by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles

Rick Castle watches her out on the dance floor and thinks, not for the first time, what a colossal mistake this was. As he waits for her fourth vodka martini at the bar in the back of the ballroom, he wonders where he went wrong.

He loves play-acting; he takes a childish delight in making Beckett squirm, and in turn, being made to squirm by Beckett as well. He thought a cruise sounded like so much fun, and undercover was an added thrill, and a favor for the mayor - he owes the man one. (One? Try a hundred.)

A cruise to the Bahamas - delightful, right? Almost a vacation, yes? No.

On a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, her gun hidden under their mattress - yes, *their* - and a missing persons' case that couldn't be further out of their reach, this is not anywhere approaching delightful.

It's quite close to hell on earth. Or rather, hell on the Gem, the name of this forsaken ship.

He's not going to make it; she's going to kill him. Either with her own two hands or her amazing, seductive body. Or the gun under their mattress when they have to sleep in that bed - together - tonight.

The drink appears before him; he tips the man and heads back out to the dance floor with her martini, taking a sip from it as he does, for courage or something to do.

Because this is a couples' cruise - for marriages in trouble.

And they have their second therapy session tomorrow morning at ten. The first one was a misery, staging a fight that felt more real than fake, a fight they took pains to carry out all through the ship. And then their homework (punishment for fighting) that they had to have done by tomorrow's session?

He's supposed to re-write his vows. So is she. That's not the problem, really, because he had vows written in a second, the moment the assignment was given.

No, the problem is - the vows - like the core of their fight - aren't fake.

None of this is fake.

Not to him.

The song changes and Kate pauses, the hot, sticky air of the dance floor suddenly attacking her senses, the beat of the music no longer appealing. She's been trying to watch people, keep tabs on who's flirting with the wrong spouse, but the flashing lights and the crowd make it more complicated than she'd like.

Of course, they also make her inconspicuous. Silver lining, right?

Holding back a sigh, she cuts her eyes to the bar, looking for Castle and her drink-

And there he is. So close; she almost jumps back in surprise.

Not a good idea.

"Thanks," she says with a smile as she takes the vodka martini, using her other hand to push her hair back from her sweaty neck.

Castle's eyes flicker to the exposed skin before he guiltily looks away. Seriously? It's not like he hasn't seen her neck before; besides, with the dress she's wearing - sleeveless, a deep v-neck, navy fabric that clings to her skin - her neck should really be the least of his concerns right now.

She takes a sip of vodka, studying him instead of the crowd. His foot is tapping to the music, but the rest of his body is tense: broad shoulders set, hands shoved in his pockets, eyes stubbornly fixed on the floor.

He makes it pretty damn obvious that he's not enjoying himself. And yet, whose fault is it that they're here?

Kate presses her lips together. She's not being fair. She's at least as responsible as he is.

It's not like they could ever say no the mayor, anyway; but with the lingering guilt she feels over the man's career being all but over - his own fault, she tries to tell herself, not hers, not hers - she didn't even consider ducking this assignment.

Which is why they're stuck on this ship.

Nothing left to do but solve the mystery now, is there?

Wrapping her fingers around Castle's tie, she tugs him closer, then winds an arm around his neck. She can feel the startled breath that he sucks in, but at least he follows her lead, resting a hand at the small of her back, swaying with her to the music.

"Try to look a little more cheerful, Castle," she suggests, her lips at his ear. "Otherwise people might start thinking that I'm an abusive wife."

His chest quivers with a laugh, and the tension in her stomach loosens a notch.

"Noticed anything interesting?" he murmurs back, even though Rihanna is blaring that she found love in a hopeless place, probably loud enough to dissuade anyone from listening in even if they shouted.

She shakes her head, frustrated with herself because it's only their first night, and she's not naive enough to think that this case - these cases - were going to solve themselves in a day, is she?

But tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the stupid therapy session, with the vows, and-

Her heart crumples when she thinks of the folded sheet in the drawer of her bedside table, of the vow she couldn't keep from sounding entirely too sincere, even though it's short, even though she scribbled it down hastily like it doesn't matter.

She steps back, just enough that she can knock down half her drink, which should hopefully keep her from thinking. But the moment her lips leave the glass, Castle's fingers curl on top of hers, and he's drunk the rest of the vodka martini before she can do anything but stare.

She arches an eyebrow at him, and he shrugs, his small smile telling her exactly how bad he needed that. You could have gotten your own drink, Castle, she wants to say, but instead what comes out is, "We can go back to the room, if you want."

She feels him shiver at the unexpected suggestion, and her eyes slam shut when she realizes how it might have sounded. God, she hates all of this, the case, the cruise, the couples therapy and the role-playing.

She wants him to tremble against her - and she wants it to be real.

A grudging laugh stumbles out of her lips.

Yeah. Real is probably not the issue here.

His fingers brush against her hers in askance, and she shakes her head, unwilling to share her thoughts.

"I don't care, Kate," he finally answers. "Here, the room - one and the same. Your call."

She hears what he isn't saying; the prospect of an enclosed space, of a shared bed, isn't much more appealing than the dance floor.

She chews on her lip and then slowly slides her hand back to his neck, pushes him back among the dancers. She's not in a hurry to go back to the room, either.

Esposito can wait for their report a little longer.

He's never again doing the mayor another stupid favor.

So what if the mayor's friend's daughter's husband fell overboard on their honeymoon cruise on the Gem? Too many degrees of separation for Castle to feel any kind of obligation. And so what if another husband disappeared on the same ship a year before that? That doesn't scream serial killer, just drunk and stupid.

But it's the mayor. And he owes him. Big time. Running interference against Gates nearly every week. Man has to be a saint to do that. And yeah, the whole 'person of interest' thing which might have possibly ended his political aspirations. . .

Still, why does Rick Castle have to suffer for it?

Damn, she's beautiful. And sexy as hell. And every time she bites her lip like that, looking as if she thinks she needs to be worried about him but can't figure out why-

What does it matter where they are? Room or out here. Either place, he's going to want her badly - without a chance in hell of having her. In the room, his misery would be solitary, no witnesses, but at least out here, he can pretend that the reason he doesn't say anything is because the music is too loud.

Only a day and already he wants this case over.

They have until Port Canaveral, Florida, to find some solid evidence or they're done, off the case. Gates gave them the extent of the U.S. voyage, but once they hit international waters, they've got no back-up and no right to be here.

They disembark in Florida, regardless. He's so very grateful.

(Although, the huge buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are amazing; best food ever. Still.)

At that moment, Beckett grabs him by the elbow and starts propelling him off the dance floor. Once they get away from the center, hovering on the edges, she leans in and explains.

"We've made enough of a statement tonight. Let's go. I need to call Esposito."

A statement. "You want to stage another fight?" he says back, leaning down to put his mouth at her ear. The driving beat, the thump of the bass - he has to. She can't hear him over the music. It's not that he loves the heat of her so close to his mouth, the slight hitch in her breath when he's this close.

It's not that at all.

"No, not tonight. I can't-" She shrugs her shoulders, and he feels her hair against him as she shakes her head.

But he gets it. He's felt like crap all day, arguing with her over nothing, made up things, and yet still feeling the sting of it. Hard to shake it off, both the untrue (somewhat true) things he said to Kate and the (used to be) true things she said to him.

"But drunk-" she mutters and sighs against his cheek, lays her forehead on his shoulder. He's not sure what this is, acting the part of the partying, unhappy wife who's had too much to drink or if she's just as bone-weary as he is, faking fights that are a little too real and baring private information geared to attract the attention of their murderer.

Of course, it's not supposed to be real private information.

It's just - it actually is real.

"I can do drunk," he murmurs back, swaying with her at the edge of the dance floor, wrapping his arms around her, needing it for just a moment, even if he shouldn't.

"People fight and make up all the time, right? We've seen that here. Like this morning, that couple next door-" She breaks off with a laugh and lifts her head from his shoulder, some of that fragility gone from her eyes, thank goodness.

"Um, yes. They were. . .adamantly making up." He quirks an eyebrow at her and keeps his hands carefully neutral. "And Karen Smith said she and her husband were only fighting a couple of those cruise days. Not all of them. So I think we can put the fight on hold."

Kate nods at him, turns her face away as if she's having to regroup, summon courage or strength from some deep place. He's not stupid; he knows it's just as difficult for her to play at being married as it is for him. She's not cold, not heartless; it gets to her. Kate's given him one too many tender looks this morning (like apologies for whatever accusation she just hurled at him) for him to believe that she doesn't also understand how it gets to him.

There's just nothing for it. They'll have to do their best and get off the ship in Florida - hopefully with either their murdering employee or proof that these two missing husbands fell overboard by accident.

"Let's go, Castle," she says, turning him towards the door of the ship's ballroom with an arm around his waist.

They've done the faked, drunken stumble before. At least that's familiar. He wishes - for an instant - that they could do the fake kiss too.

Because it's never been fake.

She lets go of his waist to slam the key into the door, has enough presence of mind to make him go first - see, Castle, I can learn - then totters inside, since there are people in the corridor who might be watching them.

Once the door is closed, she miraculously finds her balance again, kicks off her shoes, and steps towards the bed.

The cabin is small. She noticed this morning, when they dropped their stuff here, but it seems even worse at night. Despite the efforts of the large mirror above the bed, of the sliding glass door that opens onto a cute little balcony, the space really is tiny.

It makes Kate regret that Gates was so determined to refuse Castle's offer to pay for a suite.

Of course, the NYPD shouldn't be taking money from the writer - not to mention, yeah, it's sort of illegal - so it's probably better this way. But still...

The tension that stems from having to play a married couple is bad enough as it is. Having to share not only a bed, but this ridiculously cramped room? Yeah. Not helping.

"Mind if I take a shower?" Castle asks as he shrugs off his jacket.

The movement involuntarily draws her attention to the lovely breadth of his shoulders; she sucks in a breath, cursing the person who designed this ship, the one who thought of establishing stupid marriage-therapy cruises, and the two unfortunate dead guys they're here because of.

"Sure, Castle. Go ahead. I'm gonna call Esposito."

He skirts the bed to get to the bathroom, walking past her as he does; her eyes linger on the view.

His ass looks good in those dress pants.

Oh, damn.

She waits until the bathroom door is closed to bury her face in her hands, let out a growl of frustration. This is torture. Downright torture.

It may look like a fancy cruise, may have a stupid casino and a spa, shops and restaurants and three pools - something out of a dream - but *she* knows better. She reaches for her phone, finds Esposito in her contacts list, but changes her mind at the last second.

Might as well use Castle's time in the bathroom to peel the dress off her skin, put on her own sleeping clothes. She'll be grateful for it later.

Kate finds the zipper of her dress - the back is a deep V as well, which doesn't exactly make things easy - and tugs it down, frowning when the material doesn't come apart like she hoped it would.

She blindly feels for the top of the zipper, remembers with a sigh that there's a small hook holding the dress together. Shit. She asked Castle to close it earlier - that was awkward enough - and there's no way, no way, that she will make him undo it now.

No freaking way.

Kate fights with the hook, her fingers growing numb and a little desperate, until at last (thank god) it comes apart. She drops her arms in relief, lets herself fall back on the bed to catch her breath, closing her eyes. She's shaking.


She opens her eyes and gasps, startled by the view overhead.

Mirrors. On the ceiling above the bed.

Oh God.

Biting her lip, she sits up, shucks the dress, quickly changes into leggings and a t-shirt. Ignore the mirrors. The water has stopped running in the bathroom - Castle is fast - but he is also enough of a gentleman to ask if she's decent before he comes out.

And there's not even a hint of a leer, not even a touch of hope in his voice.

Why does it make her sad?

"Yeah, Castle, you can come out."

He does, dressed in dark shorts and a t-shirt, and this time she's careful to keep her eyes on her phone.

"Calling Esposito now," she tells him.

He acknowledges her with a nod and a small smile, then squats down next to his bag, retrieving a case before he makes his way back to the bathroom. Amusement bubbles in her chest; she's always thought he was the kind to live out of his suitcase.

Looks like she was right.

"Hey, Beckett," Esposito answers on the second ring, sounding entirely too awake and cheerful. "I was waiting for your call. 'S pretty late."

"I told you, Esposito. We had this dress-up, mixer thing we were supposed to be at." She knows she sounds weary and curt, but she can't bring herself to care.

"Yeah yeah, I know. So did you have fun with Castle? Did you two dance close to one of those sexy songs they play right now - Yo! Ryan! What's the name of one? Ooh, I'm gonna make you sweat," he says, his voice dropping an octave. She can tell he's wiggling his eyebrows, too, and she's not buying the forgetful act.

Well. At least one of them is laughing. She opens her mouth for a sparkling retort, but nothing comes; in fact, she realizes in horror that she's closer to tears than anything else.

She's tired. That's all.

Both Esposito and Castle worry about her lack of answer; she hears the first one asking, "Beckett?" just as the second one pokes his head out of the bathroom, shooting her a concerned look.

"It's fine," she tells both of them, but she can see from Castle's face that he is not fooled - it's fine is very different from I'm fine.

Still. It's all she can give him right now.

"Sorry, boss," Esposito says on the phone, and the mixture of regret and shame with which he speaks the words convinces her that she must sound really, really bad. "I guess pretending's not going so well for either of you, huh?"

There's no way she's discussing her emotional state with her fellow detective - especially knowing that Castle is listening in - so she gets down to business instead.

"We don't have much, Espo. We talked to as many employees as we could without looking suspicious, but nothing's popped yet. There's this one guy, Martin, who tended the bar tonight and spent a lot of time leering at drunk women, so we'll keep an eye on him. And on the couples that would make possible targets."

"So, fight strategy didn't come to anything?"

She closes her eyes, her heart aching. "Not that we could tell. We'll try again tomorrow."

"Okay." She feels, rather than sees, Castle coming out of the bathroom as Esposito speaks - the scent of his soap in the air, the dip of the mattress when he sits down on his side.

"...I'll tell Gates tomorrow morning. She'll want an update, too."

"When doesn't she?" Kate jokes half-heartedly, opening her eyes. Her partner is getting under the covers, a book in hand, careful to stay on his side.

Always so careful.

Mirrors. He hasn't seen them yet? Or just better at ignoring-

Esposito chuckles on the phone, reclaiming her attention, and his voice is warm when he says, "Night, boss."

"Night, Espo," she replies softly, ending the call.

"What did he say?" Castle asks after a good five seconds of holding back.

A tired smile finds its way to her lips. He doesn't change.

"What do you think he said, Castle? We don't have anything, really. Nothing solid, at least."

The writer's blue eyes cloud when she says that, and she would feel bad, except - it's the truth. Doesn't mean that she doesn't want to kiss the disappointment off the line of his mouth, though.

"Right," he says quietly.

"I'll take my turn in the bathroom," she answers quickly, getting up again and moving away.

Anything, anything to soothe her hyperawareness of his body next to hers, all strong lines and welcoming smell, the gentle shadows that fall on the side of his face.

She closes the bathroom door, rests her back to it with a sigh.

She needs sleep, and it doesn't look like she's getting any.

"This is ridiculous," he says finally. He can tell she's feigning sleep, just as he's lying here in the darkness on his back, counting his breaths and begging for oblivion.

Ignoring the dim reflection of their two separate bodies in the mirror overhead. A parody of what it should be.

She gives a soft, sighing laugh and turns towards him; he can see her all too clearly even though the moon is nowhere to be seen and the vast horizon of ocean and overcast sky lend no light.

"It is," she says softly. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, Kate." It's his. He's the one in love with her. She's the one who's not ready. That's all there is to it.

"It is. I'm the one who got us here - putting into motion the Mayor's downfall. It's my fault we owe him at all; we wouldn't be here if-"

"If you hadn't done your job? Kate."

She sighs and rolls onto her back, staring at the ceiling; he matches her. Their eyes meet in the mirror, strange and disconsolate, even somewhat. . .electric. He doesn't know what to say, he only knows that they've got to say something.

He starts with what he knows. "Tomorrow."

She sighs again, lifts a hand to cover her eyes. He wonders, quite suddenly, if she's trying to keep from crying. He thought when she was on the phone with Esposito that she looked entirely too brittle. She's looked like that all day, but only at odd moments, only when he happens to catch it. Usually after another round of public fighting.

"Tomorrow," she says finally.

"I don't want there to be any surprises," he starts, feeling his words thick in his mouth, stumbling him. He turns his head to look at her.

She wipes her hand down her face and takes a deep breath. He can see the rise and fall of her chest; she's pushed the sheets back to her waist, as if she was hot.

He might like waking up with her tomorrow, if only he can get to sleep in time to do the waking. But in order to fall asleep, he's got to get this out of the way first.

Castle slides his feet out of bed and gets up, shuffling towards his bag in the darkness. To her credit, Kate doesn't ask him what he's doing. He pulls out his wallet from the dress pants he left piled there, then fishes out the piece of paper from the billfold.

He comes back to bed (oh, God, how he wants that, wants her), has to pause a moment sitting on the edge, then decides it's best not to get back under the covers with her while he does this.

Castle half-turns to her on the other side of the bed and hands it over. "Just. No surprises. For tomorrow."

Kate sits up, staring at him, then down at the folded up piece of paper. Many creases, well-folded, oft-handled. He wrote it the moment he was given the assignment, even though he maybe shouldn't have.

But he's a writer. He can't help it. It comes out despite himself.

Kate doesn't take the folded square. Instead, she gets out of bed and moves towards the tiny dresser in the corner, pulls out the top drawer, reaches inside. She withdraws a single-folded sheet of paper, runs her fingers along the edge as she turns.

She swallows and won't look at him, then silently, wordlessly, holds it out to him.

Castle tries to see what's in her eyes, but it's too dark in the room, there's too much distance between them. Still, he rises and reaches for it; she meets him halfway, leaning forward. Their fingers brush in the darkness, and they exchange their vows.

He grips the paper, hears it fluttering slightly with his shaking hand, his eyes on hers and trying to figure her out. But in the end, he can only open the sheet of paper and read what she's written, just as she does the same:


If she didn't know his writing so well, she'd be tempted to think that they screwed up when passing each other their notes.

But no; she can't deny that the large block letters are his. She stares at the word for a good ten seconds, the early surprise turning into a really, I should have known feeling, and a strangled sound falls from her lips - sob or laugh, she's not even sure herself.

She looks up at him, finds the curve of a smile on his face, and then, thank god, it's laughter - nervous and silent, but laughter still - shaking her shoulders.

Laughter, not tears.

When she stops to catch her breath, though, the tears are still there, a heavy, oppressing weight in her chest; she swallows, attempts to push back the detestable, vulnerable feeling.

Her eyes fall on the paper she's still holding - Always - and she lets out a soft, shaky sigh, closing her eyes.

"Oh, Castle."

And then before she knows it she's moving, scrambling back onto the bed, and even if she doesn't know what she's doing her body does, her body knows what she needs, what they both need.

She finds him in the dark, her arms lacing around his neck, drawing him into a fierce hug; in her eagerness she crashes her chest against his, knocking the breath out of them both. He gasps softly, and his upper body stiffens, but after a second he relaxes in her arms and hugs back, meeting her urgency with tenderness.

His hands on her back are entirely too gentle.

"Kate," he breathes, his lips warm at her temple.


She simply squeezes back, burying her nose in the crook of his neck, his blessed, familiar scent all around her, warm and so good.

They've been going about this the wrong way. He's right. They should talk; they should share the burden instead of wallowing in quiet misery, each on their own side like sulking children.

And maybe she's not ready for more, maybe she's not there yet, not good enough for him, but it doesn't mean that they can't do this. That they can't hug, can't comfort each other.

They can.

In fact, she has no intention of letting go.

She rests her cheek to Castle's, lets her body relax into his, shivering when his fingertips dig into her back as he fists a hand in her shirt. He must enjoy it just as much as she does, because for once he doesn't speak, doesn't seem to need words.

He simply rocks them both, light but soothing moves, as she clings onto him, lulled by the strong, even beats of his heart, the heat that his body radiates.

The broad line of his shoulders, so solid against her. A place to rest.