This takes place in some vaguely alternate middle-of-Season-4 universe. Two-shot; the rating will go up for the next chapter, but if that's not your cup of tea you could probably go ahead and just read this as a standalone.

For Cora Clavia, who wanted me to put Beckett in a pencil skirt. She was then nice enough to unceasingly harass me until I actually wrote it. Chezchuckles and Sandiane Carter helped with some horrifyingly relentless encouragement. I am honestly not entirely sure how I ever managed to produce anything without multiple people typing at me in bold capital letters.

x


"Morning, Kate."

Castle stares up from his chair. The man's voice is a little too friendly. His smile is a little too wide, considering it's seven in the morning. The line of his jaw is a little too pronounced, and his eyes are a little too bright.

Beckett's voice is a little too warm as she stands, smiles back at him. "Hey, Sam." She pivots to include Castle in their conversation. He pushes himself off the chair, joints still stiff and creaking from a long flight and not enough sleep. "This is my partner, Rick Castle." He can't help but feel a brief puff of pride at the word partner, but the pride deflates when he realizes that Sam has a good four inches on him. And he has a nice handshake, firm and cool and commanding. "Castle, this is Sam Cromwell, the prosecutor on the Lapinski case."

She'd spoken about the prosecutor on the phone with him over the past two weeks as he'd worked his way from LA to Seattle in a stop-a-night book tour. He knows she's spent most of her time prepping for the high-profile trial, but his incredibly comforting mental image had been of a somewhat doughy, pasty, middle-aged guy in a rumpled seersucker, not a man with clear gray eyes and a far-too-chiseled jawline. "Nice to meet you," Castle says, charitably. Beckett does say that in terms of prosecutors, Cromwell's one of the best. He can play nice in the sandbox. He can.

Cromwell's eyes flick over Beckett. If Castle were any less observant, he'd have missed the slight hitch of the man's breath before he lifts up a metallic gray Nordstrom bag. "You're not going to like this," he says. Castle does have to admire the prosecutor's ability to not pull any punches. Except, no, no he doesn't. He hasn't gotten to see Beckett in two weeks, he's dragged himself out of bed despite the jetlag to get a chance to be with her at the Precinct before she's whisked off to her day at court, and here's a guy with muscles and a jaw producing bags of clothing at seven am.

The way they left things – he was hoping to talk to her. Needed to talk to her. Wanted to talk about it on the phone, when she'd called him to run through the details of her testimony (ostensibly, at any rate), but he'd gotten as far as breathing "Kate" across an inhale before she'd said, "Later, Castle. When you get back," and he'd had no choice but to agree.

"I don't like it already," Beckett says, staring warily at the bag on the desk.

A dark burst of something like amusement flashes across Cromwell's eyes, and, if it were any other circumstance, Castle would feel impressed by him, because navigating a potentially angry Kate Beckett with such aplomb is no easy task. But the man must be used to dealing with Beckett, Castle thinks, a coil of jealousy winding tight and uncomfortable in his stomach, because Cromwell plows relentlessly ahead with a bravery that is as impressive as it is ill-conceived. "You need to wear this," he says.

Duck and cover, he can't help but think. This is the exact moment they were talking about when they played those videos about the appropriate response to nuclear attack. He quickly scans the room. He figures he can dive under Beckett's desk in a pinch. Hopefully it will protect him from the worst of the debris.

"Excuse me?" Beckett says. She squares her shoulders, plants her hands firmly on her hips. Despite the danger, Castle can't find it in him to move away from her; she has this pull when she's spitting anger like this, and he finds himself inexorably gravitating toward her, unable to hold himself away.

Cromwell shows no regard for delicate balance in which his life currently hangs. "Judge Marinski had a family emergency last night, so they switched us over to Cravitz."

Just don't look into her eyes, Castle wants to whisper, but he swallows it, kind of hoping that this situation will end in a fiery explosion of doom that unequivocally proves that nobody but him should be bringing Beckett bags from Nordstrom. "So?" she asks, a sharp edge to her voice that's usually not there.

Cromwell shrugs. "Last month, I had a female cop show up in a power pantsuit. Laskowitz got four utterly ridiculous objections sustained, and Cravitz barely acknowledged my Motion to Compel."

"You're not serious," Beckett says, blinking at him.

"Look," Cromwell says, turning his palms up toward her. "The guy's a misogynistic dinosaur, and I'm not making excuses and I'm absolutely not saying that it's right that he adheres to these archaic social constructs of femininity."

Beckett still looks supremely unimpressed. "But…" she starts for him.

He quirks half a smile, far too pleased. "But Cravitz is our judge, and that's not gonna change. And I'll do whatever it takes to get Lapinski behind bars. Will you?"

She glares. "Don't be manipulative, Sam," she snaps, but there's a soft edge of familiarity to the words that sets every one of Castle's spidey senses tingling.

"Just because it's manipulative doesn't mean it's not the truth," he counters.

Beckett stares down at the bag, then jerks her eyes up to his. "And, really, you thought the best way to get me to wear a skirt would be to buy it for me?"

"Figured you might not have one that works. This was all pretty last minute." And then Cromwell grins, open and wide and entirely too nostalgic. "And besides. I owed you."

This is entirely unacceptable, Castle decides. He ponders his options. Should he punch the guy for assaulting Beckett's honor? Storm off in a compelling, manly way and hope she follows? Throw the Nordstrom bag onto the ground and find a lighter somewhere and burn it? In the end, he settles for shifting a couple inches closer to Beckett, close enough that their arms are almost brushing.

She sighs at Cromwell. "You did not."

He quirks half a smile at her. "Look – your body, your clothes, your call. See you at the courthouse in an hour, okay?"

"Fine, Sam," she says, sounding exasperated but a little bit too fond as the other man pivots and makes his way out of the bullpen.

Castle tries to use his yet-to-be-acquired powers of telekinesis to make the man trip and fall on his way into the elevator. It doesn't work.

"Calm down, Castle," Beckett says, without even looking at him.

He realizes he may or may not be glaring holes into the Nordstrom bag. But she should be indignant, certainly more indignant than he is; she should be bristling as she stuffs the offending clothing into the trashcan. "What kind of a guy buys a woman he's not dating clothing?"

Beckett turns, stares at him.

"That was a totally different situation. That was purely professional."

Beckett keeps staring, her face impassively neutral.

He needs to stand up for himself. "Things are different now," he says, and he tries to leave it like that, he does, but it's not working for him. "Other men should not be buying you clothing."

Beckett leans in towards him, lowers her voice to a hushed whisper. "Castle," she bites out, "you cannot start acting like a caveman just because we had... an Incident... two weeks ago."

"An Incident?" he squeaks, indignant. "An Incident? Is that how you're referring to it?" There are a lot of ways he'd refer to the memory of her in his bed, the lithe, smooth lines of her body rolling rhythmically against him the night before he left for California, but Incidental is not one of them. "There are so many more descrip–"

She cuts him off. "I swear to God if you use the phrase 'made love' right now it will be the only Incident we ever have." She looks like she wants to make him say Apples.

He huffs a frustrated breath of air. This is absolutely not how he expected this morning to go at all.

She seems to take his silence for something close enough to the end of their conversation, because she's grabbing the Nordstrom bag and walking toward the bathroom before he can formulate any of the responses bubbling in his brain. "I'm changing," she says over her shoulder. "I'll be back in a minute."


He's finally zoned out, his eyes closed, his mind blissfully blank, when he hears the click of her heels walking up to his chair, stopping just in front of him. He opens his eyes, and his first thought it how unfair the world is, because she's standing in front of him in clothing that another man bought for her and fuck, fuck if it doesn't completely do it for him anyway.

The black jacket drapes off her shoulders and swoops in toward her waist perfectly, highlighting the silky red button-down that lies beneath it, but it's the skirt, the damn pencil skirt that ends (perfectly professionally) at the center of her knee that's doing him in, the long stretch of her legs before the sharp angles of her pumps. It's not that he hasn't seen a woman's calves before, it's not that he hasn't seen her calves before, but he's not used to it at the precinct, and all the sudden all he can think about is the last time he saw her legs, how the muscles of her calves and thighs rippled underneath his lips as he slowly kissed his way up her body.

One time with Kate Beckett was absolutely not enough.

"Well," Castle says, trying to tamp down on the uncomfortable churn of lust and jealousy deep within his chest. "Gotta hand it to Cromwell, he sure does know your size."

She shakes her head at him. "Castle," she breathes. The sudden lack of fight in her makes him feel it more than anything else – two weeks of trial prep with Cromwell, the superstar prosecutor with the chiseled features and the sculpted body, and now he's buying her clothing because he owes it to her and she's smiling at him and calling him Sam.

"I get it," he says, a little sharp, almost succeeding in covering up the hurt edge to his tone.

She sinks down in her chair, crossing her legs, and even now, even now he can't keep himself from staring as the hem of the skirt rides up, exposes a smooth inch of her thigh, even now he can't stop the hot coil of desire from winding tightly in his stomach. "You're jumping to conclusions," she says.

"You slept with him," Castle blurts suddenly, idiotically, because that's all he can think.

But then her teeth slide over her lower lip and she looks away from him and holy hell, even as he thought it, even as he said it, he didn't think it was really true. His eyes drop back down to the hem of the skirt, to the hint of thigh that he still can't stop himself from wanting, will never be able to stop himself from wanting.

"Okay," he says, trying not to sound like he's been sucker punched in in the stomach. She leans forward, rests her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands. The action causes the skirt to shift up another centimeter. His want burns in his throat, behind his eyes, a painful thing now.

"I was in Vice," she says. "I hadn't been with the NYPD that long. Things were – different, then. I was different."

The knowledge wraps around him, settles warmly over him – Vice, she was in Vice almost a decade ago, and she's running at a very different punch line than the one he's been imagining. He tilts toward her, relief buzzing through his blood, and lets her words pull him in. People say that he's a good storyteller, and he is, he supposes, but he has nothing on her, the cautious, almost clinical way she dispenses information, the careful cadence of her sentences. His only complaint is that she stops too soon, but it's impossible for her not to; he will never get enough of her.

"I met him the first time I had to testify. Sam was clerking in the DA's office." She shrugs. "He – he was getting over things in his own life. Neither of us wanted more than what we had."

"Which was?" he asks.

She smiles at him, her eyes dark. "Recreational." She pauses for a beat, her eyes flicking over his face. "You didn't really think…" she starts, trailing off.

He shrugs, tries to play it off. "We haven't really – talked," he says. "And then you have handsome prosecutors coming in, telling you they owe you sets of clothing."

She rolls her eyes. "I don't know how many years ago - I'd just come off a quick undercover op that'd gotten a little – stressful. I went to Sam's to release some excess energy. I was wearing a dress that was… tricky to remove. Luckily, my clothing was the only casualty that night."

It's almost painful, the combination of desire and jealousy and ridiculous admiration he feels, picturing Beckett, twenty-five, barely-there dress plastered onto her lithe body, getting into fistfights and gunfights in the middle of seedy clubs. "I wish I'd known you back then," he says.

"You don't," she murmurs. "I wasn't always… easy." He can't help but laugh a little. She smiles. "Worse than now."

"I like that you're not easy," he says, taking the edge off the sincerity of his words with a leer.

She rolls her eyes, arches her back, stretching her arms above her head. Something about the way she shifts pulls the skirt up another inch, and he's back to staring at her thighs and then she's staring at him staring at her thighs and he wishes that he were more like stupid Sam with his chiseled jaw who got to meet Beckett years and years and years before Castle ever laid eyes on her. She lowers her arms, stares at her watch. "I gotta go," she says. "You gonna go home, get some rest?"

"Oh, oh no," he responds in a rush. "There's no way I'd miss this. Nothing like the thrill of a trial, I say."

She stares at him. "That is the exact opposite of what you say."

He decides to play dumb. "What?"

"The last time you came to court with me you drained your battery playing Angry Birds for two hours and then spent the rest of time quietly muttering about how justified you were writing about detective work and how Grisham and anyone else who thinks that court is exciting should go hang themselves."

"This trial, though," he says, bobbing his head and trying to tear his eyes off her legs. "This trial is different. The um – the –" she shifts, uncrosses her legs for a moment. "The guy."

"Lapinski," she says, the edge of a wry smile on her voice.

"Right." He swallows. He can see, tops, two inches of thigh above her knee. He has seen all of her, now. There is no reason for him to be an incoherent mess at the sight of her smooth skin, the firm curve of her quad that he wants nothing more than to trace up and up with his tongue. "Him. Fascinating case. Trial of the – of the year. Decade."

"Stop staring at my legs, Castle," she says.

She gets up, starts walking towards the exit, and it's all Castle can do to trail helplessly after her.

The elevator door opens and Esposito steps out. He gives Beckett a once-over and smirks. "Who dressed you like a girl today?"

She grins. "I'll send him over to your place later, find you something to make you feel pretty."

Esposito shakes his head. "We got a weird one, Castle – double homicide in the basement of The Strand. You in?" Beckett's opening her mouth to ask for details, but Espo clucks at her. "Nothing else for you, you'll get stuck here and I don't want Cromwell pissed at me."

Beckett glares, but her eyes soften as she turns toward Castle. "Go ahead," she says, her voice quiet, encouraging, giving him an out. "Think of all the literary possibilities."

Any other day and he'd be all atwitter about a murder in a bookstore, but right now – "No, today is the day I find my inner Grisham."

Esposito rolls his eyes. "You literally grimaced when you said Grisham's name."

"You have mistaken a grimace for an expression of reverence for the art of writing about a trial."

"Or Beckett in a skirt at a trial," Esposito says smugly. Then, seeing the look on Beckett's face, he schools his expression carefully neutral and quickly walks to his desk.

"So," she says in the elevator. "You've seen me in a dress before. You've seen me in several dresses. And you've seen me in nothing at all."

He swallows, closing his eyes briefly to absorb the way she's just openly admitted that he has seen her naked.

"It's just a pencil skirt, Castle. Are you that easy?"

He edges closer to her, risks trailing a finger over the sleek fabric at her hip. She draws in a sharp breath. He reminds himself to keep alert: it's the precinct elevator, after all, and she might just be preparing to eviscerate him. "I am for you," he whispers near her ear, relishing the tiny shiver that he can just barely see drill down her spine.

She shoves him away, a little too hard to be entirely disaffected. "I'll keep it in mind the next time you're too busy playing Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty on your phone to help me with the paperwork."

He shifts a little closer, leans over to whisper in her ear, "Do you know how hot it is to hear you say Sentinel of Liberty?"

She levels him with a glare, but there's a flush just at the base of her neck that she can't hide. "Tell you what," she says, leaning back to look into his eyes. "You stay on your best behavior at the trial, tonight you can practice some of the combat moves live."

He stares at her, his heart suddenly thumping erratically somewhere at the bottom of his esophagus, trying not to let too much naked hope shine through in his expression. He should ask follow up questions. Her place? His place? What time? Is she actually inviting him to spar at the precinct? Because that would not be – oh, no, the thought of her, sweaty and in a tank top and grappling with him, that would be fine, actually. He realizes his eyes have probably become entirely unfocused and he still hasn't accomplished any sort of response. "Okay," he manages, trying not to let his voice cant up too many octaves.

And then, before he can follow up at all, the elevator doors open and she's sauntering away with her heels and her skirt and her long lean calves and oh, is this ever going to be a long day in court.