Stop Haunting Me
(Ghost on the Canvas 2)
by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles
I'm not calling you a ghost, just stop haunting me
And I love you so much, I'm gonna let you kill me
There's a ghost in my lungs and it sighs in my sleep
Wraps itself around my tongue as it softly speaks
Then it walks, then it walks with my legs
To fall at your feet
There but for the grace of God go I
And when you kiss me, I am happy enough. . .
-I'm Not Calling You a Liar, Florence + the Machine
When he sorts his mail in the kitchen, he finds the postcard. It depicts two giraffes with their feet splayed, necks dipped to a watering hole somewhere in Africa. The giraffes are spindly, the water grey-blue against the browns and yellows of the landscape.
Castle flips the postcard over and sees Beth's handwriting, cramped to get in as much as she can, but still fluid and thin and graceful. A lot like Kate's handwriting. The card is postmarked from Mbarara, Uganda, where Beth has been working with a relief agency.
It's addressed to Kate though. Which makes him smile. Beth has been pushing Kate to move in with him since. . .since forever. Since he met Beth. Kate's younger sister has been sending all of her mail to his address. There's also a postcard for Alexis in the stack as well; he fishes it out and calls for his daughter.
Alexis hops down the stairs with a grin. "Yeah?"
"Postcard from Beth."
"Oooh, awesome. We've been chatting online as much as we can, but with the time difference, it's hard to get everything in."
"So is addressing Kate's postcards to our apartment your idea or Beth's idea?" he says, raising an eyebrow at her as he pulls milk from the fridge.
He hears his daughter's low laugh. "Um. . .kind of a brain storm session on that one."
"You guys are gonna push too hard one of these days," he warns her, but leans forward and kisses her forehead. "Sorry, I didn't make it to dinner. Want some hot chocolate with me?"
"Sure. Let me go get my homework and do it down here. Where's Kate?"
"She's on her way," he replies, shrugging out of his jacket and unbuttoning his collar. Alexis grabs his jacket before he can toss it towards a chair, shakes her head at him, and drapes it over the couch.
"Is she staying the weekend?"
"I think so. I can usually convince her." Truth is, Kate needs very little convincing. He just doesn't understand why she won't move in. "Get your homework. It'll be ready in a few."
He pours milk into a saucepan and turns on the burner. He yawns to himself and rubs his eyes, then hears the key in the lock.
He isn't expecting Kate so soon; she said she wanted to finish paperwork. She pushed him out the door, told him to see his daughter before she had to go to bed.
The front door opens to reveal Kate wrestling to get her key back out of the lock. She complains that he gave her the bad key, the one that sticks, but it works fine for him. He always says that she's transferring her psychological issues to the key instead, that it's all in her head. They both laugh about it.
But it's not really funny. He wants her to stay with him for good, not just for the weekends.
She drops her bag in the hall and the keys on the table, then comes towards the kitchen with a soft, weary smile. But it's a smile. She kicks off her shoes beside the island and steps around it and into his arms, kissing his throat.
He hums and captures her mouth, curling a hand in her hair. "Couldn't stay away?"
She laughs that low, sexy sound that's almost a purr. "Got me."
"Glad you're here," he whispers into her mouth, kissing her again, again, unable to help himself. They steal moments in the precinct of course, a gentleness just inside the elevator, a brushing of hands as they sit down at the interrogation table, a hundred looks, sometimes a hug int he break room. But pressing her against him and having her arch her body into his. . .
He can't get enough of it.
"Alexis still up?"
"Yeah. She's coming downstairs with homework."
"Mm, making hot chocolate?"
"Yeah. Still cold."
She nods and kisses his cheek before stepping back, leaning against the island countertop. "My fingers are still numb."
They spent most of today outside, chasing one lead to the next, rounding up suspects. A homeless man in a drainage culvert, a doctor at a free clinic, a woman panhandling. Leads that eventually led to their arresting a guy for murder.
All in the bitter temperatures. He's not a fan of the cold, but he loves the bright pink it puts in Kate's cheeks, loves the soft sweaters she wears and the gorgeous, designer coats and the way she grows her hair out longer to keep her neck warm.
"Oh," he says suddenly, snapping his fingers. "This came for you." He reaches around her to the stack of mail, digs out the postcard, and hands it over. He turns back to the stove and stirs the milk absently while he watches her read it.
At the end of it, Kate smiles to herself and shakes her head, props up the postcard in front of the fruit bowl on the counter, moves in closer to him. For an instant, Kate lays her head against his back, sighs softly, then she heads for the fridge.
"Tired?" he murmurs, glancing at her warily.
She nods, scanning the fridge with a hand in her hair, raking it back. He's got Kate's finally-home routine down to a science. In thirty seconds, she'll have to grab a rubber band and pull her hair back, and then after that, she's changing into more comfortable clothes.
She shuts the door without taking anything, then turns around, her hand once more going through her hair. "You have any. . .graham crackers?"
"Graham crackers? Uh. You can check. Pantry."
She nods and slips over to the pantry door, opens it and stands in front like she did with the fridge. He watches the milk bubble and adds cocoa and sugar, trying not to let it scorch.
Kate comes over to him with a grin on her face, holding a box of instant hot chocolate. "You gotta do it the hard way?"
"Microwaved water is no good," he grumbles. "You know you love this better."
She leans in and brushes her lips along his jaw. "I do. But-"
"No way. Put the fake stuff back. Did you find graham crackers?"
"Yeah," she says, moving away from him to return the hot chocolate.
"And. . .?"
She turns a bewildered look on him, shrugs. "Not right. I want. . .something else."
She shrugs and sighs. "I don't know."
Castle stirs the creamy cocoa and milk, adds a little more sugar, then dribbles vanilla into it as well. He's never seen her like this before, but now that he thinks about it, all day she's been. . .off.
Kate slumps to the bar stool and props her chin in one hand; he wriggles an eyebrow at her and she cracks a smile, tired though it is.
"This will fill you up. Then you and I can find some dinner."
He can hear her stomach growl from where he is. She laughs and clutches a hand to her stomach, shaking her head. "I'm starving."
"Eat some graham crackers, Kate. Something. Jeez." He laughs at her and takes the milk off the burner, stirring it, a little entranced by the sound of the ladle against the saucepan, around and around.
"Ooh, let's order in pizza!"
He lifts an eyebrow and glances over his shoulder at her. "Seriously?"
"Yeah," she jumps off the stool and moves around to his side of the kitchen, rifling through the junk drawer for a menu or coupons or something.
"Order from Celeste's," he says, pouring the milk into mugs for all three of them.
"I don't care. It's at least quality pizza." He gives her a funny look; they have a variation of this conversation almost every time. He'll pay extra for the good stuff and she still has these moments of frugality that bely her great-location apartment and her name-brand clothing. Not to mention the shoes.
"All right," she murmurs, pulling the menu out and slipping her phone out of her pocket.
"Alexis!" He puts his daughter's mug at her customary spot and glances towards the stairs in time to see her hurrying down. A textbook cradled against her chest, she's on the phone. Again. She mouths 'thanks' and sits down at the island.
Kate, on the phone with Celeste's, moves away from them, so Castle takes a careful sip of his hot chocolate, wincing as it burns his tongue.
Kate walks back in with a triumphant look. "I ordered three. You demolish one all by yourself, and I could probably do the same. I'm starving."
She brushes a hand over Alexis's braid in greeting, stands at the girl's side at the island. Alexis turns and Castle can see the grin on her face; she hugs Kate.
He reaches out with her mug of hot chocolate, handing it over. "It's hot."
She arches an eyebrow, a rather eloquent way of not saying no duh and wraps both hands around the mug.
"So what did the postcard say?" he asks, leaning his hip against the counter. He figures that staring lustfully at Kate will go over better if he has something to say, an excuse for watching her.
"I actually talked with Beth yesterday."
"I think she's planning a visit. Her service agreement ends in a week."
"Oh. And she's gonna come to the city?"
"Those are her plans. She was telling me she sent a postcard; it was funny to see it show up now."
"Alexis got one too," he adds, nodding to his daughter who is still on the phone. Alexis grins back, winces, and gets up from the island, bringing her mug with her. She wanders away.
"Ah, we were being too loud," Castle whispers.
Kate rolls her eyes at him and takes Alexis's seat, brushing her fingertips over the lines of the textbook, the notebook paper. Castle moves around the island to sit beside her.
"You okay, Kate?"
She nods. "Beth is gonna stay with my dad again."
"That seems like a good idea." He wonders if this is an issue, or if she's just slowly leading up to it.
"She asked. . .she might spend a few nights. . .here."
Kate's head swivels towards his, a frown flirting with her lips. "Sure?"
"Well. . .yes. She's your sister. Why can't she stay with us?"
He sighs, winces. He meant it like she took it, but. . . "My daughter and I."
Her shoulders ease. "Yeah. I just. . .I wanted her to stay with me."
"I'm sure your Dad misses her too."
"No, I know. But she wants to stay with you." Her eyebrows knit together; that tendon in her forehead constricts.
Castle reaches out a hand and uses his finger to smooth it. She bats his hand away. "Castle."
"She wants to stay with you, Kate," he says on a sigh. "She's just. . .making a point. Right?"
"Like addressing all her postcards here."
Kate sighs. "I wish she would just leave me alone about this."
Inherent in her statement is the wish that Castle himself would leave her alone about it. He really does try to lay off the subject, but it's hard. He wants her with him, at his home. But he does get it. The idea of it anyway.
"We'll make up - I'll make up the guest room for her. Whenever she wants to. She and Alexis can have a slumber party."
Kate sighs again and leans to one side, sipping the hot chocolate he made. "Thank you. I - I'm sorry."
"For what? Beth?"
"Hey, no need. I like her. She's your sister. She's good to my kid."
Kate nods and rubs at her face, yanking a hand through her hair. "I need a-"
Castle pulls the rubberband out of his pocket and hands it to her. Kate takes it and secures her hair, then reaches over and snags his hand.
He lets her lace their fingers together, then smiles softly at her. He's not sure what's going on with Kate, but he hopes he can make it better. Easier. He wishes he could do that for her.
"I'm fine," she says softly. "Stop looking at me like that."
It's his turn to shrug. "You went to the jail today."
She nods, waiting on him.
"I just. . .it's got to. . .be hard."
"It's not easy," she answers, giving him that much at least.
He wants to get into this, delve into this part of her that needs to meet Lockwood in that jail every week, waiting in silence for answers that don't come. But the door buzzes and Castle imagines he can already smell the pizza. Celeste's is usually quick to deliver to them.
Kate hops up and holds out her hand, raising an eyebrow at him. He grins, loving it, entirely too much maybe, and pulls out his wallet.
She kisses his cheek, takes his money, and goes to pay for their dinner.
The pizza settles Kate's discontented stomach for a while. She loves the taste of fresh tomato, strong even under the layer of melted cheese, the red and green peppers, crisp and juicy when she takes a bite. She closes her eyes, lets out a moan of pleasure that might or might not be intended for Castle's ears.
Sure enough, his strong arm wraps around her waist, and she shivers when his mouth brushes her temple.
"Stop it right now, Kate Beckett," he warns, his voice low and warm, like honey. Except, much more dangerous.
A smile erupts on her lips, unbidden but irresistible, because of what he does to her. Ten minutes ago, she considered slipping into Castle's bed when she went to change into sweatpants and a shirt; only the delicious smell of the pizza drew her back to the living room.
And now... Now she feels awakened, ready. She wants to play.
"Or what?" She murmurs challengingly, her left hand coming up to palm his cheek.
He takes a sharp breath, then manoeuvres her into his arms, her back meeting the counter. Her heart pounds, welcoming him and the thrill that runs down her spine. Castle takes his time, trails his mouth down her neck, feathers her collarbone, before he comes back up and seals his lips to hers.
She hums her consent, opens up to him, relishing the lazy pace that slowly turns her blood into liquid fire, makes her forget about her day. There's nothing else, no else but him, the languid flick of his tongue against hers, the demanding fingers that dig into her waist.
It's still a mystery to her, how he does that. How quickly, how thoroughly he wipes her mind clean, turns her into this breathless, expectant stranger.
Kate's phone buzzes, the sounds amplified by the marble of the countertop.
She keeps her eyes closed against it, feels Castle's disbelieving growl pouring into her. Still, after only a few seconds, he lets her go, reaches for the phone. She doesn't want to take it. Her day's over; she just wants to lose herself in the man standing right next to her. Surely she can ignore this?
Rick must read the reluctance on her face; he laughs, looking entirely too delighted at her reaction. Okay, well. She snatches the phone from him - might as well see what this is about.
Beth's name is flashing on the screen. Surprised, Kate presses the answer button, mouths her sister's name at Castle. His eyebrows arch in an unvoiced question, and she shrugs.
"Hey, sister," Beth's voice says gaily on the other end of the line, a little breathless, almost drawn out by the surrounding noise.
"Hey yourself," Kate answers, sliding off the bar stool, because she can't stay still when she's on the phone. When her feet touch the ground, though, she experiences a moment of dizziness and sways, catches herself with the help of Castle's arm. He shoots her a concerned look; she waves him off.
She barely ate anything today - the pizza was probably a little too much at once.
Beth is babbling on the phone, like she does when she's nervous, asking questions about Kate's life, too fast for Beckett to make any sort of answer. When she has to stop for breath, the detective asks, "Beth, where are you?"
Her sister laughs, but it's not the usual, bright, confident thing.
"Well, actually, I'm... I'm at the airport. JFK."
There's a beat of silence as Kate adjusts to that unexpected piece of information.
"You mean - you're here? In New York?"
Castle's eyebrows shoot up, but the makings of a smile quickly appear on his face. Beckett registers that, even though her attention is on her sister's voice.
"Yes, yes. In New York. I was going to call Dad, but, you live closer, and I didn't want to worry him..."
"Is there any reason for him to worry?"
Again that breathless, embarrassed little laugh, so unlike Beth. What's going on?
"No, of course not. It's just, I'm coming in early -"
"Yeah, I can hear that. I wasn't expecting you until next week."
Kate tries to take the sharpness out of her voice, but she's never been good at dealing with the unexpected – not in her personal life, anyway. But this is her sister, her little sister, she tells herself, and the warmth that spreads in her chest is real, if a little slow in coming.
"Kate, if this is bothering you..."
"No, no. Don't be silly. I'll meet you at the airport, Beth."
"I can take a cab -"
"Shut up," Beckett says playfully. "You know how much Castle enjoys calling his car service. Well, unless you don't want to wait?"
"Oh, I still have to get my luggage, anyway. And I'm starving, Katie. I'll just order something at the bar and wait for you."
"Sounds like a plan. See you in about forty minutes?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Kate."
Why does she sound so…serious?
"Sure," Kate answers slowly, her brow furrowing. Her sister hangs up the phone and she does the same, pulling her lower lip in between her teeth.
"Everything alright?" Rick asks, his head tilted, watching her intently.
A familiar glimmer of gentle concern is lighting his blue eyes; Kate finds herself smiling at him, stepping into his embrace. She brushes her lips to his neck, his adam's apple, rests her forehead against his jaw.
"Yeah, Rick. I think she's just tired from the long flight."
"So I'm calling the town car, huh?"
Kate sighs. "I don't really feel up to driving tonight."
Castle's mouth moves, warm and inviting, along her hairline. It's a light, tender touch; she doesn't understand the eager response that flares to life inside her.
"If you wanted to stay home, you could have told her to take a cab," he points out.
She closes her eyes, shakes her head. "Mm, no. She's my sister, Castle."
"Or I could go and pick her up, let you stay here and unwind."
A smile sneaks its way onto Kate's lips. "And have the two of you swap whatever Kate stories you still haven't told each other? I don't think so."
He chuckles, drops a kiss to her forehead before letting her go.
"Fair enough. I can drive *you*, though. I'll grab my keys and a jacket. Will you go up and ask Alexis if she wants to come?"
"Yes, of course."
Castle's daughter was still on the phone with Ashley when the pizzas came in, and the writer allowed her to grab a slice and go back to her room, exceptionally. This is pretty big for him, because Castle cares about meals and family time and all those things that Kate has had no use for over the past twelve years.
Kate collides with the red-haired girl at the top of the stairs; Alexis is no longer holding her phone, and she looks like she was on her way to join them.
"Something wrong?" she asks, eyeing the coat that Beckett has thrown over her arm, the heels that are back on the detective's feet. There's a cleverly concealed hint of anxiety to the teenager's voice.
"No, not wrong. I got a call from Beth – she's at the airport."
"At the airport…?"
Alexis gives her a confused look.
"JFK," Kate explains. "Her flight just landed."
Excitement bubbles up in the girl's eyes, and Kate quickly smooths down the tiny flicker of jealousy in her belly. She's gone down that path before; her and Beth's relationships with Alexis are two very different things, two things that have no business being compared.
She knows better than this. It's only the exhaustion in her bones speaking.
"I'll grab a coat," Castle's daughter exclaims, practically bouncing on her toes. Sometimes it's easy to see her father in her. "We're picking her up, right?" She asks over her shoulder before disappearing back into her room.
"Yes, we are," Kate smiles despite herself. "Your father insists on driving us."
She moves slowly towards Alexis's door, leans into the frame, watching as the girl hunts for her scarf and her gloves. The teenager gives her a wary look.
"Dad driving? Don't you remember what happened last time?"
Beckett chuckles, only because she knows that Rick is out of earshot.
"He looks pretty set on it, Alexis. Besides, it's not like he's a bad driver."
"No," the girl agrees, closing the door and linking arms with Kate, steering her towards the stairs. "He's not. As long as another squirrel doesn't land on the hood in front of him."
The dashboard clock says 9:26 when Castle pulls over in the Kiss and Fly parking – she half expects him to make a joke about the name, but he's too busy trying to see through the curtain of rain that surrounds them.
It started to rain two minutes after they left, of course, and none of them thought to take an umbrella.
"Well," Alexis says, looking outside with an adorably scrunched face.
"Ready to run?" Kate asks back, bracing herself, her fingers curling around the door handle.
"I'll just wait here, in case someone asks me to move the car," Rick pipes in, grinning and looking entirely too satisfied.
Beckett narrows her eyes at him, lets go of the door so she can lean in, capture his lips. He jerks in surprise, and by the time he rises to the occasion, his tongue coming out to play, Kate is already backing away, her teeth grazing his lower lip as she does.
"Sure, Castle," she says, rather proud of his slack jaw, his shocked look. "You wait here."
And then she opens the door and steps out under the rain, Alexis's laughter wrapped around her.
The car is as close to the terminal doors as Castle could get, but that still leaves a good fifty meters for Kate and Alexis to cover, and even running doesn't keep the girls from getting thoroughly drenched.
The automatic doors slide open and they rush inside, laughing in between panted breaths. Kate runs a hand through her wet hair, watches as the teenager wrings the water out of her braid. Affection flares inside her, unexpected but not unwelcome; she grabs Alexis's shoulder, tugs the girl into her in a vain attempt to warm them both.
Castle's daughter shoots her a surprised glance, smiles, and hooks an arm around Kate's waist.
"So, where did Beth say she'd meet us?"
"She said she'd be at the bar," Kate answers, a shiver crawling up her spine. The rain was not only heavy – it was pretty damn cold as well.
Alexis tightens her hold on her, and warmth spreads into Kate, tingles in her fingertips. The two of them start making their way through the crowd; the airport is incredibly busy, and they have to dodge a fat guy and his even fatter suitcase, a mom with her five little children in tow.
"There's probably more than one bar, though," Alexis points out as Kate starts looking around, trying to locate her sister.
"You're right," the detective answers, reaching for her cell phone. "I should just call her."
After a couple rings, though, Kate is kindly invited to leave a message, and she hangs up, vaguely worried. But no, the airport is loud and packed – it's likely Beth just didn't hear her phone.
"Kate?" Alexis calls from a few feet away. "I found a directory of the shops and restaurants."
The number of bars is in fact more modest than Kate would have expected: only four, and two of them are quite close to where they're standing right now. They head for the first one, Sam Adams Beer Cart; Beckett's fingers are twitching nervously around her cell phone.
No reason to be anxious, though: the moment they step inside the well-lit, spacious bar, a distinctive laugh cascades from a table on their left, and Kate's eager eyes quickly find her sister.
Beth is sitting with a good-looking man – dark blond hair, in his late twenties, expensive suit – who seems absolutely taken with her. Of course.
The detective cannot help a smile. Alexis is beaming at her side; Kate nudges her forward just when Beth turns, sensing their presence. It doesn't take more than that to send Castle's daughter running into the other woman's arms; their words are unintelligible to anyone but them, drowned under happy exclamations and joyful peals of laughter.
Beckett watches with a strange sense of peace, until her sister extends a hand towards her, invites her to join with those green, lively eyes of hers. She lets herself be sucked into a group hug, swamped with bright energy and tender touch, until she can hardly breathe.
"Katie, I'm so glad to see you," Beth is saying against her ear, and Kate is reminded again of how different they are, how her sister always voices the things that *she* would leave unsaid.
It takes her a few seconds to adjust.
"It's good to see you too, Beth," she answers when her voice is steady enough, won't crack.
Past her sister's shoulder, the blond man has averted his eyes, as if reluctant to intrude on their private moment. Kate disentangles herself from Beth, gives a light nod towards the guy.
"Oh," the young woman laughs, not even bothering to look embarrassed. "Sorry. Ted, this is my sister, Kate, and her… boyfriend's daughter, Alexis."
Kate shakes the man's hand, grateful that Beth remembered not to use Alexis's full name. And grateful that she refrained from using the playful 'StepCastle' nickname that Kate has heard rather frequently over the phone this past year.
"Well, we should get going, I guess," Beth says gaily, grabbing her purse and pulling out her suitcase's handle. "Ted, it was nice meeting you."
"You too," he replies hastily, his hand going to his coat pocket. Kate tenses out of habit, but she quickly realizes her mistake when he hands Beth a white rectangle of paper.
"Uh, here's my card, and my phone number, if you ever want to grab coffee or something, while you're in town."
The young woman takes it, flashes Ted a charming smile. "Thank you."
And then she's dragging Kate and Alexis outside, firing questions at Castle's daughter with her usual liveliness. But now that Beckett has gotten past the first shock, that first thrill of pleasure at seeing Beth again, she notices that her sister's laughter sounds a little forced at times, the shrill notes unusual. Unnatural.
She might chalk it up to the jetlag, and how tired Beth's got to be after a twenty-hour trip. Except – except she catches that smooth, discreet move of her sister's hand, crumpling the business card and throwing it into a trash can as they walk out of the terminal.
Kate observes a careful silence, but it doesn't keep her from speculating, forming an impression of her sister based on years of reading body language as a detective.
Something's wrong with Beth.