A co-authored story by chezchuckles and International08.
I got a love that keeps me waiting -
I'm a lonely boy.
-Lonely Boy, The Black Keys
"Oh, The Black Keys!" she says suddenly.
He's surprised. She has long since given up on slapping his hand away from the radio, simply trusting him instead to scan until he finds something they'll both enjoy. This, however, wouldn't have been his choice.
"Really? I mean, I like them, but this song is. . .I don't know, a little depressing."
She shrugs, keeping her hands firmly at ten and two on the steering wheel. "Ah, yeah, maybe."
"More than maybe."
She shoots him a look across the center console, and he realizes how that came out, the rebuke in his tone of voice. He teases and pokes and pulls pigtails, yes. But he doesn't really challenge her all that often. And over a stupid song?
He's not sure why he's feeling so combative. He should just shut up.
"What do you mean?"
Ah, well, if she's asking then. "It's about unrequited love, a guy singing about a girl he can't get over, even though he knows he should. Knows that he'd be better off in the long run if he could."
Her silence answers him, and when he turns to look at her, her gaze is pointedly fixed away from him, away from the radio. But her hand rises to flip it off.
He catches her fingers before she has the chance to complete the action.
"It's fine, Beckett," he says, noting with interest the slight jolt at his use of her last name. "We're almost there anyway. And it's got a good beat. I like the music."
But not such a fan of the lyrics. Those hit a little too close to home. Even the ones that shouldn't apply.
I'm a lonely boy.
Yeah. But he'll wait.
Even if it kills him. Which it just might, seeing as how they deal with murderers and low-lifes every day. Not to mention the sniper's bullet with her name on it, one which he has sworn will never find her.
She still won't look at him.
"Kate," he calls, and then she turns, mouth a little too tight, throat muscles working a little too hard. "You okay?"
She gives him a thin smile. She's not even trying to hide, not really.
"I'm fine, Castle," she answers after a moment. "You okay? You don't usually have such definitive opinions about my musical tastes."
He laughs, or tries to, at any rate. Not that he's particularly successful. But he'll be the one to break the awkward tension.
"Just this one," he says, catches her eye and winks at her. "Now, "Howlin' For You," on the other hand, is a personal favorite."
It's the song she would expect him to pick, he knows that much. And he's rewarded with a slight shake of her head, that almost-smile that he sees more and more often these days.
"That's a good one," she affirms, turning to face him fully as they pull up to his building. She parks, looks at him decisively. "My favorite lately has been "Tighten Up.""
It takes him a moment to remember which one that is, but then it comes back to him - the opening bass rhythm, the tambourine, the whistling, the distinctive guitar riff, the words: I know just how I feel - telling you to be ready.
"Yeah," he says, voice a bit gruff as he opens his door. "Yeah, I like that one too."
He steps out, glancing back at her, finding her eyes on him as she unbuckles her seatbelt. Stand up, Castle; look away. He can't handle this right now, not when he's just reminded himself that he has to wait, that he will wait.
The hardest part of the waiting doesn't come in the lack of affection from her. Nor in the lack of forward motion. There's plenty of both, if he's honest. Little touches here and there. Her hand on his arm to gain his attention, the bump of her shoulder against his in the elevator. The secret smiles she thinks he doesn't see. The open smiles she knows he does.
Hell, she consented to dinner with him tonight after he told her his mother had said that it had been 'far too long since we've seen Kate, darling, far too long.'
No, the hardest part comes in the not yet. The fact that the most overwhelming relationship vibe he gets these days is a loud and clear not yet. Never would be easier. Not yet gives him hope, but it's undefined.
And he hates being patient.
"Hey, you with me?"
Her voice, soft and low at his side, cuts through the frustrated thoughts.
He allows one side of his mouth to curl upward and nudges her to walk in front of him into the building, hand briefly at her elbow before it drops away completely.
"Still thinking about the music?" she asks as they wait for the elevator that will take them to his floor.
He nods silently, thumb tapping a rhythm against his thigh.
"Do we need to outlaw The Black Keys on car trips? I mean, I'm all for anything that makes you stop talking, but..."
He glances over at her, catches the sly smile spreading her cheeks. But there's an undercurrent of seriousness in her voice, a hint of concern hiding in those laughing dark eyes.
"Oh no, I'm not going to deprive you of your methods of shutting me up."
She raises an eyebrow, and waits. He doesn't have to say it, but he will anyway. His playful leer has her shaking her head even before he speaks.
"Even if there are other, more effective methods that I'm certain we'd both enjoy."
The detective steps through the open elevator door, turns to watch him follow. And he does. He always does.
But it's hard sometimes.
They stand closer than would probably be considered appropriate, but neither moves away. This is their normal, and he's content here, if not entirely happy.
"You know," she begins as the elevator rises. He can already tell by the way she's studiously not looking at him that this is a conversation he doesn't want to have. "I have a hard time imagining you as a lonely boy. I'd bet you were pretty popular, even as kid. Tall, funny, good-looking, dreamy blue eyes."
He appreciates it; he really does. The way she's trying to cheer him up.
"Dreamy, huh? You saying you think I was a cute kid?"
She gives him that pressed-lip smile, but doesn't look at him, doesn't reply.
"Because you'd be right," he offers. "I was adorable, just less rugged than I am now."
Her chuckle bounces off the metal walls.
He shrugs, turning to meet her eyes as the doors open, gesturing for her to go out before him.
"You'd be surprised."
"Stop calling me that," he pouted, glaring over at his mother as the cab wound through the trees. "I'm not a baby."
"Ricky," his mother said, pointedly using the name he despised. Now, anyway. A baby's name.
He'd never go back; they couldn't make him go back. She couldn't make him.
"It's Richard," he said, puffing out his chest and setting his jaw. He was almost ten. Ten was double digits. Ten meant he couldn't be called by some stupid baby name.
His mother tilted her head at him, watching him; he knew she was close to caving, could tell by the purse of her lips, the raised eyebrows. He was good at reading her, had to be, and he knew how to make her understand.
Telling her that Andy Branson had punched his guts and stomped on his leg as he walked away wasn't a good thing to open with. Probably not a good thing to ever admit to her. She'd either break apart, weeping, or she'd be so furious she'd make the cab driver turn around so she could beat up Andy herself.
And wouldn't that be embarrassing?
"Richard," she conceded, her mouth tight. "You've been kicked out of school."
"So." His nostrils flared; he still wanted to hit something, but he'd tried kicking the cab when the headmaster had walked him out to his mother. Not a good plan. His toes felt numb, even still. "I want to go back to the city. With you, Mother."
She sighed and turned her head away from him. Conversation over. He'd messed it up somehow, said the wrong thing. Played it wrong.
He knew better; he shouldn't have gotten into a fight, should have let it go. But they were his, not Andy's, and the fat-fatty took them and wouldn't give them back, and then when he went after them, Andy-
He hadn't been crying. It hadn't been tears. The fat, ugly butthead. He hadn't been crying, just. . .just frustrated. Because he couldn't find a single place that didn't already have somebody there before him. Because they were his stories, his papers, and he needed them-
Andy Branson was a bully and a beast. It wasn't like he'd gone looking for trouble. Richard didn't want to have anything to do with him, but he'd been pushing his fat face in where he wasn't wanted, and stealing things, and taking his stories, and reading them out loud to everybody, and everybody was laughing at him-
It grated. He'd been Ricky his whole life, but not anymore. No longer. Not after that.
It was just a superhero story. That was all. Spo, yeah, the evil villain was a lot like Andy Branson. And maybe Ricky - Richard - hadn't been so smart, snorting at Andy as he read about the villain getting his fat face punched by the hero.
Andy's voice had trailed off and his face had gotten red, and blistered looking, and he'd read about the villain's guts being ripped out of his stomach and sprayed all over the Empire State building and then-
And then Ricky had gotten *his* guts punched and his leg stomped on as he laid in the grass, wind knocked out of him, watching Andy rip up his stories into little, tiny, snowflake pieces.
And he'd lost it.
He'd surged to his feet and socked Andy in the face.
It hadn't done a thing. He'd gotten his butt kicked, bad, and for nothing, really. Andy had come out of it sweaty and smirking and cruel, but without a mark. Ricky had bruises on his hands that still stung.
It was his fifth fight. Along with seven demerits for being disrespectful in class. Added to the three demerits for being out of bed after lights out, and that was 15 demerits - expulsion. (Not to mention the demerits he should've gotten, but which he sweet-talked his way out of - shirt untucked, no belt, sleeping in the library, reading comic books during math, forgetting to write the Rules of Civility as punishment for reading comic books. . .on and on.)
But he hated them all. And she'd never make him go back.
Fat bullies with a wicked uppercut sucked more.
His mother sighed. "What am I going to do with you?"
Ricky - no, Richard, it was Richard now - set his jaw and looked out his window, his eyes stinging, his hands throbbing, his whole body a bruise.
What did it matter?
What did any of it matter.
"I was nine the first time I was kicked out of boarding school."
His voice is quiet but echoes in the still-empty loft. He thought his family would be home already, but they did close the case early, and his mother and daughter are both out. There's no bubbly diva or cheerful daughter to distract him from old wounds.
The detective says nothing, but she does turn back to look at him as she steps into the living room, sunset and early streetlights streaming through the windows and catching the wave of her hair, setting it on fire.
"I got into a fight," he says. "Well, more like I was on the receiving end of a beatdown. He was considerably bigger than I was."
"What started it?" she asks, and he can hear the gentle curiosity in the question. It's not an interrogation, she isn't adding facts and theories to any murder board, not looking for motive. Just wants to know him.
"He was a bully. And I was the new kid who liked to spend his free time writing stories or reading comic books rather than playing pranks. That made me a target."
He can separate himself from it now. He's Richard Castle now, or Rick, or his preferred Castle - not little Ricky Rodgers. But the sense of injustice remains. Someone who's bigger or stronger preying on the little guy - it gets to him. It's part of why he writes. Because good will win, and evil will be punished. Always rooting for the underdog, because that will always be a part of him.
And besides, Andrew Branson went to prison a year ago for embezzling from his law firm. It was in all the papers. The injured nine year old in him gleefully read every account, even as the mature man chided himself for not being able to fully forgive and forget.
"I'm sorry," she starts to say, turning to look at him as he drops to the couch next to her, but he shakes his head.
"It was a long time ago, and unfortunately, just the first of many times I got kicked out of school. You wanna know why I have friends everywhere? I've been around."
He tries to grin, even wiggles his eyebrows at her, but the pity remains in her eyes. And he doesn't want that.
"Still," she murmurs. "You should have been safe at school. Somebody should have been keeping an eye out for you."
He shrugs, knows his answer won't please her, but needs her to understand anyway.
"Most of the time I looked out for myself."