A Better Fate: Epilogue

Their second date was at Remy's, of all places.

It was the first downtime they'd gotten in a week or so, late after a solve; the cases had been intense, nerve-wracking, and Beckett had been dreaming of those strawberry shakes for way too long.

So when Castle offered his arm, so handsome despite the lines around his eyes, the tired curl of his mouth, she didn't hesitate.

The place was almost empty when they pushed the door open; there was only a trio of middle-aged men sitting in a corner, a bored-looking young woman behind the cash register. The woman perked up when she saw Castle and Beckett, though, came up to them with a wan, but genuine smile.

"You guys here for dinner?"

"Yeah," Castle answered with a smile of his own. "You're still serving, right?"

"Yup," the waitress confirmed with a little nod. "We're open until 2. Just - pick any table you like. You have a choice," she says with a little laugh, waving around.

"Thanks," Kate said, took Castle's hand to lead him towards a booth before anybody could hear the enthusiastic growl of her stomach.

Only him, and he laughed, of course, arched an eyebrow at her. "That hungry, huh?"

"Shut it," she shot back, but there was no smothering the wide smile that split her mouth open, spread warmth in her chest. He always did that, didn't he? Lightened her up with a handful of words. Strange how she just now seemed to notice.

She took the bench seat opposite from his, felt his feet brush against hers as she sat down. On purpose, no doubt.

And to think she'd been denying herself all of this - the spark in his eyes and the thrill of his touch, the pleasure of his words - that she'd deliberately kept herself blind to how wonderful they could be.

But it had been there, hadn't it? If she only let herself - like him.

Oh, and she did. She did like him. It had happened without her awareness, without her agreement, but it was here.

"You look pretty serious," he observed, that beautiful, rich, laughing quality to his voice. Kate shrugged and studied him, marveled at what she saw now, in the place of the smug asshole with the sunglasses, a father, a son, her friend.

The man who loved her.

"Do I have something in my teeth?" he joked, but there was a thread of nervousness laced in his words now; it made her smile, and she let her fingers tangle with his. He wasn't so confident as all that then. He was as nervous about this as she was.

"Not so fun being stared at, is it Castle?"

He huffed a breath, but she could see the unmitigated adoration in his eyes, could feel the readiness with which his hand answered her light pressure.

It made her breathless every time.

The waitress appeared at their table, a notepad in her hand, a cheerful smile on her face. "Are you guys ready to order?"

Kate looked back at Castle; he shrugged, leaving it up to her. "I think we are," she said.

She only wanted the milkshake, anyway.

And him.

Finally, she wanted him.

He walked her back to her apartment; the night was cold but dry, not uncomfortable, and they were both wearing their coats. Castle couldn't help the apprehensive twitch of his stomach as they came into view of her building, Kate's words - the Kate from 2014 - echoing in his mind.

Before my apartment blew up.

But she had survived, right? Kate had survived her apartment being bombed once, and he had to trust that she would again, had to hang on to that thin thread of hope, because he couldn't spend his days worrying about hazy future events that he didn't even know the date of.

(If they even happened. New trajectory for this timeline, right? That what Kate's appearance here had been about.)

Beckett, his Beckett, turned back to him when she reached the door, her straight, shoulder-length hair dancing around her face, her eyes soft. He could still tell the difference - he could see that she was still maintaining a fa├žade, protecting herself - but she was slowly letting him in, growing a little less guarded every day, and that was...

More than he'd expected, to be honest.

He felt so damn grateful. To Kate. To Beckett. To her, no matter what time.

"Aren't you going to kiss me goodnight?" she prompted, lips curled into a smirk, a spark in her eyes that he was starting to become familiar with.

She liked to play with him.

A rush of pure want swirled in his guts, and he leaned in and took her mouth, confident and unapologetic, stroking his tongue past her lips as she gave in, opened to his touch, fingers threading through his hair and arms hooking around his neck, body melting into his.


He wasn't sure how, but he suddenly found himself pressing her into the door, his leg firmly planted between hers, her thighs parted to accommodate his. Her mouth was a live, slow-burning fire that worked at him, devoured every ounce of resistance in his body until-

He jerked away before he couldn't, reminding himself.

She deserved more. He had promised himself; he wouldn't screw them up. He would wait for her.

Kate stared at him, her eyes darker than the night sky, her jagged, panting breaths visible in the cool winter air.

"Goodnight, Kate," he said, proud that his voice sounded so steady.

And he walked away.

The strident beep of her oven was driving her crazy. Beckett swore under her breath, gave up on zipping up her dress - stupid thing - and headed for the kitchen, her steps a little too quick.

She wasn't nervous. She wasn't.

The chicken smelled lovely; a relieved sigh left her lungs before she could help herself. It was her mother's recipe, but she hadn't cooked anything in so long - she ate mostly takeaway now, couldn't bring herself to prepare herself an elaborate meal when it was just herself.

There was nothing sadder than home-made food eaten in the silence of an empty kitchen.

Tonight, however, she wouldn't be alone.


Oh, stop being ridiculous, she berated herself as she grabbed the oven mitt, slowly slid the dish out of her oven. It looked perfect, not burnt, not underdone - jeez, she was going to a hell of a lot of trouble over this.

A quick glance at the clock sent her heart into a chaotic beat; she pressed her lips together and firmly pushed down her fluttering nerves. Butterflies in your stomach, Kate? Really?

It was just Castle.

She covered the chicken so it would keep warm, forced herself to walk leisurely back to her bedroom. A sharp jerk of her wrist finally triumphed over the resistant zipper, and she turned, inspected the result of her efforts in her floor-length mirror.

The dress looked good. It was black, simple (she didn't mean to make a big deal of tonight); the neckline, she thought, was its best feature, a low but tasteful cut that ended into a V between her breasts.

She couldn't do much with her hair, but she'd gathered part of it up, only leaving a few strands to fall along the line of her neck. A subtle hint, she hoped; a somewhat deliberate nudge.

This is where I want your tongue.

Kate Beckett didn't usually cook for the men in her life; she certainly did not invite them to her place for dinner, not so early in their relationship, anyway. But a desperate situation called for desperate measures.

Castle was holding back. For the last three weeks, he'd been restraining himself. Oh, he would kiss her, yes, and touch her until her body thrummed, oh yes, but then he'd walk away, refuse to do anything about the need coiled tight inside her.

She didn't understand. He'd slept with her future self without much protest, it seemed; why couldn't he do her the same courtesy?

Beckett bit on her lip, tried to quell the surge of strange jealousy that rose inside her at the thought. Not at Kate, her future self, not entirely, but at - at Castle. Jealous that he was so certain and was holding himself in such disciplined reserve while Beckett was finding herself unable to have a coherent thought around him.

It was so frustrating. It was her skin his hands had roamed, her back he'd lowered to the bed, her cries he had swallowed with his kisses - or so she pictured, when she lay in bed at night, unable to fall asleep - and yet she hadn't gotten to feel any of it. It had all been reserved for that future version of her.

And now that Beckett wanted it, him, had finally admitted so to herself - now that her body yearned for him - he refused himself to her?

So not fair, Castle.

But he was coming over tonight.

He was coming over tonight, and there was no way she would let him walk out her door again before she'd gotten what she wanted.

Castle didn't know what to think. He'd never even been inside Beckett's apartment before; he had spent many (too many, probably) hours wondering what her place looked like, picturing her space, her kitchen, her bathroom. Her bed, of course.

But while part of him was thrilled at being admitted into her private world, he couldn't help but feel like this invitation wasn't exactly...her style.

Which in turn made him feel like an idiot, because he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, and honestly, couldn't he just show up at Beckett's and be happy that she'd asked him at all?

Well. Obviously not.

He sighed and got out of the town car, looked up at her building. Oh, he knew where she lived - he'd made sure a while ago that he knew everything that could legally be found out about Kate Beckett, and then some. Her address had incidentally proved very useful when he'd had that dress delivered to her.

Mm, what a dress, too. What a body. The bare skin of her back under the lace, which only made him think about the arch of her back in his bed - Kate and not Beckett but Beckett as well-

Sidetracked. He was getting sidetracked.

Shaking his head at himself, at the whole time-bending situation, he pushed the door open, walked into the lobby. A middle-aged woman was coming down the stairs, and the flowers he was clutching in his left hand made him feel self-conscious under her gaze.

The woman gave him a knowing smile that he did his best to return. His face felt strained, though, and he was afraid it came out as more of a grimace. His smoothness always deserted him in times of need. Or pretty much anything that had to do with Beckett.

He spared a glance at the apartment listing - Beckett's was 3B and as he'd guessed, that meant third floor. He took the stairs; they at least would provide some sort of outlet for the nervous energy that crackled through his body.

When he reached her door, he looked down at the flowers, felt the anxiety tighten into a knot in his throat. It was ridiculous; it wasn't even their first date, and he knew her, really knew her. She wasn't one of the models or bachelorettes that Paula usually tried to set him up with.

She was real. Maybe that was the problem.

Get your act together, Castle.

He knocked, a good decisive knock; the door opened in a matter of seconds, as if she'd waiting for him. Kate Beckett, waiting for him at the door? Quit dreaming, Rick.

"Hey," she said, and he thought she sounded a little breathless, looked a little nervous, but it was hard to know if he wasn't just imagining those things because he wanted company in his anxiety.

"Hey," he said, offering the flowers like some kind of peace offering, thrust at her as if he were a five year old handing wildflowers over to his teacher. Stupid, Castle, stupid-

"Thanks," she said, and she smiled, tremulous and beautiful, looked at him from under her lashes. She seemed surprised, and pleased, and he felt himself relax.

She took the flowers and invited him inside; he couldn't tear his eyes from her long enough to look at her apartment. The black dress she wore was a perfect fit, a vibrant homage to the curve of her hips, her impeccable figure. It stopped above the knee and Castle found himself entranced by the smooth expanse of her legs, the beautiful line of her calves.

And astonished, strangely enough, by how little she'd changed in five years. Or would have changed.

Thankfully she was arranging the bouquet into a vase, not watching him fumble over the mesmerizing silhouette of her body, and by the time she turned back to him, he had somehow managed to collect himself.

"You can take off your coat, you know. Stay a while," she told him, that laughing edge to her voice; all his illusions about her not noticing his confusion went up in smoke.

"You look beautiful," he retaliated, feeling all the more righteous because it was so true.

She didn't blush, but it came close.

Kate parted her lips but said nothing, only regarded him for a moment; he got the strange feeling that she was wondering what the hell he was doing here, why she'd even let him in.

"Nice place," he said quickly, because even though he had been wondering the same thing in the car, he never wanted Kate Beckett to doubt that he belonged with her.

She smiled, the uncertainty in her eyes fading, and glanced around. "Yeah. I like it." There was almost a question at the end of her sentence, as if she wanted to know where he was going with this.

He gave small talk another try. "And great books," he smirked, noticing a few of his resting on a shelf across the room.

Beckett rolled her eyes, but stayed silent, as if she wouldn't begrudge him his moment of triumph. It thrilled him more than he could say, that she was comfortable enough to admit in front of him that she liked his books, and that she didn't look afraid that he would smugly ruin everything.

He wouldn't; the thought of her reading his novels was enough to make his heart squeeze, his words vanish.

"So. Dinner is ready, if you're hungry," she announced, and it was impossible for him to miss the flicker of hesitation (apprehension?) in her voice, subtle as it might have been. She was standing behind the kitchen island, the greenhouse windows behind her, the stainless steel gleaming even as she traced a fingernail around and around a smooth place in the counter.

She was no more comfortable with this than he was.

"Kate," he said without thinking, loving the way her first name rolled off his tongue. "Why am I here?"

He got a startled flash of her eyes, maybe some defensiveness, too. It was hard to tell.

"What do you mean - Why? Dinner, Castle. I made us dinner."

She had. And somehow, everything about that sentence felt wrong.

"But this isn't - it's not exactly the kind of thing you do, is it?" Shit, he had to shut up, shut the hell up before he ruined what could still be a lovely evening.

Her eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest. "Because you know the kind of things I do better than me, obviously."

Let it go, let it go. If he answered, she would turn this into some sort of fight, and he didn't want to be fighting. He just wanted to understand-

"No," he said, trying for soothing. "You can make dinner; I bet it's wonderful. But Kate. Honestly? I just want you to tell me that there isn't some sort of agenda behind this. Just - say it's only a dinner date, and I'll believe you."

She curled her lower lip between her teeth, a furious glint in her eyes, said nothing.

Yeah. That's what he'd thought. She was probably planning on giving him the third degree about what he'd done with Kate, her future self. She'd been curiously quiet about it, but he knew that couldn't last.

"So." he said softly. "Why am I here?"

She raised her chin defiantly, dropped the words with a studied detachment. "What do you think? For sex, Castle."

He would have laughed, but he could tell it wasn't a joke. God, it even - it even made him aroused, but it held an undercurrent of sorrow that wouldn't let him enjoy this moment. It would have been a lie to say that those words, coming from her hot mouth, didn't elicit an immediate response from his body, but the sadness outweighed it completely.

His heart dropped in his chest.

He'd never have thought he could feel sad that Kate Beckett wanted to use him for sex.

But this wasn't what he wanted from her. This wasn't what he thought he'd been building with her when they started this. It wasn't what Kate had given him that night when she'd made love with him.

His silence was heavy in the kitchen.

Beckett was averting her eyes, turning away, and he could tell from the deliberate set of her shoulders that she was hurt. Damn it. "But obviously you're not interested," she muttered, taking a few steps towards the kitchen.

"Beckett," he called, feeling like a jerk.

"Back to Beckett, are we," she observed with that clear, unaffected voice that he hated.

And then she was rounding on him, and even the fierceness on her face couldn't completely conceal the wounded look in her eyes. "You know what I don't get? You've had sex with lots of women. You had sex with me, her-me, not me-me, but still me, and you didn't seem too guilt-ridden about it. But now that I'm in front of you, wanting you, you're playing hard to get?"

He felt insulted, and horrified, but mostly he just wanted to wrap her up in his arms and tell her-

"Drop the act, Castle. Doesn't suit you," she finished bitterly. And it stung.

He sucked in a long breath, tried to figure out a way to fix the mess he'd inadvertently made. But she wasn't done.

"What are you doing here?" Beckett said after a moment, softer, her beautiful eyes wide with a blank wall that nevertheless shimmered with confusion. "Because - I'm sorry, but it feels like you're being faithful. To her."

Oh god. Oh Kate.

"And, I'm not - this is a new thing for me," she added slowly, giving a shake of her head. "I don't want to be jealous of my own damn self. Do you have any idea how odd, and - and wrong that is?"

"So I should sleep with you so you don't feel jealous," he observed, hoping she'd hear by herself that it sounded just as wrong. Still, his heart was pounding and his mouth was thick. This could be it - this could be the thing that ruined them.

If she kicked him out of the precinct now-

Well, fuck. Then working her mother's case wouldn't end his life, would it? Had Kate done this on purpose?

Beckett gritted her teeth, back to aggressive again. "Maybe you should. Just get the sex out of the way."

He shook his head, powerless, so tired all of a sudden. "Not how I hoped it would happen, Kate." His chest was tight with it, the way she'd ruined things, now and then. The way he'd been a willing accomplice in their demise. "That's not what I'm looking for. So, I should probably go."

Some part of him mourned the quiet night he'd imagined, hadn't been able to keep himself from picturing, the two of them laughing over dinner, leaning in close, the taste of wine on her tongue as he kissed her - but that had never been what was going to happen.

He had to go, before he made things worse. Before she actually did kick him out of her professional life as well.

He turned, had to force himself away, bending a little to grab his coat from the couch. And now he was noticing, really noticing her living-room, the art books, the strangely harmonious blend of various styles, the almost bohemian feel of it all.

She had so many facets to her. He could see Kate here, Kate and Beckett both, and suddenly they were the same person, the same, and all of it was slipping out of his hands faster than he could hang on to it.

He was just reaching for the door, hesitating with his hand out, when he felt himself pulled back, violently spun around, his spine slamming against the wood with a painful jolt.

"Don't you dare," Kate hissed, and her eyes were bright - shit was she crying? - and then oh so good her body was stretched against him, pressed so tight he couldn't keep his hips from bucking up in response, because he did want her, he did-

"Don't you dare walk out on me," she murmured threateningly, before she attacked his mouth with her teeth, her tongue, fierce and hot as she slid a hand under his shirt, into his pants.

It was wrong, wrong wrong wrong, but oh, how he wanted her. He couldn't lose her, even if all she wanted was sex. He could change her mind, right? He could make her fall in love with him.

"Kate," he pleaded into her lips, but it came out as a moan, a gritted-teeth moan because he was so fucking weak. When it comes to her.

Her fingers wriggled into his pants, made him jerk, a welcome flash of awareness that had him reaching for her wrist, staying her. "No," he panted, desperate. "Not - no, Kate."

She growled into his mouth. "Why not," she rasped, and it sounded so furious and so heartbroken at the same time. "Why not, Castle, why not-"

"Because I want you to want it," he finally let out on a breath, surrendering. "I want you to want me, not just - feel like you have some kind of score to settle with yourself-"

She gasped and stepped back, regarding him disbelievingly. His fingers were still around her wrist, the steady pound of blood so arousing that he couldn't bring himself to let go.

"Is that what you think this is?" she whispered. "Is that what you think this has been about?"

Yes, he wanted to say, you said it yourself, jealousy - but then the look on her face, startled and tender and hurt but almost laughing, like there was some cosmic mix-up, and it would be funny a few years from now (five?).

"Oh, Castle," she sighed, stepping into him again.

He wished she wouldn't do that; he couldn't think straight with the angles and planes of her body pressed into his. Still, his arm found its way around her waist, curved there against his better judgment. He sighed into her ear, wishing he could make this last. Just her touch. Just the touch of her against him. How he needed it.

She was nuzzling her mouth at his cheek. "Listen to me. It's not about settling a score. Thinking of you with her - it made me jealous, yeah, but mostly it made me realize how much..." Her voice trailed off, and he wondered if she was gathering her courage. "How much I wanted it for myself," she finished quietly. "You. How much I want you."

He was holding his breath; he could hardly dare to believe her.

She kissed him again, but this time it was soft, so gentle; it was her lips, her tongue adoring his mouth, stroking it so slowly he thought he might combust. He parted his lips, letting her in, relishing every second of it, her faint exhales, the low humming that he thought he could hear thrum at the back of her throat; she was just so - divine.

Kate Beckett.

She paused, their noses brushing together, her forehead against his; he could feel her smile.

"Castle," she said, her voice so rich, filled to the brim, gorgeous. "How about you make love to me, here and now, in this time?"

Yes, yes, he wanted to say, wanted it so badly, but the words tangled in his throat.

So he let his fingers on the zipper of her dress be his answer.

So good.

Her body vibrated against him.

He felt so good.

They hadn't even made it to her bed, standing up in the hall as his hands worked her dress off of her.

This was so very good.

She clutched the arm around her waist, tried to catch her breath.

She would never let him go.

"Kate," he murmured at her nape, his lips hot and still, unmoving.

He thought he could feel her body stir, rousing again at the sound of his voice, and he couldn't keep his lips from curling into a smile. How responsive she was, how soft, liquid in his arms.

And he did that to her, didn't he?

It was him.

All him.

He heard the long breath that she drew in, felt her shift in his arms; when her face finally turned to him, the semi-darkness couldn't conceal her flushed cheeks, the blood still pulsing along the white column of her neck.

And she was still wearing the heels, too, so tall and sexy against him; she only had to lean in to fuse their mouths together. Her tongue darted out to tease and he groaned, kissed her back, long and deep, losing himself in it.

Oh, she was so hot, beautiful and smart and snarky, his Beckett; he couldn't believe that she wanted him - here and now.

"Lose the shirt, Castle," she said against his lips, and he grinned, absolutely thrilled to hear the confidence in her voice, the command. And even as she took back control from him, her eyes deadly, a warning and a siren song both, he didn't care. He couldn't care.

No matter how she played this tomorrow morning, this was still Kate Beckett.

He was never going to give up on this.

He would wait for her to realize - this was everything.

This was their future.

"Stay," he murmured and she paused at the sound of his voice, surprised he was awake.

"I'll be right back," she said in response, brushing her thumb over the still-closed lid of his eye. She felt his lashes flutter in response and she grinned, leaning over to kiss his cheek.

Beckett slid from her bed and shivered, searched for something to wear. She ignored his dress shirt slung over the chair beside her bed and went for her closet. She found an NYPD shirt on the floor, then pulled on some sweats as well.

When she got to the kitchen, she could already smell it.

Their dinner. Uneaten dinner. A little crispy from warming in the oven.

She grabbed potholders and opened the oven door, then slid the casserole dish out, turned off the warmer. She waved an oven mitt over the casserole, as if she could cool it off, but she realized it was her own face that was flushed, her body still hot.

Forget dinner. It wasn't ruined, but Castle had been right. This wasn't her.

Beckett shoved it into the sink to deal with later, stalked to her fridge to see what she could grab for them. She bent over to get at a bag of carrots, gasped when she felt the heated, solid presence at her back.

His arm went around her waist, his hand curling at her hip, pressing her back into him. "Midnight snack?"

"It's only nine," she murmured, standing up again but not moving out of his arms. She let the cool air of the refrigerator wash over her flaming cheeks. She wasn't embarrassed; she was aroused. She could do this. . .all night.

His mouth nibbled at her neck. "We skipped dinner."

She grinned slowly, humming into the devouring touch of his mouth, and then turned in his arms, the fridge door slamming shut as she pushed herself up on her toes against his body.

"I had my meal," she said, lifting her eyes to him, smiling slowly.

"That's hot," he panted, crashing into her mouth with a graceless kiss that was more heat and need than anything else.

And she liked it. She loved it.

Castle ate crackers in her bed, let her shove a thin slice of cheese into his mouth with a roll of her eyes. She had a wicked looking knife that she used to carve the block of Colby, and she kept grinning at him as he brushed crumbs out of her sheets.

"Don't worry about it, Castle," she murmured, closing her fingers around his wrist mid-swipe. "Sheets will have to be washed in the morning anyway."

Damn, she was hot. Did he say she was hot? She was amazingly, eye-openingly, agonizingly hot.

He took the slice of cheese she held out to him, topped it on a cracker, pushed it into his mouth. He was starving and she had her side pressed into him as they sat up against her headboard. Every movement of her body made him twitch, like he was sixteen and wondering how far he could go with his date - and just the wondering alone was doing it for him.

She turned her head and eyed him, as if she knew he was trying to figure out how to cop a feel while she fed him cheese and crackers.

But then her face turned serious and her fingers stilled over the block of cheese. She wrapped it back in its plastic sleeve, turned and placed it on her bedside table, knife clattering down as well. He followed her lead, pushed the box of saltines onto the floor, came back to deal with whatever it was he saw in her gaze.

"What comes after this?" she said, chewing on her lower lip.

I marry you.

But he didn't say it.

Even though he knew she was thinking it too. And maybe that was the problem.

"Take it as it comes," he said, lifting his hand to brush her hair back from her face. It stuck to her neck, sweaty, and he leaned down to lick the salt at her skin, felt her suck in a gasp, her hand curled at his ear.

"Think - think we're doing a pretty good job with coming," she huffed against the top of his head. Castle paused, his lips at her neck, a hand sliding up and down her ribs.

He laughed and pulled back to look at her. "Who suspected? Detective Beckett talks dirty," he grinned, but that was seriously hot as well. Had he said, yet, how very hot she was?

"You like it," she stated, and her mouth sought his, her tongue skirting his lips.

Before he could push her back down to her bed, she was breaking away, her hand firm against his jaw even as her fingers stroked his skin.

"Still. What do we do now, Castle?"

He blinked as he stared at her, his mind filled with visions from his overactive imagination, all the things he not only wanted to do to her, but all the things he wanted to have with her as well.

A life.

And then he knew what to say; he knew what came next.

"Come with me to the Hamptons for Memorial Day."

She blinked, obviously not what she was expecting. But maybe exactly what she could handle.

"For the weekend?"

He nodded. "It's a few weeks off, I know. But we go every year, beginning of summer thing. I want you there with me this year."

She was still staring at him, and her lower lip was getting masticated by her teeth, but he waited for her to figure it out. Whatever she wanted to do. Still, he decided to nudge.

"It'll be fun. Relaxing. You deserve a break, Kate, so come with me. It can be whatever you want it to be."

When he said her name, her face cleared and he felt the twitch of her hand against his thigh.

"Okay," she murmured, and then her voice strengthened. "Yes. I'll come with you to the Hamptons."