Plus One

by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles


Kate is not really surprised when Castle suggests they leave.

Yes, half an hour ago, he seemed keen on staying, but ever since they looked at this picture-

He's been withdrawn, subdued, completely unlike the charming man from before. The man who fed her and made her laugh and (oh, yes) danced with her. She's not certain what caused the change, but she has a couple ideas.

Whatever the theory, though, she wants to do something about it. And a more intimate setting can only be a good thing, right?

So she gives him a nod of approval, stifling a yawn as she stretches out her legs, then slides her shoes back on, idly looking for her purse.

She's tired, anyway, and the once-lovely buzz of Amaretto is slowly turning into a headache. Home seems a lovely prospect. If she can convince Castle to come up for coffee.

"Can I - give you a ride home?"

Her head swivels back to him, struck as she is by the hesitancy in his voice, the quiet, unassuming tone. As if he expects her to say no.

Her brow knits as she takes in the firm line of his mouth, the taut set of his jaw. He looks...miserable. He can try to hide it all he wants, but she sees.

What was in this picture, to make him look like this?

So-

-broken.

Her heart aches for him.

"Sure, Castle," she answers softly, resting a light hand on his upper arm.

But he doesn't take it, doesn't even acknowledge the touch, even though a flash of relief crosses his face at her positive answer. He starts making his way out, and she has no choice but to follow, puzzled, her throat tight with anxiety.

She loves that picture.

Her profile has never been her best angle - at least, not in her opinion - but for once she didn't pay attention to the too-strict line of the jaw, or the too-long arch of the nose. No, she was stunned by something very different.

How relaxed she looked, how happy. How-

Radiant.

It feels strange (maybe a little conceited, too) to use that word to describe herself, and yet. Nothing else fits.

She's never seen that look in a picture of herself before.

Ah, that's not true. But the last time she smiled like this, with such abandon - everything showing in her eyes, the soft joy, the barely contained laughter, all the things this man does to her - she was nineteen then.

She was nineteen, and her mother was alive.

Kate feels the familiar lump forming in her throat, and she swallows, closes her eyes against the untimely emotion. Her mother is dead, dead, and there's nothing she can do about it. Only her life, her own life, to focus on.

That's what Burke has been telling her. You need to stop thinking "when my mother was murdered," Kate. She died. And while you might want justice for the murder part, might want the closure, her murder didn't leave that hole in you. Her death did.

Does she believe that?

Some days it sounds appealing, sounds almost *right*. And some days she just thinks - what's the difference? Murder, death. Those things took her mother away, wrenched her mother's love from her, and if you ask Kate, the murder part is what caused the death, so-

She sucks in a breath, shivers, unwilling to let the darkness shroud her.

"Are you cold?"

Castle. She's suddenly reminded of where they are - standing on the sidewalk, waiting for his car to arrive - and before she's had time to say no, the writer has taken off his coat, draped it over her shoulders. She'd only brought a thin wrap with her, the heaviness of his coat is welcome.

The fabric is warm; it smells like him.

"Thanks," she murmurs. A ridiculous sense of comfort envelops her; it nearly brings tears to her eyes. That last glass of Amaretto was probably too much.

Castle steps back, returns to his previous spot, entirely too far from her. He's staring at the road, looking both determined and forlorn, and she just-

can't take it.

It only takes two steps to close the space between them, and then she's sliding her hand at his elbow, her fingers naturally curling there, like a bird finding its customary perch.

She feels his jerk of surprise, but she doesn't look, doesn't look, doesn't let herself look up at his face. Can't stop now. She needs this, and she wants to believe.

Wants to believe that he needs it too.

When she moves to rest her cheek on the top of Castle's shoulder - damn heels, that won't let her do more than this, her neck at an awkward angle - he lets out a soft breath; she can't tell exactly what it is, peace or relief or hope, but she can tell it's something good.

And after a moment, his right hand comes up and, ever so slowly, drifts towards her own, until his palm covers her fingertips. With any other man, it would look like an attempt at keeping her there, a will to possess, to cage; with him, it feels like a gesture of worship.

She closes her eyes, breathes the night in, savoring the way it mingles with Castle's fragrance. Cologne and sweat, male and warm; it curls inside her lungs, puts her heart at rest.

A smile flourishes on her lips, and hope expands in her chest.

Maybe their driver will get lost.


He's not sure how he's going to survive whatever this is, if this is how it's gonna go. He can't take it. One moment so overwhelmed with her laughter, and the next certain everything is over, done for.

And then the next moment - whatever is going on here - he can't grasp it. He can't understand. This is Kate Beckett, and she usually yells at him, or shuts him out. Cold shoulder. Only, at the moment, his shoulder is anything but cold.

Maybe he's thinking too hard.

He doesn't want to let go when the car arrives, but when she moves to get in the backseat, her hand trails down his arm, as if she's just as reluctant to part from him.

Castle gets in after her, adjusting as he sits, getting settled. He tugs on his suit jacket so he's not wrinkling it, shuts the door after himself, and gives the driver her address. Just as he shifts back into the seat, he feels Kate's arm slide through his, her body close and warm, a slow heat building between them.

He turns his head to look at her, confused but willing to go along with anything, anything at all, she wants to do.

"Are you okay?" she murmurs, curiosity mixed with concern.

He doesn't know how to answer that. Not now. He was panicking, despairing over something that apparently wasn't at all-

"If you need your coat back-" she starts, nudging his ribs with her elbow.

His coat. Oh. "No. I'm fine. Keep it for now, Kate."

The car meets relatively little traffic, to his disappointment, and the night now really is truly over. He's trying to figure out a good parting line, something to do justice to the amazing time they've had, when the driver pulls up in front of Kate's building and the engine purrs to a stop.

He's got nothing. Just inane I had a great time and a longing, last look in her eyes. He's doomed. She makes him tongue-tied when it's serious. He can think of a hundred funny quips, irreverent suggestions, and one-liners. But now that they're here, and it's done-

Well, delay the inevitable. "Want me to walk you up? Keep my coat on a little longer that way," he grins, hoping.

"More than that," she says, one of those inviting grins spreading across her face. "Come up with me."

Come up? Come up?

"Yes. Okay." Come up. Wow.

She opens the door herself - he's totally falling down on the job - and Castle scrambles out after her, leaning in to tell the driver to go on home. He'll call a cab. . .later. Whenever later is. He doesn't want her worrying about the driver if she - no. No, it wasn't like, come up and-

He very nearly asks. He's this close to asking her what's going on, but he keeps his mouth shut and does something else really stupid instead. After she unlocks the main security door, and then steps through the lobby of her apartment building -

he takes her hand.

Kate doesn't even hesitate, she leads them to the stairs, her body shrouded in his coat, flashes of her gorgeous legs as she goes up ahead of him. Her hair cascades down her shoulders, her fingers are squeezing rhythmically against his, as if she has some song in her head still, her hips swaying in time.

She tugs him past the landing, up the final flight, the back of his hand brushing her hip on every other step. It's like she doesn't even notice. Which isn't possible. These aren't barely there, skimming glances, this is the thump of their clasped hands knocking into her hip, over and over. His whole hand is burning at the touch; she can't possibly not feel it.

At her door, she squeezes and lets go of him to unlock it. She doesn't go in first though; she stands in front of the door and nudges him through, as if to make certain he's coming inside.

"I don't know about you, but I've got the beginnings of a headache. I need coffee. You?" She shuts the door after him, flipping the locks, moving past him to drop her keys and clutch on the kitchen counter. Next are her shoes, and she drops four or five inches to her bare feet.

Something about her is so hopeful. Waiting on a word from him.

"Coffee would be great," he says, coming forward to wrap his fingers around her elbow, an instinctive move, a response to the look in her eyes.

She smiles at him, brings her hand up to pat his chest, her fingers then curling around his tie - what is with his tie tonight? - and then she tugs a little, that grin still gracing her lips. "I'll start the coffee, and then I'm going to change out of this dress. Do you mind?"

"Do you need help?" He grins down at her, pleased to see the pressed-lip, struggling-not-to-smile look on her face. That's a great one. Wide, expressive mouth, dancing eyes. Beautiful. God, she's beautiful. And she's looking at him like that, and he - he just -

Kate quirks an eyebrow at him, finally, then turns her back to him, peering over her shoulder, drawing her hair away from her neck. "Top hook is hard to get, Castle, if you can handle it."

He narrows his eyes at her, wondering what she's playing at and entirely too happy to play at it with her. He lifts his hands to the soft skin of her neck, uses his fingertips to smooth away the fine hairs on her nape, taking his time. If she's messing with him, or flirting, or something, then he's going to give as good as he gets.

He leans in close, his body hovering close to her curves, pulls back the edge of her collar, finds the hook.

He can feel Kate's body quiver when his breath skirts her neck. He grins and slides the hook from the eye slowly, lets it pop free at the very last second, then thumbs the zipper.

Should he?

He wants to.

Castle tugs on the zipper, watching the material split apart slowly. He pauses well before any skin is revealed, fingers against the sides of her dress, getting a thin sliver of pale skin, a freckle, the ridge of bone where her spine meets her neck.

She lets out a long breath that she's apparently been holding, her shoulders stiff.

He swallows. "Got it started for you," he murmurs and takes a step back. "I'll get the coffee. You go. . .get decent." Shit. Comfortable. He meant to say comfortable.

Kate turns, an eyebrow raised as if to take umbrage with him, but he sees the swirl of hesitation and. . .and longing? Kate?

"Coffee better be ready when I get out," she warns, pushing on his sternum with a finger before slipping away.

He takes precious time to watch her walk towards her bedroom, the slight gap at the top of her dress and the shifting sway of her hips - mesmerizing.

When she disappears behind the door, he sucks in a breath and wipes a hand over his face on a shiver.

Damn. He can't believe he did that. Can't believe she just *let* him do that.

Amazing.


Kate closes the door to her bedroom and then rests her back against it, breath rushing out of her lungs in shaky little pants that she has no control over.

Oh god, oh god. What is she doing?

She closes her eyes tight, presses her mouth together, her fingers clenched on the door handle. The whole thing isn't without reminders of a certain night in a certain LA hotel, except-

Except he didn't touch her then. There was no hypnotizing brush of his fingertips against her spine, no warm exhale caressing her skin...

Oh, stop it, stop it. This is ridiculous.

Stop it right there, Kate Beckett.

They need to start this thing already, don't they? she thinks with a ghost of a smirk as she pushes herself off the door, reaches back to pull down her zipper. Otherwise the anticipation might kill her. Kill them both?

Or, by the time they finally get together, his touch will barely be necessary to get her-

Yeah, no. Not a good line of thought when the man is standing in your living room, and you're only a few feet away, trying to tame the wild arousal galloping in your stomach.

Kate peels the dress off and throws it on the bed, reaching automatically for the clasp of her bra before her hands still in hesitation.

Maybe she shouldn't - she was going to dress for bed, leggings and a t-shirt, nothing Castle hasn't seen her in, but what if...?

She shakes her head at herself. She seriously needs to stop thinking.

She gets rid of the bra, puts on t-shirt and leggings, and adds a sweatshirt. There. Compromise.

And now, back to the kitchen.

She can do this.


Coffee helps. It always does.

With a cup of hot coffee cradled in her palms, it's easy to sit on her couch next to Castle, tuck her legs under her, and fall into an easy conversation about the last few hours, the look on Esposito's face when Kate called him Lanie's dessert, all the thousand little things that made this wedding such an amazing one.

"Admit it," the writer teases after a while, wiggling an eyebrow at her. "One of the reasons you liked it so much is that for once, you didn't have to wear an ugly bridesmaid's dress."

Kate hides her smile behind her cup, but she knows it's all over her face. And after all, what's the harm in letting him see?

"Damn, Castle, you got me. Although, I guess, the dresses Jenny chose for her bridesmaids weren't the worst I've seen. Far from it, actually," she adds with a wince, remembering her cousin Lisa's wedding and the pink chiffon.

Ug. But at least she learned something from it. Pink is *not* her color.

"Hmm, you're right," her partner says. "In fact," he looks at her pensively, "I bet that shade of green would have looked pretty great on you."

"What are you saying, Castle?" she shoots back innocently, though she's pleased with the compliment. "You didn't like my dress?"

He gasps in outrage, exaggerated of course, designed to make her laugh (and so she does). "Katherine Beckett, will you stop putting words into my mouth? I said nothing of the sort. I love your dress. I think your dress is great. And I would love to...deepen our acquaintance."

"First my shoes, and now my dress. You're starting to worry me, you know."

He only gives her a small smile in response, but his blue eyes are too serious, too full - she can hear his voice in her ear again.

I doubt the shoes would retain much of my interest without the owner around.

She tries to distract herself with a sip of coffee, but almost spits it out: too cold. It must be later than she thought.

She's half-tempted to get up and put the cup in the dishwasher, but that would mean moving away from Castle and the warmth his shoulder radiates. Their arms aren't touching, but they've gravitated closer over time, and now there's probably no more than an inch between them.

If she gets up, he will take it as his cue to leave.

She doesn't want that.

But he takes the choice away from her, standing up himself, reaching for her cup as he does.

She follows him to the kitchen, watches him put stuff in the dishwasher, struck by how at home he looks, when he's only been here a handful of times.

He turns back to her, his face soft in the shadows of the kitchen. Always handsome. The gel is all gone from his hair now, and it sticks out in every direction - the dancing, probably. Before she knows it Kate is moving forward, pushing back a strand that's fallen over his forehead.

His eyes slam shut, and when she drops her hand, he catches it gently.

"I should go, Kate," he murmurs, eyes opening again, a deep blue that makes her breath catch.

She presses her lips together, fishing for objections, anything that will keep him with her, just a little longer. But damn it, she's got nothing.

"You don't have to," is all she has to offer, and she knows it's not enough.

He smiles at her, so gentle, so sad that it hurts. God, it hurts.

"Don't I?"

She sucks in a breath, wishing more than anything that she could tell him no, stay, stay with me. Wishing that she was more, that she was enough. But soon, Castle, soon-

Of course, none of that passes her lips.

Her partner leans in, slowly, as if he's afraid of spooking her, and he presses his mouth to her cheek, a strange echo to the sign of peace in the church earlier. And yet, it's not the same kiss; this one is more confident. Like a promise.

She lets her hand fist on his shirt, unwilling to let go of him just yet.

She likes him close, his cheek to hers, his scent all around her.

"I had a good time tonight, Castle," she whispers, watching her breath ripple over the small hairs above his ear.

"Me too, Kate." The rumble of his voice is a cool, lovely cascade that undoes the knots inside her chest, makes the whole thing easier.

"Thank you," she breathes, and her fingers loosen, set him free.

She turns her head just when he's moving back, and their lips brush - not exactly an accident, not exactly a kiss either. Castle's eyes widen in the half light, and she gives him the smile that erupts in her chest, doesn't hold back.

It's light and warm and delicious, and it's all his doing.

"Goodnight, Rick."

He grins back, slow, beautiful, her stomach flipping at the sight of him, and he steps away.

"Goodnight, Kate."

She closes the door after him, locking the bolts, and not even that - not even the security checks that come with having been shot in the chest last spring - not even that can tarnish the joy simmering in her heart.

Soon.


A/N:

Sandiane Carter:

This is how it usually happens. Chezchuckles tells me about this idea she had for a story - it's always a pretty great idea, of course, because she's chezchuckles, right? - and, do I want to write it with her? So I say yes (I'm not stupid enough to say no to that) and then one of us starts it, writes a whole scene and sends it to the other. The other does a reasonable amount of gushing, writes the next scene because - of course - all this amazing writing has inspired her, and it goes on like that, back and forth.

It's, yeah. Pretty amazing. Also, we trust each other to take the story in the right direction, and have an incredibly similar perception of these characters, and all these things just - make writing together such a fun and enriching and exhilarating experience.

So, yeah. I'm hooked. :)

chezchuckles:

I love SC. She's seriously so good at this. She sends me her scene and I flail for a little while and quote lines back at her as we message each other, and then I jump right in to the next scene. It's so inspiring. I've missed having a writing partner these last few years, and I'm so grateful to have found my writing sister :)

As for this story - the end of the wedding episode was perfect, for me at least. SC didn't love it. As well as most of you, from what I've read. So in my effort to convince SC that it was exactly enough, just what we need from them at this point, all this happened. I wanted to extend the Kate Beckett we saw at the end - the smiling, happy, taking-pictures, arm in Castle's Kate Beckett - the Stana Katic of Kate. If that makes sense. We managed, I think, to stay in canon with it too. Which was the intent. To give you all something that just might have actually happened when the cameras were turned off.

Thank you all for reading.