Notes: Poor Cora Clavia asked (that is probably not the right verb… begged? demanded? ordered?) me to write the story behind Beckett's quote from Nanny McDead: "Guys can be like that sometimes, Chloe. They can lie and I know when you find out how much it can break your heart." I'm not sure how I got from there to here, but I somehow managed. Thanks, as always, to her and Jill for the terrifyingly relentless encouragement, and to Fi for gently pointing out all of my idiotic mistakes. Jill, I am sorry that I have failed you in every way humanly possible by ending this where I did.
Spoilers: Very vague ones for Nanny McDead, Little Girl Lost, and Under the Gun.
Disclaimer: If Castle and Beckett were mine, they would spend at least forty percent of every episode with their lips firmly attached to one another's.
The title is from ee cumming's "in time of daffodils," specifically the stanza "in time of lilacs who proclaim/ the aim of waking is to dream,/ remember so(forgetting seem)."
When he stumbles through the darkened living room and opens the door, Beckett is standing there. Beckett, in faded jeans and a black, casual button-down. Beckett, carrying a bottle of wine.
She peers into the abyss. "It's eight o'clock," she informs him.
"I was writing." He's suddenly very aware that he's wearing sweatpants and an old t-shirt. He fiddles absently with the ragged hem.
"In the dark?" she asks, arching an eyebrow.
He realizes she's still standing in the hallway. He steps aside, flicking on the switch. Soft light floods the room. "You might as well malign me in here."
She looks more penitent than he meant to make her. "Sorry," she says, pushing the wine at him. "I thought you could use some company." She pauses, hesitation flickering through her. "But if you'd rather write in the dark."
He might be depressed, but he's not stupid. "No. I was starting to go blind, anyway."
She stands and waits, slightly awkward in the middle of the living room, as he opens the wine, pours two very full glasses, and carries them and the bottle over to the couch. He sinks down and pats the cushion next to him. "How're you doing?" she asks, walking over to sit beside him.
"The house is too quiet," he grumbles, shifting crankily. "I know she's not that far away, and she's settling in and she loves her roommate already, but, I don't know. She's so excited. It reminds me of the first time she spent the night away from home – she was so happy, and I was a neurotic mess."
"Sleepover?" Beckett asks, a hint of a soft smile relaxing her face. His brain blips for a second over the arc of her wrist as she tilts the wine glass to her mouth, the work of her throat as she swallows, the flick of her tongue over her lips.
He clears his throat. "Yeah. She was six. I packed her two duffle bags full of things, including a first-aid kit. It's lucky most of her friends' moms thought of me as a loveable goofball of a single father." He takes a sip of wine that turns into a swig. The smooth slide of it down his throat feels a little too good.
Beckett smiles. "Goofball?"
"A sexy goofball," he amends. "Anyway, I was happy that she was happy, but I wished she were a little more hesitant."
"She's adventurous. It's a good thing," Beckett says.
"Were you adventurous?" he asks, cocking his head at her.
"Yes, but I was seven. I was ready for the wild world of sleepovers."
"Did you bring your stuffed bunny?"
She glowers. "Ryan said he would never tell anyone about Sir Flopsalot."
"I don't know why those two have your dad's number, but it was probably never a good idea."
"The bunny stayed home. I was far too mature for stuffed animals in the presence of others," she says, punctuating the word mature with a dubious shake of her head.
"I have an ominous feeling."
"We of course stayed up past lights out. And then we thought we it would be absolutely amazing to style each other's hair, but the styling products were locked in Karissa's mom's room."
"Oh, yes. Knowing the sticky nature of Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup from numerous pancake experiences, and having access to the kitchen, we improvised our own styling gel."
The laugh unexpectedly ripples through his chest and up his throat. "Karissa's poor mom."
"We tried to wash it out in the sink when we were done, but after a few minutes we gave up and went to bed. My parents brought me to a hairdresser the next day. I'm sure he did his best, but I had a mullet for half a year after that."
"Tell me there are pictures."
"I'm pretty sure I burned them all once I turned twelve. Which was absolutely for the best." She shakes her head, tilts to face him a little more fully. "What about you?"
He has to pause to pour himself more wine and top Beckett off – when did that happen? - and then to take a huge gulp. He ponders redirecting, or spinning some elaborate tale, but the goodbye to Alexis left no room for anything but blatant honestly. "It was a train wreck. I went to a week-long summer camp when I was six, and the very first night I couldn't stop vomiting. They couldn't get Mother until the next morning, when I wound up getting hospitalized for dehydration."
He's told the brief story with none of his usual flair and with his eyes half-focused on the wine glass. When he looks over at Beckett he can tell that she sees more than he's wanted her to, that an echo of his lonely childhood has played across his face and is shining through in her eyes now. "Castle," she starts, his name across an exhale, reaching her hand toward him, letting it fall to the couch with her fingers just barely grazing the fabric of his sweats, this one fragile point of contact between them.
He rallies, unwilling to see that look in her eyes anymore. "First time you drove," he says.
She goes with it, thankfully, lets him twist them away from the shadows of his past. "Are you really doing this?" she asks.
"Alexis is gone. I'm in pain, Beckett. You have to humor me."
She sighs, shaking her head slightly. "I was fourteen. We were up at the cabin, which is in the middle of nowhere, and my dad decided it was as good a time as any. We'd taken our old F250, since a few of the roads up there were in horrible shape. Between my trouble with potholes and a sticky second gear, I nearly singlehandedly destroyed the tranny."
Castle grins, tops off their wine as he asks, "How'd your dad take that?"
"He only yelled once, when I tried to swerve around a pothole, popped into fourth instead of second, and almost dropped us off an overhang and into a lake."
"That sounds terrifying," he chuckles.
"It was do or die on those roads," she says, smiling. "Your turn."
"Are we talking cars?"
"Did Barbie have a dream convertible when you were growing up, Castle?"
He puts a hand up, clutches his chest, feeling the pleasant flush of the liquor sizzling through his muscles. "You wound me."
She swirls her wine, staring into the glass before looking back up at him. "Anything with an engine more powerful than a riding lawnmower."
"Ah. I was twelve. I drove a combine."
She glares. "I thought we were telling the truth."
He holds out a hand in supplication. "Would I lie about this?"
"Yes," she retorts, decisive.
"Not about anything as important as oversized farm equipment," he says, affronted.
Her lips quirk in a small smile as she flaps her hand at him in a go on motion.
"When I was in 6th grade, Mother took on a job as a visiting professor at Cornell's Department of Theater for a semester. I don't know if you've been to Ithaca before for any stretch of time –" she shakes her head in the negative – "but for a kid growing up in Manhattan, it was… different."
"Boring," she provides.
"Horrifyingly so. But it was pretty, in the fall, and luckily I made some friends quickly, including Tommy, whose dad owned a good-sized farm."
"Did the dad know you were driving the combine?" The look in her eyes – the dancing laughter, the affection – makes something deep within him, something that had wound tight when he walked into a home without Alexis, loosen and uncurl.
"He did. This was long before my days of stealing police horses. Still scary as hell, driving a twenty-thousand pound piece of machinery you can barely see over the wheel of."
"Did you," she pauses, casts about for the space of a breath, "get the field plowed?"
"Well," he says, "we got the grain harvested."
She scrunches her nose. He wants to kiss it. "I was close."
Somehow, they've nearly emptied their wine glasses again, terrifyingly quickly. He fills them with the remainder of the bottle, announces "more wine," walks into the kitchen, pulls down a decent cabernet.
"Are you trying to get me drunk, Castle?" she asks, smiling, as he sinks back down next to her.
Of course, then she says, "First time you went to the hospital," and he's reasonably certain she wouldn't be continuing this particular game if she hadn't had a decent amount of wine already, but he is absolutely not going to protest.
"I was nine. Thought I could take my bike off a ramp. I couldn't, quite, but I could break my leg in the process."
"Ouch," she says, wincing sympathetically. He gestures for her to go. "I was eleven. We were upstate for a couple weeks over the summer and I misjudged the velocity I'd get coming off a rope swing into the lake, sliced my side open on a sharp rock at the bottom. You can actually," she starts, and now he knows she's buzzed, because she's lifting the right side of her shirt to expose a two-inch band of skin, pale against the dark fabric, "I think you can still see it." She traces a jagged line just above the jut of her hipbone, and yes, there's a tiny, white, raised scar. He reaches a hand out before he can stop himself, runs his finger along the mark, feels her skin ripple under his hand. He's too warm, suddenly, a flush that has absolutely nothing to do with the wine rising through his stomach and chest. He pulls back abruptly, his body buzzing with energy.
"First time a movie made you cry," he says, gruffly, firmly placing the hand not holding his wine glass on his lap to keep himself from mauling her.
She squints at him. "No," she says, her voice just a little thready, a little breathless.
"Never?" he asks.
"Don't look at me like I'm heartless," she orders.
"Not even one of those really random movies that you know is going to be stupid and sappy but it just kind of sneaks up on you all the sudden?"
She rolls her eyes. "Are you trying to tell me you're pregnant, Castle?"
"I feel like you're rapidly and systematically destroying all the trust we've just managed to build."
She ignores him, her teeth sliding over her lower lip. "First kiss," she says.
This is a different direction than he thought this might go when he asked about her first time driving. It's embarrassing, the effect it draws from him, the word kiss dripping from her mouth and rolling a steady wave of desire over his body.
"I was twelve," he starts.
"Up at Ithaca, or in Manhattan?" She's looking at him like he imagines he looks at her, sometimes, drinking him in with her eyes.
"You do listen. It was in Ithaca, not long after the Great Combine Victory. Jeanette was fourteen and eager to show me the ways of the world."
Beckett quirks an eyebrow. "Really, now."
He sighs. "Not really. I had, and I know this is going to be shocking to you, a brief awkward phase right around that time. Most of the girls in the sixth grade thought I had some rare form of cooties that managed to stick on past elementary school and that rendered me absolutely untouchable. Luckily, the boys in my class didn't have the same compunctions, and one night I wound up at my friend Matt's house with a group of them, watching Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Beckett's aghast. "Good god, why?"
"I don't know. I think Matt'd heard it was funny and thought funny ha-ha and not funny awful."
"And once you realized it was funny awful?"
"Well, sadly, most of the boys in the group were utterly transfixed with the misery by then. I was not, so I wound up wandering upstairs, into Matt's older sister's room, even though the door was firmly closed."
Castle nods. "She had the window open, even though it was getting cold out, and she was sitting right next to it, smoking a cigarette. I still remember she was wearing this thin white tank top and these baggy black jeans. The room would have been pitch black, but the moon was full and it was shining so brightly through the window. You'd think she'd have clubbed me, walking in on her like that, but instead she held out her cigarette, and I wasn't dumb enough or smart enough to say no." He can still feel that night, the edges of the just-winter weather licking through the window, the smell of nicotine, so tawdry in the daytime, turned dark and seductive by the moonlight. "I hadn't smoked before, so of course I took one deep drag and started coughing horribly."
"Oh no," she says with a soft smile, the kind of smile that makes him think she might to tilt forward into his lips or his lap at any second.
"It was pathetic. I wanted to die. But Jeanette said the only words I'd ever hear her speak – Let me make it better – and then she pulled me over to her and kissed me. And I mean, she seriously kissed me."
"You like it?" Beckett asks, teasingly, liltingly, her eyes fixed firmly on his mouth.
"It was – magical, really. My next first kiss with an actual girlfriend, and a lot of the ones after that, were sloppy in comparison – too much tongue, or knocking teeth, or noses bumping. But something about the smoke and the darkness and the moonlight and this mysterious girl made it ethereal, perfect."
"Good story for your friends."
"You'd think so. But you're actually the first one I've told."
"Oh, come on."
"No, it's true. Something like that – saying the story out loud takes away some of the magic. I wanted to keep it." She looks down, gaze flicking along the ridges of her wine glass, and he realizes how it sounds. "Not with you," he adds, quiet, sure. "Nothing with you takes away the magic."
He can actually feel her eyes mapping his face, the heat, the heaviness of her gaze, and he can't stop his own eyes from tripping along the sweep of her trapezius, the arc of her jaw, the soft swell of her lip. The coil of need tightens in his stomach, makes his hands spasm, his toes curl.
"You?" he asks, hoarse, needing the distraction of her words but cursing himself for breaking the moment.
"Real kiss, right?"
He considers, nods. "Real kiss."
"Ben took me behind the bleachers at the very beginning of our seventh grade 'Winter Ball.'"
"Good lord," he says before he can stop himself.
"I know," she says. "How horribly cliché can you be, right? I think it was everything that your first kiss wasn't."
He winces sympathetically. "Slimy, tooth-knocking catastrophe?"
"Sounds about right. I'd gone with him to have a date, and he was one of the most attractive kids in the grade, but I'd never really felt that strongly toward him." She drinks, regards him in the momentary silence.
He can't help the words that trip out of his mouth next, can't derail the train of thought she's started. "First love," he says as he only somewhat clumsily pours more wine.
She's suddenly still, too still, exuding none of the quiet, gentle energy that's surrounded her all night. "You first," is all she says, her voice an edge above a whisper, and he suddenly wishes he could take the question back.
"I was thirteen," he starts.
She's still with it enough to interrupt him. "You were not in love for the first time at thirteen," she says.
"I most certainly was. Her name was Karen. I saw her for the first time in our pre-algebra class, all long legs and tousled brown hair and huge blue eyes, and I knew I was a goner. It was two months before I could work up the courage to actually speak to her, and all I did then was ask her for a pencil."
"Did you date?" she asks, voice still too low.
He tries to keep things moving, keep the conversation forward, jovial. "Yes, finally, after three more months of persistence. Six months later her family moved to Australia. I dated other girls, but it took two years before I wasn't looking around every corner for her." He pauses, lets the soft light of the living room soak up his words, and waits. He won't ask her to share. She's silent for a long moment, breathing quietly, staring down at her lap. "You don't have to," he says, his heart thumping irrationally against his sternum.
Her fingers wrap tight around the stem of her wine glass, her knuckles turning white, and then she knocks back the rest of the alcohol and stares straight ahead. "His name was Jack," she starts, "and I was twenty."
Right away he hears everything she doesn't say and he knows that this story is going to hurt. Twenty would put her months, maybe a year, after her mother's murder, her father drowning himself in alcohol, her just – drowning.
"He was twenty-eight, the TA in my macromolecular chemistry course. I'd – I wasn't doing so well, then. I'd pushed all my friends away. My grades stayed up, but I wasn't eating or sleeping much. Jack noticed. He was nice to me. One night we were the last ones in the lab, and I was bending over this counter, looking at something in a microscope, and I felt his hands against my hips and his breath on my neck." She pauses, reaches over, pours more wine and takes a huge swig.
"Beckett," he starts, his throat tight. He both needs to know and never needs to know the rest of this story.
"I'd had sex before, but I'd never needed anyone so desperately. I turned around and kissed him and he took my shirt off and we fucked against the counter of the lab."
His stupid writers' mind suddenly won't turn off, won't stop picturing the scene. Beckett, Kate then, pale, skin stretched tight over her bones, shadows smudged beneath her eyes. Her mother dead, her father drinking his nights away, and in comes this older man, authority figure, and he takes care of her, maybe brushes his hand over hers as they hover near a Petri dish, sweeps her hair behind an ear as she tries to hold it together after class. He stays at a friendly distance until that one day, when maybe her shirt is a little tighter, or her jeans a little lower, or just an opportunity finally presents itself. He isn't expecting her to be so electric, isn't expecting her to turn and meet his mouth with the kind of pliant desperation that crackles through her, and the arousal humming through his veins turns acrid, necessary. He peels the shirt up over her head and directs her hands to pants as he pulls down his own. It's over quickly, silent and rough and desperate, and thirty minutes later the only evidence on him will be the slightest red from where her teeth grazed his shoulder as she came.
She swirls her wine, sips again. He feels every molecule of his being vibrating, waiting for her to speak. "It was good, with him, for a while after that. Months. My dad still wasn't doing so well and I was still adrift, but I felt like Jack was this one point of light in my life."
He can feel it. Whatever's coming, it's going to be bad.
"Four months after it began, we were having sex in the bed of his tiny apartment when a woman walks through the door. Her name was Jenna, I found out later. He doesn't even get a word out before she's screaming at us. At me, really. Telling me he's a married man, and they have two children, and how could I do this, what kind of whore would break up a home like that."
"Jesus Christ, Kate," he breathes.
She shrugs. "It was dumb of me."
"No," he starts reflexively.
She continues, monotone, rotating away from him so that she's staring straight ahead. "He'd told me he had family in Greenwich, that his dad was sick so he went home every weekend. That he wanted to bring me home, but that it wasn't pretty. I thought he was trying to spare me from another tough situation – he knew about my mom and my dad; he knew how fragile I was."
His fist keeps clenching, ridiculously, like it's going to punch through something. He forces his palm flat on his thigh.
Sighing, she continues. "He did have family in Connecticut. His wife. His twin toddlers. A Labrador."
"Kate," he says, voice crackling. He reaches out, tries to lay a finger on the back of her hand, but she shrugs him off, a brittle set to her shoulders. She wouldn't like being touched when she's telling a story like this, but he can't help it, sometimes, this reflexive response that he has to reach out to her.
"I hadn't ever pictured myself as the other woman." She smiles wryly. "As a home wrecker. And the worst part was that I didn't care at first. That I could only find it in me to care about myself. I'd finally started to get my life back together, but here was another future cracking and crumbling apart in front of my eyes in an instant." She stops, grabs the second wine bottle, pours a more-than-healthy amount into her wine glass, drinks deeply. He doesn't dare interrupt. "I cared later. I found Jenna. To say I was sorry. She'd never suspected – thought the only thing he had going in Manhattan was his PhD in thermochem. He'd gone home to her and to their kids every Friday night, and every Sunday afternoon he took the Metro North back to me. I don't think – I don't think she ever really forgave me. I don't know how she possibly could have."
"It wasn't your fault," he says, the meaningless words falling from his lips before he can corral them.
"Doesn't matter," she breathes, dismissive.
He can't quite control his expression, can't stop the convulsive swallow that's half a desperate sadness for the woman in front of him, half burning anger for the man who would do this to her.
She bites her lip, heaves a sigh. "It's okay, Castle," she says, sounding very much like it's not okay at all. "I – I got over it. It's not like he was the only man I loved."
"How many?" he asks, his voice brittle, breaking. He's not sure why, of all the things he could possibly say, that's what he's come up with, but now the words are out there, hanging in the still air.
She answers quickly, jolting ahead to fill the charged, heavy silence. "Have I been in love with? Four," she says, a low, cracked vibrato. Her eyes close, stay closed, like she wishes she could take it back.
He wants to touch her, the desire so visceral that his muscles clench, ripple. He distracts himself with mental acrobatics. Jack, fucking goddamn Jack as a first. Then, maybe – Royce?
"I can see what you're doing."
"Jack, Royce, Sorensen," he calculates aloud, not quite realizing what he's saying. The words are tumbling away from him, and he thinks about the two nearly-empty bottles of wine in front of them. He doesn't feel drunk, really, not with the cold of Beckett's revelation icing through his veins, but he must be, has to be. What a trio of men – two horrible betrayals, one abandonment. He needs the last to be better, somehow. "Josh?" he deduces. She shakes her head, negative. "Demming?"
"No," she huffs, softly. "No."
"Someone I don't know, then," he says. He'd guess after Royce, he's not sure before or after Will.
"Castle," she murmurs, rolling her eyes at him a little despondently.
"Were you a detective yet?" Detective would make it after Royce. Please, he thinks, please let the man not be an asshole. With her track record, no wonder she's always hesitating, always drawing back after smiling a little too brightly over at hi – oh.
She must see the realization written across his face; she angles further away from him, a flush rushing up through her cheeks. Her shoulders curl in slightly, and he realizes, suddenly, that she's absolutely mortified but that she's not going to take it back.
"Oh," he says, dumbly. All the drunkenness he hadn't felt before starts swelling within him, now, he feels it tripping up his tongue, turning his muscles to lead. They've had so much so relatively quickly that it's crashed into him hard and fast, a tsunami of cabernet. Stop staring at her, moron, he tells himself. He rotates slightly to face the wall. It doesn't really help.
"Shut up shut up," she says low in her throat, in this combination of regret and embarrassment that makes him want to simultaneously drag her into a hug and take her shirt off as he presses her down onto the couch.
"No, no – it's good, great, really. Well. Not the part about Royce. Or Sorensen." His synapses finally manage to catch up to his tongue, but for some reason he can't stop; his mouth just keeps tripping along, hopelessly stumbling forward in a now-thick, wine-induced fog. "And not Jack. Not Jack." He gulps back a swell of anger and suddenly he can't continue, can't say all the things he'd like to about how anyone who would treat her like that deserves an exquisitely painful dismemberment at the very least.
She must have heard it in his voice, anyway, or something else, because when he chances a glance over at her, the heels of her hands are pressing sharp into her eyes. With her legs folded neatly under her and her back slumped, she looks smaller, so much smaller, than usual.
"Sorry," he says, shifting clumsily into her, so his thigh is flush against hers, the only form of inelegant comfort he feels able to provide right now. He's not entirely sure what he's apologizing for.
The sharp lines of her shoulders rise and fall in a sigh. "This isn't quite what I envisioned," she says, her hands still over her eyes, and he can't get any closer to her meaning than his own – envisioned for the night or for her unintentional confession of love or for something else entirely.
He chances leaning his side into her, feeling a pleasant hum of electricity where their bodies connect, her elbow into his bicep, their ribs just barely brushing, the bone of her hip jutting into his quad. He has to twist a little awkwardly to see her and it hurts his neck, but it's the kind of pain he'd happily deal with for the rest of his life. He shifts a little, wriggles his toes, feels the odd combination of drunkenness and sadness and giddiness and lust fizzle through his muscles, tries not to let his mouth run away with him again. "So," he finally says, feeling ridiculous, nudging his shoulder into her.
She finally drops her hands, glaring at him, though her pupils are just a touch too dilated for the look to be completely disaffected. "Was this your secret plan?" she asks, going for what he thinks is her best interrogation tone.
He leans into her a little more, and even though she's trying to sound accusatory, her body melts into his side. His skin's prickling, awareness and arousal heightening, buzzing through his feet and legs over the too-fast tattoo of his heart, a beat that sounds, in his ears, suspiciously like love love love. Play it cool, he tells himself, you need to play it cool. "You got me," he says, "I shipped Alexis off to college and acted pathetic all day in a desperate but clearly successful attempt to lure you over here and get you drunk enough to spill all your secrets and a confession of undying love."
She's staring at his mouth, her breathing too quick and a flush still in her cheeks, somehow managing to look like she simultaneously wants to sink into the floor and jump his bones and smack him hard upside the head, but this is good, this is what he loves most about her, the edges of her contradictions, the hard jut of her hip under the softness of her side, the sharp plane of her strength over the gentle landscape of her feelings. "Undying, Castle?" she says. "Really?"
"My mistake," he says, because he's done playing it cool, never had a chance of making that last more than thirty seconds; he's finished with these layers upon layers of pretense. "That's me." And then he tilts at her, just to brush his lips against hers, just because it's impossible for him not to anymore, but the shift of his body and the way her legs are curled and the bottle of wine flowing through her system unbalances her, so that she's grabbing for purchase against his shoulders, her fingers wrapping clumsily around his back. All it does is pull him with her, his mouth still on hers, his sense of balance gone, forever, as he dizzily falls over her. He wouldn't even know that they wound up horizontal if it weren't for the warm length of her body somehow unfurling underneath him, her legs extending out, her thigh sliding between his thighs as her teeth skid along his lips and her tongue skates over his.
When they finally break apart her chest is heaving pleasantly up against his, and his whole body has ignited in a slow, hard burn of lust. Her lips are parted and her pupils are huge, and when she speaks it's in a husky rumble that vibrates against his stomach. "We're drunk."
He closes his eyes, leans his forehead down into hers. "You saying you only love me when you're drunk?"
"Just the only time I'm dumb enough to admit it," she breathes out against his lips, but he can't stop the hard, suffocating worry clamping around his chest, warring with the lust pooled low in his stomach.
"This isn't a mistake," he says, insists, suddenly ready to fight for them like he's never fought for anything. The words try to spill away. "I'm not..." Not Will, or Mike, or Jack. "I wouldn't…" Wouldn't, couldn't, do what any of them had done.
"I know," she murmurs up against his lips. "You know I trust you." She arcs, shifts into him, closes her eyes. He lets her words swell in his chest but doesn't say anything; she's spoken so much and given so much tonight and he doesn't want to push anymore. In answer he brushes his lips over hers, skims a hand down her ribcage, feels her breath slow and her skin ripple under his palm. It's a sleepy ripple, and when she breathes out again it's a slow drag of somnolence.
He leans his forehead down against hers for a beat, allows his eyes to slip shut and his breathing to match her own, lets his body uncoil into the warmth of her loose against him. He feels himself spiraling toward sleep, a dizzy drift of unconscious pulling him down, and he only pries his eyes open with a supreme force of will.
"Come to bed," he rumbles into her, his mouth ever tripping away from him.
Her breath stumbles up against his lips, inhale skipping over her exhale. "Okay," she murmurs, eyes closed.
"Just for sleep," he says.
"Mmmmm. Sleep," she echoes, skirting her fingers along his cheek, his jawbone, his hair, before she lays her palm warm and heavy against his neck.
She's got to be uncomfortable with the weight of his body sprawled out on her, but when he shifts to get up off the couch and drag them to his room her fingers twitch on his neck and her arm contracts, draws him closer, into her, so in the end he settles for shifting his hip so that his weight is half supported by the couch and he's tilted only slightly precariously on the edge of the cushions.
He brushes his thumb over her belt loop, lazily lifts his fingers up to sweep over the smooth skin of her stomach just above the denim. "Not healthy, sleeping in jeans," he mutters, sliding a couple fingers through the loop, tugging her hip up into him.
She murmurs something unintelligible, a low sound echoing in her throat, and he thinks that it can't hurt to just to pause for a moment, to let her gather herself back to consciousness. Until then he can wait, suspend himself, content with the feel of her chest rising and falling steadily against him.
Before anything else, he feels the absence of warmth.
He sits up suddenly and his head spins violently for a moment before settling into a pulsing throb. He's on the couch in his living room. It's dark. He's alone.
He's not sure why it's so odd that he's alone until the night all at once comes crashing back to him, Alexis gone and Beckett with her wine and her stories, the web of words they wove around each other. "Beckett?" he calls, his voice echoing too loudly in the darkened loft, a thin edge of panic on the final consonant. She's gone. She gave him her stories and she told him she loved him and she kissed him and now she's slipped out of his loft to shuck off the night, to ascribe it to the wine or more likely to throw it away, bottle it up and toss it off a cliff. "Beckett," he calls again, unable to help himself, unable to keep from hoping for her.
He shakes his fingers, moves his head, trying to check his level of inebriation. Not sober enough to drive to her apartment, but a cab, he can get a cab, he just needs to grab a coat and find his phone and jeans – no, he'll just go in sweats, but he needs to -
"What, Castle," he hears, and for a moment he's almost convinced his subconscious has wished her voice into existence (It wouldn't be the first time. Nikki talks to him constantly in the same tone he's just heard, Beckett's voice with the kind of husky vibrato she gets when she teases him.). But then he sees the outline of her form against the shadows, moving slowly toward the couch, glass of water in hand.
"I thought you were gone," he says, unable to help the neediness in his tone. His stomach sloshes uncomfortably, a slower churn than the rhythmic pulse in his temples.
"Just – water," she says, holding up the glass as she sits on the couch next to him. "I tried to wake you, but you were passed out."
He wonders, absently, how she even managed to squirm out from under him, but he won't call attention to the fact that she was, well, under him; he's not sure she's ready for that stark a reality. Here, in the dark shadows of the living room, teetering on the thin edge of drunkenness just before plunging into what will undoubtedly be an impressive hangover, sitting next to the woman he loves, the woman who loves him, the air has a kind of ethereal quality that he never wants to let go.
She must be reading too much into his silence (or, really, just enough), because she scoots closer, nudges her knee into his. "I wouldn't have just left," she murmurs.
He can't help the blatant disbelief that must rush across his features, and even though it's too dark for her to really see his face she must sense it, sense the ripple of incredulity through his muscles.
"I would have said goodbye, at least."
He's not sure that's true at all, not sure that she'd be able to resist sneaking off into the darkness, but he feels a sudden and profound rush of gratefulness for her showing up at his doorstep with a bottle of wine, for the way she offered up some of the most private pieces of herself, for the utter trust she showed in her fall to sleep beneath him. "Don't say goodbye," he can't help murmuring.
In response, she nudges the water glass against his knuckles. "Drink," she says.
He lifts the glass to his lips without thinking, his eyes still adjusting to the dark; he can see more of her face, now, the assessing glint of her eyes. The water is cold and sharp as it slides down his throat. He gulps gratefully, his eyes briefly slipping shut, feeling the weight of her gaze still on him. He's suddenly hyperaware that this is the cup that her lips were just pressed against. It's such a mundane thing, in the scheme of things. He's shared drinks with countless people, but not with Beckett, and the weight of the glass in his hand and the chill of the water down his throat suddenly has a meaning that it lacked before. His throat constricts around the water and he chokes on it, heaving dramatically as he tilts forward to ease his breathing.
"Now's not a good time to die on me," Beckett murmurs as she trails her fingers up and down his spine, dancing patterns over his vertebrae.
The darkness and the coughing and the ethereal feeling tangling itself around them remind him of his first kiss all over again, the same feeling of being poised on the edge of a limitless leap of possibility, the same sense of inertia cottoned around him that won't allow him to move.
She presses her palm flat against his back until is breathing is back to regular, then runs her hand over from his side, around to his forearm, laces her fingers through his, tugs him up.
He can't help but let out a whoosh of air as his brain bumps uncomfortably against his skull, still cushioned by the remnants of muzzy drunkenness, but then she's letting her arm settle loosely around his waist, pulling, pushing him toward his bedroom. They're slowed by his need to touch her; his fingers can't help but trip over her ribs, her hip, her upper thigh, and he almost pulls them both to the ground when he turns and tilts to brush his lips against her temple. Her hand skims unevenly over his spine, and she laughs throatily when he bounces off the doorway of his bedroom. "S'not wide enough for two people," she chastises, even though he's pretty certain she's just as attached to him as he is to her, right now.
"I'll get it widened," he says, offhanded, then, realizing the type of commitment wrapped in that single statement, glances over at her abruptly.
She hasn't noticed, or she's shrugged it off, since she's busy disentangling herself from him and spilling onto his bed, toeing off her shoes and watching him though dark, half-lidded eyes. His brain stutters over the sight of her stretched against his white sheets. "Pajamas," he manages to get out. "No sleeping in jeans." He realizes how it must sound after his hands clench around the smallest pair of boxers he can find, but when he turns she's watching him mirthfully, dropping her hands and undoing her button.
"I worry about your attitude toward my jeans," she husks. Then she's undoing her zipper and his eyes can't stop tripping over the smooth muscles, the pale skin at the very bottom of her abdomen, and if he doesn't turn around right now, this night is going to end with both of them naked and gasping.
"Um," he croaks out eloquently, unable to turn, holding the boxers in the air as she locks eyes with him, lifts her hips, and tugs the denim off her thighs. Her underwear is black, striped between solid fabric and sheer – damask, his brain supplies, irrelevantly, the word for it is damask – and he knows that the last thing he should be doing is staring at the shimmering glimpses of skin beneath the sheer parts, but the ambient outside glow of the city in the middle of the night provides just enough light for him to be forever tantalized.
He manages to stagger towards her, fingers still clenched around the boxers, until his shins are pressed against the foot of the bed and he's standing there staring at her in her underwear and a soft button-down and she's staring up at him with dark dark eyes and he can't tell if he's just wishing the lust and the invitation into them, if her pupils are dilated only because it's so dark or if it's more, if this kinetic attraction he can feel crackling between them is just a product of his lust-addled mind rather than anything meaningful. "You're staring at me," she murmurs, her voice a low vibrato that buzzes straight through him.
"Creepy?" he questions, reaching out to trail a finger along the outside of her calf. Her skin is soft and smooth and suddenly taught over her flexed muscle. She shudders. He leans forward, lets his fingers drift up toward her knee.
"Definitely creepy," she breathes, her chest rising and falling as she takes a great breath of air. She's close enough to the edge of the bed that she can rotate her leg, the one his hand isn't connected to, and hook it around the back of his thigh, use the top of her foot to pull him toward her. He's already off-balance from the wisps of liquor still curling through his system, from the sight of her half-naked against his sheets, and he's tired, tired of resisting the pull toward her. He collapses in a controlled fall, catching himself on his elbows above her, the fabric of his shirt pressed against her button-down, his legs immediately warmed through the thin cotton of his pants by the heat of her thighs.
"Beckett," he starts, breathing out against her mouth. Her lips are so close. The questions snarl in his mind: Aren't you still drunk? collapsing into Are you sure you want to do this right now? knocking against Will you be thinking about him (any of the hims, any him that wasn't him) if we do this tonight?
She arches up, brushing her lips briefly against his before sinking back into the bed, wrapping her fingers firmly around the hem of his shirt and tugging up. "Stop looking so worried," she breathes as she rakes her nails over his abdomen.
"Am not," he manages, and then he's really not, anymore, because the way her fingers are moving over him tangle all his other thoughts until all he can get out is a gasping rumble of, "Christ, Beckett." He lowers his head slowly until his forehead rests against hers, closes his eyes, feels the electricity from her fingers on his hips shiver through is body.
She drags her hands up his sides, laces her fingers through his, rolls her hips gently up against him. He can't stop the groan that escapes him as his pelvis responds, rocking down into hers.
"If you want to stop," he warns; he's barely clinging to the last vestiges of sanity, and while he knows that somewhere in the darkness there are reasons, reasons upon reasons upon reasons, that he shouldn't be lying on top of her in his bed with her in her underwear, he can't remember any of them right now.
"I don't want to stop," she husks. She's close enough that the words reverberate into his mouth. She tilts up, takes his lower lip into her mouth, runs her teeth along it, follows with her tongue. "Do you want me to stop?"
"No," he says, reveling in her gasp as he slides a finger underneath her underwear, over the sharp line of her hip. "Don't stop. Never stop."
Reviews make me resist the impulse to try out maple syrup as a styling gel.