Plan B

She may have built a wall between us, but I am going to build a door in that wall. Or put up a ladder, or dig a hole.

You have a strategy?

Be my usual charming self.

Uh huh. What about plan B?

-Deep in Death, 2x1

The cursor blinks on his screen, the outline incomplete, unfinished. Like much of his life these days. He isn't sure what should be next, only that if he doesn't come up with a plan, a way in, his life will continue on in this holding pattern.

Thus the unfinished plan of attack on his computer screen. Mocking him.

He's spent the last few years of his life circling around this, and now that he's made up his mind, now that he knows what he wants, and how badly he wants it, he finds it completely unfair not to have it.

It sounds like he's whining. Even to himself, it sounds pathetic. Childish. Like he's been forbidden dessert. Only this is his life, this is the story he was meant to write, and he wants to have at it already, wants to start filling her page with his words.

The only story he seems to be allowed is rather harshly limited by the genre. Whether he's talking Nikki Heat or Kate Beckett, what he wants is not what he's allowed, or been given access to.

This isn't how it usually happens with him. He's not a man accustomed to hardship, or so he likes to tell himself, when he's in his best form of denial about his childhood and adolescence. And early twenties. . .

(When he starts thinking about it, this should be right up his alley.)

Castle sighs, saves the document anyway (despite the fact that he's got only one point down on his outline - Be patient). He titles it: The Wall. He's not above sneaking in like a thief in the night, propping up a ladder, if only he knew, concretely, how one might accomplish that. First he needs to build the ladder - and that's what this unhelpful document was supposed to outline for him. His plan of attack.

His attack consists of be patient. He's just not good at patient.

The knock on the door has him scrambling, feet thumping off the desk, knocking his knee into the open drawer, an elbow banging the arm of the chair. Castle leaves his laptop and heads out of his study, making for the front door before Alexis can get to it.

Just in case.

And when he opens it, he's glad he got there first.

Beckett stands on the other side, looking somewhat lost. Her head lifts when he says her name, her eyes flicker from his face to the living room beyond.

"Mother's out. Alexis is upstairs," he says, and her shoulders relax a little.

"Castle," she starts, then shrugs as if her coat doesn't fit quite right.

"Come in," he says, remembering his manners and holding a hand out to her, inviting her inside. "I haven't had dinner yet. Are you hungry?" Castle shuts the door after her, turns to tug off her coat, even as she startles under his touch. He's not sure why she's here, but he'll take it. Her. Any way he can get her.

"I - I haven't eaten." She sounds surprised, and her fingers fumble at the belt of her coat, the buttons.

"Is it that cold outside?" he asks, stepping forward, his hands sliding off her shoulders as she struggles with her coat. "Made your fingers numb."

"I - no." She lifts her head to look at him, her eyes so confused that it makes him take a step back. Whatever she sees in his face causes her to work harder at the buttons until she gets them undone, and then she's shrugging off her coat and he has to catch it.

Castle hangs it in the closet; when he spins back around, she's halfway to the kitchen, but paused, as if suddenly rudderless.


She jerks, not a startling of her whole body, but a sharpness to her shoulders and a curl of her hands into fists. She turns her head to look at him, her profile cut out from the lights blazing in his kitchen. Her eyes have a self-deprecating smile in them, like she's not sure why she's here or what she's doing.

"I shouldn't have-"

"I was going to order in some pizza for Alexis and myself. You want some?" He figures if he rushes on like she's not about to leave then it will work, and she'll stay. He thinks pizza is benign enough, but when he mentions his daughter, she gets hesitant, her lips pressing flat.

Castle stays rooted to his spot, just past the entryway, knowing that a step in her direction will only nudge her into flight.

Beckett nods then, and seems to be waiting on him, for she stands in place, watching him as if for the next move.

"I'll call." He slides his phone out of his pocket, finally makes a move towards her. "Want something to drink?"

She seems to rouse from her inaction, turning towards the kitchen and waving him off. "I'll get us something. You order."

"You want the pizza margarita?" he says, watching her stride to the cabinets and take down a couple of glasses.

"You ordering something else for yourself?" Beckett opens his fridge like she's perfectly at home, when only moments ago she seemed completely lost.

"Yeah, actually."

She gives him a look, but doesn't deny that she wants the pizza; he's grateful for that at least. He calls the place he usually gets pizza, waits while they put him on hold, watching Beckett pour the white wine into two glasses. The lift of her tone arm, the thin fragility of her usually strong fingers, the way her hair falls forward despite constantly pushing it back.

He sighs, tries to focus on the woman repeating his order back to him, remembers to add breadsticks at the last second for Alexis.

He's just finishing the order when Kate brings him his glass, handing it to him with a closed-mouth smile, and perhaps the same sense of deja vu he's feeling as well.

His fingers brush hers, and her lips part at the touch, a little smile. "Well, Castle-"

"Hey, Dad, did you - oh. Um. Sorry."

Castle turns, sees Alexis at the top of the stairs, arrested in mid-step. "I just ordered. You want salad or anything before it gets here?"

Alexis casts a look to Beckett, starts down the stairs. "Oh, no. I can wait. Uh. Hi. . .Kate."

"Hello, Alexis."

Castle gives his daughter a long look as she comes hesitantly into the room, her eyes troubled. "I ordered a Hawaiian pizza just for you."

She turns her gaze on him, smiles. "Thanks, Dad."

He's not sure why the moment is so fraught, but he knows he needs to diffuse the tension, find a way to make it easier on them, these two familiar strangers.

"Actually, Beckett wanted pizza margarita, so I got that too, if you'd rather-"

"I might take some of both?" Alexis turns her head to Kate; his partner nods and gives that tight smile back, but something eases in the lines of her shoulders.

"I could never eat the whole thing," Kate murmurs, then turns her smile back to Castle, as if in gratitude or relief. He's not sure he likes either one of those.

"Okay, while we wait-"

"Actually, Dad, I've got to finish my group project for AP History. Can I use your laptop? Mine crashed again."

"You need a new one," he grumbles, but heads for his study to get his own computer. "Bring it back down once you're done. I'll need it tonight."

"Thanks, Dad," she says, following after him. "I promise to leave all your files and stuff alone. And I'll use a different browser so you don't even have to-"

"Okay, all right. You're fine." He hands her the laptop, then unplugs the charger and piles that on top as well. "I think I ran the battery down earlier today."

"Okay. I'm just going to use it really quickly and bring it right back-"

"You're good," he says, the two of them coming back out into the main room. Alexis takes the laptop upstairs and then it's just him and Kate, standing awkwardly apart with nothing to say, no place to go, no case to bond over.

Castle wishes things weren't so hard, but there's nothing for it. This should be the time for talking, but they don't talk. He said as much once before and got kicked out for bringing it up. But with the way she's giving him these half-hopeful smiles lately, like she wants maybe to say more than has been said. . .

"Sit," he gets out finally, gesturing to the couch. She does immediately, dropping to the cushions and trying to settle back, looking as uncertain as when she came in, stiffly held apart from the seat. As if she's not sure why she's here, what she should do next. It's rare that he sees Kate Beckett unsure of herself.

Castle goes to the couch and sits just to the other side of her, turning his body to mirror hers, remembering the many times they've sat like this on various couches from here to the break room to a Los Angeles hotel.

She watches him for a moment, then gives him a slow smile, a real one, pulling her knee up, her elbow on the back of the couch, head in her hand. Giving it up, not trying to predict the next move. Resting beside him. He's seen that before as well, and it makes his heart pound, makes him smile even as he realizes that he doesn't know what comes next either.


He waits, but she's a closed book that he can't translate, a foreign edition that escapes him no matter how hard he tries. She looks down towards the couch, the glass of wine held against her chest, but she still says nothing.

"Okay," he says quietly. If she wants to avoid looking at him, avoid whatever conversation she came over here to have, then he can do that too, but he'll spend his time studying every curve of her profile, every shade of color in her hair.

Shadows have fallen over the left side of her face, the muted lamps making her skin golden and smooth. He loves the angle of her cheekbones, loves even more that those angles have softened slightly the last few months, as opposed to the harsh and hollowed look she had after this summer. Her lips quirk, causing those little lines to form around her mouth. He wants to kiss that mouth.

After a moment, he realizes that he's leaned in unconsciously, has put an arm along the back of the couch so that his fingertips brush her elbow, so that her hair falls along the back of his hand.

She's looking at him now, that slight curl to her lips, her large eyes, so expressive and so deep, rimmed with black eyeliner, her lashes a thick and perfect frame.

If he doesn't stop looking at her, he might say things he'd regret.

"I'm gonna. . ." He fumbles for an excuse, trying to bring his thoughts away from the way her hair feels along his knuckles. "Get my wallet, get money for the pizza."

She lowers her eyes, as if to release him, and it does the job. He can shift his hand away, get off the couch, leave her.

Even though he doesn't want to.

He just needs to.

Kate watches him leave, his body reluctant, his eyes reluctant, his whole being still leaning back towards her as if-

She knows better than to do this. She shouldn't have come - it's not exactly nice of her, to wander over and cozy up with him on the couch, drink his wine so that she's just enough relaxed to let herself do things, say things, that she shouldn't - but not say the one thing he wants to hear.

She should go now, before it gets too - before the shine of need and want in his eyes starts showing up in hers as well.

Kate puts her wine glass on the coffee table, pulls her black cardigan tighter over her chest as she stands. She's just moved back towards the entry, about to open the closet door for her coat, when Alexis comes down the stairs, laptop up, her eyes glued to the screen.

"Hey, Dad, I fin-" Alexis looks up at Kate's movement; she stops at the bottom stair, her eyes arrested by Kate. "Are you. . .leaving?"

The abandonment in the young woman's eyes holds Kate there, keeps her from taking another step. "I. . .no. Just - no." It's not a good answer, either way, but Alexis only gives her a tight smile and nods.

"Is dad. . .?"

"He went to grab his wallet to pay for the food."

"Oh. I have to - I need to get this project done. I'll leave Dad's laptop down here - can you tell him I'm done? I left everything just as he had it. He's picky about his desktop."

Kate reaches out for the computer. "I'll take it. You go finish so you can eat with us."

Alexis's shoulders relax; she hands over the laptop immediately, grinning. "Thanks, Kate."

As she turns and runs back up the stairs, Kate glances down at the screen, cradling it as she heads back to the couch.

A document is up, tantalizingly labeled The Wall, and Kate's detective instincts kick in, a surge of curiosity that makes her eyes track to the words written on the open page.

It's only because he left the last Heat novel so frustratingly incomplete, so painfully protracted. Nikki at the bedside of a comatose Jameson Rook, her victories like ash as the silent man in the hospital bed merely breathes. If Kate can just read a little scene, or plot points for the next novel, then she would know - wouldn't she? - what Richard Castle plans to do with the two of them.

She settles down on the couch and scrolls to the top of the document, most of it blank it seems, and then reads from the beginning.

Plan B.

Okay. That doesn't give her any information. It's subtitled 'Be patient.' Those two words are in bold in the center of the screen, in a large font. The rest is an outline divided into three sections. The first is labeled Door, then Ladder, then Dig a Hole.

Which makes no sense. He's got numbers below the three different headings, but nothing next to them. A door, a ladder, and digging a hole. To get around the mystery? To get over-

The wall.

Be patient.

"Uh. Kate?"

Her heart clenches at being caught, at the words on the screen and the blanks below his three plans. Blanks. Like he's got no clue, no idea, no way wall. Her wall. She lifts her eyes and sees him standing in the doorway between his study and the living room, money in his hand, panic on his face.

"Are you - did you - are you reading that?"

She puts his laptop on the coffee table and shuts the lids gently, then stands up and crosses over to him. "Plan B is. . .which one of those, Castle?"

His face blanches; he shoves the cash into his pocket and puts his hands on his hips. "I. . .I don't know. I can't. . .this isn't what you. . .it's no big deal, Kate."

"You don't have anything under those entries. A door. A ladder. I think maybe you're digging a hole just fine-"

He chokes on a laugh, lifts his eyes to hers. She tries to smile at him, finds that it's easier than she expected.

"I am rather good at digging holes. Building doors or scaling ladders - I have no clue."

"Other than. . .be patient," she says softly. She's teasing him because she doesn't know how to do a serious conversation with him about this, not without ruining things or accidentally letting it slip that she knows more than she should. Not without hurting someone.

He nods shortly. "Am I. . .patient enough? Because sometimes. . ."

She wants to apologize for being so difficult, for being a woman with issues. They both know what they're talking about here, but they're not saying it, he's not touching her, he's barely even looking at her, and she-

She wants to reassure him she's still in this, still exerting her own efforts to break that wall down-

Oh, but meanwhile he wants to just. . .get around it.

How would they do that exactly? Get around it. Scale the wall. Why can't they?

"Does this. . .count as a ladder?" Kate brushes her hand along the curve of his jaw, stubbled and strong, slides her fingers back to his ear, pauses there a moment to shift her eyes to his.

He's breathing lightly, as if afraid to move, caught by her.

"Bottom rung, Castle." She leans in and presses a kiss to the skin under his jaw, gentle, barely there, feeling the rasp against her sensitive lips, electric and raw, making her stomach clench with arousal.

His hands hover at her sides; the heat of his palms slowly meeting her ribs, holding her still. He waits for her to make her slow way down his neck to the hard bone of his clavicle; she can't help but scrape her teeth there, taste his skin with the tip of her tongue.

He sucks in a breath, his fingers digging into her hips, her smile growing against the hollow of his throat.

"I like it here," he murmurs after a moment. "Bottom rung."

She rests there, eyes shut to keep the sensations close, feels his hand drag up her back and into her hair, making a fist as if he has to clutch at something, but doesn't necessarily think he ought to be holding her. Her hair seems to be his compromise between what he needs and what he thinks is appropriate. She can feel his harsh breathing in the silence.

She shouldn't have done this. Oh God, she's. . .she's torturing him for no good reason, isn't she? She's taking advantage of information he gave her in the heat of the moment, information he doesn't think she knows, and-

"What's the next rung, Kate? One more step up."

"Up," she murmurs, trying to think, and she lifts her face to him, wants to see his eyes, only-

Only up means up. To his mouth. And suddenly the alluring innocence has disappeared and it's just her mouth pressed against his, the feel of his teeth tugging her top lip even as she sucks at his bottom lip, traces her tongue along the moist heat of him, diving down into him.

Some kind of animal sound vibrates his chest; she feels it against her palms, barely keeping balanced as she leans in towards him, seeking, needing, trying to breathe.

She feels his fingers at the back of her skull, the tight tangle in her hair as he tries to angle her jaw. Kate lifts on her toes to avoid his manipulation, goes for the corner of his mouth, the press where his lips meet, the hot slide of her tongue at his teeth.

He gasps and rolls his cheek against hers, the sharp bone around his eye hitting hers, his fingers relaxing in her hair, sliding down to her back.

"That's. . .that's a good place, second rung."

She ought to gather whatever might be left of her self-control, but it's in tatters, gaping holes every time she tries to bring it back together. She can't breathe deeply enough, and somehow her hands have clutched at his shirt and won't let go.

His hand at her back drifts down, suddenly presses her in closer, their hips bumping, his breath catching, a sound like relief or need coming from him. She closes her eyes at the contact, desperate grief flooding through her.

She's a terrible person, taking advantage of him because she's feeling out of control. She should have left when she stood up and headed to the door; she knew a major breakdown was coming. And now she's crossed a line she should never have crossed.

"I don't think I can-"

His mouth feathers along her cheek, stilling her, his mouth at the beauty mark, as if he's trying to capture some indefinable thing. Words fail her as his thumb brushes her chin, the line of her jaw.

"Bottom rung," he murmurs, still so very light a touch that it scrambles her nerve endings, makes her unable to think, only feel. Feel the rough slide of his jaw against hers, the soft breath at her ear, the pounding of her blood as it throbs through her limbs.

"Second rung," he whispers and then his mouth assaults her, hot and dangerous and unpredictable. He takes her tongue with his teeth and pulls it into his mouth, moves to the corner of her lips, back to her upper lip, a constant, insistent force; it's all she can do to give it back, fierce and aggressive and distracted and sloppy and it's so good.

Both his palms are at her cheeks, tugging on her hard, away, their mouths breaking apart. She sucks in a ragged breath; her eyes open to see the reddened line of his mouth, then drift up to meet his gaze.

She's never seen it like this before, all laid out for her, naked, exposed. She ought to protect that, shield that part of him, whatever it is and whatever it needs from her; she has to warn him, has to make sure he knows how damaged she is.

"Castle, that wall-"

He grins and his eyes, even though still needy, still vulnerable, his eyes are alight and warm and caressing her. His thumb swipes over her bottom lip, all of it making her lose her voice, caught in the physicality of him.

"However long you need," he says, filling her silence. "But isn't waiting like this so much nicer?"

She can't think, can't speak with the way his fingertips trace her face like reading a message in braille, all sensitive skin and slight imperfections, memorized and adored.

"Much nicer," she repeats. So much nicer, easier than constantly clenching her hands in fists to keep them at her side.

He makes a sound of pleasure and rubs his nose at her temple, over her cheek, brushing her lips with his lightly, teasingly, before pulling back to look at her. "Good to know that a wall and marathon make-out sessions are not mutually exclusive."

She blinks and can't help the smile that slides along her mouth. "Hardly marathon there, Castle."

"I can fix that-"

The crash of a fist into the door makes her jump, her heart rate spiking, but it's just the food, just the stupid pizza delivery guy. She glares at Castle as he smirks at her, moving around her to get the door.

He opens it up (the relief she feels when he checks the peephole first is so strong that she has to close her eyes - he's being careful, he's smart, nothing will happen to him) and then he pays for their food with the cash from his pocket, closes the door behind the guy.

The smell of pizza overwhelms the loft, replaces the scent of his neck, the oil of his skin, that's been lingering in her ever since she had him so close.

"Ready to eat?" he asks, heading for the kitchen.

She's still rooted to the spot of their. . .encounter, her mouth slightly parted, her hair falling in her eyes, but she turns towards him like a plant hungry for light, watches him as he lays out the boxes, pulls down plates, gathers napkins.

He glances up at her, both amused and questioning, and she sees - behind that question - the same vulnerability that she wanted so badly to keep safe, protect. She doesn't want to hurt him; she never wants to hurt him.

And maybe that makes this okay, scaling a ladder over the wall, maybe that's really the only thing they should be doing.

Why tackle brick and mortar when climbing up, one rung at a time, is so much more pleasant? And obviously what he wants. What she so very much wants-


"Yeah," she answers, and feels her body moving towards him, the warmth of his kitchen, moving into the light.

He gives her a plate and while her hands are full dishing out pizza, he caresses the flare of her cheekbone, strokes the line of her eyebrow with a thumb, then he leans in and ghosts his mouth to hers-

bottom rung.

She could climb a little higher tonight.