Title: Notch

Disclaimer: The real writers have tigers named Kismet.

Summary: Some games can make, break, or shake you. Kate's not sure what this game will do for them, but it's going to do something all right. She's just not sure Castle can handle it. Does he really want to know? Spoilers for 4x11.

Author's Note: This was a prompt from an anonymous on Tumblr. It deals with information obtained in the 4x11 sneak peak. It's not a spoiler, per say, but if you want to be completely clean, wait until after 4x11 to read.

"No." She stares him down as she takes a swig from her glass, extremities finally blissfully warm as the buzz of alcohol swirls through her body, tingling and thawing her skin, mind, soul.

"No, tonight is perfect for it," he fires back, equally poised, elbows on the table, hands cupped around his beer mug, eyes sparkling for the first time in days.

"You didn't want to know then. You don't want to know now," she asserts, tempted to add a foot to the mix, draw the toe of her foot over his ankle, tease him a bit more. The alcohol has her heady after the hellish week of frozen bodies and treks across snow-covered sidewalks, slipping and falling in chases, tackling into drifts.

"You're not in my head," he says and she has a feeling that somehow he knew she was thinking about playing footsie—can't really pass that off as anything else—because she senses his feet moving, until his rest on either side of hers, barely touching. Seems this drink was a bad idea on all accounts. She can't bring herself to care.

"You'll regret it," she tells him.

"I won't."

Kate considers him for a long moment. There's been a lot of progress made since the wedding, since the tiger, since the sniper. The wall, so iron clad, feels more like plywood on some days, though the steel barriers can still slam up at any moment. And the smile on his face, the answering one on hers—they're hard to deny, as are her feelings. But something about playing this game leaves her uneasy. It can either propel them forward or shunt them back. And she's not sure she's ready for either option.

"Fine," she sighs, biting the bullet. Somehow, now seems better than somewhere down the road when it could really do some damage. They've weathered worse than this. "Seven."

He bobs his head, takes a sip of his drink and clears his throat. She can't get a read off of him. She doesn't think it's bad, rather perfect for her. Four serious, three not-so-much—for a woman of her station and age, that's admirable. When he's silent for a full two minutes, she cracks.


"I'm trying to figure out who they were. I've got five. I'm missing two."

"Five?" she asks, surprised, stifling a laugh at the look of concentration on his face.

He arches an eyebrow and she realizes that she's just invited him to name her previous partners. But he's always been about the story. She kind of wants to see if he'll peg this like he pegged her mother's murder that first case, this time with a much less painful result. Still, she can't see how he'll succeed. He can't know five.

"Grunge Rocker, college guy, Sorenson, Demming, and Dr. Motorcycle Boy," he says, looking rather pleased with himself.

The bar is empty, her glass is on its way there, and its with a rather smug smile that she opens her mouth. "Wrong."

"Wrong?" he repeats, peering at her. "No college guy? Or two college guys and no grunge rocker?"

"His name was Anthony Kip, and no, no Demming."

The look on his face alone has her crowning the evening a victory, until it shifts from surprise to regret. "No Demming?"

It hits her that the revelation should be painful to her as well. Perhaps it's the alcohol. Or perhaps it's the knowledge that for whatever happened, for the summer they spent apart, wounded and trodden, they're here now, playing this ridiculous game. She offers him a shrug. "Never got to it."

He blinks a few times. "But…you spent the summer, that weekend…I…" he trails off, confused.

Oh. Well crap, now it's painful. "We never," she clears her throat this time. "We never went."

Eyes widen across from her and one of his feet hits hers, as though he'd twitched. "Never went."

"No," she shakes her head and looks down, voice soft, hands fidgeting on her glass.

"But I thought…"

"You thought wrong," she says, bringing her head up, unwilling to hide. It's not an accusation, just a fact. He'd been wrong, and she'd been slow. And now they're here. "And the other three were college guy number two, and two at the beginning of the force," she adds, the words tumbling from her mouth, to soothe the situation?

It's sufficiently distracting at any rate, and he perks up. "Do I get to hear about them? Names?"

She gives a breathy laugh. "Seriously? You want the dish on the guys you didn't meet? Even for you, Castle, that's just weird."

"What, you don't want to know about the women you can't guess?" he shoots back, looking entirely too sure of himself.

The truth is, she doesn't want to know. The four she can peg are more than enough. But, he's gotten hers, so she at least wants his, she thinks. "Not their back stories, but you do owe me the quantity," she tells him.

He nods and wets his lips, suddenly less cocky than before. "Fifteen," he says.

She forces her face to stay blank. The horrible part of her—the part that sometimes reminds her about the man she met four years ago—wants to grin; it's lower than she expected. The part of her that's fallen in love with this man, here, now, is almost disappointed. But she realizes that it's not the number, but the fact that no matter how many, there have been more than a few women before her. And for all the game she has, beneath it, she's astoundingly insecure about her ability to be enough for him. Though, with the look he's giving her, maybe that's not so unclear after all.

"Only a handful were truly serious," he says, and then blinks, because no matter how he wanted it come out, that sentence just doesn't put him in a clean, respectable light. "I mean, they were all…not all of them were just…you're sure you don't just want the stories? They're better."

She's laughing and it breaks the tension. She watches him through her lashes, doubled over, hands supporting her head, and only giggles more as he cracks and laughs with her. His feet close over hers, and somehow it doesn't feel at all like they've just played the numbers game.

"A lot of stupid times," he says when they've found more breath to take in, panting together. She's glad there's no one there, and that they're in his booth, in the back corner, far away from prying eyes. He looks undone and she can't possibly look much better.

"College guy two was a huge mistake," she admits, shaking her head. At least he'd taught her not to mix hard liquor and beer. Otherwise, she'd had a dark month, waiting for the stick to say, 'negative,' and had taken more trips to her mother's grave than she'd done in the last three years.

She thinks he might see that on her face, because one of his hands crosses the table to take hers. And she lets him. In this booth, after this month, after everything they've gone through, this isn't too much anymore. And when she meets his eyes, she's almost ready to believe that it isn't enough.

"Of everyone I know, I think you're entitled to more than a few mistakes," he says, serious and somber.

It throws her a little and she stares at their hands for a moment longer than is socially acceptable. He doesn't care, just waits her out—it's one of his biggest strengths, after all. And that thought seals her answer, brings feelings up and out of her mouth, eyes trained back on his, finger stroking at his pulse point. "Trying not to make any more of those, you know?"

He nods and the corner of his mouth twitches up. "I've been feeling that way myself for a while."

She answers his smile with one of her own and they sit there for a long moment, staring at each other. She shouldn't be surprised that this conversation, of all that they could have, is what seems to have spurred them forward. She can't give him everything—hell, what she can give him isn't much—but this seems like enough for the moment. His eyes are full and his fingers dance along her pulse, her palm, stroking, tickling, warming her more than the alcohol or the heat or the thought of a bath when she goes home.

But, no silence, even a perfect one, is ever compatible with Rick Castle. "So, you may not be interested, but I am. With which one of these boyfriends did you learn so much about bondage?"

She scowls and kicks his shin. He groans, the faintest "apples!" escaping his lips even as he grins at her. But later, as he's helping her into her coat and guiding her onto the street, a hand wrapped through her gloved one, she smiles. That's a story for another time, and she wonders if Rick Castle would be the kind of guy who'd want to be tied up.

On the drive to his apartment, his fingers trace her handcuffs, sitting in the cup holder of the cruiser because they were jamming into her hip. She glances over at him and finds him grinning, a dazed look on his face as he watches the city go by. She's never actually been a girl to mix business with pleasure, and being tied up hasn't ever been a turn on for her. No one, from one to seven had managed it, and five of them had never dared suggest more than the norm. But as she pulls up to his building and his fingers migrate from the cuffs to her thigh for the briefest of moments, she wonders if Rick Castle may be the first for many things, even if they are not the first to each other by any stretch of the imagination.

As she watches him go, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold, she remembers his foot on top of hers while they finished their drinks, and his eyes across the table, fingers dancing on her wrist. She wonders if he'll be number eight. He turns at the doorway and gives her a goofy wave before disappearing inside. He'll be number eight. The bigger question is whether there will ever be anyone after him.

Author's note II: I chose not to have Demming be one of Beckett's numbers based on a conversation I had, in which we decided it would be funny if he asked and she said no. There's evidence on both sides, but I thought it worked for this.

It's just a fun little filler piece, written for my own gratification and for the anon who asked. It also gave me a chance to try my hand at present tense. Lemme know what you think of that; it was a fun challenge for me.