It truly takes a village (of screaming people with torches and pitchforks) to get me to write and post M fic, but extra special thanks to Laura, for forcing me to write this in the first place, to Julie and Nic for making me write in actual words and sentences, and to everyone else, especially Molly and Sarah, who relentlessly, terrifyingly encouraged me.

He shows up at her door five minutes early, clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and an oversized cactus in the other, sure that he's going to sweat all the way through his button-down.

He'd left the loft early because he couldn't sit still, and for some reason he'd impulsively decided that it would be better to be jittery outside Beckett's apartment than sitting on a stool in his kitchen, desperately trying to keep himself from pouring another glass of scotch to take the edge off. He'd sworn, he'd sworn to himself that just because he was leaving early, under no circumstance would he procure any type of floral arrangement.

He's not sure of very much in life, but he's fairly positive that when Beckett invited him to her apartment to practice combat moves, it was not a bring-a-flower kind of date, or possibly any kind of date at all.

But then Broadway was jammed and the cabbie'd swung onto 6th and suddenly he could see the sign for Paradise Plants and from then on it was an out-of-body experience, a jumble of Stop the cab! and tripping quickly down the street and before he knew it, he was standing in the middle of a collection of exotic trees discussing Beckett's work schedule and lack of ability to keep plants alive with Janelle, a rather fierce-looking young woman with a nose ring.

He shifts uncomfortably, wishing his hands weren't occupied so he could tug at his collar. It is impossible to look debonair while holding a two-foot-tall golden barrel cactus.

A quick check of his watch – only two minutes early, now - and he's rapping the bottom of the wine bottle against the door in an odd kind of knock before he can talk himself out of it.

The door swings open almost immediately. "Hey, Beckett," he says, a little too quickly, peering at her from over a collection of golden needles. She's wearing yoga pants and a strappy camisole and no shoes. Her hair is up in a ponytail, but tendrils are falling around her neck.

She gives him a quizzical smile. "Is that a cactus?"

"Yeah. For you," he says, like there's a chance he would be standing in her doorway clutching a ridiculously large houseplant that he'd purchased for Alexis.

"Thanks." She reaches out with both hands and takes it hesitantly, then seems to remember that he's standing there awkwardly in the hallway. "Come in," she says, stepping back.

He steps inside and closes the door behind him, watching her regard the cactus warily. He feels a sudden surge of panic. He hopes she doesn't think it's a thank-you-for-letting-me-get-you-off-in-a-courthouse-bathroom cactus, or, maybe even worse, a thank-you-for-banging-my-brains-out-before-I-left-on-that-booktour-and-I'm-sorry-we-haven't-really-openly-discussed-that-yet cactus.

"You dressed for sparring?" she asks skeptically as she moves to put the plant on the kitchen counter.

"Uh." He is absolutely certain that the correct response is not I wasn't sure if that was just a flimsy excuse for us to have more hot sex, so I didn't want to show up in sweats. "Figured I'd keep it close to a work outfit. Since that's when I'll be exercising my newfound ability to perform superhero takedowns."

She arches an eyebrow. He's sure she can see straight through him.

He glances over at the cactus sitting on the kitchen counter. "She needs a warm, slightly sunny area. You only have to water her every few weeks. She's supposed to be one of the easiest keepers."

Beckett blinks at him. "Are you anthropomorphizing my cactus?"

"Just because she's prickly doesn't mean she doesn't need love."

She levels him with a suddenly-intense stare. "That supposed to be a metaphor?"

"No," he says reflexively, swallowing. "No, no." He feels the need to emphasize this point. "No."

Her lips twitch ever-so-slightly.

"Oh. Hey, that's not nice, messing with me when all I've done is bring you a cactus."

"Don't make it so easy, then."

Speaking of easy, why'd you change out of the skirt? his brain supplies, but he just manages to swallow back the most offensive part. "You changed," he says.

She narrows her eyes like she can actually see the mental acrobatics he jumped through to get from easy to her change of outfit. "I decided to be prepared," she retorts archly. The way she pops the ps in the word makes him actually twitch, and she grins again, dark and feral.

Okay. Okay. He needs to collect himself, to at least pretend he's self-possessed. They've been together twice so far, he reminds himself, and the first time she shuddered apart under his fingers and mouth and body three times, and the second time it took very little to get her moaning against him in a tiny bathroom, and really, he's not just a bumbling, cactus-bearing idiot. He's got game. He does.

He steps forward, edging brazenly into her personal space. With her bare feet, she's half a foot shorter than him. He uses that to his advantage like he usually never would, crowding his bulk further into her space as he reaches out a hand and plucks at the thin strap of her camisole. His fingers graze her clavicle, and he can't help but let his hand pause there, just barely brushing the heat of her bare skin. "You usually spar in this?" he asks, his tone half an octave lower than he'd been aiming.

Her tongue slowly slides over her lips before she blinks, juts her chin up so her neck is bent back and her gaze is locked with his. She doesn't take a step backwards. "No," she says. Only she could make that one syllable sound like such a fucking come on.

It's totally out of his control when his gaze trips away from her eyes and down her shirt. "Jesus, Beckett, you really don't have a bra on, do you?"

A slow smile spreads across her lips. "There's built in support, and where are you looking?"

He's never been so turned on by a camisole in his life. "I don't mind that you changed anymore," he tells her, inching slightly closer, and then the walls and ceiling are spinning around and his knees hit the ground with a sharp crack and his left shoulder feels like someone just about ripped it out of the socket. "Oh God, am I dead?" he groans between pathetic gasps for breath. He arches his back and tilts his head all the way up to look at Beckett, who's standing over him, glaring down.

"You think it's cute that you're taller than me?" Her eyes are an absolutely intoxicating combination of irritation and what he's fairly sure could be lust.

He totally voluntarily chooses to stay on his knees for another minute. "Point taken. Also, shouldn't you have told me before we started sparring?"

"First rule of sparring is to always be prepared."

"It's not the Boy Scouts, Beckett," he says, and then executes what he thinks is a pretty tricky maneuver, reaching back and wrapping both hands around her calves in a move that he somehow envisions will land her neatly on the floor in front of him. He'll straddle her and have her pinned, he'll have won the sparring match, and he'll be rewarded with a round of incredibly energetic lovemaking fueled by her total reverence for his combat prowess.

Unfortunately, the takedown is a bit sloppier than he'd originally anticipated, and after a brief tangle of elbows and knees and ribs from which he thinks his solar plexus may not have emerged completely whole, he winds up horizontal and staring up at her, yet again.

It's not an entirely lost cause, though, because somehow she's lying flush against him, her hipbones pressing against his, and her hands are circled around his wrists, which are pinned lightly above his head. He swallows and stares at the ceiling for a minute, trying to get some kind of control, but there is absolutely no way she can't feel how this is affecting him.

She grins down at him, her gaze flicking to his lips before trailing back up to his eyes. "Everything okay there, Castle?" She looks so very smug.

Perfectly natural reaction, he consoles himself. He decides he might as well try to use his little problem to his advantage. "Did you know that in jiu-jitsu, they call sparring 'rolling?'" he asks, punctuating the last word with a long, slow roll of his hips up against hers.

"Fascinating," she says drolly, her tone not giving anything away, but her fingers tighten around his wrists, her nails biting into his skin as her pupils dilate slightly.

He shifts his hips slightly down and to the right, rolls his body again up into hers with a little more intention, revels in her slow hiss of air and the too-long blink of her eyes.

His brief sense of victory threatens to stretch itself into a smile, but he manages to swallow it, slowly swiveling the right side of his pelvis into the air, rolling them over so that he's lying on top of her. Her hands are still circled around his forearms, but she doesn't fight when he shifts, drags his wrists out of her grip and presses her hands into the floor with his palms, and here's a glimpse of the Beckett he saw earlier in the courthouse bathroom, the Beckett who climbed up his body when he clasped his hand firmly over her mouth.

"Stop looking so pleased with yourself," she growls, but her body keeps shifting, a liquid roll and sway that has her hipbone grinding in a deliciously abrasive way up into him and he can't do anything but let his torso press down against hers, revel in the softness of her chest, the heat of her abdomen that radiates through her thin camisole.

"Then stop looking so irresistible," he rumbles at her.

A laugh shivers across her face and through her body, making her ripple against him in an entirely-too-pleasant way. "Are you serious?" she teases, her eyes sparkling, her lips quirked into a brilliant, teasing smile. "That's your play?"

Her laugh turns into a quickly indrawn breath when he rotates his hips over, shifting his body until their pelvises align. He just manages to catch a moan in the back of his throat, gulping it down in a rush of air. "You're in an interesting position to be mocking me right now, Beckett," he says, punctuating her name with an aggressive roll of his hips.

She curls her neck forward, sinks her teeth sharply into the juncture of his neck and shoulder as she widens her thighs, letting his body settle further against hers. This time, he can't quite swallow his groan. "I don't like to lose," she husks, and it takes his addled brain a moment to catch up with hers. Sparring. Right. They are sparring.

"Call it a draw?" he suggests, his skin tingling, his abdomen coiled with such tightly wound want that it aches.

She lets her head fall back onto the floor. "That's the same as losing," she huffs against his mouth. Jerking one wrist out of his grasp, she bucks up with her hips and then drops back down, creating an inch of space between them and sneaking her deft fingers into it. She works at the button of his pants, trails her hand below his waistband.

"Win," he gasps as her palm closes firmly around him, "you win. You win."

"You're so easy," she murmurs. He manages not to whimper when she releases him, but only because she's immediately using her hand to work down the zipper of his jeans.

"For you," he says, like it's any kind of news. "Especially when you have a hand down my pants."

"But what's my prize?" she asks, batting her eyes at him in a mockery of coyness, skidding her teeth over her lower lip. But then her blinks slow, stop, and her hand steadies, and their bodies still entirely for the first time since he's walked in the door. He can feel it between them, a sharply crackling current that's setting him painfully, excruciatingly on edge.

He's not sure who breaks first, only that they suddenly dissolve into a flurry of arms and hands, her fingers pushing his pants over his hips as his palms skid under her shirt, dragging over the ridges of her spine, catching her yoga pants and pulling them down, down over her hips. Suddenly she's pushing at his boxers and working her legs underneath him to toe her pants off and he's wedging his hand back between their torsos, his forearm torqueing at a horribly uncomfortable angle that he can't even begin to worry about once his fingers hit the slickness between her legs. "I think you got your prize preemptively in that courtroom bathroom," he grunts, tracing a firm circle over her.

She draws a knee up, uses her heel to kick him in the back of his thigh, growls low at him from the back of her throat. "I'm ready for another one," she says, dragging his hand off of her and then wrapping her fingers around him again, guiding him slowly further between her legs.

"Happy to ob – fuck, fuck Beckett," he grits out as she suddenly slams her hips up to crash him all the way inside her. He drops his forehead down onto her temple, his mouth working against her jawbone as his pelvis sets up a quick counterpoint to hers. Her breath is coming in short, sharp pants, and when he snakes a hand between them to trace quick circles over her she starts up with a series of low, needy keens in the back of her throat and it's all too criminally wonderful, especially when she draws her knee higher and he's driving even deeper into the cradle of her hips.

Her breath stutters as her body jerks and she's suddenly clamping around him, making his rhythm grow even more frantic. He tries to slow for her, give her a chance to come down from it, to let her tingling nerves readjust, but she's tightening her thighs around him already, working for him, shaking through the aftershocks to give him what he needs, and damn it if he doesn't already feel the coil of tightness spark and release, damn it if he doesn't feel a sudden lump in his throat for all the different ways she shows him how she feels.

They lie in a tangle of trembling muscles and damp skin for a moment, breathing in and out together, before he feels her start to tense beneath him. "We should –" she starts, but lets it spin off into the dark air of her apartment.

"Yeah," he says, forcing himself to press up and back, standing on legs that are embarrassingly wobbly and pulling his pants back up with trembling fingers. He finds some consolation in the dizzy, hazed look in her eyes when she stumbles up beside him.

He wants to ask to stay.

He doesn't want to push.

He won't let himself watch her as she pulls her yoga pants back on, instead forcing his eyes to drift over to the kitchen. "She might need a little more sun," he murmurs absently, his gaze tripping over the spines of the cactus, his brain still stuttering over the memory of the soft yield of her body.

"Hm?" she hums, low in her throat, a noise he hears but doesn't quite process. "What?" she asks, enough to startle him back into awareness.

"The cactus," he tries to explain. "Don't know how much sun the middle of the counter will get." Also, I love you, he adds mentally, tries to convey the sentiment with the angle of his head and the squint of his eyes.

"Right." She lets herself drift slightly toward the door.

He follows. He can take a cue.

"You're a pretty good sparring partner," she says.

"More satisfying than usual?"

"I wouldn't go that far."

"Well. Now that the challenge has been established…" he says, but lets it trail off. He's not going to presume with her, not going to start to wreck it before they can even get it off the ground.

She smiles at him, enough of an acknowledgement. "Thanks for the cactus, Castle," she says as she opens the door.

He leans forward, captures her lips in a fast, open-mouth kiss. "Thanks for the mind-blowing sex," he growls as he steps into the hallway.

He doesn't turn as he walks away, doesn't want to see the hesitation or the doubt on her face, doesn't want to seem like the needy kind of guy who can't be trusted to remain emotionally stable after a quick session of sparring sex.

He slumps against the wall of her elevator, squeezes his eyes shut for a beat, can't help but jerk out his cell phone, stare at her number.

Hope you don't use those defense moves on everyone, he texts, so far away from everything he wants to say.

His phone vibrates as he steps out of the building into the chilled, early morning darkness, and he can't help but smile.

Only you.