LOVE BOAT

by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles


With that kiss still lingering in the air between them, her lips tingling, Kate stops him outside the door, her fingers to the crook of his elbow. With the hand still wrapped around hers, he squeezes back a question.

She takes a breath, glances at the door. Things need to be said first.

Kate shakes off his hand so that she can face him without tethers. "Before we. . .do this. Castle. The cover-"

"I know; I got it. I promise. I'll stop rewriting the story," he says, giving her a little grin.

"No. I - " Kate bites her lip, grins back at him. "You tell a better story," she murmurs. "So don't worry about that."

"Yeah?" His smirk grows wider. Too much ego-stroking going on here, she thinks, but she can't help the smile that struggles to escape.

"I was going to say that our cover - the problem in our. . .marriage." She takes another breath, remembers the folded sheet of paper on which he wrote their promise. It helps. "It won't fly. You? A workaholic?"

His lips twitch. "Yeah."

"So."

"We can make it work," he offers.

Kate runs a hand through her hair, some of it still wet at the back of her neck. "No. When I wrote that yesterday-"

Castle makes a noise, maybe involuntarily, but it draws her eyes to him. She watches him a moment, knows this is right.

"I'm going to be as truthful as I can in there, Castle, because I can't spend my time wondering what's true and what's just a cover. The fights in the halls are bad enough," she says softly, averting her eyes.

She waits, because she has to have his agreement in there for this to work.

"You want me to be honest as well," he says, his voice low, grave. "Are you sure you really want that?"

No. Oh God, no. But what else is there?

"Castle, I'm already in therapy," she laughs, and even to her own ears it sounds forced. "I know how this works. It will start out surface. But soon, the questions go deeper, you end up telling her things, slipping in real details because the cover can't possibly be rich enough. . ."

"You mean, we'll give out bits and pieces of the truth anyway."

Kate nods briskly, shoves a hand through her hair again, hoping it will dry quickly. "I just need you to know that what I say - I don't want to hurt you." She bites her lip, can't look away from him; he has to know. Has to understand. "I don't want to make this harder for either of us-"

"You've read my vows, Kate."

She sucks in a surprised breath, the block print Always flickering into her mind's eye. "Yes."

"Then you know."

He's watching her carefully, too carefully, meaning in everything, and she does know. She knows. And now he does too.

"Yes," she says finally, confirmation and apology both, determined to take the consequences, to face him for what she's done.

Instead of sorrow, instead of hurt, Castle's eyes fill up with relief. A burden lightened, shared, rather than going at it alone.

His palm at her neck is a surprise, warm and electric; she can't break away from his gaze. But he doesn't kiss her, not this time; he pulls her towards him, yes, and her eyes stray to his mouth, but she misses, his hand directing her head, her body, to lean against his.

A hug. Of course.

Kate slides her arms up his back, her hands at his shoulder blades, embracing him, her own relief washing over her. It's okay; they're okay. He was right, last night, when he said no surprises. It's better this way.


It's really not that bad.

Their therapist, Alicia, reminds them again that there are 15 therapists on board the Gem, and that they may, at any time, request a different therapist if they feel her approach isn't paying off for them. Alicia smiles as she says it, soft and warm and welcoming, and then she begins putting them at ease with the simple questions.

Like Kate expected, they're surface, no big deal. Nothing they can't handle.

From the quick prep work they did back in New York, Castle takes the lead. He's the one who charms so easily, can lie so smoothly - embellish, as he called it - and it's natural for them as well, letting Castle fill in the details, be social, while Kate hangs back, observing and reserved.

A few questions are directed her way; she manages quick answers, always looking to him for that moment of affirmation. She doesn't want to ruin the story he's embellished in his head; she wants to help maintain the cover.

Alicia picks up a leather writing pad with legal sized, yellow notepaper attached, a kind of signal that the real fun's about to begin.

Kate gets the first hard question. And it's not even really a question.

"Kate, you look much more relaxed this morning compared to yesterday. Your body language is open when you talk with Rick, though still not with me." Alicia gives a knowing little laugh, as if to say that's completely all right. "What's changed?"

Everything.

"It's easier. Knowing."

Alicia's eyes stay an eternal brown, open with innocence. Trust. But it doesn't mean she's not a murder suspect. Kate hardens her heart against the woman, but tries to lean back in her seat, adopt a more open posture.

"Well, there's some improvement. You've had therapy before?"

It's that obvious? "Yes." She hesitates. "Went back recently."

"About Rick?"

Oh, shit. "Among other things."

"Why is that?"

"I needed it."

"That's a wonderfully self-aware statement," Alicia comments, her pen at rest in her fingers. "What made you come to this conclusion?"

Castle. She shifts her glance to him, remembers his promise. Her promise. "He. . .depends on me. I have to be able to. . ." Protect him. Not let him get shot. ". . .have his back."

"Partners," Castle murmurs, drawing her eyes back to him. He's giving her one of those quirks of his mouth where he's trying not to smile too big. She can't help the answering smile that spreads across her face.

"I see," Alicia says, making a note.

Oh, but she can't possibly. How can she? A wealth of history lies between Castle and Beckett, Kate and Rick, and one small question, carefully answered, can't possibly explain.

"So whose idea was it to come on a couples' marriage counseling cruise?" Alicia says into the silence.

Kate slides her eyes to Castle and he's already opening his mouth to answer. "Me."

"Kate, why did you agree?"

It's my job; I owe the Mayor certainly won't cut it. "I owe. . .him."

"To try?"

"Yes." That as well. She has been trying; the wall grows shorter, less sturdy every day.

"Why do you think Rick wanted to come? To share your problems in a public forum and subject both of you to these silly games they have you play? It's not really much of a vacation. So why do you think Rick wanted to come, wanted you here with him?"

Oh. Why does he want her with him? Too easy, and so hard to say.

Kate smooths a hand down her jean-clad thigh, does Castle the courtesy of looking him in the eye when she answers.

"Because he. . .loves me."


Castle walks out of the therapy session shaken. But it's a good kind of shaken.

He'd been suspecting for a while that she remembered more than she let on about that terrible day in the cemetery (he still has dreams about it, and they're not pretty).

When she took him aside before the session - he knew then.

Knew that she knew, either from memory, or because he's done such a poor job of hiding lately. She knows that he loves her.

And he's glad for it.

He never wanted to take it back after she was shot, not once. He wanted it to be out there, wanted her to know - know that he was going to stick around, that she could count on him always, no matter what, even if she didn't feel the same.

Even if she wasn't ready.

And she does know. Which he is grateful for, seriously.

It keeps spilling out of him anyway; the coffees, the looks, the little touches. And today, the kisses. He tries to smother a grin, without much result; Kate gives him an arched eyebrow, slows down, forcing him to do the same.

"You okay, Castle?" she asks in a low voice, eyes watchful, concerned. Beautiful.

How can she ask? She actually admitted out loud that he loves her. It doesn't get much better than that.

"I'm good," he answers lightly, knowing that his face is open for her to see - exactly how good he feels.

He doesn't squirm under her gaze, simply holds it, telling her without words for once.

How he loves her.

She does that cute little trick - eyes flicking down to his mouth, back up to his - and a ghost of a smile touches her lips.

"Okay," she says quietly. And she does it *again*, before turning away from him with what he swears is a tiny sigh.

"Let's go investigate then, until we have to be at that stupid group meeting thing."

He follows willingly, the smile on his face widening.

Looks like the kisses want to spill out of her, too.


Kate wants to speak with the man who tended the bar last night, whatever his name was, but it quickly becomes obvious that finding a particular member of the crew without asking for him (which the detective has deemed a too obvious course of action) is nearly impossible.

Castle leans against the wall of a corridor as his partner chews on her lower lip, clearly frustrated with their lack of a result.

"Damn ship is too big," she curses between her teeth. "It's not like we can do anything, just the two of us, with all these stupid couple-y things to go to-"

He doesn't share her annoyance - he cannot, not when her taste lingers in his mouth, not when he still hears her voice answer with only a hint of hesitation, because he - loves me - and suddenly it seems ridiculously important to get her as relaxed and comfortable as he feels.

"Come on," he says, pushing himself off the wall and taking her hand in the process, just because he can.

"Where are we going?" she asks, but he notices with satisfaction that she follows him, despite the skepticism in her voice. "Another one of your brilliant theories?"

He can hear the Castle she refrains from adding, just in case anyone should hear them, and that only makes grin.

"Nope."

Her hand tightens on his, and she makes him stop.

"Castle," she scolds quietly - and though he knows why she's keeping her voice down, it doesn't keep him from enjoying the so-soft sound in her mouth, and imagining it in a more...intimate setting. "We don't have time to play games."

He schools his face into a more serious expression, lets her know that he's hearing her.

"I'm not playing games, Kate. But honestly-" he drops his voice too, steps closer as he glances around to check that they're alone, "-we don't even know that it's murder, and not just drunkenness. The mayor knew it was a long shot to send us here; he was just trying to set his friend's daughter's mind at rest."

"So what are you suggesting? That we stop looking and just pretend that we didn't find anything?"

As if he didn't know better; as if he didn't know that Kate Beckett never gives up.

"Of course not, Kate. I'm saying, no one is expecting a miracle here. Bob wants us to give it a shot, do our best in what little time we have. If we do find something suspicious, then good - but if we don't, that works too. And spending our day looking for this Martin guy? I don't think that's gonna help."

She presses her lips together, but he can see in her eyes that she's conceding him the point.

"You have a better idea?"

He smiles, lacing their fingers and relishing the easy, familiar touch.

"Come with me."


She lets Castle lead them to the small café on deck 7, sits at a table in the corner while he goes and orders for both of them. He knows what she likes, and he's right in thinking that it's sometimes easier to get someone to chat when you're on your own.

Kate watches him for a moment, the large expanse of his back, the play of muscle as he leans in against the counter. He's wearing a new shirt, or at least one she hasn't seen before (and by now, she's pretty familiar with most of his wardrobe). From a distance, this one looks a clear grey, though she knows it's really thin black stripes against the white fabric that create that effect.

It suits him - the almost-grey compliments his eyes.

A young waitress stops by her table to dust nonexistent crumbs, and Kate's eyes shift to her. She must be somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-eight; pretty enough, with very dark eyes and a name tag that says Ellie.

When the detective thanks her, the young woman gives her a bright smile, having obviously been waiting for an opening. "I love your shirt," she says enthusiastically. "You didn't buy it in the shop here, did you?"

"No, sorry," Kate laughs. "I'm not even sure where I bought it. I've had it for a while."

"Ah, that's okay," Ellie answers gaily. "It's lovely, so I thought it was worth asking. Is that your husband?" she asks shyly, with a glance at Castle.

Kate's stomach flips, even though it really shouldn't.

"Yes," she lies easily, her eyes finding her partner as she speaks. He's chatting up the guy at the counter, his body language open and trusting like only Castle's can be.

"He seems very nice," the waitress says with a smile. "Although, you might want to warn him - it's been a while since I've seen Rob this friendly with anyone."

Kate cuts her eyes to Ellie, surprised, sees the contained laughter in the woman's eyes.

Oh.

"Really?" she asks, a flutter of amusement in her chest. She looks back at the counter, seeing the whole picture and noticing all the little details that she missed, focused as she was on Castle. This guy - Rob, Ellie said - well, his posture definitely speaks of a pronounced interest.

How delightful.

"Uh-huh," the young woman replies. "Your husband might even need rescuing at some point."

Kate's eyes linger on the scene, but she's way too entertained to consider moving. She always said Castle was metrosexual.

"I think I'm gonna let him figure this one out on his own," she murmurs to herself.

Ellie chuckles, then presses her hand to her mouth, blushing.

"I'm sorry, I don't mean to be disrespectful-"

"It's fine," Kate smiles. She can't imagine how sensitive the girl's usual customers must be, if she feels the need to apologize for this. "Do you enjoy working here?" she asks curiously, without thinking. Much.

The waitress shrugs, glances around - probably making sure her manager isn't here. "It has its days," she answers honestly. "I love the sea, so the living on a boat part really appeals to me. And the customers can be nice, when they're not-"

"Too full of themselves?" Kate offers.

Ellie's blush deepens. "I shouldn't talk like this."

"I won't tell," the detective assures her gently.

"You're so...different," the young woman observes with a puzzled expression. "I could tell, before you even spoke a work to me."

"Ah. I guess," Kate hesitates, then realizes that the truth will probably help, in this case. "This isn't really my world. My - my husband is the one with the money."

"Oh. I didn't mean-"

"-to be disrespectful," Kate finishes with her, half-tempted to laugh. "I know."

"Sorry," Ellie says with a self-conscious smile. "It's hard to stop."

"How long have you worked here?" the detective asks, as naturally as she can.

"A year and - well, almost two years, actually."

"So you were here, when this man - I can't remember what the name was - drowned during his honeymoon? I've heard a group of women discussing it at breakfast, and that sounded like an awful story-"

Kate lets her voice trail off, struck by the flash of panic that crosses Ellie's eyes, the sudden disappearance of the smile.

"We're not supposed to-" she whispers in a hurried voice, but Castle chooses that moment to appear at the table with their cups of coffee. The waitress closes her mouth, looks from one to the other, then decamps before Kate's had time to say a word.

"Did I interrupt something?" he asks, eyebrows raised, as he sits down and blows on the steaming liquid.

"As a matter of fact, you did," Kate answers, watching the door through which Ellie vanished. But she doesn't manage to sound upset; she's too intrigued, the excitement, the thrill of a lead running through her veins. "But seeing as you were right to bring us up here, I might be able to forgive you."


Castle places their empty cups on the counter, nods to Robert as the man comes over with a friendly smile to collect them.

"Thanks, man," Robert says, grabbing the cups.

"I figure it makes your life a bit easier if we bus our own table, right?" Castle grins back, feels Kate's fingers at his waist. He turns to her in surprise; she's at his side, soft smile, nodding towards the exit. He watches her head out, then glances back to Robert with a good-bye.

"That's your. . .wife?" Robert says, eyebrows knitting together.

Castle realizes he's hesitating, but the flip of his stomach when people call her his wife is just too much to speak past. He nods. "Yeah. Kate. Sorry, should have introduced you."

"Ah, no," Robert tosses off, shaking his head. "It's fine."

Castle feels a nudge under his feet, like he's on a surfboard getting bumped by a shark, grips the counter with both hands, startled eyes flying to Robert's. "What was that?"

"Probably some rough weather ahead. Choppy seas. Sometimes you can feel it; most times you can't."

"Choppy seas?" he asks, raising an eyebrow. "How. . .uh, do you often get bad weather?"

"Sometimes. Seriously, man, nothing to worry about. I promise."

Castle feels the roll of the deck under his feet again. "I - uh - I've never been on a cruise before. This is new."

Robert smiles at him, a little too dazzling, really. "You'll be fine. Go on to your next meeting. I'm sure I'll. . .see you around."

"Yeah, sure. Oh, speaking of things to worry about-" Castle pretends he's just remembering, leans a hip against the counter so he can lower his voice. "What have you heard about that guy who disappeared a few months ago? He was on this ship, wasn't he? You think he pitched overboard in rough weather?"

Robert's mouth flattens, his eyes shift to one side, then back to Castle with a little weakening. "Yeah, no. We had smooth sailing for his cruise."

"Freaky, right? Have they found the guy's body?"

Robert shakes his head, seems to hold some inner debate, then leans in as well, coming much closer than Castle expected. Rick pulls back at first, then forces himself not to move. Robert knows something; he can tell.

The guy traces circles on the countertop with his finger, his eyes intent on Castle's. "They never found the body. But you ask me? They won't. He wasn't just drunk, if you know what I mean."

Not just drunk? "Drugs?" Castle murmurs, tilting his head.

Robert scratches at the counter with his nail, and Castle finds himself transfixed by the nervous gesture. Is he burdened with guilt? Is he selling drugs - did he sell them to Jennifer's MIA husband? Did he-

"You know. I hear things." A shrug of the shoulders allows Robert to lay his hand over Castle's on the counter; Rick's heart stops.

Ah.

Okay.

Didn't see that coming.

Castle clears his throat. "My - my wife's waiting on me. I should catch up." He slides his hand out from under Robert's, can't look at the guy as he moves away, turns around and heads for the door.

Kate is waiting just outside, a grin so wide, so enchantingly delighted that he knows she knows.

"You *let* that happen," he hisses at her, grabbing her hand to pull her further away from the cafe. "You knew the whole time, and you didn't warn me?"

"Mm," she murmurs, pressing her lips together as if to keep from laughing at him. "Figured you get more out of him if you let him think he had a chance."

"Kate," he growls at her, narrowing his eyes. "Flattered, really, but I'm here with my wife! What exactly was he thinking?"

"You're flattered?" she laughs, teeth biting her lower lip.

Rick flashes her a grin. "Well, I *am* ruggedly handsome."

The smirk of her lips reaches a full-fledged grin; Kate shakes off his hand to brush her fingers through his hair, a light tickle of her fingers really, nothing more, but it makes his chest tight.

"You are," she admits, then grins again, the tenderness gone, replaced with amusement. "Just what Robert is looking for in a man."

He narrows his eyes at her again, reaches out to grab her by the waist, but she expertly avoids his grasp.

"Not-uh, Rick. Time for our group meeting." She shakes a finger at him.

At that moment, the deck rolls under their feet, a shiver to match the flicker of the lights around them. He feels Kate's fingers wrap around his forearm, as if to hold on to him.

"Don't want to lose you in the dark," she mutters. "What is the deal with the pitching-?"

"It's kinda cool, isn't it?" He grins at her as the deck seems to righten itself, the lights returning to full strength. "Robert says it's just choppy seas."

"Oooh, Robert says, huh?"

Castle flips his wrist so he can grab her by the hand. "Shut it. We have a group meeting, Mrs. Rodgers. Let's get going."

She laughs again, but doesn't shake off his hand, starts leading him down the hall.