Title: A One Muse Man
Rating: T, adult themes
Disclaimer: You know the thing.
Spoilers: "Flowers for Your Grave" (does that really count as a spoiler?), "Linchpin".
Pairing: Castle/Beckett, Castle/Sophia.
Summary: Post-ep for "Linchpin". Castle and Beckett have a drink and discuss the nature of Musery.
They head to The Old Haunt by unspoken agreement, taking a seat opposite each other in their usual dimly-lit booth at the back. There is too much on both their minds, too much each needs to express, so initially they sit in silence, not knowing where to begin. Neither is in the mood for anything soft or sweet so Castle has the bartender bring them a couple tumblers of ancient whiskey which makes them both gasp when it hits their throats. It isn't until their second drink that he folds his hands on the wooden table and says:
"So I have the answer."
Beckett glances at him over the rim of her glass. "To what?"
"To the question you haven't been asking."
"And what question is that?"
Castle lets out a breath, eyes dropping briefly to his drink. "What makes you different from Sophia? What makes you special? To me, that is."
Beckett gives a short nod, muttering, "You're right, I didn't ask that."
"But you've been thinking it," he says, eyes on her face despite the fact that she won't meet his gaze. "This whole time, you've been thinking that the basis for our entire partnership is not what you thought it was. But you're wrong."
"Alright," she replies after a moment, an underlying edge to her tone. "So what's the answer then? To the thousand-dollar question. Why am I different to all the rest?"
"First of all," he begins, shooting her a pointed look, "I take exception to the phrase 'all the rest'. You are. But…that's a whole other conversation. Why you are different to Sophia, apart from not being a double agent—"
"How can you be sure?" she interrupts, her face drawn.
"Because I know you," he answers without an instant of hesitation. "Better than I ever knew her or ever wanted to know any woman."
Her gaze falters imperceptibly. "Is that what makes me different?"
"No. Well…yes. But what I was going to say is this." He shifts closer in his seat, setting his glass to one side. "See, I sought out Sophia in order to give Clara Strike authenticity. I was a young writer without the full support of my agent or publishers and frankly, I wasn't convinced I could pull off the character without—"
"A little hands-on experience?" she asks, brows half lifted.
He lifts his brows at her in return. "Are you going to let me finish?"
"I don't see how that's different from how we met," Beckett tells him, shaking her head and leaning back in the booth. "Weren't you suffering from severe writer's block at the time? Weren't you in the midst of a career crisis then as well?"
His eyes narrow. "Did my mother tell you that?"
She shrugs. "She calls me sometimes, she likes to talk."
"I really need to talk that woman about boundaries," he murmurs before continuing on, his eyes glowing brighter with each sentence he utters. "But yes, I was. I was at a crossroads in my career when you walked into my life. But I didn't go seeking you. You found me. Nikki Heat found me. I didn't plan to write her, I was compelled to write her. I had no choice in the matter. Do you see the distinction?"
"I see the distinction," she says quietly.
"Good, because it's a significant one." Castle waves a hand, makes a face. "Sophia was a resource, she was a font of information. You, on the other hand," he holds a hand out to her, head tipping to one side, "you are the very definition of inspiration. I wasn't even looking for it but there you were anyway, like some sort of perfectly timed literary miracle. You were the character I always wanted to write but never knew how. Clara Strike was a warm-up. Nikki Heat…was my destiny. She is my destiny and I knew it, from the second my fingers hit the keyboard." He sits back, head wagging and a little smile on his lips. "I don't think you'll ever understand the impression you made on me. Before just walking away…But you can understand now why I couldn't let that happen."
"Speaking of which…" Beckett sits upright, hesitating more than once before speaking. She winds both hands round her drink before going on. "Sophia said something to me about the two of you. She said…the attraction between you was very strong but that giving into it was a mistake."
"I think Sophia would have said anything to get away with what she was planning," Castle mutters, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.
She frowns. "You think she was playing me?"
"I think she played both of us," he says, taking a sip of his drink and letting it scorch its way down to his belly. "I think she was a clever woman who very quickly deduced just how important you are to me."
"And vice versa?"
"Precisely. So she used it against us, used it to throw us off, distract us."
"Divide and conquer..."
"In which case, she didn't succeed. Because this partnership…" he waves a finger between the two of them, gives a small smile, "unbreakable."
Beckett shifts in her seat, her eyes dropping away and her mouth opening a moment before any words emerge. "You didn't answer my question though, Castle. And you did say you'd answer any question I had. If that offer is still valid, that is."
"Absolutely," he nods, eyes droopy with booze. "But what was the question?"
"Do you regret," she says slowly and very carefully, "sleeping with Sophia?"
"I do now."
"But did you then? Was it too much, too soon? Did it ruin everything between you?"
Castle studies her momentarily, eyes narrowed. "I think you might be getting the wrong idea about the two of us. This was no great love affair. Yes, there was an attraction. But it wasn't as strong as Sophia might have wanted you to believe. It certainly wasn't as strong as…some I've experienced since."
She averts her eyes but nods at him to continue. "Go on."
"The attraction between us was physical, it was fun. But," he hesitates, gauging her reaction before continuing, "there wasn't the level of connection that you and I share. That's why it fizzled out so unspectacularly. Not because we slept together. Just because that initial attraction…was all there was."
"Let me ask you this then."
She draws in a breath, plants her elbows on the table. "Do you regret the fact…that we've never slept together?"
Castle's face twitches into an uncertain smile. "I…didn't know it was an option."
"Everything's an option, Castle." Her eyes flick to his then away again. "What I mean is…do you regret us not going out for dinner and a debrief after that first case?"
"Not even for a second," he murmurs, eyes gleaming with both affection and conviction. "Okay, that's…not entirely true," he quickly amends, expression turning sheepish. "But...what is true is that, when I look back…" he pauses, considers, shakes his head, "there's little that's passed between you and I that I'd want to change. It's made us who we are, it's what makes our story our own." He tilts his head at her. "How about you?"
"Do I regret-?"
"That we never did dinner and a debrief."
Beckett bites her lip, takes a sip of her drink. "Do you think we'd be in the same place if we had?"
"I think," he muses, mouth curving up at the edges, "we might be in a very different place. But I hope, still together." His eyes widen a little as he stammers, "As partners, I mean. As friends. As writer and muse."
Beckett smiles, looking at him from beneath her brows. "And you're completely sure that I'm not gonna stumble across any other muses in the future? I'd prefer to know now, Castle, and save myself the nasty shock."
Castle leans in, as close as he can get with an old oak table sitting between them. "Beckett, I might have thought Sophia was a muse back then. But that was before I met the real deal. That was before I was treated to the Deluxe Muse Experience. I mean, all that ear-pulling and nose-pinching and name-calling you dished out during those first few months…? That's the stuff that every struggling writer dreams of. It's fertile fodder for our inspiration-starved brains."
She lifts one shoulder. "Well, I did my best."
"To get rid of me."
"And never will." He smiles at her, eyes crinkling with warmth. "After all…casual brutality is one of the first things I look for in a muse."
"Is that right?"
"And you have that in spades."
"Do not," she mumbles into her glass. "Shut up."
"'Course, it also helps if a muse is beautiful and who could deny…" he extends a hand, touches her chin with his fingertips, "I mean, look at this face."
She slaps his hand away. "Cut it out."
"Ow." He withdraws the hand, hugging it to his chest. "That's the brutality I speak of."
She rolls her eyes. "Such a wimp."
"And there's the name-calling." Castle smiles at her a moment before his voice drops, his manner becoming more serious. "Besides all these attributes though, any real muse also needs to have a quality to her. She has to have core-deep integrity. And a big, brave heart, even if at first it might seem to be a little concealed. Sophia…it's safe to say, didn't possess these essential elements. I was deeply mistaken in her. But you…" his eyes meet hers and hold, "I don't doubt for a second. I trust you with my life. Literally."
Beckett smiles back, returning his steady gaze. "Me too. Literally."
Castle releases a sad sigh, resuming his thought after a long moment in which all they do is stare at each other. "In retrospect, Sophia Turner, or whoever she really was, didn't meet the basic criteria. So she can't have been a muse. And anyway…" he presses his lips together, struggling to supress a sly smirk, "I'm not one of those writers who believes in multiple muses, that sort of thing is for hacks."
Beckett can't help a soft laugh. "Oh really?"
"Really," he nods, giving a low little hum. "You're muse enough for me. To wish for more than what the Universe delivered would just be greed on my part, especially when there's so much about you still to discover. So from this point on," he pauses to make sure she's really listening, "I am a one muse man, and always will be."
She gives a single, slow nod. "Always, huh?"
"Believe it," he murmurs, clinking his glass against hers before drinking.
"I do," she smiles then lifts her drink to her lips and finishes it.
They part ways on the street outside, Beckett heading in the direction of her restored car while Castle steps up to the curb to hail a cab. Glancing back though, she sees him standing stock-still, staring out at the intermittent traffic, one hand lifted halfway to his jaw.
Her step falters. "Y'okay, Castle?"
His head snaps towards her. "Yeah, yeah, I'm just…"
She jabs a thumb over her shoulder, turning to face him. "Sure you don't want a lift? I don't mind dropping you."
"It's fine," he nods, "I'll get a cab." He tosses an arm in the air as a yellow taxi whizzes by without so much as slowing down. "Sometime in the next hour…"
She takes a few steps back towards him, a small smile curving her lips. "Castle, you're not scared of my car now, are you?"
"You mean after being trapped in it as we plummeted to a near watery death? No!" He scoffs a little too emphatically then shuffles to face her, mumbling, "I just don't want to take you out of your way."
"Well, if you're sure," she murmurs, eyeing him askance.
"Yeah…" Castle bobs his head and just continues to look at her.
Beckett looks back, her breath catching in her throat. She means to turn and go but something prevents her. Something prevents both of them from moving from that spot. The world has been saved, a little girl protected. Their case is resolved, their lives are no longer under threat. The issue of Sophia Turner and what she meant to him has been hashed out and they are once again back on the same page. With everything outstanding now laid to rest, emotion that has been routinely supressed floods to the surface and propels them back across the concrete pavement. They start towards each another at the exact same moment, making swift work of the distance between them before colliding in an unrestrained, simultaneous hug, each slinging one arm around the other's shoulder and one around their partner's body.
"That was really, really close," she mutters into his collar, holding on tight.
"Too close," Castle agrees, face pressed against her hair, her shoulder. "That can't happen again."
"Really thought I'd lost you for a minute." She closes her eyes, doesn't loosen her grip one bit. "You wouldn't believe the things that started going through my brain."
"Yeah. I would," he replies, breathing her in and out again. "Worst feeling in the world."
"Never again," she mutters, shaking her head against him, clutching him closer. "Never, never again."
"Agreed," he sighs, arms almost unbearably strong about her. "Absolutely never."
For almost a full minute, they clutch each other on the street, the traffic whizzing past and people exiting The Old Haunt and shooting them odd looks they simply don't see. Eventually, they come back to themselves, the strange, potent rush easing. Their arms gradually loosen, their eyes slide open, their breaths start to calm. Each takes a step back, arms dropping back to their sides but eyes remaining locked. Beckett breaks the silence, her voice soft.
"So I'll see you tomorrow," she says, the color in her cheeks high.
"Til then," Castle nods, his voice rough and warm. "Sleep well."
She gives a little smile. "You too, Castle." Then turns and heads in her original direction, her spine straight and stride confident.
A cab pulls up at the curb, letting out a giggling couple who head down into The Old Haunt. Castle commandeers the car, sliding into the backseat and telling the driver his address. The cabbie takes off before he's even shut the door.