock outrage.
"But I'm your husband!"
"So?" She shoots back smoothly.
He stares some more.
"I can't decide if I am affronted or turned-on," he mutters dejectedly.
"Oh, poor Ricky. The two are not mutually exclusive, you know," she laughs, giving him a dirty look over her shoulder.
"Yep, turned-on definitely wins," he stage-whispers as he starts moving again, puffing out a loud, unhappy sigh.
"I thought I had made myself clear," Kate warns, though she can't completely keep her amusement out of her voice. "No –"
"Complaining," Rick finishes readily. "But that wasn't complaining, oh, adorable wife. That was longing. Can't you, detective, hear the difference?"
She narrows her eyes at him – questioning her abilities won't get him anywhere – but a tiny part of her is pleased, too. He did just imply that he's longing for her, didn't he? And since they're walking together, she guesses he doesn't mean just her company.
The detective lets the corner of her mouth curve into a half-smile.
"I'll tell you what, Castle. You long in silence, and maybe I can find a way to reward you tonight."
"See, that's just not fair," he objects decidedly. "You know I can't keep my mouth shut."
Kate turns to look at him, her eyes wide and alluring. Her index finger has found a strand of dark hair, and she's twirling it slowly, deliberately.
"Really? Not even with such…incentive?" She wonders in a low voice.
Rick opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. He almost looks in pain as he purses his lips resolutely, then makes a zipping gesture. His wife grins in delight, and brushes a hand against his bicep.
"Good boy," she breathes, before sauntering away.
How much of this can he take? She's looking forward to finding out.