just a bit of pre-relationship fun based on a prompt given to me so long ago i can't even remember what it was. it involved a forest, though. thanks, olly, for the idea and for your help.

Yeah, she's mad. The ground beneath her squishes with each step, the hem of her jeans dark with rainwater. When she trips on a limb and her fast pace is temporarily interrupted, she lets out a groan of frustration Castle knows is directed at him rather than the debris.

Beckett kicks the offending branch back so it lands right in front of him. He doesn't even flinch. By his count, that's the third time she's intentionally left booby-traps in his path in the last half hour. After three years worth of early morning calls, he should have anticipated this grumpy behavior at 8AM on a Saturday.

But it's worth it. She's pissed, sweaty and flushed, white shirt clinging to her in a way he really appreciates, and it makes it more than a little difficult to watch where he's going when he can see her bra and the outline of everything he's ever imagined under her skintight jeans.

In his defense, he did warn her to dress for the outdoors.

"You can stop ogling and start planning your funeral if you don't figure out where the hell we are in the next two seconds."

How does she do that?

"Uh, Beckett, that's not exactly a reasonable timeframe-" Oh, that glare can only mean I will shoot you and enjoy it. "I think it's up here and to the right." He gestures with his hand, quickly jerking it back to his side when she eyes it like a football.

She's instantly back in motion, and how can he be held accountable for the way his eyes always stray back to her when she's dressed like this? It's the LA t-shirt all over again, and all he can think of is Poke you? I want to kiss you, but in this case he's pretty certain she'd choose bodily harm rather than the outpouring of physical affection he deserves for inviting her along on his hunt for the remains of the UFO he saw falling out of the sky last night.

He'd been driving around after dropping his daughter off at the airport when he noticed it, and it had taken everything in him not to drag Beckett out of bed to search right then. So maybe he'd woken her early on her day off, but come on. The government acts fast; they had to act faster.

They find themselves on an unfrequented trail, bushes crowding what little foot space there is, and Beckett's face turns another shade of red at the challenge. "Enough is enough," she finally snaps, and honestly he expected it to happen an hour ago when she strongly expressed her distaste for his hummed rendition of the X-files theme song.

He scans ahead, glad for the sunglasses he'd thrown in a bag on his way out of the door this morning. "But Beckett, we have to be close by now."

"That's because we've walked through the entire freaking forest." She swipes a hand across her forehead, heaving chest betraying just how unprepared she'd been for an early morning expedition. He's too high on adrenaline to feel the same way.

"Which is why we can't give up now - not after all of this effort." Just a little farther and they'll have proof of alien existence. His stomach does a flip.

"Castle, give it up, okay? There is no UFO."

"Well, not anymore. Now it's a UCO."

She arches an eyebrow out of habit rather than genuine curiosity, but he's kind enough to fill her in anyway. "Unidentified crashed object."

Beckett snorts in exasperation. "There is absolutely nothing to find out here but poison ivy and mosquitos."

He frowns. "I know what I saw. If you don't believe me, why are you here?"

His eyes hone in on the way she sucks her lower lip into her mouth in discomfort. "Let's just go."

She steps back in the direction they came, but he blocks her path. Not the smartest move, considering she could maim him with a dead leaf if she wanted. "Not until you tell me why you agreed to come along."

"I'd hardly call it agreeing," she mutters, moving around him without so much as a sideways glance.

"We both know I could never make you do anything you didn't want to do. So, why did you join me?" He mulls it over for only a half second before his face lights up. "Beckett, there are only two reasons you would have given in. Either you wanted to spend time with me, or you actually believe there might be a fallen UFO."

She crosses her arms and looks over his shoulder, back behind her, anywhere to avoid his eyes. "Just 'til the end of this path, and then we're turning back."

Castle nods a little too smugly, reading into her silence and accepting what she'll give. Even five more minutes means a chance to prove to her that he isn't in need of medical help. (She's really, really grumpy before she's had her morning coffee).

"I'm flattered," he stage whispers as he passes her, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the gut.

This time he leads the way, and while he's disappointed he doesn't get the good view anymore, he decides it's better that he's no longer distracted from the task at hand. It takes all of one's focus to spot the signs of a government cover-up.

Heavy blankets of sodden leaves coat the ground and hinder their progress, but at least Beckett has stopped swearing under her breath. (Turns out she's just as fond of her nice running shoes as she is her heels. He feels sorry for any aliens they might come across.)

They duck under a branch and reach the end of the path, planting them in an area in the middle of nowhere, trees clumped haphazardly and giving no sign of where to go next.

Worst of all, there is no crash site.

He scratches his head and spins around, searching fruitlessly for footprints or metal shards. Wait, what material do aliens use to build spacecrafts? That's embarrassing. He should know-

"It isn't here." Beckett almost sounds disappointed. "Over two hours of walking through this damn forest, and nothing." After a huge sigh and a few moments of silence (during which he's a bit scared, because this isn't normal silence - this is creepy Beckett assassin silence), she plops down with her back against a trunk, ignoring the cold water seeping through her jeans.

"I really did see it," he grunts as his body slides down next to hers. "Flashing lights and everything."

"Next time you're lonely because Alexis is visiting her mom in California, can we just grab lunch like normal people?"

Castle turns to face her so fast he nearly gets whiplash. She looks at him with the sympathy he only ever sees directed toward victims, and his fingertips vibrate with want, urging him to curl his hand around hers and take in the comfort she offers. Instead, he gives half of a smile and throws in a light, "But this is more fun."

She opens her mouth to tease him - he can tell because she already looks so damn pleased with whatever witty retort she's conjured up - when something catches her eye. "Castle, what is that?"

Nice try. Not falling for this one. "Ha, ha, Beckett."

She practically yanks him to his feet, pointing near a clump of flowers slightly to the left and glaring at him until he gives in and decides to play the game.

He follows the line of her outstretched finger, fully expecting to find a snack bar wrapper at the most, and nearly chokes on a quick inhalation when he realizes what they're looking at is most definitely better than trash.

It's metal gleaming in the sunlight, and he rushes at it with no shame. Beckett, somewhat less enthused, trails slowly behind him. "So?" she asks, and maybe it's just his excitement, but she almost sounds hopeful.

It takes a second to size up the disfigured shard, but then it clicks. "A key to the spacecraft!" he proclaims. Maybe she won't strangle him if he gives her a friendly, celebratory hug.

Beckett props one hand on her hip and eyes the discovery like she wants to interrogate it, and he decides he doesn't want to find out. "I highly doubt they would use conventional keys, Castle."

"Discarded surgical tool?"


"Piece of the landing gear?"

"Wouldn't support much."

"I said 'piece of', Beckett. Obviously it wouldn't hold up the entire thing." He gives her a disappointing shake of the head - come on, he thought she was the detective here?

"I got it," he assures her. "This must have fallen off of the control unit, stranding them on a foreign planet. They were sitting ducks." Excitement blooms in her eyes at the sound of his storytelling voice, and she lets it shine through, willing to share what she normally hides behind a mask of feigned disinterest.

"The government swooped in and removed any trace of their arrival," he continues, reveling in the way her body cants toward his. "This is the sole surviving evidence of their existence, Beckett. Do you know what this means?"

She steps back, breaking the spell, and there goes that arched eyebrow again. "That you'll be the proud owner of a dirty keychain if you find the missing half?"

He clutches it to his chest. "Shun the non-believer."

"Charlie the Unicorn? Really?"

The sound of his gulp can be heard by all of the surrounding woodland animals and extraterrestrials, because a Beckett that watches pointless YouTube videos? Hot. Really hot.

"Pick up your jaw and lead the way home," she instructs with a tiny hint of a smile.

"Fine, but I'm taking this with me." No way in hell is it leaving his sight. There's a 99% chance this small clearing is being monitored - he mentally kicks himself for not having the foresight to think up codenames - and he's not taking anymore risks.

She crinkles her nose. "You're not bringing that thing inside my apartment."

"It isn't going to activate and spring into deadly action, Beckett." Not that he's thought of that possibility. It's completely ludicrous. (Maybe it would be smart to keep it locked up.)

She gives him her patented duh look. "I'm more concerned about germs. You don't know where that's been." Her hand pops up to stop his comment right as he opens his mouth. "Don't say outer space."

His mouth hangs agape for a moment before he can rearrange his features into a pout. "I guess we can drop it off at the loft first." He knows some pretty good hiding places from his days of playing laser tag with Alexis where no one will think to search.

"Good. While you're there, you can change clothes. You smell."

"You're no bed of roses yourself," he says to her back as she looks around for signs of where they entered the clearing.

At her glare, he kind of hopes the government is watching. Maybe men in black will step out of the woods and save him before Beckett can get in a good ear twist.

When she doesn't make a move toward him, he releases the breath he's been holding, smiling timidly even as she continues shooting invisible death rays from her eyes. "I'll look over here and you look over there?"

"You don't remember how we got here?" The vein in her forehead doubles in size.

Castle discretely rubs the piece of metal in his hands, wishing for some mystical powers to call back the aliens to abduct him. Whatever they do is bound to be less painful than what his angry partner is planning. "No? But I do remember seeing a log shaped like Arnold Schwarzenegger."

"I'm not joking with you right now, Castle." It's a threat, and he figures he has maybe thirty seconds before he finds out what exactly is at stake if he doesn't get them out of here.

He wisely picks a direction and convinces her it's not a guess.

They do eventually make it back to her car. It takes less than an hour. Her anger is oddly motivational, Castle discovers. Beckett's glares burn, actually burn the back of his skull, he's sure of it.

Castle also discovers how 30-some years of life can flash before your eyes really, really quickly.

But even with that he can't bring himself to regret a single moment of their expedition. He's walking away with the memory of her in a sweaty white shirt and an invitation back to her place, not to mention part of an alien spacecraft.

He's not certain she's aware she invited him over, but he has you're not bringing that thing inside my apartment memorized. Naturally he chooses to ignore her stipulation.

It's a relief when she doesn't push the issue and drives straight past his loft, if only because Martha is entertaining a rather large group of her actor friends. His usual game of guessing how much repairs will cost based solely on the muffled sounds of crashes and cheering is not nearly as much fun as an evening with Beckett, even if she is harboring some resentment. He can work with that.

They enter her apartment and she stops him with a hand to his chest before he can take another step. "Do not sit on my couch. I wasn't kidding earlier. You stink."

"But Beckett, I don't have any other clothes!"

She huffs and disappears into her bedroom. Castle seriously considers following her, but thinks better of it when the image of his dead body on her floor pops into his head. She would make it painful, too. He winces.

Beckett reappears with a towel before his imagination can get too carried away. She lays it out on the cushions and sinks into them with a satisfied moan.

He isn't sure if it's an invitation, but this whole day has been a series of poorly calculated risks, so he chances it, his thigh pressing flush against hers. If the way she closes her eyes and rests her head on his shoulder is anything to go by, she doesn't seem to mind.

Wow. This couch must have magical powers. Beckett is no longer giving off I will kill you as soon as I decide where to hide your body vibes. They have morphed into more of move and you will pay vibes. He prefers these. He really does. Even if it means he has to sit here quietly.

He's actually pretty proud of himself for not disturbing her peace for two whole minutes when her voice breaks the silence. "Want to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" he replies reflexively, sighing when she says nothing more. Damn her ability to draw confessions from the most unwilling of people. "I haven't heard from Alexis all week, aside from a few texts here and there. It isn't like her. I'm worried."

"You're worried, or you're jealous of Meredith?" She opens her eyes in time to catch his look of shock. "Come on, Castle. You know she's fine. Meredith might be flighty and irresponsible, but she would never let anything happen to Alexis."

He hums at that, letting her words sink in. The silence is too confronting, though, too intimate with his partner so much closer than she ever lets herself be.

"But what if the aliens landed there, too? Meredith is wildly unprepared for an attack."

Beckett snorts, but sobers when she sees not even his own joke can lighten up his face. Nudging his shoulder with her own, she waits for him to meet her eyes and smiles softly. "If that happens, I'll fight the alien forces with you. I have a gun, remember?"

The corner of his mouth pulls up at that. "Thank you. For today."

She nods and relaxes back into the couch, shutting her eyes again. Her head is even closer this time, her exhales cooling the skin of his neck. All of the tension leaves his body as he focuses on the sound of their synchronized breathing.

It's starting to lull him to sleep when she speaks. "Don't think I didn't notice you sneak that thing into my apartment, Castle." She lightly pokes his side in accusation.

Since she's not looking he has to give her his puppy dog voice instead of puppy dog eyes. "But it's okay because I'm sad."

"You're lucky I'm too exhausted to be threatening."

"My plan worked!"

Her laughter sends vibrations through his side. "Don't get used to it."


He means always.