November, 2003

Beckett pushed a hand through her short hair, winced at the way the gel stuck to her fingers. Lanie had warned her not to touch it.

She sighed and ran the water, rinsed her hands, hunched over the tiny sink of the 12th precinct's bathroom. She glanced once more at her face; the yellow lights made her look paler than usual, and she couldn't determine if her make-up was really too vampire-y.

She hoped not.

After drying her hands, she readjusted her skirt, didn't even try to tug it down; she had long surrendered to the unspeakable shortness of the thing. She was supposed to be a hooker, anyway, and at least she looked the part. Her top sparkled fiercely despite the lack of ambient light, as if trying to make up for her low spirits; a smile flickered across her face.

She usually enjoyed working undercover, the thrill, the secretiveness of it all; nobody knowing who she was, what her agendas were. It filled Kate Beckett with a sensation of power like nothing she'd felt before.

And she'd done some acting in high school, enough to enjoy role-playing.

But tonight-

Today her father came out of rehab. Sober. Finally. He'd called her earlier, had told her he didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but she'd been planning on buying him dinner, maybe showing up at the house - and then she'd been asked on this case.

She couldn't say no. They needed a good-looking woman, and better yet, someone who could speak a little Russian to go undercover, and Kate's name had come up, even though she was only a uniform. Little more than nothing.

You couldn't refuse such an offer, not if you wanted to make detective some day.

Beckett chewed on her lower lip, caught herself doing so in the mirror and stopped. She took one last, steadying breath, and she stepped out of the bathroom, swaying her hips, pressing her lip-glossed mouth together.

She was now Anya Ivanova, twenty years old, a Russian immigrant who'd reached New York's streets a year ago, and worked, these days, for the pimp and drug dealer Antonio Velasquez.

That is, if she could get inside his new nightclub, Russian Angels.

"Again, Beckett. What's the plan?"

She let out an inaudible sigh, but kept a careful lid on her irritation, because she was only 24 and this guy, Miles Osborne, was a Vice detective about twice her age, who was rather fond of reminding her he'd been at the precinct when she was still in kindergarten.

(She'd done the math, found that it was, unfortunately, true).

"I go in as Anya, look around, talk to people, gather as much information as I can about Antonio Velasquez and alleged underage prostitutes," she recited.


"I take no chances, try to stay unnoticed, get out if anything goes wrong."

Osborne narrowed his clear blue eyes at her. "This is not a game, Beckett. I'm serious. I don't want my guys to have to go in there and pull you out."

"They won't," she promised calmly, her chin raised, trying to project as much confidence as she could. She could feel the eyes of the two other guys on her, a detective from Narcotics called Robinson, and Osborne's partner, a sturdy, younger black guy that she rather liked. Johnson was strong and quiet, something in his eyes that made you want to trust him.

"Good," Osborne said. "You have the earpiece. If you're ready, off you go."

Beckett turned and grabbed her purse from the only free stool, gave one last glance to the surveillance van, the men huddled inside it. "See you in a couple hours," she said, and she opened one of the back doors, stepped outside.

Her high heels clicked against the pavement, sharp and clear, and they did almost as much for her confidence as the small gun hidden at her inside thigh.

Beckett made her way to the bar and dropped her empty glass onto the wooden countertop, worked hard not to roll her eyes when she felt a hand against her ass.

Wasn't the first, wouldn't be the last.

She turned slowly, rearranging her expression to convey what she hoped was interest and seduction, rather than the annoyance and frustration that battled in her chest.

So far, the undercover operation was a complete fiasco. She'd been let inside the club, which was good, but her earpiece had stopped working about thirty minutes ago; she'd been on her own since then, trying without success to sneak into the back room, get a glimpse of the pimp they were looking for.

Beckett was tired, hungry; she wanted it to be over so she could go to her dad's.

Little chance of that happening now.

"Hey there." The man with the wandering hands grinned. He had a narrow face, tight, curly hair, and tattoos spread over his muscular shoulders; his accent was Russian, she thought, but couldn't be sure.

"Hi," she said, dropping her voice and her eyelashes on purpose. She was supposed to be twenty years old, after all, and shyness appealed to a certain type of man.

Wandering Hands seemed to be one of them. He leered at her, eyes arrested by her chest for what seemed a ridiculously long time until he reached out for her, brought her closer with his hands on her waist.

"So what's your name, babe?"

Beckett wanted to roll her eyes at the moniker, but she glanced up at him instead, let a timid smile stretch her lips. "Anya," she offered.

"Anya. Ain't that lovely. Well I'm Paul, Anya. Very nice to meet you." He kept her hand between his for a while, and she could feel the perspiration that coated his palms. He was a little drunk, obviously, but she wondered if there was more to the unfocused look in his eyes.

"You work here?" he asked, gesturing to the club, the people dancing to the heavy beat of techno.

She shook her head, just once.

"No?" He didn't seem surprised; he probably was a regular, and he had never seen her around.

"I usually work at - other club," she said, lifting a hand to smooth her hair. "Downtown."

She had her whole story ready, all the names carefully memorized, but she was still relieved when he dropped the subject. His hand was stroking her hip, up and down, an irritating pattern, and he asked in a low voice, "So tell me, Anya. What do you do?"

She eyed the man, tried to decide whether he was likely to have some sort of personal connection to the pimp she was looking for. If he was a regular - maybe it was worth a try.

"I do whatever you like," she said, batting her lashes at him, reaching slowly for the strap of her bra. She caught it between two fingers and dragged it down the roundness of her shoulder, so he wouldn't mistake her meaning.

Paul's eyes were wide, his pupils dilated, his breathing shallow as he watched her.

Ugh. Men.

"Do you now," he muttered, but it wasn't really a question.

He was all too eager to believe her.

"Uh-huh," she whispered anyway, twisting her hips as she shifted from one foot to another, making him take notice of her legs, the crazy high heels. She needed more practice wearing them; she had almost twisted her ankle in the stairs back at the precinct.

The man leaned in and Beckett prepared herself, wiped her face clean of any emotion - Anya didn't feel disgust. Anya didn't feel anything. But he didn't kiss her; he put his mouth at her ear and asked quietly, "And how much will whatever I like cost me?"

Maybe he wasn't as drunk as she'd imagined.

She looked at him, smiled slyly. "Real bargain for you."

Paul laughed, his heavy, moist breath fanning her temple, and he stood up, a hand at the small of her back.

Great. Seemed like she'd convinced him.

"Let's go somewhere more...private," he told her, and she gave a little nod of agreement, followed him to the back, trying to keep her triumph from showing.

Finally, finally, she was getting somewhere.

Or so she'd thought.

There were several rooms in the back of the club; it was much larger than she'd expected, and some part of her wanted to strangle the guys in Vice for not being able to give her more accurate information.

The two stocky, impassible men who watched the door had let them in, one of them giving a long, suspicious look to Beckett until Paul had declared somewhat aggressively, "She's with me."

At least there was that. She'd been right; Paul did have connections at the club.

But the tight grip of his hand on her wrist as she followed him inside, the flash of lust in his eyes every time he looked back at her-

They made her stomach clench. What had she gotten herself into?

It wasn't like Beckett had never worked undercover for Vice before. She had, twice, and everybody'd told her what a great job she'd done, but she'd been acting as bait, had been surrounded by a team, and she hadn't had much to do then. Not a lot of touching going on.

This - getting dragged into the back room of a nightclub that was infamous for its ties to prostitution and drugs - this was new. And although Beckett knew she had the means of knocking Paul out, if it came down to it, she didn't know where the emergency exits were, didn't know how the other patrons would react.


She pretended to tuck her hair behind her ear, a cover move to press her fingertips to the earpiece, silently begging for the thing to resume working. No such luck.

What was she supposed to do? Forget about it and get out? That's probably what Detective Osborne would have wanted her to do, but-

Hell no. She'd spent almost two hours in that club trying to gain access to Velasquez; she was not about to stop now that she was close. Well. Closer, anyway.

No, Kate Beckett wouldn't walk away just because things were getting a little hot.

Paul made them walk through a smoke-filled room that had tables and banquettes, and a good deal of people probably engaged in various illegal activities; she scanned the space, hoping to catch a glimpse of Velasquez if he was even here.

But they were going too fast, and she couldn't ask Paul to slow down, not if she wanted to stay inconspicuous. So she gritted her teeth and squinted her eyes, paid attention to the layout of the club instead – at least she'd have some valuable information to take back to her team.

Then they were in the next room, where the lights were much dimmer, and before she could even find her bearings Beckett felt herself swung around, her back hitting the wall with a dull sound, her head following. Ouch, that hurt-

She had no time to recover, though, because Paul was on her, hands and mouth and teeth, ugh, his body pressed close enough that she could feel the hard bulge in his jeans, and shit, that was not the plan.

Not the plan.

She pushed back with all her strength, managed to unstick him from her for a few precious seconds; her head swam and she cursed inwardly, had to catch herself on the nearest chair. Paul's hand closed over her bicep, clawing hard enough to hurt.

"What's going on, babe?" he whispered, anger swelling at the back of his voice. "You said anything I wanted-"

Kate looked up at him, saw the threat in his cold, empty eyes, and her answers died on her tongue. Shit, shit, she'd underestimated the guy.

She snuck a glance around, scanning for help, a weapon, a way out. Anything. The room was dark and mostly empty, apart from two couples, a girl on her knees in front of a man who must have been at least fifty, and two people who were literally wrapped around each other, backed into a corner. None of them likely to help.

"Answer me, bitch," Paul growled, his other hand shooting up to close at her neck, cutting off her air. Okay. She'd had enough.

Beckett drew her right arm back, sent it flying into the man's chest before he could choke her; the heel of her hand met his solar plexus with a dull thump and he stumbled backwards, releasing her at once.

She touched her fingers to her throat, grateful for that first, lovely breath of air, the way it flowed into her body like cool water. Paul was wheezing on the ground, but also sitting up, pushing on his forearms. Time to get out.

She detoured around him, a hand skimming over the wall as much for balance as much as guidance, and paused when she got to the door they'd come in through.

She cast another glance around the room, hoping for the red, saving light of a safety exit, but there was none that she could find. Only way out was the one they had come in through.

Damn it.

Paul was stumbling on his feet now, and she couldn't afford one more second of hesitation; she just pushed the flimsy curtain aside and went back into the brighter, more crowded room where she'd hoped to catch a glimpse of Velasquez.

Too late for that now, she thought, and she was making a beeline for the door when a drunken man launched himself at her, knocking her off-course, sending her - once more - swinging against the wall.

That was one too many times, and she grimaced when her elbow knocked into the concrete, her head nearly following. What the hell-

"You are so pretty," the man bawled, drooling all over her, obviously not disturbed by the fact that he was now sprawled all over the floor.

Kate pushed on him, tried to get her vision to focus. "Get off me," she said, grinding her teeth and remembering Paul. Oh, for god's sake, if that drunkard got her into more trouble-

"Let. Go." she hissed, gathering her strength to push at him. But the man was heavy, and comfortable it seemed, and Beckett felt the clutch of panic at her insides.

No, no, she could do this-

"I think the lady asked you to let her go," a voice said above them, a strong, steady voice that was heaven to her ears because it wasn't Paul's.

In the next second, the drunkard was rolled off her, a warm hand met hers, and she was pulled up to her feet by a man with very, very blue eyes. For a moment it was all she could notice, but then his face registered and she thought is that-?

Before she could make sure, however, the voice of her former 'customer' broke her out of her trance. "Where's that bitch?" he yelled from somewhere much too close.

"Shit," she whispered, and the blue-eyed man looked at her with interest, one of his eyebrows arching.

"I take it that by that bitch he means you?"

She pressed her lips together without answering, turned her back on him, heading back to the main room, the anonymity of the dance floor.

"Hey, wait!" Oh, jeez. At least he wasn't trying to stop her; he only followed her to the passage that led back into the club, caught up with her when she wavered for a second, reluctant to leave the back room that had been so hard to get into.

But she had no choice.

"You work here?" the man with the blue eyes asked again, reminding her of his annoying presence. She ignored him and slipped between the two watchdogs, quickly mixed into the dancing crowd.

Don't look back, don't look back.

Paul would forget about her soon enough, but right now the last thing he needed was to look around the nightclub and meet her eyes. She heard a commotion, though, and raised voices, and just as she got to the edge of the dance floor she couldn't help herself.

She looked back.

One of the bouncers was holding the man who had helped her - she would not call him Richard Castle; it couldn't be him. It just couldn't. The guy was obviously trying to talk his way out of whatever mess he'd made for himself, and Kate watched, entranced, as he succeeded.

The bouncer let go of him, mouthed something that was obviously a threat, and pushed Castle - no, no, the blue-eyed man - towards the exit. Beckett felt a surge of relief, although she shouldn't have cared, didn't care, and she followed the two men to the door, light as a shadow.

She waited until the door was closed again, the bouncer back in his place, before she finally stepped into the cold, dark night.

Osborne would be furious at her.

Osborne wasn't waiting for her at the door, though.

The man was.

Richard Castle, she thought again, and there was simply no denying it this time. She's spent enough hours staring longingly at the jacket of his books, wondering if his smile felt just as warm and wonderful in real life.

What on earth was the man doing in a club like Russian Angels? Her favorite author. Damn it, she didn't care-

"You okay?" he said, gentler somehow than she'd have expected, his voice soft as he moved towards her.

She moved back.

"I'm fine," she declared coolly. "I can take care of myself, thank you." In case her words hadn't been clear enough, she folded her arms in front of her chest. The air was chilly, though, and she had goosebumps, and of course he had to notice.

She didn't realize, didn't comprehend what he was doing until he was draping his jacket over her shoulders, and then she jerked back, the fabric almost sliding to the ground if it hadn't been for Castle's quick reflexes.

"What are you doing?"

Hell, she needed to get back to the van, not stay here like an idiot, staring into blue eyes that looked so much darker in the faint glow of streetlights.

"Giving you my jacket. You're obviously freezing," he shot back with both eyebrows raised, not fazed by her reaction.

"I don't-" she bit her lip, couldn't for the life of her understand this man. "Jeez, keep the jacket. It's yours. I need to go anyway."

"Go where?"

She'd half turned away, but he came in between her and the street where the van was waiting, something so eager, so curious in his expression.

"That's none of your business," she said shortly, some part of her horrified that she was saying these words to her favorite author. But that was the thing - the whole situation was surreal, and she had no idea how to deal with it.

She was tired, and with tired came snarky, and it couldn't be helped.

He seemed delighted with her answer, anyway. "You're not really a hooker, are you?" he said, eyes intent on her, and she almost congratulated him, asked him if he wanted a prize.

Instead she sighed, rolled her eyes, tried to sidestep him. He moved along with her.

"Who are you?"

Oh, Jesus.

"Go home, Mr. Castle." The moment the words left her mouth, she closed her eyes in dismay. Damn, how stupid could she be?

His face practically lit up. "You know me."

And there it was. "Might have read one of your books," she muttered, hoped he would leave it at that.

"Seriously?" He laughed, and ugh, it was a beautiful sound that uncurled something deep in her stomach. "I'm not that famous. You'd have to have spent some time staring at my biography to actually know me in the street."

Do not blush, Kate.

"I have to go," she repeated, but her legs seemed to be rooted to the spot.

"You're not a hooker," he said again, and there was entirely too much fascination in that rich voice. He stepped close again, and this time she stayed where she was, couldn't have moved her feet to save her life.

"It's too bad," he sighed laughingly. "I would have paid-" he let his eyes roam over her, and somehow it was not nearly as creepy now as it had been back in the bar with Paul, "a lot of money, to be allowed to kiss that mouth."

She did her best to hide her responsive shiver; she wasn't sure it worked.

"I'm trying hard not to be insulted," she said, but her voice wasn't that firm anymore.

He looked thoughtful. "Oh. Probably not my best compliment. Sorry. That's what happens when I've spent the whole night trying to put words on a mood or an attitude. I just - all the good words are gone."

Trying to put words-

"You were in there for inspiration," she realized finally, stupid relief kicking in her chest. Really, Kate.

"Ah, wouldn't call it inspiration, but authenticity, definitely." He winked at her, dear god, and she found herself canting towards him. Job. Remember, you have a job.

"I really have to go," she said, horrified at the honest regret that shone through her voice. It was one in the morning, she was freezing, and she needed to get home. Not - not have a conversation about books and authenticity with Richard freaking Castle.

"I don't even know your name," he complained, and there was something slightly ridiculous, but also adorable to his pouty mouth.

"Kate," she found herself murmuring, against all reason.

"Kate," he repeated slowly, as if savoring it. "I like it. Kate."

He looked at her with a smile, his eyes crinkling like they did on that book jacket, and leaned in; for a breathless, stunned second, she was certain he was going to kiss her.

But his lips only brushed her cheek, lingered for a long moment before he straightened up. "It was lovely meeting you, Kate."

He took out his phone, a fancy thing that could probably do a hundred things besides calling and texting, and he told her, "I'm calling a cab, if you want to share-"

She shook her head. "I've got mine. Thanks."

He started talking to someone at the taxi company, his eyes finally leaving hers, focusing on some faraway part of the street, and Beckett took her chance.

She fled.