Real Nice

The hugs are over and the dishes piled in the sink, syrup dripping and clinging to forks like Alexis is to Castle's side, or maybe it's Castle to Alexis' side, and she's able to stand back and fold her arms and start to process all that's happened in the past fifty-six hours. Her father told her once that crossing her arms made her look stand-offish and mad, but Kate crosses her arms when she's trembling inside and about to fall out on the table but can't afford to. Yet.

So she steps back and watches them argue over movie choices and wishes she could adjust that quickly after being kidnapped. Or seeing four men shot down around her, or having to *be told* to pick up a three million dollar suitcase, or after blowing up half a block and escaping to the American embassy.

Correction. His father blew up half the block. But Castle helped.

She's still not able to connect it all – why it makes sense, how it makes sense, if it even *does* makes sense – and suddenly she realizes she's clutching her arms even tighter than she thought. She ducks her chin and loosens them, gulping in a breath and willing herself to calm down.

They're still bickering over movies – they detox so strangely, this family. Martha cooking, Castle talking about briefcases and $200 phones and how awesome it would be if he could find someone to custom make one of those explosive watches (breaking out in style, he'd called it), and Alexis hunkered down on the floor pulling out movie after movie after movie, every one of them light and bouncy and totally escapist.

(But still, some of Kate's favorites.)

Anyway, they're still bickering, so she has time, time to breathe, time to think – scratch that – time to *not think* about everything that could have happened to him but didn't, and God but she loves him.

It's not fair. Will she ever have him to herself?

No Kate. They come with the package, remember. Martha and Alexis, they're a part of him. Martha not so much a part as an extra half-dozen suitcases strapped to the roof of the car, but still. A part. A family.

And she loves them.


But not when they take him away from her. Not when they send him careening off to Paris to mess with sewers and dynamite and creepy blind guys with French accents. Oh and let's not forget the father he's barely mentioned since dinner – breakfast – whatever.

Oh. Alexis picked a movie. One of Kate's favorites. Of course.

"Stay and watch, Kate?" she asks hopefully, bouncing on her bare toes. ("I'm never wearing heels again" – in answer to her Gram's endless questions.)

"Uh, I'd… love to, but…"

"Oh, do stay, darling. It will be good to have us all together again."

Us. Oh. Oh. Us.


She can't say no to Castle. She can *never* say no to Castle.

"Okay – " It comes out in a rush and down go her arms, long fingers dangling at her sides and smile creeping onto her face, because she really does want to do this, stay. (To not think.)

"Yes!" Alexis shouts.

"Well what are you waiting for, silly?" she shoves at Alexis's shoulder. "Put it in!" The laughter on Castle's lips as they race to the couch is enough to convince Kate she's done the right thing.

It's one in the morning and he's got Alexis draped on one arm and Kate snugged beneath the other, his mother snoring in the easy chair and the menu music for 13 Going on 30 playing endlessly on the TV, but he's too comfortable to rouse himself from his chocolate-ice-cream-induced stupor and turn it off. Besides, he's got Alexis and he's got Kate. His girls. What more does he need?

But that infernal music…

He must have drifted off, because the next thing he knows Kate is slithering out from under his arm and tip-toeing over to the DVD player and kicking out the disc (oh, blessed silence) and shutting off the tube, pawing around in the dark for a minute and then leaning over him, hair tickling his stubble and breath tasting sweet like chocolate, mm, chocolate…

Wait. Wait she's kissing him. Oh, Kate, you really shouldn't do that, not with Alexis right he—

"I'll see you soon, Castle," she whispers against him. "Don't come in tomorrow. She's gonna need you."

"But… Kate… need you… stay…" his hand fumbles up into her hair, finds her shoulder.

"Shh." Her finger cool on his lips, there one moment and gone the next, just like her shoulder under his fingers, and the door clicking shut, the chunk of the deadbolt – she must have taken the spare key, to keep from waking them up – and then silence.

Silence. She's gone. Kate's gone.

His heart slams into double time before he can stop it, but his daughter's mumbling against his shoulder makes him sit back and calm down and tell himself that Kate's not been kidnapped, not running away, is coming back. Back.

Don't come in tomorrow. She'll need you.

He settles deeper into the couch cushions, Alexis snugging closer, like an overgrown baby cradled against his chest. She's right. Kate's always right, when it comes to Alexis. Don't come in. Need you.

Who will need him? Beckett? His brain is fuzzy.

No. No, Castle, not Beckett. Alexis. Alexis was the one kidnapped… not Beckett…

A part of her wishes she'd stayed, let herself wake up half on top of him with Alexis on his other side and Martha staggering about trying to find her shower cap or something equally ridiculous and endearing. A part of her wants to feel like a family, but the other part tells her it's stupid and dangerous to feel that way, because look where it got her last night.

Nowhere. Waiting. Waiting for him to call, to text, to anything. Maybe even to die. It would have been easier than not knowing. At least that's what she tells herself on the long drive to the precinct.

She gets there before the three a.m. rush and is glad, because at least no one knows her well enough to ask what she's doing there at two forty-five on a Saturday morning, wide-eyed and clothes rumpled with sleep. It's a normal occurrence here at the Twelfth.

At least, that's what everyone tells himself in the wee hours of the morning when the desks are spotless, the floors shiny with wax and the interrogation rooms dark except for the one in the very back with the flickering light that they save for when they've got a really jumpy suspect and need a good laugh. (It's like telling a ghost story to a wannabe criminal. Scares the crap outta them. Or at least it does until they hear your partner laughing behind the two-way.)

Kate shakes herself loose from her thoughts and swivels in her seat, leafing aimlessly through folders and loose papers, almost knocking one of the elephants off the desk and lunging to keep the empty candy bowl from shattering on the linoleum.

Yep, she's beat. She should have just stayed on the couch.

But Castle, and that DVD music, and Castle.


She wants to go back to his loft and yank him to his feet and yell and curse at him until she's so exhausted that she collapses against his chest, but Kate Beckett doesn't do that. It all stays inside.

She doesn't want to admit that she ran away tonight, but she did. It would have been nice to wake up on that couch with him, with Alexis, to come to work complaining about a crick in her neck and then try to hide it from Gates, even though she had to know by now – *had to* — just because it would give them something familiar to hold onto amidst all the dust of adjusting to the idea that someone they know and love can be kidnapped and smuggled to Paris without their knowledge. Yes, it would have been nice.

But nice is a boring word, a domestic word, a word that makes writers like Castle shudder and say words like "the heebie-jeebies" with their eyes closed, and Kate Beckett doesn't want nice.

She wants real.

And if real for her right now is swiveling in her desk chair while catching falling elephants and candy dishes, then so be it.

Kate runs her fingers over the beveled glass of the candy dish. –I should refill it. Make it look like home for when Castle comes back.

There's a quarter bag of M&Ms in the break room cabinet, unless Espo ate them when she wasn't looking. Or maybe Ryan, because Jenny's got him on one of those crazy purges again, so he's sure to be filching sweets whenever he can. But it's worth a try, anyway. Maybe she can grab some coffee. Might as well make a night of it; there's no way she going to sleep after all this. The hour on Castle's couch will have to suffice, annoying music or not.

She gets up and walks into the break room, rummages around in the cabinet a bit before finding the candy bag, empties it into the dish, frowns at the meager offering. Yep, definitely Espo. Even Ryan wouldn't leave only the yellow ones.

Oh well. Castle will just have to put up with yellow M&Ms, because there's no way she's going to the store for candy.

The espresso machine is tempting, but somehow it's not the same without Castle here to bring it to her, make pretty designs on the top and wink when he hands it to her, silently teasing her about it being her third one this morning (but only her first at work).

It's not that she's some sappy romantic who only drinks coffee when her boyfriend brings it to her. She just… likes drinking it with him.

Kate leaves the break room and heads back to her desk, candy dish in hand and fingers absently picking at the hard little lacquer shells. She's not really sure what to do for the rest of the night. There are no reports to file, no leads to track down, no murder board to stare into confession.

Only the click of pens hitting desks and cops laughing in the next room, waiting for the three o'clock rush to kick in.

She looks at her watch. Three oh five. Starting late tonight. Must not be a full moon.

Plunking the candy dish onto her desk, Kate wipes the smile from her face. She's even thinking like Castle now.

Her eyes fall on his empty chair, mind wandering back to the way his fingers felt in her hair this morning as she leaned over him. They'd slipped to her shoulder and stayed there, heavy and warm and possessive, needy, like a child with his security blanket. Castle was like that when he slept. A big teddy bear.

He was like that all the time.

No. Not all the time.

She pushes the thought from her mind, knowing that she would have done the same thing – or worse – in that room had it been her daughter missing and not his.

Was he still on the couch, curled up with Alexis? Or had he moved to the bed? She hoped not. Alexis was bound to need her father when she woke up, if not sooner. The nightmares would come.

They always did.

Like the bullet roaring through her chest and the sun searing at her eyelids and Castle's weight crushing her already screaming body and – oh.


So that's what it feels like to almost lose someone. To not know if they'll last the night.

Kate sighs and sinks back in her chair.

Now they have something in common.

Something they'll never talk about.

But still. Something they share. Another strand in their always.


Somehow, the realization isn't as frightening as she thought.

He wakes up to the smell of her shampoo and chocolate, feels not one, but two bodies draped across his chest, and opens his eyes to see two Cheshire grins staring up at him.

"Rise and shine, sleepyhead," Kate says, tugging his ear. Castle yelps, though with his bone dry throat it comes out more of a squawk, and both women roll off the couch in a fit of giggles, Alexis completely helpless in her laughter.

Castle growls and wrestles himself into a sitting position, rubbing at the crick in his neck and scowling at the clock.

"Ten thirty? Really? You couldn't have let me sleep till twelve?"

"Oh shut up," Kate scoffs, slapping his knee. She's laid out in the floor and wearing a pair of his sweatpants and one of Alexis's oversized baseball shirts, hair snarled up under her and utterly beautiful. His breath catches as he watches her roll onto her stomach and shove at Alexis's shoulder, then smile up at his mom as she shuffles through the living room muttering something about having lost her shower cap and dropping her script in the bathtub (because only Martha Rodgers takes a bath with a shower cap on).

Slowly, Castle smiles. There's laughter and sunshine and no bodies dropping and he likes it, likes it a lot. Sure, there are storms to come – storms like Alexis going back to college and fights over bodyguards and panicked phone calls at one in the morning because she woke up and remembered it all – but for now?

For now, Kate Beckett is home, and home is nice.

Real nice.