A/N: I think we needed a lot more interaction between Castle and that gorgeous black dress. Partly set during The Limey, but after the events of "Fix You" (because yeah, my characters are not *that* stupid.)


I didn't mean to hurt you
I didn't know what I was doing

But I know what I have done

"I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart" - The Eels


He asks her to stay that night.

Not like that, although the thought does cross her mind - of course it does. But she can tell it's not what he has in mind; she can see the shadows that linger at the back of his eyes, the way he hesitates still, before letting his mouth curve into a smile.

So instead she curls up on his bed, on top of the covers, with all her clothes on (she can hardly believe it), and she looks at him. His position mirrors hers, his right hand pillowing his cheek, the darkness weaving a mysterious pattern over the side of his face; he reaches out and gingerly touches his left fingers to her temple, her eyebrow, her nose.

She closes her eyes and lets herself feel the progression rather than watching it. His fingertips are soft along her cheekbone, the line of her jaw; his thumb caresses the seam of her mouth, and she has to keep herself from opening up, snatching the finger between her teeth.

There'll be a time for that. There will.

Just - not now.

His palm comes to rest against her neck, finding a natural resting place at the juncture with her ear, and she curls her own fingers around his wrist. Keeping him there.

"Like what you see?" she murmurs, working her lips into some sort of smirk. It's a lot of effort.

"Mmm," he says, his voice heavy, rough with the sleep he needs. "Beautiful. You're always beautiful."

Her breath catches in her chest as his eyes flutter, and she's so close, she can almost see the separate lashes brushing his skin. Her fingers seek him, the lightest of touches against his lids, soft and encouraging.

"You should sleep," she says. "You look exhausted."

She doesn't ask if he's been sleeping lately; she's afraid she already knows the answer. But Castle's eyes jerk open and he frowns, obviously struggling.

"No."

No-?

"Don't wanna sleep," he says gravely, looking at her in something like sorrow.

"Why not?" she murmurs, her hand moving of its own volition, tangling in the soft baby hairs at the back of his neck.

He closes his eyes at the caress, lets out a sound that feels more like pain than pleasure, then meets her gaze again.

"If I fall asleep, when I wake up it'll all be a dream."

He says it with such dark conviction, such resignation, that Kate has to press her lips together, breathe through her nose, ride the wave of pain breaking in her chest before she can speak again.

She shifts her weight and inches closer, until there's no space left between their bodies, until she can feel the pound of his heartbeat under her palm. She touches her mouth to his collarbone, lets her tongue brush against it too, feels his body shiver. Good. This is what she wants, to crowd him with the reality of her, to kiss the disbelief away, bury it under the weight of her love.

Because she loves him. Loves him.

"No dream, Castle," she murmurs, her lips at his skin, teeth nipping.

And she slides her hand down, down to the hem of his shirt, her fingers sneaking under the fabric and splaying against his warm abdomen. He shudders, eyes wide and helpless, looking at her with such longing that her chest tightens, a string of guilt wrapped around her heart that keeps her from breathing.

Relax, Kate. You got this. You got this.

"Ask me," she says suddenly, and one of his eyebrows lifts in inquiry. "Ask me anything. Something you don't know, something only I could answer. Can't be a dream, right? If I'm telling you things you don't know, things I've never told you before."

He considers her for a moment, then gives a half-shrug as if to say, can't hurt to try.

"Okay. Uh." She has to make an effort to keep her smile at bay, because honestly - this is Richard Castle, probably the most curious person she's ever met, and now that he can ask what he wants...he doesn't have a question?

"What - what's your favorite color?" he ends up asking.

She scoffs, gives him a look.

"What?" he says defensively.

"Seriously? My favorite color? Is that the best you can do?"

"What's wrong with it? Do you even know mine?" he asks, part indignation, part doubt - she can't help rejoicing at how petulant, how alive he sounds. So much better than dejected and hopeless.

"I..." Wait, does she know? She assumed she did, but-

Maybe not. "Isn't...isn't it blue?"

She's thinking of that french blue shirt he wears sometimes, that he looks absolutely scrumptious in - in the right light, it's the exact same color as his eyes - but he laughs, shakes his head against her. "Nope. Orange."

"Orange?"

"Yeah," he answers lightly, undeterred by her surprise. "I like orange. It's bright and lively and daring. It's a good color. The color of gorgeous sunsets and poached eggs. Fire. Good cheddar, too."

Uh. Okay.

"So what's yours?" he nudges, a hand at her waist.

"Purple," she replies without thinking, still puzzled by his answer. His fingers are caressing her hip, too, circling, hypnotizing; it doesn't help.

"Purple," he repeats thoughtfully, making a low noise at the back of his throat. "Hmm. I like it. You look good in purple."

The bedroom is so dark; there's really no point in blushing. "Sorry," she says teasingly, trying to picture an orange shirt, "but I don't think I can return the compliment."

"You wound me, Beckett. You don't think my rugged good looks can survive orange?"

"I..." She worries her lower lip. "I need more evidence in order to make a decision."

He laughs soundlessly against her hair, brushes his lips to her temple. "Orange and purple look good together though."

She hums her agreement, feels him yawn and cranes her neck to look up at him. "You need sleep, Castle."

His eyes are closed already, and he seems less intent on fighting it this time. "Promise you'll be here when I wake up," he says, not a question, more like a request.

Like she's planning on going anywhere.

"I promise," she answers, her mouth at his shoulder to seal her words with a kiss. "I'll be here, Rick."

He heaves a deep sigh, relief, she thinks, and then he's out like a light. Kate stays awake for a long time, eyes open in the dark, listening to the even sounds of his breathing, and she tries not to think of how deeply she's hurt him.


Alexis pours water in the coffee maker, enough for two, and then turns the thing on, rubbing a hand over her tired eyes.

She hasn't spent the best night.

She was nervous about Kate and her dad downstairs, kept listening attentively for sounds of fighting, raised voices, slamming doors - but nothing. She should be relieved, probably, but for some reason that silence only made her more uncomfortable.

She hasn't dared venture in her father's study yet, because she does not want, does not need to find him passed out at his desk again, a glass in one hand, an empty bottle of Scotch in the other.

It's only happened twice - and the bottle was still half-full last time, thank God for small favors - but Alexis hated it anyway, hated the whole thing, because her dad...her dad is better than this. Her dad is this sweet, brilliant man who can spin a story and capture any audience, the man who made her funny-shaped pancakes (so-called dinosaurs) when she was sick, who bought land on the moon, whose curiosity is endless.

Her dad isn't that drunken guy who can't be bothered to walk the twenty feet that stand between him and his bed.

So she waits and eats a couple toasts, burns her tongue on too-hot coffee, hoping that he will make an appearance.

When she started her internship at the morgue, her dad was dead-set against going to the precinct together - he insisted that they needed boundaries, gave her a lengthy speech about wanting his own space, and she'd shrugged and said, fine. (If she was upset about him not wanting to share every aspect of his life with her, she was certainly not about to show it).

But in the end, he got used to it. And so, during the last weeks, the rare mornings when they got up and had breakfast at the same time, they either shared a cab or walked, or took the subway together.

Which is the reason why she's waiting now, spacing out her last sips of coffee even as she starts to accept the truth. When the cup's empty, Alexis sets it back on the table, lifts herself off her chair and walks, purposeful, if reluctant, to her father's study.

She debates knocking, but if he passed out, he probably won't hear - and if he's actually asleep in his bed, then she's not sure she wants to wake him.

So she pushes the door open, slow and careful to keep it from creaking, and she slides inside the room.

It's empty.

The young woman releases the breath she's been holding, relief making her a few pounds lighter as she tiptoes to the bedroom door, repeats the process. The glance she risks inside doesn't tell her anything - not enough light; her eyes haven't had time to adjust - so Alexis controls her breathing and steps through the opening.

She sees from the first that the form in the bed is too large to be her dad. Or, more specifically, too large to be just her dad.

And then, as darkness grows more comfortable, she identifies the tangle of limbs, the long, dark hair, the jeans and t-shirt that Kate was wearing last night when Alexis came to open the door.

Well.

It makes sense, at least.

She'd have been surprised if it were any other woman than Kate.

Alexis moves forward cautiously, not wanting to wake them, but eager to take a look at the detective's face. It's for her own peace of mind. She needs to - needs to be sure. She needs to know her dad will be okay.

She's disappointed, however, because they're facing each other in bed and her father completely hides his companion, his broad frame shielding her; he, however, she can get a look at, although his cheek is mashed against Kate's hair.

He's sound asleep, the remains of a smile on his face, his expression completely relaxed. Blissful. Alexis chews on her lip, is battling the anxiety that rises up in her chest when she notices Kate's arm, wound around his waist. For some reason, the sight of this arm is what does it - the loving curl of the elbow, the fingers that, the girl finds out, are loosely digging into her father's shirt. They give Alexis confidence, ease her heart into believing. Into trusting.

Maybe not trust that it will work out, because to be honest, she doesn't have the slightest idea (her dad can be utterly annoying, and from what she's seen Kate is rather stubborn too) - but trust that both of them are, at least, at the same place right now.

That they both want this.

Okay, Alexis thinks. Okay.

She retreats quietly, pulling the door closed behind her, her chest tight with a bittersweet feeling, peace and sadness both. And, maybe, a tinge of jealousy that comes with the realization that her dad is no longer hers and hers alone.

That he probably hasn't been for a while.


Castle sleeps peacefully for the first time in weeks.

When he finally cracks an eye open, struggles through waking, the heavy weight of his body dragging him down, the sun is already up. Has been for a while, from the looks of it.

He grunts, utterly unable to move, lets his eyelids slide shut again.

Too much effort.

His chest feels tight, uncomfortably warm; he squirms a little, feels for the covers, intending to push them back. His fingers close on an elbow instead.

Knowledge flashes through him instantly, bright and welcome, if surreal.

Kate.

It wasn't a dream, then. Oh, thank you, thank you, God-

He opens his eyes again, a lot more eager, more willing this time, and drinks in the sight of her, the hesitant morning light tangled in her dark curls, the cute little frown that puts a wrinkle on her brow, the glimpse of teeth through her parted lips. He lifts a tentative hand, can't help himself - he has to touch her, make sure - and he caresses her cheek, slow and soft, the beautiful, sharp angle of the cheekbone, the smooth skin.

He leaves his fingers there.

Kate mumbles something, orients her face into his touch, her eyelid, her lashes meeting his fingertip; he holds his breath, but she doesn't wake. She just settles there - as if it could be pleasant, his hand covering half of her face - sighs, and goes still again.

He forgets to breathe altogether, heart hammering in his chest, her words from last night resounding in his years.

Castle. I love you.

Yeah. Maybe-

Maybe he believes her.


Her phone rings about an hour later; it's Esposito, with a case, and they have to get out of bed, sprint through breakfast - he would let her shower first, but she shakes her head, says she needs to go home to change clothes, anyway.

He expects them to part on the sidewalk, but just as he opens his mouth to say, see you at the scene, Kate reaches for his hand, drags him with her to the car instead. He gets to go upstairs too, wait in her living room as she gets changed (looking through her books can certainly not be called snooping, right?), and then she kisses him, fast and hard and coffee-flavored, before they leave her apartment.

He follows her, breathless, stunned, body tingling with arousal; it still lingers in his veins when they get to the crime scene.

She's more careful at the precinct. He doesn't know if it's because of Gates, or the guys, or if she simply doesn't feel comfortable holding his hand in public; but she also keeps giving him those tender looks when she thinks no one is watching, keeps touching him every chance she gets, and he's just.

Amazed.

And uncertain.

It's all - it's moving too fast, or maybe not fast enough - the I love yous are hanging between them and for a couple days, he doesn't know what to do, because he can't bring himself to move them forward, can't quite seem to reach the level of trust he had in her before he stumbled onto her interrogation with Bobby. He's trying, he is, but-

His heart is still a little too raw, still reluctant, and he doesn't know what to do.

Until Colin Hunt comes along.


She looks divine.

Absolutely divine.

The long, smooth line of her in that black, amazingly simple dress, the light makeup that lets her shine through, the dark brilliance of her eyes the only jewel she's ever going to need. Castle knows he's staring, but that's the least of his concerns right now.

The main is probably jealousy, seeing the way his heart twists in vigorous protest against his ribs when Hunt takes her arm, and Rick has to make himself stay, keep his legs from jerking towards her, keep his hand from reaching for her elbow.

For the first time ever, he wishes she were a little less beautiful, a little less striking. Maybe then the Scotland Yard detective wouldn't look so pleased, wouldn't seem so aware of the unequaled loveliness of his date.

No, not date.

It's business. It's a case. It's-

It's an undercover operation, and this time he's not the one playing her boyfriend.

It hurts more than it should. But he's looking at her, observing her - transfixed is really what it is - and so he notices the tiny things, the light strain in her smile, her split second of hesitation before she takes Hunt's arm.

He clings to those things, uses them a shield against the nagging envy, the doubt worrying his stomach, the looks of sympathy that the guys rest on him as Kate walks away, the dark fabric rustling around her ankles and licking at Hunt's dress pants.

It's only a case.


Nikki Heat is a decent distraction. Especially when coupled with a glass of single malt whisky.

It's the good stuff, an eighteen-year-old Bowmore that he got a couple summers ago, after one of his European tours ended in Glasgow and a twelve-year-old Alexis convinced him that they should explore the Scottish wilderness; he remembers fondly her sighs of longing at the adorable lambs on the side of the road, her cute little nose wrinkling at the smell of peat in the Bowmore distillery.

Almost good enough to keep him from thinking about Beckett.

Or, more specifically, about Beckett in that dress.

Beckett whispering in Hunt's ear, leaning in as she catches sight of their target, pretending to laugh at his jokes. Or maybe she laughs in earnest - maybe she enjoys his warmth at her side, his broad shoulders-

He grunts in frustration, buries his head in his hands.

Ridiculous. He's being ridiculous.

He knows her. He's spent three, almost four years working with her, studying her, and if he knows one thing, it's that Kate Beckett wouldn't have told him she loved him if she didn't mean it.

And no matter the whispers of his insecure heart - she only said it out of pity, Rick; she only said it because she wants to use you as her crutch a little longer - his brain *knows* better.

He knows better.

With a sigh, Castle gives his attention back to his laptop, fingertips hovering above the keys as he reads through the utterly depressing scene he's spent the last hour working on.

A decided knock at the door makes him look up in surprise, check his watch. Almost one.

He gets up, his insides quivering with stupid hope, because considering the late hour, it can only be two people. His mother, whom he's pretty sure remembered to take her key this time.

And Kate Beckett.

He checks through the peephole - he's learned to be careful - and then, his heart bursting, he opens the door.

There she is. All dark loveliness, hair and eyes and dress, her fingers nervously clutching a tiny purse as she directs a hopeful smile at him.

"Hey, Castle."

"Hey," he murmurs back, dumbstruck, gratitude silencing, strangling him. All night, all night he's been waiting for this moment, and he's not entirely sure he hasn't fallen asleep in his office chair - not sure he isn't dreaming - but his poor, inadequate response suggests that he isn't.

He's always a lot smoother than this in his dreams.

Beckett doesn't seem to mind, though, keeps giving him that smile, beautiful and knowing, and he finally opens the door wider, steps back. "Come in."


She wasn't convinced it was a good idea until now, until she sees his eyes light up at the sight of her, the ripples of joy and disbelief in a sea of blue.

That's when she realizes exactly how much she's missed him tonight, how unnatural it was, to make small talk and dance and work together with Hunt when it should have been him, should have been her partner by her side all along.

Castle.

Kate moves inside the loft at his invitation, but cannot seem to stop there; instead she takes two more steps, crowds him, his body large and warm and delicious, his mouth surprised and willing against hers as she curls her arms around his neck.

He kisses her back, fierce and unyielding, his fingers burning at her waist, digging into the soft skin as if she were naked; she moans and grazes his tongue with her teeth, doesn't even feel the pain as he backs her into the closing door, forceful, urgent.

He breaks away too soon, pants against her cheekbone, his arms tight around her as he gathers himself. She's not sure she wants him in control, but to be honest, she wasn't planning on kissing him either, so maybe it's a good thing one of them knows what they're doing.

She presses her lips to the line of his jaw, the hollow of his neck, murmurs as she feels him shiver, "Been dreaming of doing this all night."

He makes a low, strangled sound in his throat, maybe a laugh, and he kisses her temple firmly, gentle fingers working at her neck.

"Kate," he sighs, angling himself back so he can look at her. She likes what she sees in his eyes.

"You," he says, shaking his head slightly. "This dress-"

He doesn't need to finish his sentence; his voice trailing off is enough to send this rush of warmth through her veins, her body crackling with the exquisite sensation of feminine power.

"Yeah?" she answers in a low tone, giving him a predatory look.

His eyes are so dark they can hardly be called blue anymore. "Yeah," he says, and the word is rough, sexy, fire licking at her bare skin. "You have no idea."

Oh, so he's stealing her lines now. She bites her lip, tries to rein herself in, her brain swamped with pictures of him that are not at all PG. He must be doing the same, because he clears his throat, asks, "Did you get the guy's DNA?"

The case. Good call, Castle.

"Yeah," she replies, smiling proudly. "Had to do all the work, too. Hunt was useless."

His eyes sparkle at that; it's clearly what he wants to hear. "Oh?"

"Yeah," she breathes, getting closer again, her body moving without her consent. He smells attractively, entrancingly male, smells like Castle, and it's a relief after Hunt's classy, elaborate cologne.

"And you're the better dancer," she adds, her lips curving up, her palms teasing his elbows.

"You danced with him?" he blurts, then closes his eyes, presses his lips together as if he could take the words back.

She lets her fingers whirl up his forearms, soft and comforting. "Had to," she answers. "Dance floor gave the best view of the room."

"Of course it did," he says quietly, but his voice isn't bitter, isn't angry. Only understanding, acceptance in it.

She brushes her mouth to his neck, his cheek, aligns her body to his, looking for a way to soothe, heal the pain behind his words. He wanted to be there with her, just like she'd have wanted to be with him, had things been reversed.

And then she knows what to do.

"Dance with me, Rick," she says.

He obeys without question, without hesitation, his arms warm, right around her as he starts twirling her across the room, the silence unfolding, rich and beautiful between them.


He's absolutely underdressed, of course, jeans and a ratty old t-shirt that probably stopped deserving the name a while back; but Kate feels liquid and silvery in his arms, and every time the silky material of her dress whispers against him, it's like a cool, healing balm applied to the fresh, stupid wound of his jealousy.

He moves slowly, holding her close, swaying to the tune that plays in his mind - it sounds a lot like The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody - a hand curled around her fingers, the other dancing at her waist, as if hypnotized by her warmth, the lovely curve that fits his palm so well.

And when the song's over, when he's at peace, nothing but love for her left in his heart, Rick leans in, traces the contour of her ear with his lips, his mouth settling at the soft place where jaw meets neck.

He darts his tongue out for a taste, suckles at her skin until he feels her shiver against him, both hands fisted on his t-shirt, her breath stuttering against his ear.

"Castle," she murmurs, but she's not telling him to stop, and if she were he's not sure he would listen.

He follows the delicate line of her neck down to her shoulder, presses gentle kisses to the sharp jut of her collarbone; she pants in surprise, gripping him tighter, and the edge of pain limns the burst of colors in his mind, the rainbow of delight.

He wants, he wants - all of her, tonight, with him. Always. He needs the forever, needs the promise, needs her. The uncertainty, the prospect of losing her; he can't live with those, he can't, he won't-

But when he opens his mouth, he's surprised by the words that come out. "Stay with me tonight, Kate."

She makes a soft, indistinct, absolutely wonderful noise that he wants to call keening; her forehead presses against his cheek as he straightens, her face hidden, her lips parted at his jaw, hot and breathless.

Say yes, he wants to say, beg, push her. You know you want to.

But no. He's not going to plead, not going to force her into anything; instead he just gives her the truth, his mouth poised at her temple, murmuring. "I want you."

It's all it takes.

He hears a sharp intake of air, a sigh, almost a sob, and then she comes alive against him, writhing as she pushes her aggressive tongue past his lips, wild and fierce, ruthless - all he's ever wanted.

Kate.


Before she knows what she's doing, she's pushing him back into his office, stumbling with him into his bedroom, a little desperate, unsure if the burn in her chest is caused by his tongue, his hands, or the darkness in his eyes when he asked her to stay.

But she can't stop kissing him, can't seem to untangle their lips, and then his fingers are working at her dress, so light, so clever, and oh - she's not wearing a bra-

She holds her breath as the fabric slides down her body, that lovely rustle of silk pooling down at her feet; when she looks up at him, wondering if her blush will show in the dimness, he's staring intensely into her eyes.

Challenging and proud, as if to say, I'm not like any other guy. It's you I want. Not a pair of breasts.

She tries to breathe, chokes on it, and he's there again, palms at her ribs, his thumbs so tender and his mouth worshipping even as she gasps, struggles, fishes for the self-control she no longer has.

She moans - is that her? Really, is that her making that sound? - and she arches against him, hungry for more, heart pounding with need.

He takes her mouth again, tongue wet and sliding across hers; one of his hands drifts south and she has only time to wonder - what kind of panties - oh, right, the black lace - before he has her writhing against him.

She gasps again and this time it's loud, but damn, Castle, this is not playing fair, and it's not - it's not how it should happen, no. It's not.

The awareness spreads, gives her the strength to step back, curl her fingers on his wrist, staying him. "N-no."

He regards her, and even if the lack of light, she sees it all, the shock and the hurt and the confusion in his eyes. Oh - oh, no, she didn't mean. Castle.

"No?" he says, and his voice is rough, so uncertain that she wants to smack herself.

Why does she keep doing this? How can she always get it wrong?

She lets her hand slide up to his elbow but he's already moving away, retreating, and so she had to follow. "Castle, wait. I didn't mean - I just-" she swallows, seeks his eyes. "Please."

He looks at her, reluctant, but waiting too. Waiting for her.

Oh, oh, this man. She can never, ever make it up to him-

Kate steps closer and drapes himself over him, feels him shudder when she presses her bare chest to him, leaning in to kiss his neck. Slow and warm, loving. She takes her time, loves the growl that trembles in this throat when she moves to his Adam's apple.

"See?" she murmurs. "This is how."

"What?" he grunts, his arms around her now, keeping her there. "I don't understand, Kate."

"How it should be," she breathes, licks his collarbone, shivers with him this time. "Let me love you, Castle."

She pushes him towards the bed, one step at a time, exploring his mouth languidly before she had to let go, puts her hands on his shoulders to make him sit. His hands have not left her waist and she goes down with him, her knees parting to cradle his thighs.

"Love me?" he repeats, still not getting it, but the word sparking joy in his eyes anyway.

She splays a hand on his chest and pins him to the bed with her weight. The swoosh of his hair hitting the pillow doesn't make her feel powerful; instead there's this sense of deep responsibility, of something she has to do right.

"You want a promise, don't you, Castle?" She bends over him to kiss his ear, nip at his jaw. Her lips bloom into a smile when she feels him arch under her. "You want a statement. Well, I'm making one. Right now."

She abandons his chin regretfully, has to see the look in his eyes. They're wide, and a little awed, and yes - yes, he understands her.

"So let me do this," she whispers, her throat tightening because she's shy now, because he's looking at her and she's not sure she's really up to the task. But it's the only way.

The only way.

"Let me show you." She pulls the t-shirt off his head with his help, the used fabric so soft against her fingers, and she tosses it away, runs her hands down his chest. Down to the waist of his jeans.

"Show me," he murmurs, and his voice is so low, thready, she can't tell if it's a request or a question still.

She answers it anyway.

"How I love you."