AN: Many thanks to JSQ79 for reading this chapter over. NCIS and Bones fans out there, go read her work. Go. Now.
I dedicate this chapter to brookemopolitan, and she knows why.
Chapter Thirteen: Ice Breaking
He couldn't believe she was here. He'd waged a silent battle with himself for much of last night (because sleep did not come easy) not to open the door to the spare room and check that she was actually there. If his mother could see him now, she'd undoubtedly shake her head and laugh. She'd chastise him for being suspicious, unbelieving of reality, while on the other hand, always, actively, being receptive, encouraging of the fantastical. For Richard Castle, the presence, the reality of Kate Beckett, was going to take some getting used to.
Take this morning, for example. It was the way she read the newspaper, while at the same time scrambling eggs and regaling him with funny stories from the Twelfth – stories he'd missed so much – that had him questioning reality. Then later, once the sun had lost the sting of its power, they'd gone for a walk along the beach, and she had undone her sloppily arranged ponytail and shaken out her long hair, letting the sea breeze rush through the honeyed brown strands. And just a few moments ago, when she kissed him on the cheek and told him that this day was one of the best days of her life. See? Reality didn't work that way. Reality couldn't possibly feel this good.
Castle carried their empty wine glasses through to the kitchen and rinsed them in the sink. They'd gotten through the best part of a bottle of red each. And they had talked. Really talked. They picked over the evidence against Lafferty, about the upcoming trial, and they each spoke with quiet determination and confidence. Castle filled Kate in on Martha's whirlwind romance and about Alexis's trip and move to London. They didn't once talk about what all these changes meant for them but Castle was in no doubt that they would navigate those changes together.
And now she had gone to bed. Alone. He set the glasses upside down on the draining rack next to the sink and dried his hands on a towel. He wasn't sure what he should do, and what she might be expecting him to do, or say, about their sleeping arrangements. Last night, when she turned up at his door, she was exhausted, and they were both too wired, too clumsy around each other to do any more than live through the moment. He had shown her to the guest room, her hand in his as they walked, and she had smiled when he bent to place a kiss on her forehead. She looked up at him then, and he wondered if he should kiss her again, kiss her the way he wanted to, but he held back. Then she was closing the door and he was walking down the corridor and into his own bedroom.
Today they smiled easier, but they still weren't quite 'them'. It was odd, he thought, she had flown two thousand miles to be with him, and he was about to do the very same thing so that he could be with her, but now that physical distance wasn't an issue anymore, they couldn't seem to take that final step closer. They were being polite, tactful. There wasn't any banter. No snap and crackle, and definitely no pop. Banter, the way they did it, often meant they challenged the other person. They goaded, prodded, and flat out ridiculed each other, but that dynamic didn't lend itself to this careful reunion they had going on.
It was driving him nuts.
Castle tossed the towel onto the rack next to the wine glasses and made his way out of the kitchen and towards the bedrooms. He paused outside her door, his hand lightly gripping the handle, but then he walked the next few steps to his own room.
The Next Day
Beckett settled in comfortably on her sun lounger and took a deep, contented breath. She may have only been on the island for a couple of days, but with every passing minute she felt the tension slip away. The early afternoon sun felt amazing against her exposed skin, and she felt rested, calm and more than pleased to be free of her heavy winter coat and fur-lined boots. She flexed her toes, and the slight pull in her calf muscles felt good, warm, and supple. God, she adored the sun. It made everything better.
She looked around and smiled. Trust Castle to land on his feet. He may have had to flee his giant loft in New York, but this wasn't by any means a come down. The place was freaking perfection. The beach house was like something out of one of those crazy-expensive magazines that Lanie loved so much. An interior designer had obviously worked their magic on the inside, though they'd done so with a deft, understated touch that gave the appearance that the colour scheme, the furniture and drapes and cushions had been thrown together, and it was only by chance that they equalled something beautiful. The same could be said for the outside pool area. The rattan sun lounger she sat on was covered with light grey-and-white-striped cushions, the small poolside bar to her right was highly-polished teak, she guessed, and the large off-white non-slip tiles that covered the entire floor area provided crisp contrast to the deep blue of the large curvy swimming pool. It was pure Castle. It was tastefully flash and bold, but at the same time, calming and fun.
Just then, he wandered back into view. She wondered if he knew she was looking at him from behind her 'Jackie O' sunglasses. Could he see her eyes roaming his body as he strode towards her, wearing only those ridiculous pink and green Bermuda shorts and a smile? If he could, he didn't let on.
"Thought you might be thirsty, Detective."
She took the tall glass of chilled fruity pinkness and brought the black straw to her lips. It was delicious.
"Good?" He asked.
She nodded and took two more greedy sips.
"So, I've been thinking…" He pulled up a sun lounger and perched on the end of it, leaning in, his bare, tanned stomach level with her maroon painted toes. "It might be nice to go out somewhere tonight. There's a big parade and festival in town later. I thought maybe we could check it out."
"Are you asking me out on a date, Castle."
"A date, or a night out with a friend. It can be whatever you want."
He watched as she placed her hands at the sides of the sun lounger and reclined until she was fully horizontal. Then she stretched lazily - her injured arm resting at her side, her good arm raised above her head, bent at the elbow so that her forearm and hand dangled off the end, her fingers just centimetres from the tiled floor. He didn't even try to look away. Not even for a second. It simply wasn't going to happen. He was enjoying this game of cat and mouse they had going on. It was a marked change in gears from yesterday.
"Interesting", she said.
He continued to stare down at her; captivated by the way the word left her full lips in a soft and undoubtedly deliberate sigh. "So is that a "yes"? He managed.
"It's a yes."
Castle swallowed hard and hoped to god his tongue wasn't hanging out. Then he placed his own drink under the headrest of his lounger, to keep it as cool as possible, and walked over the pool. He chanced one more admiring look at her before diving into the perfectly still water. It was clear to him now: he was the mouse.
His tall frame speared through the blue, and with just a few hard kicks, he managed a length of the pool completely underwater. The whole time, he was trying to rid his mind of the sight of Beckett in that black bikini, stretching cat-like under the early afternoon sun. But it was a fruitless exercise. He knew it, and she knew it. He broke the surface of the water and without even looking in her direction he swam back the other way.
Beckett propped herself up on her elbow, now resting her injured arm on her stomach and watched as he swam lengths of the pool. His tanned, muscular arms cut into the water and eased out again. His freestyle kick was consistent, strong, and as she watched, she worried her bottom lip against her teeth. He was an excellent swimmer. She'd never tell him so, but this surprised her. Castle had never struck her as the sporty type. He was more interested in watching sport than taking part, but here he was doing fast laps of the pool like it was nothing. What else didn't she know about him? What other assumptions had she made that would turn out to be falsehoods? She was looking forward to finding out.
Maybe she'd start tonight, because they were going on a date, an honest-to-goodness date. It was cute the way he'd asked. He'd given her an 'out' - but while he might think she needed one, she knew she didn't. Two nights spent sleeping alone was enough. The first night she needed her space, the second night, she should've been clear about what she wanted.
Finally exhausted, Castle climbed out the pool and walked over to his sun lounger. Beckett was lying on her back, her massive glasses, which made her look like a beautiful fly, still in place. He wished she'd take them off. Maybe then he could read her better. He made a meal out of taking a seat, and in the process purposely shook droplets of water onto her bare stomach and thighs, which in turn made her squeal, sit up, remove her glasses and curse at him. Mission accomplished.
"Don't apologise when you know as well as I do that you did that on purpose."
"I didn't mean to get you wet, I promise."
"Well, you did. God, Castle", she said wincing as she smoothed her hands over her stomach and rubbed the cold droplets into her skin. "Look at me? I'm all wet now. Are you happy?"
When he said nothing in response, she looked at him. "What? What are you grinning at?"
"Nothing." He waggled his eyebrows and then slid his own sunglasses into place.
"Oh, I get it. You're twelve."
He said nothing more, just got himself settled on the lounger, laid back, and relaxed. He closed his eyes, expecting her to lie back down. When he didn't hear her moving, he peeked at her out the corner of his eye, half-expecting to see her standing over him, a bucket of ice water in her hands, but instead she was looking him over. Her eyes, now uncovered, slowly scanned his broad chest and settled somewhere around his navel.
"Take a picture. It'll last longer."
"What? Oh, shut-up, Castle."
"Just sayin'. Seeing as the sight of my bronzed, manly body is so absorbing, maybe you'd like to take a picture, so you'll be able to remember me, always."
"I've seen enough. Thank you."
"Yeah, I noticed."
"Like you haven't been staring at my boobs since I came out wearing this thing."
"Sure, I might have peeked a time or two."
"A time or two! I'm surprised you aren't cross-eyed."
"Maybe I am", he lifted up his sunglasses to reveal his crossed eyes.
Beckett threw her head back and laughed. He was ridiculous.
"What can I say? I like looking at you, Beckett."
"I like looking at you, too," she admitted shyly, but with an easy smile still firmly in place.
"Well okay, then."
This particular section of ice broken, they each held the other's stare for a few customary seconds longer than necessary, before Beckett picked up her glasses and put them back on. Then, she too, settled back on the sun lounger and closed her eyes. Moments later, she felt him touch her hand. His fingers covered her own, and she held on.
Thanks for reading. :)