AN: This chapter is AU and set shortly after Cuffed in season 4.
Let the Stars Watch
"Why are you the prettier one?"
"Seriously, bro? You really wanna go there?"
"I'm just sayin', she was looking at me when she said it!"
"And she was pointing her gun at me, so obviously..."
"Can I get you another drink, Detective?" She startles as his words ghost low and warm across her ear. She fights the urge to shut her eyes at the feel of him so close behind her and forces herself to take a deep breath before she turns. He's grinning as he looks over her shoulder toward the two detectives, wholly amused at the scene and unaware of his effect on her.
She pauses for a moment, watching him and thinking about how she'd almost said no when he asked her and the boys to come up to the Hamptons for the weekend. The response would have been automatic, a callback to the very first time he posed the question to her. There were a hundred reasons to decline; legitimate reasons even, paperwork, the stress of the fall and the anxiety attacks she's only just begun to learn how to cope with. But when she'd raised her head to meet his eyes, all the excuses died on the tip of her tongue. His face was serious, his expression open but insistent. It had been like that a lot lately. You owe me about a hundred coffees, had echoed through her mind. And it was true. She owed him a lotmore than caffeine and sugar. So here they were, standing closer than necessary in the cozy warmth of Castle's Hamptons' house, watching the two detectives battle it out over which of them was "prettier" to a crazy tiger lady.
"I might need more than one drink if this escalates any further."
He laughs at that, the reverberation of it sending a chill through her. When did he get so close again? "You've got to admit it's an interesting argument."
"Is it now?" She raises an eyebrow at him.
"Well you see, on the one hand Esposito has those big, strong arms. Not to mention he's got that whole sexy, Latino vibe thing going for him. But then on the other hand, Ryan's got the blue eyes and sweater vests...gives him sort of an innocent, good cop look. Women love the sweater vests." He emphasizes the last statement and gives her a knowing look.
"Don't tell me you have a secret sweater vest fetish I'm unaware of…"
"Hey, I grew up in boarding school. We had to wear uniforms, even to mixers with the girls' school. Sometimes it had its perks." He shrugs and returns his focus to the detectives, still evaluating. She tries not to laugh as he pauses and rubs a hand over his chin. "Hmm, maybe Ryan isobjectively prettier."
"Jealous of his baby blues, Castle?"
"What?! No!" He scoffs and turns back toward her. "I have my own, thank you very much. Besides, if I were included in this debate, clearly they'd have no chance."
She barks out a laugh. "Too bad you don't get points for modesty."
"C'mon, Beckett, they can't compete with ruggedly handsome, not to mention my obvious charm and skill with words." He waggles his eyebrows at her.
She shakes her head, ready to respond when Ryan practically shouts, "She said she wasn't choosing!"
She sees Jenny place a hand on Ryan's arm and whisper something that must be consoling while Espo crosses his arms and looks on smugly.
"So, Detective, about that drink..." Castle nudges her and she can feel the warmth of his body, still entirely too close.
She swallows, ignores the way her pulse jumps a little. "Better make it strong."
While Castle heads to the kitchen, she and Jenny manage to navigate the conversation in a better direction. They're all laughing as Kate describes how Castle decided feeding the tiger beef jerky would be enough to keep the animal from ripping their faces off.
"Seriously?" Jenny looks at her with widened eyes.
Kate nods. "Seriously."
"That's Castle." Ryan shakes his head, laughing as his wife's expression portrays a mixture of amusement and horror.
"I still don't know how you two didn't kill each other being handcuffed for that long," Esposito states, smirking.
"It was tempting," Kate says.
"I'll have you all know that it was my ingenious plan that saved us from tiger kibble in the end." Castle strides through the doorway, two cocktails in hand. "Besides, we made a good team in there. Didn't we, Beckett?"
He leans down to hand her one of the drinks, fingers brushing over hers as she takes the glass. The contact sparks through her and their eyes lock for a moment. Her face flushes involuntarily and she almost forgets that there's a question lingering between them.
She forces herself to look away even though she can still feel his gaze burning into her. She can see Esposito ribbing Ryan out of the corner of her eye as Jenny looks on curiously. She coughs, tries to ignore them. "Yeah, well, let's just say I have no desire to visit the zoo anytime soon."
She takes a long draw of her drink as Castle settles beside her on the oversized couch. The whiskey trails a heated path down her throat and she lets it wash over her, settle her nerves a bit. Esposito makes a joke about Gates' reaction to the case and the conversation shifts to safer topics.
As the night progresses, she can't help but feel inordinately grateful for this weekend away. As much as she hates to admit it, she needed this. All of them did. There's been a lingering seriousness since she's returned to duty. Between the effects of her shooting, the tense cases, and the loss of their captain, even Castle seems to be quieter these days, more cautious with his words.
She hears the rest of the group laughing again and can't help but smile. She really has missed this. She glances over at Castle, sees the way the smile lights up his entire face and something tugs inside her. She'd never have believed it years ago when he showed up at the precinct and forced himself into their lives but she can't imagine a life without him now. He always finds a way to make things better. Not just for her, but in the way he cares about them all, treats them like family. And tonight, away from work and the city, everything almost feels normal again.
The only problem is that normal is accompanied by an awareness she remembers all too well. An awareness that has her body buzzing at Castle's proximity. There's an undeniable warmth that spreads deep inside her. It's written in the occasional bumping of his leg against hers, his arm slung close to her shoulder along the back of the couch; the way their bodies seem to angle toward one another and their eyes always linger just a moment too long when engaged in discussion. She's cognizant of every movement, every brief touch, and by the time it's late and everyone is making their way to bed, she's so far from sleep it's laughable.
She follows the group upstairs, only half-listening as Castle shows them to their rooms and points out where the extra towels are kept in case anyone decides to shower.
Her eyes are drawn to the photos that line the walls, a collection of family moments that feature mostly Alexis at various ages and Martha in different productions. She stops at a picture of Castle and Alexis building a sandcastle. Alexis is beaming at her dad while he pours water into the moat. It's a simple moment but something about it touches her; the clear adoration on Alexis's face, the way the two of them must have spent hours working on something that elaborate. It reminds her of vacations with her own parents, the way they were always so busy but as soon as they'd load up in the car, the work was put away and forgotten for the week.
It's funny, she's not sure what she expected to find here but it wasn't this. As sprawling and grand as Castle's Hamptons' home is, it's just that…a home. She can't deny there's a part of her that always assumed he used this place more for impressing women than anything else. But then again, that Castle is long gone, only a distant memory replaced by the man who brings her coffee every day, who has stood with her when there was no one else, the one who has saved her life in more ways that one. The man that loves her.
For the millionth time since that day in the cemetery, she wishes more than anything that she could just give in to the feelings, say the words back to him and expel the secrets that burn inside her. She longs to be everything he deserves.
"Sometimes I wish she was still that age." Once again, Castle's voice interrupts her thoughts and she looks up to find that they're alone in the hallway.
He's looking at the picture of the sandcastle too and she can't help but smile at the wistful look on his face. "How old was she there?"
"She was three that summer. That picture was taken a few weeks after I'd bought the house. I'd just gotten full custody and I decided to bring Alexis here for the summer. She was probably too young to really understand what was going on but I guess I thought that it'd be better if we got away for a while, spent time somewhere fun where it wasn't as noticeable that Meredith wasn't around."
"Was it hard on her?"
"You know, the funny thing is, Meredith was already in and out of our lives so much by that point, I don't even think Alexis noticed all that much. I just remember being so relieved to have made it to age three. Alexis was always a good kid but the twos are called terrible for a reason and going through them at the same time as a divorce wasn't exactly easy. Things between Meredith and I stayed mostly amicable but she wasn't around much. I was young and completely inexperienced, scared of every bump and bruise. And, oh my god, Kate, when she cried, I nearly lost it every time." He flashes her a self-deprecating smile and turns back to the picture.
"That summer was special though. It was the first time I'd really been able to relax in months, to just enjoy spending time with Alexis. We spent pretty much every day on the beach and I'd cook us dinners at night and tell her stories on the back porch while she watched the fireflies. She was in love with those fireflies."
She can't help but envision it all. A tan, younger version of Castle, playing with his daughter, cooking in the house's massive kitchen; the joy it must have brought him to watch his daughter light up with excitement over the little green glowing bugs. "It sounds amazing. This place is really spectacular, Castle."
He gives her a smile, the one that makes his eyes crinkle at the corners and her knees a little weak. "I'm really glad you came this weekend." He pauses and she can almost see the wheels turning in his head before he asks, "So, just how tired are you, Beckett?"
It's late. She really should go to bed. "Not very, why?"
"May I show you something? You still haven't seen the best part of the place."
In the dim light of the hallway she can see the hopeful look in his eyes. It sets her heart racing all over again.
Castle is quiet as he leads her down the hall, careful not to wake the others. There's an air of electricity surrounding them as they make their way through the house and Castle keeps flashing her these mischievous little grins that she rolls her eyes at; yet, returns all the same. She really could laugh because the entire situation is kind of ridiculous and makes her feel like she's sixteen again, sneaking out to see a boy. It's thrilling and scary all at once because this isn't just a boy, this is Castle, and they're always just one step away from either diving in or completely imploding.
He holds the door open for her as they step onto the wrap around porch and then stops for a moment to key something into his security system. She watches as tiny lights come to life, illuminating a path that curves and winds its way through the grass. The backyard is an impressive sight within itself; a lush, rolling green that stretches all the way down to the ocean and over to what she assumes is the pool house that Castle mentioned when they'd arrived.
"I was planning on giving everyone a tour tomorrow morning since it was sort of late when we got here; but it really is beautiful at night. I thought you might like to see."
She's so swept up in the view that by the time she looks over at him to respond his entire demeanor has changed. He's almost hesitant; as though he's suddenly worried she'll change her mind now that they're outside, away from the safety of walls and closed doors and other people. Gone is the cocky and confident Castle she's known for years, his playfulness held securely in check now. And she hates that she's done this to him, that because of her they're always stuck tiptoeing around the edges of everything.
So she does the best she can to will her own nerves away. She smiles, lets him see it in her eyes and nudges his shoulder with her own. "Lead the way, Castle."
Just like that some of the worry etched into his features eases. The corners of his mouth turn upward, sparks of excitement flickering back across his face as he holds out his arm for her to take.
He tells her the history of the place as he guides her along the path, stopping every now and then to gesture or point something out. The wind is cool against her cheeks, a damp saltiness that settles into her skin and ruffles her hair. She shivers involuntarily, pulls her sweater a little tighter around her body but it's invigorating, a perfect accompaniment to the slightest buzz of whiskey still flowing through her veins and the warmth of his body brushing up against hers with every step.
"Are you cold?"
"A little but it's kind of nice." She shrugs, lets go of his arm a little reluctantly as they reach the wooden gate to the pool. He steps up to unlock it and ushers her through.
"If you wait for a second, I'll go grab us some blankets from the pool house."
"Blankets for what exactly?" She raises her eyebrows and his eyes widen for a moment before he recovers and shakes his head at her.
"All part of the experience, Detective." He winks and glides by the columns and through the door to the pool house before she can object.
She looks around while she waits. White terraces line the pool all along one side and there are plants by each column, wrapped with twinkling lights that reflect and sparkle against the water. Wisps of steam rise from the pool and she bends down, dips her hand in to test the temperature. It's almost hot in comparison to the air and for a moment her mind plays with the idea of swimming here with Castle, the heat against her skin contrasting with the cool night air, memories of his suggestion of skinny dipping...
The pool house door shuts behind her and she straightens immediately, shrugging off the fantasy before it gets completely out of hand.
He holds out a blanket to her and as she takes it his hand brushes over hers. For the hundredth time that night she finds her pulse jumping without her permission. Their eyes hold for a second and it's all she can do to drag them away from his.
"So...um, where exactly is this view I can't miss out on?" She manages to choke out the words.
"Right, yeah, sorry," His voice is abnormally low and she sneaks a glance at him again, notices that he seems to be struggling just the same. He clears his throat and looks away. "This way."
He leads her beside the pool, underneath the terraces, and out another gate until they reach a small cluster of trees. He gestures toward them and as they approach she realizes they hide the frame of another terrace, this one wide open to the sky, where two hammock chairs hang suspended underneath one of the wooden planks.
She hadn't paid any attention before, but the house, the pool, all of the property apparently sits elevated on a small hill, placing them above sea level. The effect is an almost panoramic view of the ocean and she finds herself practically gaping as she absorbs it all.
Castle sits down in one of the swinging chairs and turns to watch her reaction. "Amazing isn't it?"
"It's gorgeous," she breathes.
"Sit with me for a little while?"
She looks at him and nods, takes a seat in the second hammock, wrapping the blanket around her as she settles in.
They sit together quietly for a while. It's uncharacteristic of him to be so silent but she thinks he senses the magic here too and doesn't want to risk spoiling it. It's breathtaking in a way that the city can't provide. Here, there is a sky full of stars she can actually see. There's the sound of the waves crashing, the smell of fall and salt air and fireplaces burning. There's a chill in the breeze off the ocean and the feel of sand underneath her feet. Here, there's an openness, a freedom; the possibilities laid out before her as infinite as the blue that stretches beyond the horizon.
The combination of it all assaults her senses. It's overwhelming, almost surreal. She finds herself wishing she could exist in this moment forever because for the first time since before she lay dying in his arms, she feels alive.
She takes advantage of the feeling before she can stop herself she reaches out and takes his hand. "Thank you for this." For everything.
He laces their fingers and doesn't let go, slides his thumb along her skin, his touch a liquid fire in her veins. "You know you're welcome here anytime, Kate."
She looks down at their joined hands and then back up to meet his gaze. She can tell he wants to say more, can read the subtext that accompanies his words, the look in his eyes that speaks of always. He'd give her the world if only she'd let him. And suddenly, she knows that this is another crossroad, an opportunity she's been given to make it right, to take a chance on the one person who's never given up on her.
So she pushes away everything that causes her to hesitate, focuses on nothing but the feel of his hand in hers, the blue of his eyes shining at her in the moonlight, and finally moves.
"Beckett, what are you—"
She silences him with the gentle press of her finger against his mouth. She's standing in front of him now, still grasping one of his hands when she takes a deep breath and says softly, "Castle, I'm in love with you."
His eyes go wide. He opens his mouth to speak and shuts it again, frozen as if he can't believe the reality of what just happened. She bites her bottom lip; unsure of what to do now that the words are finally out there, scared for a moment that maybe he's changed his mind. And then, before she can back away he's pulling her down into his lap, wrapping her up in his arms, and kissing her with a force that takes her breath away.
She catches up quickly, slides her tongue into his mouth, unable to keep herself from moaning at the feel of his hands that have tangled in her hair and the hard press of his body against hers. It's everything that she remembers from that night in the alley and somehow more. Because she knows now what it's like to almost die, to lie there cradled beneath him and only have one regret, only one thought in her mind.
She sinks into him as he envelops them both in the blanket, slips her hands underneath his shirt, anything she can do to get closer. Her kiss is both an apology and a promise as her fingers dance across his skin, painting silent infinities with every touch.
When they finally break apart, he looks at her, stunned. "I'm not dreaming right? That really just happened?"
She laughs a little breathlessly, nods at him. "Definitely not a dream."
"Are you sure? Cause I've had a lot of dreams like this. Of course, in those dreams you're also usually nak—ouch, Beckett, that hurt!"
She punches his arm and rolls her eyes, but struggles to keep the smile off her face. "Do I usually smack you in those dreams too?"
"Sometimes…" He grins at her and she groans, dropping her face into her hands.
"Hey," he murmurs as he palms her cheek, angles her face back up to his. She watches as he grows serious again, sucks in a breath as his fingers trace the line of her jaw and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "I love you too."
The sun is coming up, streaming through the open curtains of her bedroom when she finally sneaks back in. She leans back against the door as it shuts, rests her head on the cool wood, and presses a hand to her lips. She can still feel the ghost of his mouth, his hands, his body moving against hers. Just the thought of it has her breathless again and she can't contain the smile that spreads wide across her face. She's not sure why they're bothering to pretend like nothing has happened because she knows as soon as they're together again it'll be written all over their faces. But somehow, standing here in the glow of the sunrise, she finds she doesn't mind at all.
AN: Thanks for reading and as always, I truly appreciate any feedback.