sleep wake hope and then

Summary: It is imperative that we do things in the right order. A story that happens backwards. Sort of.
Rating: K+
Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or its characters. Title is from ee cummings.

This is a gift for cartographical, who has been so tremendously wonderful and good to me, in spite of all my endless whining and trouble and pictures of Corgis and general inability to use the English language. Carto, I love you to pieces.


(It's supposed to be the last part of the story, not the first.)

It's not Castle's fault. He can't help the fact that Kate Beckett has had a starring role in some extremely vivid dreams he's had.

His fantasies (he's never bothered denying he has them, honestly) have changed. There was a time the hottest thing he could (and did) imagine was a smokey-eyed Kate Beckett slipping into his bedroom in red satin and black lace and crawling on top of him like some sinful, sexy wet dream incarnate.

The dream has changed before. Sometimes it's his bedroom. Sometimes it's hers. Sometimes it's a hotel. Once it was the beach house. There was the one time it was a cabana on a deserted island, and the things she told him to do – oh. He still gets warm thinking about it.

But tonight when she walks in, her lingerie is different. It's white. Soft and lacy and delicately, exquisitely tempting, floating over the soft, subtle curves and lines of her body, misty over her creamy pale skin. There's a softer flush on her cheeks, a brighter, warmer light in her eyes.

"Kate?" He's not sure. Something – it's not just the white. What's –

"Shhhhh." She comes to the bed, curls one leg up, sitting beside him, and then she's running her hands through his hair. He just goes with it, his eyes shutting in contentment as her slender fingers massage his scalp.

"Mmmm. That feels nice."

"You like that?" There's a note of teasing in her voice, a lilt he wants to hear again and again and every day forever.

"Yeah." Her fingers curl around his ears, tracing his earlobes lightly, and he swallows hard. Mmm, that feels so good. "Kate? What are you – "

He doesn't finish his question because she kisses him, leaning in, and the soft lace slips over his skin. He curls an eager hand around her neck, tangling in the loose curls of her hair, feeling her soft sigh.

He pulls her down into him, flush against the line of his body, and kisses her more deeply. She's pliant and soft and eager in his arms, letting him pull her close, until she's curled under him, her hair swirled over his pillows. She looks up at him with those dark, liquid eyes, her lips parted, cheeks flushed –

It's only then that a flash of something catches his attention. Her hand?


Her smile widens as he tugs on her arm, pulls her hand close, gets a closer look at the ring on her fourth finger.

"Make love to your wife, Mr. Castle," she whispers, and then she pulls him down and seals his mouth to hers and that's all he knows.

He wakes up with the strangest desire to cry and laugh at the same time.


(Shouldn't this part have happened before the wedding night?)

He peels himself out of bed, showers, pulls on clothes, only half-awake. His mind is still reeling with the shimmering, hazy, perfect image of Kate Castle in white lace, and he needs to get over it before he has to go to the precinct and sit down across from her and pretend he's not still thinking about making love to her in their bed.

He shakes away the wispy remnants (or maybe just tucks them back in his brain for later), opens the paper and promptly chokes on his coffee.

There is no way. No way in hell this is happening.

But he blinks, and sure enough, page six hasn't changed. It's not his own face that looks up at him. It's hers.

And she's in a wedding dress.

Is he still dreaming? He's not, is he?

There are several pictures, all of Kate in a wedding gown. They look like they were taken without her knowledge, like the paparazzi photos he's used to (but she's not). There's one of her laughing, one of her talking to someone not in the picture, one of her tugging at the skirt.

But the center picture is what kills him. It's perfect. She's half-turned, unconsciously displaying the elegant column of her neck, the delicacy of her cheekbones. A soft white veil is pinned in her hair, falling over her slim shoulders like mist. And the pensive, wistful look on her face is almost too much.


The combination of this picture and the Kate Castle of his dreams is doing wonderful, terrible things to his heart.

(He's glad his mother's not here. Though he's quite certain he's going to get a phone call later today, whenever she sees the paper. Richard, darling – is there something we should talk about?)

He finally regains enough brain function to read the caption underneath the photos.

NYPD beauty Kate Beckett was spotted trying on wedding dresses at the exclusive Trésor boutique last week. While sources report the "bridal appointment" was actually a police surveillance operation, the lovely detective was radiant in white. Maybe Richard Castle's muse is giving a few thoughts to walking down the aisle?

Last week. She spent a day working with Karpowski last week. So that's what they were doing. That explains why he, Ryan and Esposito weren't needed. They needed a woman to – to put on a dress she has no reason to wear other than it's perfect on her.

Even as he smoothes the paper and (almost) unthinkingly takes it to his office, tucking it carefully into a drawer, he vividly recalls her reaction to the article about her being romantically involved with Bachelor #9.

I am dead.

Absolutely dead.

"I'm sorry."

She looks up in mild amusement, silently observing in the coffee he bobbles dangerously before successfully setting it beside her computer, his flushed cheeks and heavy breathing (okay, so he might have been running up the stairs and it might have been slightly panicked).

"What'd you do this time, Castle? Or are you just stocking up for today?"

There's a smile hovering around the corners of her mouth as she sips at her coffee, arching an eyebrow – apparently she can taste the extra cream he had them put in; he really, really thinks she's been looking a bit thin recently – and at first he's not sure what to say.

Oh. Maybe – "Have you read the paper this morning?"

She shakes her head. "No, I was – wait." Her smile disappears. Her eyes get that look in them, that Castle, what did you do this time? look. The one he knows so well. "Why?"

He swallows. "I'm really sorry. I had no idea this happened."

He hands her the paper he picked up on his way here and waits. She eyes him one last time, clearly suspicious, before slowly turning to page six.

Her whole face goes blank. She doesn't move.

He waits. She doesn't say anything.

This feeling, this terrible dread, sweeps over him. This is worse than last time. This time it's all about her. "Beckett? Are you okay?"

She swallows. Sets the paper down. Manages a soft smile. "It's fine, Castle. It's not your fault."

"Are you okay? Something wrong?" He doesn't like to pry when she's like this. Not that he enjoys when she's angry, of course. But Quiet Beckett is not a good thing.

"I just – " she looks down – "I didn't realize it'd be so hard."

He blinks in confusion. "To – try on wedding dresses?" Doesn't she understand how unbelievably beautiful she is? Or does the thought of weddings make her uncomfortable?

She doesn't look up. "To try them on without my mom."


Oh, Kate.

His heart sinks in his chest, a knot in his lungs tightening until it's hard to breathe. The thought of Kate Beckett glowing and radiant in a wedding gown with her heart in pieces is suddenly the most tragic thing he's ever imagined, because for someone so good and beautiful to be so sad is the worst unfairness in an unfair world.

He desperately wants to hug her. He settles for touching her hand gently. "I'm sorry."

She stares at his hand, watching as his fingers carefully trace hers. "It's okay."

"For what it's worth," he offers quietly, "You're going to be a beautiful bride someday."

That gets a real smile, the soft, warm upturned curve of her lips, the gentle glow of her eyes. She's perfect when she smiles like this. "Thanks, Castle."


(Because things come in threes.)

Kate stifles the urge to grumble out loud, but settles for a brief "Yes, sir" and hightails it out of Gates' office. She pointedly ignores Castle bouncing behind her (it's the first time he'd ever been excited about a meeting with Iron Gates).

She make it to her desk and only has time to sit down and take a breath before the boys come shuffling over. Ryan's trying (unsuccessfully) not to look delighted. Esposito's not even making an attempt. Obviously someone told them.

"Gentlemen," she greets them frostily, hoping the bite in her tone might stop them before they start.

Naturally, it doesn't work. Ryan just smiles that irritatingly innocent smile of his. "So. Big undercover operation, huh, boss?"

She gives him a few points for "boss." With any luck, he'll end up chained to the desk for a week. "Yes, Ryan. You can stop talking now."

Esposito grins cheerfully. "You had to think this was gonna happen eventually, Beckett."

He has a point, Kate has to admit. Four years. She was mildly surprised it hadn't come to this yet. She'd half expected Castle to wrangle it through the mayoral office after about a week of working together.

Ryan wiggles his eyebrows. "Well then. Let's see 'em."

She sighs heavily, but Castle – still beaming – happily reaches into his pocket and pulls out the rings to show them.

Undercover as Castle's wife.

What did I do to deserve this?

She takes her rings away before he can wrangle some complicated scheme to slip them onto her finger, because that's exactly the kind of thing she'd expect him to write and think is clever and sly and unexpectedly meaningful. She puts them on herself, quickly, not looking as she does. She doesn't want to see them. They mean nothing. But they still make her uncomfortable.

"Where are – oh, you have yours." Castle looks oddly disappointed. Kate pretends she didn't see it.

"Yeah. You ready to go?"

"Yeah, but – your rings – " he points to her hand, which is now heavy with fake commitments. "Oh, no, that's not right."


"It's not like – here – " Castle catches her left hand, tugging the rings off before she can stop him. He holds up the plain band. "The wedding ring goes on the inside."

She doesn't move, just watches, motionless, as Castle holds her hand and carefully slips the two rings back on her finger, in the proper order this time.

Her throat is suddenly tight. She tries to breathe.

He doesn't let go, just runs his thumb slowly over her knuckles, tracing the ridges of her slender fingers (how is he so good at this?). Kate swallows. Tells herself to stay calm. "Right. The order."

He nods absently, his eyes never leaving hers. "Yeah. Gotta – the – do everything – right order."

(Yes. You should mean it before you kiss someone, right, Kate?)

(I did mean it.)

It's easy to blend in at the bridal store.

It's too easy, in fact.

She's surprised to find that Castle's not pushing her at all. He lets her do the talking, lets her chat up the attendants, simply stands at her elbow, smiles affably, holds the door, and is generally the perfect husband. Why isn't he taking advantage of this? She's mildly surprised (and relieved) to find that he's not taking the opportunity to put his hands on her, call her ridiculously cute nicknames, or even leer at her; he fails to look at her with anything other than gentle adoration (which, she sternly tells herself, is acting, though who is she really fooling?).

The bubbly, overly-helpful sales associate perks up when she explains they're looking to do a vow renewal; they have a good friend who recommended a certain planner here. Is she in? (She doesn't add that the planner is also a potential murderer. Probably wouldn't help.) The girl nods, says she's with a couple right now but the appointment's almost over, if they can wait just a few minutes.

So she and Castle wander a little aimlessly as they wait. The store's full of beautiful shiny white and silver things. Kate's never been one for all the frills, but it's all very pretty.

Castle pokes cautiously at a truly monstrous (and unidentifiable) concoction of tulle and satin, and she hides a smile. But she's a little curious. He's been married twice. Were his weddings like this? White and shiny and frilly? Meredith is about as glitzy as a woman can be. Gina's more subdued. Less glamorous, more severely elegant.

"Oh, sorry! I didn't see you!"

She glances up, startled out of her reverie, to see Castle smiling, assuring the flustered-looking young woman who's just bumped into him that he's fine. Poor girl looks a bit frazzled. "I'm so sorry. Thanks."

"Planning, I take it?"

She nods. "I was looking forward to it, but all my bridesmaids bailed on me today, and there's just so much to get done…"

"I completely understand." Castle gestures towards the sample bouquets in front of them. "Picking flowers?"

"Yeah. I can't decide. I mean, the roses are beautiful, but the lilies…" The younger woman frowns in concentration, looking back and forth between the two displays. "I just don't know." She looks back at the two of them. "What do you guys think? What did you have at your wedding?"

Kate, who's made her way over and is beside her "husband" now, doesn't respond immediately – the thought of her and Castle's wedding is a bit too much.

So he jumps in smoothly. "Lilies. They were perfect." Castle curls his fingers around hers, squeezes her hand gently. "Nothing more perfect than a beautiful woman with a lily in her hand."

The young bride gapes, her eyes wide. "That's adorable. Why can't my fiancé say things like that?"

Kate swallows hard around the lump in her throat. Because Castle the husband is not so different from Castle the partner. And apparently he's thought about it. He's thought about standing at the altar, looking down the aisle as she slowly walks up on her father's arm, saying I do and till death do us part, that first kiss, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Castle, the tux and white dress –

- the reception –

- the wedding night –

- the rest of their lives.

(Almost) without thinking, she sets a hand on his cheek and kisses him briefly on the lips. His hand on hers tenses, sending a jolt of heat through her, but otherwise he holds it together, like it's the most normal thing in the world for her to kiss him in front of people.

(Maybe someday it will be.)

The young bride beams at them. "God, you two are so cute. Like, sickeningly cute."

Kate's cheeks get warm, but she smiles, bumps Castle gently with her elbow. He's smiling too.

On their way out of the store, he must be interpreting her silence as irritation, because he's unusually quiet.

She's not irritated. She's just terribly, terribly – focused. Alert.

She digs in her pocket for her keys, and suddenly realizes that he's been trying to get her attention for a few seconds now. So much for focused.

"Kate? I'm sorry about this." He looks chastened, worried, like he must have done something wrong and he's desperate to fix it, the minute someone tells him exactly what it is.

"It's fine," she says quietly. It's fine. Fine.

She almost wishes he was joking this whole time, wishes he had gone over the top and barreled through her boundaries as a farce. This delicate dance, the way he's just barely brushing past them, is so much scarier. Because now she's losing sight of them and wondering why she has them in the first place.

He's studiously not saying the word kiss, but it's hanging between them anyway, dangling precariously, threatening to pull them both in. Because she didn't have to kiss him. She chose to.

(Now what? After all, they're already married. What comes next?)

And of course they get stuck in traffic on the way back to the precinct.

She taps the steering wheel absently with her thumb. Castle entertains himself with some new gizmo on his phone.

It's just so damn quiet.

Until Castle breaks the silence. "These rings actually aren't that bad. Kind of utilitarian, but eh. Police stuff."

She shrugs, flicks a glance down at the simple engagement ring and wedding band on her finger. "They're fine." (It's not like they're meant to actually last till death do us part.)

"But you'd want something different. Something subtler. With the diamond set inside it, so it can't snag on anything."

He needs to stop. He needs to stop talking about this. Because it sounds so dangerously close to planning. Like it might be real. And she's not his wife.

(But he's right. That's exactly what I'd w- )

She refuses to finish the thought.

Because it's not just about the ring, is it?

and then

(Stories don't have to happen in order.)

She drops her rings into Gates' palm and immediately her hand feels lighter. Thinner.

Castle's already handed his ring back and reclaimed his seat beside her desk, where he sits with a suspiciously innocent look on his face.

She follows his gaze to find what he's left for her. There's a little folded paper blossom on her desk. Kate picks it up, a smile crossing her face before she can stop it. It's a small, delicately crafted origami lily.

"You like it?"

She looks up from the lily in her hand to find him watching her almost shyly.

(Nothing more perfect)

"It's beautiful."

On their way out, the distance to the elevator becomes a gauntlet of silent questions, hands tugging at her hair, pleading. Kiss, Kate? You haven't forgotten, have you? You did it. Deal with it. Own up to it.

The elevator doors shut, sealing them in, putting edges on the scary world of always and everything, and for some reason, it helps. She can deal with corners. She works well around boundaries. They're comfortable. She can control a finite world, so long as she gets to decide how finite it is.

Own up to it.

(Finite doesn't have to mean small.)

She takes a deep breath, screws her courage to the sticking-place, and before she can talk herself out of it, she tugs him closer and kisses him.

It's over in a moment; they're both too startled to react much, and she pulls back quickly. But the look on his face – her heart twists. He looks happier, unguardedly happier, than she thinks she's ever seen him.

"Kate?" The question is gentle but wondering.

She bites her lip, looking down, trying to tame her hot cheeks, thudding heart, uncontrollable urge to try it again. "I wanted to."

"Oh." She feels his hand bump into hers, his fingers pressing against her wrist before letting go. There's a smile in his voice. "Okay."

First he loved her. Then he put a wedding ring on her. Then – did she love him? – so she kissed him –

- well, that's where the story ends.

(For now.)