Notes: No spoilers for anything unaired.

A few minor spoilers for Castle's books—nothing so big that will ruin them for you if you want to read them later.

Rating for moderate language and sexual content.

Follow me on Twitter to see story updates even when this site is being silly: RachelCAstrid. I also post behind-the-story sorts of things and about Castle and writing in general.

Disclaimer: Nikki and Rook belong to Richard Castle. Kate Beckett is just borrowing them for a while, and if they were hers, the Heat series wouldn't be "mystery/crime fiction."

Part One: A Better Writer

In the aftermath, she tried to retrace their steps to figure out where they'd gone wrong.

He'd just told her that she was extraordinary. Made her smile. How did the conversation possibly end with them charging off in opposite directions, him retreating into the crowd to rub elbows and sign cleavage while she ended up at the open bar?

The gentleman beside her attempted to strike up a conversation with her, but she was too distracted to hear him the first time or two. He was either very persistent or very lonely, and the look in his eye when Beckett finally processed his presence and quirked an eyebrow in his direction told her it could be a bit of both. Nonetheless, there was a warmth to him that she found attractive—not to mention the solid slope of his stubbly jaw and the depth of his brown eyes. Beckett wasn't looking for a man, but a little company at the bar couldn't hurt.

They chatted, questionable pickup line-something-something, and he nodded coolly toward Castle before the Man of the Hour fully disappeared into the throng. "You two aren't together?" he asked tentatively.

"God, no." They were particularly not-together after what happened between them. Kate gulped down half her drink in a flurry of irritation. She wasn't sure whether her annoyance was the bitter aftertaste from the spat or the fact that she was losing count of how many times she'd had to answer that stupid question. At least Castle wasn't around this time to chime in, "Not yet." He'd done it once before, and once was more than enough.

Her impromptu companion nodded, as though pleasantly surprised and yet not entirely sure that he could believe her.

Fine. She had no problem laying it on thick. "Writers," she grumbled, as though nothing in the world mattered more than telling anyone who would listen how much she did not like Richard Castle and his kind. "Pretentious and cocky. Is there anyone with a bigger ego?"

"I don't know." He looked thoughtful, considering her rhetorical question more thoroughly than it deserved. "Models?"

Funny. If she'd posed the question to Castle, he probably would have said con artists. Or CIA agents. Or con artists posing as CIA agents.

Beckett shook her head. They'd closed the Jenna McBoyd case two weeks ago, but she remembered the personalities they'd encountered all too well.

Sure, models needed confidence to be effective, and some like Sierra were undeniably cutthroat, but in Beckett's mind there was at least one major difference between a model and an author.

"No," she countered. "Any command they show on the runway is usually a reflection of the people who bark orders at them. They constantly defer to others; even the divas."

Her companion was unfazed. "So do writers." He took a swig of his drink and licked his lips. "Publishers, editors, agents, intended audience . . . They all have influence, right?"

"Maybe," she conceded half-heartedly, the bitterness still licking at the back of her throat, "but writers think they can go and create their own world, and then they have the audacity to think that anyone else wants to follow them into it."

Never mind the fact that, as an avid reader, Kate often did step willingly into the worlds of her favorite authors—including a certain shadow of hers. She'd already read more than enough of Heat Wave to know how little of her own reality made it into the novel. Case in point.

She glanced out to the crowd. Tonight's featured author was nowhere in sight. "They take the truth and twist it to their liking," she murmured.

"That may be so, but even fiction writers can be truth-tellers." The finality to his tone was not the sort that suggested that he'd just gotten the last word in a debate but simply that he was willing to let the conversation move on.

She was surprised to find that she was ready to let the conversation move on, too—that the bitterness was beginning to subside and that she was willing to keep sitting here with a drink and a man she had just met, like some sort of normal person.

Well, if she was going to spend the evening chatting with strangers, Beckett decided to take the reins. "So, what do you do when you're not at parties like these?"

He nodded lightly as though in approval of the change in subject; swallowed his last sip. "I run a coffeehouse."

She didn't frequent that scene, but she could certainly appreciate any place that sounded like a Coffee Temple. "Mm," she hummed, "a man after my own heart." She toasted him and took another mouthful.

He paused, as though reconsidering full disclosure. "And I write."

Oh, of course he did. She didn't let the information throw her; never apologized for the way she'd tried to rip writers apart. She'd really only meant to take down one particular writer, after all. Instead, she asked casually, "Publish anything?"

His yes was surprisingly modest, and she wondered whether it was his true character or the conversation that they'd just had.

"Anything I might have heard of?"

He smiled, offering a half-shrug. "I'll be fortunate to achieve posthumous fame."

She pictured the thick volumes of classic literature on her shelves, nestled between the art history books and the mainstream crime novels. "Artist ahead of your time, huh?"

"Publishers and readers don't always agree with my creative choices. But I can't imagine writing without saying what I wanted to say in the first place. So," he said, with a glint in his eye, "maybe that means I'm even more egotistical than Castle is."

She glanced away and smiled despite herself. "Probably." Then she leveled her gaze on him. "What is it you want to say?"

The question disarmed him, as though no one had ever asked him point-blank before. "Hopefully the kind of thing that inspires people to be better," he said finally. "To live more fully; to forgive. To love."

She snorted before she could stifle it. "Oh, you are even more egotistical than Castle. I think he mostly just likes puzzles and messing with people's heads."

He laughed. "I didn't say I succeed. But the goal is worth it to me. You ever have any worthwhile causes that you wouldn't give up on?"

She tucked her hair behind her ear—unnecessarily, since it was partially pulled back. "Sure."

"Then you understand," he said simply. "So." He looked her up and down, appraising, yet not predatory. "Nikki Heat."

"Beckett. Kate," she corrected.

"That's right." He proffered his hand. "Vince Minaret."

She took his hand, but both seemed to forget to let go. "I haven't heard of you."

"Until now," he said, simultaneously admiring her and forgiving her candor.

"Yes," she agreed, "until now."

He smiled warmly, finally releasing her hand. "But I've heard of you."

"Ugh," she groaned, "Castle." She could kill him for dragging her into the public eye like this.

"Do you have any idea," she'd spat at him tonight, "how much grief I've had to put up with over this Nikki Heat thing?"

"Good things," Vince said, and she softened at the silken texture of his voice. He leaned in close, narrowly escaping her jaw-line for her ear—a Castle move if ever there was one—and Beckett's heart caught in her throat. "Only good things."

"Yo, Castle," Esposito called, as he and Ryan caught up with him across the room. "You seen Beckett?"

"Nope," he said curtly, as though disappointed to be interrupted while schmoozing with a brunette no more than ten years Alexis' senior.

"Would you?" she asked, slipping the strap of her red cocktail dress down her shoulder and tilting her head demurely.

"Of course," he obliged. He whipped out a felt-tip marker from his pocket, and Ryan and Esposito exchanged a look while Castle leaned in to autograph the bared flesh.

"Well, you have any idea where she went?" Ryan pressed.

"Hmm?" Castle shook the marker and briefly touched its tip to his tongue. "Huh. Running dry."

"I wonder," Esposito muttered under his breath.

Castle didn't seem to hear him. "What's it matter, anyway? Nothing new on the case, right? And we're off the clock." He tried again to ink the bombshell, and when the marker crapped out on him once more, he reached deftly into Ryan's breast-pocket and pulled out a pen.

Ryan gawked at him, jaw slack and brows furrowed, but Esposito didn't miss a beat: "We are off the clock, bro. Looks like you're hard at work."

"Yeah." Ryan grinned, confirming with a glance to Esposito that the double entendre didn't go unappreciated. "We were just hoping you could take time out of your busy schedule to help us find Beckett. Captain's talking to someone he wants her to meet."

Castle finished his signature and smiled dashingly at the brunette. "Sorry I didn't have a marker."

"Are you kidding?" she said. "Richard Castle the Author just wrote on my body with a pen. I feel like a bestseller." She winked at him and sauntered away, her strap still dangling off her shoulder.

Castle shrugged at Ryan and Esposito. "You're the detectives. I'm sure you'll find her." He restored the pen to Ryan's pocket, patted it through the suit, and turned to go. "Hey, thanks for the pen."

"Yeah," Ryan said to Castle's back, brows furrowed up into his forehead again. "Any . . . time."

Castle hadn't gotten far before he saw a flash of pale blue fabric and brown curls unobtrusively sneaking through a door that, if he remembered correctly, led to a back hallway and not too much else.

He couldn't see her face, but he'd know those legs anywhere.

He wrenched his body in one direction and then the other, conflicted about whether to let her go or follow her or just send Ryan and Esposito to fetch her for Montgomery.

Oh, shit. He was not supposed to have to think this hard at book launch parties. First Paula pressed him for a decision on the new book deal and now this. Stay or go? Cold shoulder or hot pursuit? Everything about Kate Beckett complicated his life, and this wasn't the first time that the thought occurred to him.

But detectives and authors had at least one thing in common: The bad ones shut down possibilities too soon.

Not that Castle was feeling too guilty about the way that their conversation had ended, but it remained true to him that a closed door didn't always mean an open window. Sometimes it meant an untimely end to a story in progress.

Despite all the drama she could kick up, Kate Beckett made him want to be a better writer, if not also a better man.

He was right when he'd told Paula that he wasn't sure that he was ready to walk away from Nikki Heat—the one on the page or, truth be told, the inspiration in the flesh.

He was still angry, and yet he wasn't sure that he could end things with the conversation that had the two of them parting ways in anger; with her walking away now.

So for a moment he decided not to think so hard about it and just slipped out the door after her.