"Here." Esposito firmly thrust a white carton of food into his partner's hands.
"Espo, where the hell have you been?" Beckett's eyes were narrowed as she noticed the takeout container and glared. She gestured towards the floor where the half naked corpse of a young woman lay. A sheet covered her lower half. "We're at a crime scene if you didn't notice before, not the school cafeteria."
"Yeah it's kind of hard to not notice where we are," Castle interjected, his face tightly screwed - his disgust obvious. "What on earth is that smell? It's eerily reminiscent of the time mother tried her hand at cooking and ended up accidentally sautéing one of Alexis' Barbies."
"That smell would be the victim – well, mostly," Lanie said, breaking the group's close knit huddle, clipboard in hand. "Judging by the amount of decay she's been dead for over a week. That burnt plastic smell on the other hand, well that's another story. This place used to be a recycling center before a fire a few years back. Looks like the killer figured people wouldn't be shocked if they smelled something bad coming from this general direction."
"Do we have a cause of death?" Beckett asked.
Lanie shook her head. "Not yet. While there is a good deal of damage to the body it appears to all be postmortem. I won't have a better idea until I run the usual tests. But in the meantime," she stopped to turn and face Ryan, a questioning look on her features. "What is up with you today? You've been here an hour and haven't said one word. I don't even get a hello?"
"Hi Lanie," Ryan said glumly. His cheeks were flushed a gruesome hue of pasty white and it appeared that he was doing all he could to avoid eye contact.
"He's sick," Esposito chimed in. Ryan glared.
"I'm not sick," he hissed angrily.
Esposito's brow arched. "Oh really?" Flicking the takeout carton with his finger, he stared his partner directly in the eyes. "Fried shrimp in chili garlic, bro. I got you you're favorite."
Ryan stared at the box of food awkwardly. "I'm not hungry."
"Yes you are because if I heard you correctly in the car ride over here, you haven't eaten anything today – which by the way, Beckett," Esposito added on a side note, swiveling to face detective, "is where I was when you asked. Either Princess here is extra cranky because he didn't get his Wheaties this morning or he just needs to admit to being sick."
"Ryan, if you're sick then just go home," Beckett said simply.
Ryan's mouth turned into a furious looking frown and his grip tightened against the carton of Chinese food, nearly breaking it between his fingertips. "I'm not sick," he muttered, his voice practically croaking from frustration.
Esposito tilted his head to the side with a slight jerk, his lips pursing as he crossed his arms against his chest. "Then eat. Because I can't take another hour let alone an entire day with you if you're going to act like some whiny chick on a diet."
Ryan stared down at the white box in his hand, clearly deliberating his options. Heaving a loud sigh, he pried the top open. "Fine, whatever."
"Here." Esposito handed him a plastic fork which Ryan used to promptly dig into the food.
They could all practically see his stomach turning as he shoved the first mouthful between his teeth, but he did his best to keep up whatever it was that he was trying to keep up. Swallowing – though it seemed to take far longer than usual – he bared his clean tongue and presented his empty mouth.
"There, Javi. Happy?"
Esposito just shook his head. "Whatever, bro."
"Aren't they just the cutest little married couple?" Lanie smirked as she shared a knowing glance with Beckett who returned the grin.
"Watch yourself Lanie," Javier warned.
Lanie sighed melodramatically. "You're no fun."
"Speaking of couples." Esposito cleared his throat loudly, embarrassed. "Real couples," he clarified quickly as he realized he had just lumped himself and Ryan into the previous equation. "What are you two doing for your big anniversary tonight?" His gaze switched back and forth between that of Beckett and Castle, eyebrows waggling with intrigue.
"Oh you know, the usual. Jetting off to Paris to watch the sunset," Castle assured roguishly. "Nothing too extravagant, of course."
"Don't joke, Castle." Beckett smiled, squeezing her beau's arm gently. "I just might hold you to that."
"Yes well, while my bank account is generously larger than it used to be, I'm afraid it's still not quite that large."
Lanie pursed her lips playfully as she gave Beckett a knowing look before shooting Esposito a coy grin. "I told you size mattered."
All eyes shifted to Esposito.
"What?" He bristled. "Don't act surprised."
"Right. Well, I'm going to interject here before this gets weirder than it already has," Castle said, his face scrunching at the thought of what had just been shared with them. "Anniversary plans are a surprise and will remain that way until I pick Kate up tonight at a very secret and very special location that she has yet to be notified of."
"How very 007 of you, Castle." Beckett's smile was flirty yet genuine.
"Yes, well I don't know if you know this but they based him off of me."
Castle grinned. "It was worth a shot."
"Detective Beckett," a voice rang out from amongst the crowd of officers surrounding the body. "We're done here. Are we okay to move the body?"
Beckett nodded, turning to face the group of cops as she motioned with her hands towards the throng of cars waiting nearby. "Let's get her on the slab so Lanie can take a closer look. I want cause of death before we dig too much further into anything else." She turned towards Castle. "Are you going to ride back with the guys?"
Castle winced as though he was half expecting her to blow up in his face. "Do you mind?"
"Of course not." She planted a quick kiss against his cheek, careful that anyone who didn't know their sweet little secret was watching. "See you in a few." Pausing, she glanced over at Ryan who was still working on his box of food and looking more miserable by the minute. "If I see you back at the precinct looking like this I will personally drag you home and shove you into bed. Are we clear?"
"Hey!" Castle feigned hurt. "You're not shoving anyone into bed unless it's me." His eyes glimmered mischievously at the mere thought. "I can see it now. A little rough and tumble. A scuffle of sorts. Who knows, Beckett - could be fun."
"And on that note, I'm out of here. Kev, you comin'?" Esposito motioned towards the car, and quickly both men dispersed from the scene.
Lanie glanced around uncomfortably. "Oh what's that?' She grabbed her cellphone, quite obviously pretending that a call had come through the blank screen was visible to all those around. "Of course," she continued, holding up a gloved finger as she nodded towards both Beckett and Castle. "Of course," she repeated. "I'll be right there." Mouthing an apologetic "sorry", she didn't even both to pretend hanging up as she scurried off into the distance.
Castle seemed confused. "Are we really that couple? You know, the one that makes everyone around them feel icky and awkward?"
Beckett shook her head with a wry grin. "I wouldn't say 'we' in this particular instance, Castle. I'm pretty sure this one was all on you."
"Yo Castle – you comin'?" Esposito's voice rang out over the crowd from the driver side window of the squad car, his hand thumping against the outside of the door.
Castle waved his fingers in response, turning to face Beckett as he slid his hand gently across her face in a sweet caress. "Tonight," was all he said. He spoke softly and with an intense directness that made Beckett feel like everything around her was just for show – that the only thing that mattered was right there in front of her face, holding her cheek.
He dashed off, ducking into the backseat of the car.
She should have made him wait. She should have made him stay. She should have held him tighter, felt his hot breath on her neck just a little longer. She should have kissed him deeper – oh she could just melt into that kiss of his and never leave.
But she didn't – and he was gone.
And she had no idea what was coming next.