Title: Partners

Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with Castle, just my over active imagination.

Summary: Walls fall down; that's the nature of the beast. And no matter how Kate looks at it, she's staring at piles of rubble. And from rubble, where do they go next? Slight spoilers for 4x11 and beyond.

Author's Note: So, this is, in some ways, a prequel to Coordination. The only spoilers I'm working from here are Tamala and Andrew's comments about Ryan's wedding. From there and onward, it will probably be all mine. I'll warn you if that changes. So, on to the story:

Chapter 1:

"You know, it's nice to do this without trying to book a suspect," Castle whispered in her ear as they twirled around again, moving fluidly to the soft music, even as other couples kept to a gentle sway.

"Has it's charms," Kate replied with a small smile, shifting closer to 'avoid' being hit by Jenny's Aunt and Uncle, who were more than a little tipsy, and less than a little uncoordinated.

Castle laughed and simply nudged his hand further across her back, his large fingers warm against her exposed skin. She kept trying to convince herself that she hadn't purchased the deep purple, floor-length gown specifically because it plunged so low in the back; she hadn't thought about his big hands and careful fingers caressing her skin. But that was crap. Of course she had.

"Have I said how amazing you look tonight, Kate?" he asked, his voice soft against her cheek. He'd been calling her Kate all night—not one 'Detective' to be found.

"You may have mentioned it," she whispered back, smiling unabashedly. There was something about the wedding, and the image of Jenny and Ryan rubbing noses over Castle's shoulder that made it impossible to keep to her usual, albeit less-than-subtle, protocol about compliments. She felt him smile back and the hand holding hers squeezed gently. "You don't look so bad yourself," she added, running her fingers over the hairs at the nape of his neck.

They'd forgone their traditional distance about five dances ago, and now, as she caught sight of Lanie and Esposito wrapped in a similar embrace a few couples over, she couldn't deny that she and Castle looked every bit as much a pair of lovers. She could feel his pleased grin and the small puff of air he let out at her words. They weren't lovers, though most of her thought they damn well should be. She sighed, urged on by her own impatience and no small amount of champagne.

It wouldn't have been an issue if Castle hadn't had his face pressed to hers. "What?" he prompted, bumping her cheek with his nose. When had they decided that this kind of physicality was kosher, again? And why hadn't they done this sooner? And perhaps in private?

"Nothing," she denied, gently turning them so he could get a look at Lanie and Javi. "They look good together," she offered quietly.

"Yeah," he murmured, his voice a little gruff. "They really do."

"You owe me twenty, by the way," she told him as he spun them around again. "You thought it would be after the wedding."

"Isn't enough that our good friends have found their way back to happiness? It's a bit tacky to actually bet on their love life, isn't it?" he replied, his voice forcibly serious.

Kate bit back a laugh. "What, like they don't have much more riding on us?" she fired back, realizing a moment too late exactly what had just flown out of her alcohol and Castle-loosened mouth.

He sucked in a breath and absently tightened his hold on her, as though he was afraid she'd take off. He wasn't far from the mark, but his shoulder was a very comfortable place to hide her face, and running would mean leaving the warmth of his arms. He'd follow her anyway. That didn't stop her from taking the cowards way out and remaining silent. She almost expected him to call her on it. She almost wanted him to. She was so tired of hiding.

"You do realize, by forcing me to pony up, you're validating that, right?" he said after a quiet minute.

So, not quite calling her on it, but not dropping it either. She took a deep breath, unintentionally inhaling his scent as she did so. He always smelled so good. But that wasn't the point. She needed to get on board and toe the line with him, because this was their dance—their metaphorical dance—where they smiled and flirted and inched closer, without ever really doing anything.

"Does it matter? They'll keep it up either way," she replied, lifting her head to return to their former position, his cheek warm against hers.

"Any way we can get in on it?" he wondered.

She sucked in a breath and fought the urge to pull back to look at him. It was safer to stay cheek-to-cheek. Then it was just words. She could handle his words (oh the lies she was telling herself tonight), but his eyes might just topple her over. "How?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound as breathless as she felt. This was crossing the line. Where was the line? More over, where was that wall?

He hummed as he thought, turning them in a circle to the faster swing that had started up without either noticing. The vibrations warmed her down to her toes. God, if humming did that to her, would she survive his singing? Would he be a singer? She could see him belting in the shower, but that would make her laugh. She wondered if he would sing into her ear as they swayed by the Christmas tree, or around their bedroom when…Whoa. Down, girl. Hypothetical bets were far enough. There was no need to fantasize about things that might never happen.

The thought made her inexplicably sad and she felt herself inch closer in response. He allowed it, welcomed her further into his embrace without comment, still humming along with the saxophone as it crooned out the melody to "Sing Sing Sing." They really should be moving faster than they were, but this wasn't a moment for real dancing.

"Well, we could go in on it, or, well, I could," he corrected and she could feel him grinning. "No one would ever believe you if you tried."

"Are you saying I'm no fun?" she teased, flicking his ear. He chuckled into her ear and she fought a shiver. Right, play with fire, and you get burned. And didn't that low voice send tingles down her spine like little licks of flame?

"I'm saying that your mere participation would blow our cover," he told her cheek, her neck, her shoulder—everywhere his warm breath fell against her skin. "But, back to my plan." She couldn't help but smile. He had this tone when he was spinning her a theory, a little excited, a little apprehensive, and more than a little playful. "What if I throw in a random date and then, well, I take you out that night," he suggested, his voice lowering in volume as he reached the end of his plan.

Kate sucked in a breath. This was a moment, wasn't it? This was a decision about the line, the wall, the happy land of denial they'd been living in. Spending eight months pretending things weren't the way they were was exhausting. She rarely admitted how much control it took not to smile, not to laugh, not to grab him and kiss him silly. Hell, she'd only told her therapist that she thought she might be closer to ready than she thought just over a month ago.

"It's…never mind. Forget I mentioned it," he mumbled after a few minutes. Damn. She hadn't said anything. Crap.

"No, I…" she stammered, taking a deep breath before pulling back enough to meet his eyes.

"Seriously. I just wanted to one up them. No harm done, Beckett," he smiled. But it was the false smile—the one that didn't reach his eyes. And she wouldn't even touch the 'Beckett.'

"That sounds like a good plan, Castle," she offered, the words flying out before she could stop them. It did. But it didn't. But…oh hell.

"Really?" he gasped, taking a second to spin her out and back, nearly tripping her.

She gave a surprised laugh. Right, swing dancing—they were supposed to be swing dancing, not pressed up against each other like there was a wall at her back or his. "I think I could handle an evening of you," she told him once they were face to face again, moving quickly but fluidly, just like they did everything else, except this conversation, apparently. His eyes were wide and excited, but hesitant, like he wasn't quite sure of his next move.

But he was Castle, and she could see him drawing on that charm—his charm for her and only her. "Could you now? And what else could you handle, Kate? Are we talking dinner and dancing, or something more…mellow?" He waggled an eyebrow at her and she bit her lip, shaking her head lightly.

She'd agreed to go out on a date with him. Sure, it was ostensibly to win the huge pool they both knew the 12th had bet on them, but it was more than that. She'd just agreed to…What if she'd just agreed to go on her last first date?


"Hmm?" she responded, blinking a few times. That was both a terrifying and exhilarating thought. And when, exactly, had she given herself permission to admit to that?

"Dancing or something else?" he prompted with a small grin, as though he knew exactly what she was thinking.

"Um, isn't that your job, Castle? You're supposed to sweep the girl off her feet, right? First date, and all that." Seriously, shut up, Kate.

His eyes widened even more and she felt him let out an unsteady breath. When had the music changed? It was slow and he was pulling her in, the other couples on the floor already locked in tight, amorous embraces. "First date?" he asked softly, his nose inches from hers.

And there, beneath the bravado, was the man she'd been pushing away while keeping close for eight months. The man she'd hurt. The man she'd relied on. The man—the only man—she'd ever tried to knock down the wall for, the only one who was worth it.

The wall was still there, what was left of it, at least. It looked more like rubble with a few remaining patches left standing—Roman Ruins of her defenses crumbling with time and persistence from the elements. "Unless you consider that date after the smuggling case our first date, then yeah," she offered easily with a small shrug of her shoulder.

He smiled, his eyes crinkling, cheeks straining, looking so happy and elated that it nearly broke her heart. What had she been doing to this man? "We're definitely calling this our first date," he told her before his lips met her nose, lightning fast—so fast that she couldn't even be sure he'd done it. "Mutual sloppy seconds are not what you build a…" he trailed off and schooled his features.

If they'd been playing poker, he'd have just lost the pool. But they weren't, and he wanted to build a future with her. A future. A mutual future. Another section of the wall fell down. He could probably step over the two feet that were left, but he stayed on the other side, waiting for her go ahead.

She let out a small breath, realizing that she'd been holding it in. This was big. This was…life changing. Two feet or not, the damn wall was still there, and the case wasn't closed, and she wasn't whole yet. But his eyes were sparkling and he looked so anxious, so wanting, so ready. It was just a date. They could take it slow, right?

She wasn't all there, but she was so ready. She wanted this—wanted him. She had for a long time, longer than she was willing to admit. "No," she agreed quietly. "So, first date it is, then."

His grin was back and he spun them around, laughing quietly. Her heart clenched and she pressed her face into his neck, smiling herself. But part of her hurt, mourned for the pain she'd caused him. His joy of this moment was too much, too large. He'd been waiting for a long time. And she knew, even with this, he'd have to keep waiting; they could start, but that finish line, and everything in between, was still far off.

"Dinner and a movie?" he suggested after a few minutes of quiet, comfortable dancing, in which she avoided Lanie's eyes over his shoulder and focused on the feeling of him breathing in and out below her cheek.

"That's sweeping me off my feet?" she replied, pulling back to meet his eyes and falling back on what they were best at: teasing.

He rolled his eyes in a role reversal that had her biting her cheek to keep from laughing. "What, the first date isn't enough?"

She blushed, feeling the flush rise up her neck and into her cheeks. There was no hiding that, and he smirked. "I don't know, Castle," Kate mumbled, trying to find her footing again, trying to keep the game going. "Depends on the movie."

He nodded solemnly, like she'd just handed him something very important. But the little sparkle behind his eye betrayed him, as did his next comment. "Rom-coms win me points while flesh-eating zombie apocalypse means the couch for two months?"

The problem with playing the game was that she was so in tune with it that she often stopped really thinking about her responses. "Would be the other way around, and two months? That's awfully harsh."

Anyone watching would have laughed at the way they both stopped moving to stare at each other, completely surprised. "Uh," he stammered for a moment, working his jaw. "That's…that's good to know."

"Yeah," she breathed, watching as his eyes moved from her mouth to her eyes, and then upwards, cataloging his gathered information the way he sometimes did at crime scenes, remembering. "But somewhere in between is probably good."

He smiled and brought his eyes back to meet hers. "Movie theatre, my place, your place, or am I not allowed to ask?"

She laughed. There actually was something comfortable about the idea of having it at her place. But, then again, hers or his, how would they ever take it slow? She felt like she should say 'out,' but she honestly didn't want to. She also didn't want to push the throttle too far forward.

"How about dinner out, and we play it by ear?" she suggested, finding something in the middle. He'd have time to plan a huge date with the nine yards and whole shebang later. But maybe for this 'first' one, they could do it together, with a little less pomp.

"Sounds like a plan," he grinned. She smiled back and they danced quietly for a few minutes, no doubt doing that 'eye sex' thing Lanie had mentioned. But there was just something about the wedding. It was magical—if Kate had to give it an adjective—and seemed to strip away all those things that got between them on a daily basis. "Hey, Kate," he murmured as he pulled her back to his body, his head pressed against her cheek.

"Hmm?" she purred—that was the only way to describe it. She was obscenely comfortable.

"Just so we're clear, when I wake up in the morning, this happened, right? I asked, you said yes, and sometime in the relatively near future, we're going on a date?"

She blinked a few times and felt his fingers twitching around hers where their hands were clasped and resting on his chest. He sounded calm but his voice lacked any of his usual jovial lilt. This was serious Rick Castle, and Kate squeezed his hand. She owed him so much more than this, but it was all she had at the moment. "Yes, Castle. Barring a body, we can even make it this Friday, if you like."

Four days away. That was four days away. "Really?" Ah, there was the excited Castle she knew and…she knew and…loved. The word was loved, Kate.

"If you make me say it again, I might rescind the offer," she threatened, though even she could hear the lack of conviction behind it. Why hadn't she said Wednesday, or Tuesday, or hell, tomorrow would work just fine.

"Duly noted," he chuckled. "So Friday, huh." He spun them in a gentle circle and Kate was struck by the fact that she'd let him lead all night. Yes, it was traditional, but she'd had more than a few beaux with whom she'd been the leading partner. But Castle didn't need to be led, well, no more than usual. And here—he owned this domain with sure steps and solid body. "And before then, things as usual?"

"You mean bodies and forensics and the job?" Kate sighed, feeling weightless and the smallest bit giddy.

"Well, duh." He ran his fingers over her back and she melted a little more. Damn. If his hands could do that… "But I was thinking more after work. Say we go to Remy's, or you come over, or we're looking over evidence over Chinese food…"

He trailed off and she lifted her head from where it had fallen onto his shoulder. She met his eyes a bit shyly, not quite sure what he was asking, but pretty together with him in the uncertainty. "Until then we're…Partners," she offered with a small shrug.

He beamed at her. "I can work with that."

Kate merely smiled and allowed herself the moment, the evening, the promise of Friday and other nights to come. She wasn't quite sure what she'd agreed to—a date, more, the future, a lifetime—but it was a step toward what they deserved. And no, the wall wasn't completely demolished, but she'd decided to be more than her mother's case, and this, him, they were that more.

She caught Lanie's eye over Castle's shoulder as he pulled her back in, his lips warm at her temple. She wondered idly if it would be painful to keep her distance tomorrow at work. Lanie grinned and raised an eyebrow. Kate simply gave her a small smile and a slight shake of her head. Her friend laughed and returned her attention to Javier, who was gazing at her with such affection that Kate almost felt voyeuristic.

"What?" Castle mumbled, having felt her against his shoulder.

"Nothing," Kate told him, her fingers finding their way back to the nape of his neck. "Everyone's happy."

There was that warm pressure against her forehead again and then she felt him as he smiled against the crown of her head, his breath falling warm over her face. "Kevin and Jenny look about ready to skip out," he said softly, turning them so Kate could get a good look at the newlyweds who were seated at the main table, Kevin trailing kisses up and down Jenny's neck and jaw.

"Don't blame them," she laughed quietly. "I think I'd be itching to leave too."

"Me too," he agreed, his thumb brushing small circles at the small of her back. "Would you want to stay the night in the city, or hop right on a plane, watch the sunrise out of a beach-side window?"

Kate hummed. That was a pleasing visual. And, interestingly enough, whose well-tailored tux was draped over the back of the chair with her wedding gown? Right, she was now imagining watching the sunrise with Richard Castle, cuddled together in a large bed, naked. And somehow, she didn't think they'd have been sleeping at all. "Sounds lovely," she replied after a moment, rather glad that he couldn't see her personal vision. "But tiring. Might be nice to stay in the city and travel when we felt a little more rested, you know?"

"I can see that," he whispered. "Penthouse or home?"

She lifted a shoulder lazily. "Big bed's a bed, right?" They were being careful, treading that delicate line with deft accuracy, but Kate had no illusions. They were talking about themselves, albeit extremely hypothetically. And if she was going to spend her wedding night with Richard Castle, she could care less about the where of it.

He laughed, the sound rumbling richly beneath her ear. "I love that answer."

"You would," she smiled, her lips dangerously close to his throat. "And you? Where would you want to wake up?"

"Bed's a bed, right?" he repeated, his voice happy and relaxed. "It's the 'with whom' that's the important part."

She bit her lip. She wouldn't ask. She couldn't ask. But they were sharing the same vision; she knew that much. Right now, though, the date would be enough. And maybe someday, a long time from now, they would be the couple quietly bending down to whisper in his mother's ear while she hugged her father goodbye. And they would be giggling together as they ran out of the back entrance to the hall, hands straying to places they really shouldn't be in such company.

"You know, you'd be a very beautiful bride," Castle said softly, bringing her out of her fantasy.

"Oh?" she managed. Of all things, that wasn't what she'd expected. It was dangerous territory, yes, but infinitely safer than versions of a honeymoon yet to come. If ever to come, she reminded herself.

"Drop dead gorgeous, I'm sure," he continued, swaying with her, his voice low against her ear as she raised her head so that they were cheek-to-cheek again. "Your Dad's going to blubber like a baby."

Kate nodded lightly against his skin. "For more than one reason, I'm sure," she whispered. For loss of her mother, for certain, as well as the pain and joy of giving Kate away. But tonight, with Castle wrapped around her, that well of sadness didn't touch her.

"True," he murmured, sounding a bit regretful for the small amount of melancholy in her voice now. "My mother too, if it's any consolation."

Oh, damn. Well, no illusions about it now. He was right there with her. This was their wedding they were discussing so carelessly. Carelessly wasn't fair though; nothing about this conversation was careless. "Wanna bet on Kevin or Javi?" Where was the wall? Where was her sense? Where was a ring and a minister?

"Oh, Javier, definitely," he laughed. "Did you see him when Kevin was saying his vows? Total waterworks."

Kate giggled and then sucked in a breath as his lips met her cheek. "Yeah, Lanie too."

He smiled, his face still turned to hers. "Oh, Lanie, Alexis, even Gates might shed a tear, you know."

She found her footing again at that. "No way. No way Iron Gates would cry at my wedding."

"Hey, just because she doesn't love me doesn't mean she can't appreciate the beauty of marriage," he protested, spinning them around again. "And she's not that bad. I swear, she smiled at you a few times last week."

Kate shook her head lightly, accidentally brushing the corner of her mouth against his. And of course, she stilled in shock. But the moment was gone in an instant, as he released her to twirl her under his arm in an evasive maneuver that even she had to call smooth. It seemed he too had limits. That was touching and disheartening all at once.

He pulled her back in and they stared at each other, a little lost, a little hesitant, and completely smitten. She just hoped she wasn't making a mistake. "But, there's lots of time between this wedding and whenever that one occurs," he proclaimed with a sly grin that she matched. Détente. "So, Kate, care to show me some of those salsa moves you were bragging about with Lanie? You seemed pretty confident. That good, are you?"

Kate smirked and leaned close to kiss his cheek, moving up to find his ear. "Oh, Castle. You have no idea," she purred and then shifted back. The delighted grin he shot her sent a jolt down her spine. Whatever Friday became was bound to be something. And as she caught sight of Lanie and Javier sneaking out the back door as well, she allowed herself the moment to think that what they were starting just might be the last something she'd ever start.