Happy Birthday, Kate

"Happy Birthday, Detective."

She glances up from her computer to see him strolling through the bullpen. "What? No off-key rendition of 'Happy Birthday'?"

"Unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal, Beckett. You wouldn't want me to break the law, would you?"

A quirk of his eyebrow and a dramatic flourish as he settles into his chair give her the only warning.

"No," she says, holding out a hand to stop him. "You aren't allowed."

He keeps his fingers around the small, wrapped object he's pulled out of his jacket pocket. "Sure I am."

"No, Castle."

"But it's a good one. And it took me weeks to figure out what to get you."

"No." She turns back to her computer, ignoring him with every ounce of energy and focus she can muster. Doesn't keep her renegade body from being attuned to his every movement.

"There's a cake coming later."

"I already agreed to let you buy me lunch. That's it." She wants to say 'no cake' but the boys would give her grief for denying them; also, it is sweet. The cake. Not him.

Him too. A little.

"How old are you today?"

She narrows her eyes at him. "Seriously?"

"Come on. I'm way older than you. So it's no big deal."

"Most women think it's a very big deal."

He taps her wrist bone with a finger. "You're not most women. And you're smoking hot. You'll be hot when you're 80. Which will be interesting; I can't wait to see that. So you have nothing to worry about."

She flashes him a look, not sure herself if she's pleased or annoyed, but probably both. "32, Castle."

"Oh wow. You're old."

She chokes on a laugh, smiling and ruining the effect of her deadliest death stare. She punches him hard in the shoulder and he yelps, rubbing his arm, and she hopes it bruises.

"And how old are you?" she shoots back.

"Young at heart, Beckett."

"Immature at heart, you mean. I said you were nine, but I'm gonna have to round down. More like a five year old."

"Five year olds are cool. I'll take it."

She rolls her eyes and goes back to her paperwork, moving her elbow so he can get at her top drawer (even though she usually shuts it on his fingers when tries it). He pokes around, pulling out a pen, clicking it, putting it back, messing with her post-it notes, flipping through them over and over, popping a breath mint into his mouth from a roll that's been in there for at least six months, since before this summer.

"Castle," she grits out, cutting her eyes to him with a look.

He sighs and closes her drawer, pulls out his phone.

Why is she watching him? She has work to do. And if he's going to be taking her anywhere for lunch, she has to get this done.

Oh, now she realizes what he was doing. Messing in her drawer.

"Castle!" she bites out, opening the drawer and finding it immediately, the little wrapped box he had in his hand when he came in. She points at it, giving him a look.

He shrugs. "Finder's keepers."

"Not gonna happen. Take that out."


She won't touch it. If she touches it, it's hers. Her fingers won't let go of it. A gift from Castle. He's already given her too much.

"Castle," she growls.

"Shh, Gates is looking over here. And you know she *hates* it when I show up and there's no case."

Two years ago, even last year, this would have been a golden opportunity for her to say Well then stop showing up. But she can't. Her mouth won't open; her brain won't send out the signals. She can't say it.

She can't even tell him he should just come back at lunch, even though his presence does irritate Gates on these non-body days and he hates paperwork anyway.

"You don't want to make a scene, do you?" he presses.

"I couldn't care less. Take it back."

He sighs, as if in rapture, makes moon eyes at her that actually do make her stomach flutter, damn it. "Kate, your correct grammar never ceases to amaze me."

"What?" She forgets to be irritated, so knocked off track by his comment.

"You said I couldn't care less. That's exactly correct. Do you know how many times I've had to suffer through the ever-wretched I could care lesses of this world? I mean, if you *could* care less, then do. By all means. Can I tell you how irritating that is?"

"No, but I have a sinking feeling you're going to anyway." She rubs at her temples, still half-arrested by the little package in her drawer. "And stop changing the subject. Castle, no gifts. I told you."

"No gifts is a stupid rule. I'm not listening to you when you're being stupid."

She can't even be properly mad at him. He's grinning like a kid, his hair is flopping into his eyes like he didn't take the time to perfectly arrange it, his eyes are so blue and crinkling at the corners. She just wants to kiss-

Deep breath, Kate. Breathe through it. It'll pass.

"It'll sit there," she warns, realizing even as she says it that allowing it to remain is like giving in.

"Okay. No skin off my nose."

She sighs. She wants to open it. She wants to accept whatever gift Castle is giving. Which sounds dirty, and she doesn't mean it like that - or she doesn't *think* she means it like that - but saying no to him now is almost impossible. Not when her silence, her convenient amnesia, says no to him every day, all too well.

"Take it," she says softly, meeting his eyes and telegraphing her seriousness. "Give it to me at lunch."

When we're alone.

His face unfurls with a soft and pleased smile; he covers the wrapped box with his hand and takes it back.


He sets the little box, no bigger than his palm, beside her plate. She's nearly finished with her chicken salad sandwich, but Castle shoveled his down so quickly that he's got a lump in his throat.

It may not be the lunch that's forming the lump in his throat. It may be the way the bright winter light slants through the windows of the deli and ices her hair, in beautiful waves around her shoulders. It may be the warmth of having her body so close to his at the little table, her fingers accidentally brushing his when she reaches for her drink. It may be the ache in his chest from three months of not being able to look at her suddenly resolved into this - Kate Beckett alive and smiling tenderly at him whenever he opens his mouth.

He's too excited to sit still but she's long since stopped giving him those irritated looks and the huffy sighs, and instead, she gives him that pressed lips smile that he loves - loves - and has never seen before this summer.

Since she was shot. Since he said-

"All right, since you're practically levitating in your chair, Castle." She wipes her mouth with a napkin, takes a sip of her iced tea, and then reaches for the little box.

He is. He *is* practically levitating in his chair. "Good word. Levitating. Another one from your magic trick days? Speaking of, those ice cubes. . ." He wriggles his eyebrows at her but she's not looking.

She's already picking at the tape with a nail, peeling it back. He used too much tape maybe. He wrapped it himself, which seriously never happens, but he couldn't bear to let it out of his sight long enough to pay someone to do it, even if it does look sloppy now that he's watching her-

"You wrap this?" she says with a lift of her eyebrow, sliding a nail under one side, her eyes on his now.

"Yeah. Don't judge."

She gives him a smile from under that curtain of curling hair, lashes so dark and lovely against her pale skin, like tree branches against a clear winter sky.

She slides the paper off, being too careful for his nerves to take. He wants to reach over and help things along, but he has a feeling she's doing this on purpose.

When he catches sight of the smirk flirting with her lips, he *knows* she's doing it on purpose.

"All right already. You're a tease. Get on with it."

She laughs and brushes her fingers along his on the table, goes back to the gift. The little paper box is made of pale brown recycled cardboard, shaped like an old matchbox. She slides it open and her fingers delve inside, bringing out the small elephant and placing it in her palm.

"It's a modern prayer bell. From Nepal." He feels the need to explain. Her face is carefully neutral. He doesn't know if that's good.

The elephant is worked in a silver, open-cut frame and filled with little pieces of oynx and turquoise. The tusks are a pale green oynx capped with silver. No bigger than staple remover, perfect size for her desk.

"Shake it," he says, sitting forward, his elbows on the table. He wishes he could push her hair back, see more of her face. He wishes he could brush his thumb over her cheekbone. He wishes so many things that they all stick in his throat.

She holds up the elephant and shakes gently, the tumbling sound of loose semi-precious stones against silver rising from the bell. Ringing. Her eyes cut to his.

"It represents water. A flowing force that reshapes even rock. That prayer bell was made by a woman who was rescued from the slave trade by an organization in Nepal called Manushi."

She's stroking the tusks with a finger, but her face is the listening one.

"Manushi means energetic woman. They assist poor and disadvantaged women in Nepal." He takes a breath and watches her fingers cradle the elephant. He's still unsure what the elephants on her desk mean to her, what they symbolize; she's only ever said she just likes them. He thinks it has something to do with elephants never forgetting, but in his darker moments, he's more certain it's because elephants are matriarchal and run out the males in their herd when they no longer need them.

Still, the time spent with the herd must make it worth it. He wishes she liked penguins instead. They mate for life.

"It's beautiful." She lifts her eyes to his, her lashes slowly raising, framing those brilliant, onyx eyes.

"There's. . .a little more to it." He takes the little box and slides the drawer all the way out, showing her the typed card at the bottom. "Online you can go to their business site and donate money for a loan to these individual women, the rescued ones. The money goes to an already established loan agent in their region; the agent in turn loans them the money they need. This woman, Bande, who made the elephant, she needed $875 to buy silver and-"

"Castle," Kate interrupts, putting a hand over his, squeezing. As if to keep him from it, to stop him. The irises of her eyes glitter like flakes of mica, green and gold.

"It didn't seem like enough. But they don't let you donate more." He doesn't add that he spent over an hour on that site, donating money to various small business women, overcome by their stories, by the ways their courage and strength reminded him of Kate.

She squeezes his hand tightly, that brilliant, beautiful smile carved into her face, like it could be permanent, transforming her. He would pay any amount of money to see that smile directed at him. Even for a second.

She glances down at the elephant in her hand, then back up to him. The little table at the back of the deli suddenly seems crowded, no space to move. She's sitting on his right; he can feel her knee bump his as she leans in, her hair falling off her shoulder and brushing his arm.

Her lips touch the corner of his mouth lightly, barely there, and he can feel her cheek , then her lashes as she closes her eyes. Her hand comes up and caresses his cheek, her thumb at the other corner of his mouth, as if to hold him there.

He doesn't move, lets her linger even as his heart pounds. Her hand over his on the table tightens, and then she pulls away.

"Thank you."

He has to clear his throat to speak.

"Happy Birthday, Kate."

She doesn't let go of his hand.