Alexander & Jane: Interlude – Chapter 8

In the past, when he got in a mood like this he'd write. However, instead of distracting him from what had happened, like he had hoped, it had only further reminded him of the gulf that was steadily growing between them. With Heat Wave finished and sent in for final edits, Gina had begun to pressure him for some advance material on the next installment. With how things were between him and Kate, Castle wasn't too keen on getting started with it. But then again, he also wasn't too keen on having his ex-wife incessantly pestering him until he gave her something to review. So he was left with no other option but to start working on Nikki Heat—Book 2.

One thing he'd always done when he started a project was to select a working title. It was just one of the things he did that helped get the ball rolling, giving his creative juices some fuel to work with. So that's what he did. He was tentatively going with In Heat, but that sounded a little too explicit, even for him. And considering that, as he wrote out the first chapter, it just seemed to turn into a twenty-page sex scene—more smut than literature—he really needed to rethink that title.

In the end, it really didn't help distract him from his own problems. Writing about Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook verbally sparring and then falling into bed (or the shower, couch, kitchen counter, coffee table… etc.) with each other only served to remind him of the lack of such between him and Beckett. Not the sex, they'd had that in spades, but rather the playful banter that they'd always had since the beginning. It was like foreplay.

And he missed it.

He missed her… the real her, not the one that showed up for their weekly rendezvous. He wanted his playful Jane back; the one who was fun and carefree, full of life and love, the one who'd laugh at all his jokes, even if they weren't funny. He wanted Kate. But he could have her. She was gone.

Trust. That's what was at the crux of their current problems. He broke her trust by digging into her mother's case, and he didn't trust her enough, especially in her current emotional state, not to act on her threat to find someone else to sleep with. The idea of her seeking comfort in another man's arms was like an awful twisting churning around in the pit of his stomach. Just the thought alone made him want to vomit.

Yet, despite all that, Castle was positive he'd done the right thing. Even though it hadn't been pleasant, it had been something he had to do. Walking out of that hotel room had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. But it had to be done. They'd gotten stuck in a rut, and were coming dangerously close to falling into a mind-numbing pattern of mindless sex. And frankly, the sex had lost its appeal a while ago.

And that wasn't right. Not with her.

Sex with Kate Beckett should always be appealing. And he wanted to fix that. So he had to break the cycle before it became permanent. And despite how emotionally difficult, he was proud of himself for sticking to his guns and handing out that ultimatum. But he was also terrified. Of what? He couldn't say. Dammit… Yes, he could! He was terrified of what she might do… or more precisely, of who she might do, if he was being honest.

"No talk. No sex."

"You promised! You said you'd be there for whatever I needed. And right now, I just need sex!"

"Yeah, well, I'm not giving it to you."

"Then I'll find someone who will!"

After Sorenson had gotten shot as result of a case they'd been working on, Kate—out of some depraved sense of guilt, in his opinion—seemed to warm back up to the bastard, despite the fact that the FBI Agent had been nothing but a complete jerk since he had shown back up. Castle knew that the guy wanted back with Beckett. Who wouldn't? After all, Castle had been working on that very same goal since the minute she walked back into his life. It had gnawed at his gut when he'd seen the two of them chumming it up in the hospital—Beckett had actually been openly flirting with her old flame—all the while Castle had been gearing up to break the news, and inform her about the new lead in her mother's case… a lead he'd found by breaking her one rule.

So, when Beckett had instigated their little 'friends with benefits' arrangement, Castle had been somewhat relieved and hopeful. He had originally thought it wouldn't take long for her to break her own rules. After all, from his standpoint, emotions refused to remain stifled when sleeping with someone, no matter what she tried telling herself, saying that it was nothing more than sex… the love just had to bleed through somehow. For him, it couldn't be helped; it had always been more than about the sex. However, when it came to Kate Beckett, it appeared that he'd been sorely mistaken.

She was an emotional conundrum.

All true intimacy in their relationship had vanished. Castle couldn't even call what they did in the hotel room intimate, not in the true sense of the word. There had been no feeling in what they did… no passion. It was all just motion and friction, the releasing of frustration and tension. There was no eye contact, no kissing, and no caressing of any kind, unless it served a purpose to sexual arouse. And since he hardly felt satisfied afterwards, always left yearning for more, Castle wondered if Kate felt the same.

He honestly didn't know anymore.

It unnerved him to no end that he had no answers, nothing but empty promises that they were not over. Well, from his point of view, they'd been over ever since Kate instituted the damn deal. So he was done with it. Done with her… no he wasn't. That was a lie. He would never be done with her. Yet he was done with the deal, with the secret rendezvous in hotels. They weren't having some illicit affair. Nothing they did together was shameful or wrong. They were two consenting adults who loved each other, or at least that's what Castle thought. He wasn't sure anymore. All he knew was that he had to wait her out, to see how she'd respond to his ultimatum.

After everything that had happened, the waiting was the worse.

XXX

Someone was knocking at the door. Hard and precise, with a steady and determined rhythm. Castle startled, blinking his eyes as he came back from his thoughts. He gazed down at the flashing cursor on the laptop screen, and sighed. He wasn't going to get anything done. He'd been trying for two weeks, but nothing would come. All he ended up doing was sitting at his desk, numbly glaring at the blank screen as he gulped down tumbler after tumbler of scotch until he was drunk enough that when he finally did start to type, he'd just end up writing smut… between him and Kate, veiled in the characters of Nikki and Rook.

The knocking continued, and from the cadence of each knock, Castle knew precisely who it was. Beckett.

He glanced at his wristwatch and gasped in surprise. Is that really the time? Castle double-checked with the clock in the right hand corner of the screen for confirmation. "Shit," he grumbled under his breath as he quickly slammed the laptop lid down and jumped up out of his chair. He fumbled for his phone, momentarily forgetting where he'd left it, before finding it—of all places—in his front pocket. Once he got it out, he flipped through his contacts and selected the number of their favorite pizza place.

The knocking became more insistent.

"I'm coming!" he shouted, while pressing the cell phone to his ear and listening to it ring, wondering where Alexis and his mother were, since he didn't see them in the kitchen or living room. It annoyed him a little. Normally, when he was hold up in his office writing (or attempting to write), Alexis would have taken care of dinner for him. And seeing as it was the last Friday of summer vacation, he knew she wasn't busy somewhere doing homework.

Just as he reached the door, the kid from the pizzeria answered. Castle gripped the handle and swung the door open to be greeted with the stern and frustrated visage of Kate Beckett, looking highly irritated. His eyes flicked away from her glare, and he looked down at his son, giving him a wink and smirk. Alexander smiled back, his eyes crinkling with amusement as Castle bent down so they could do their secret handshake. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed Beckett silently watching them, her eyes softening at the obvious bond between father and son. Castle cautiously flirted his eyes up to her as he stepped back, ushering them in while he quickly placed their order.

"Did you forget about tonight?" Beckett asked when he closed the door and finished the call. She was still standing in the foyer, her brow furrowed with slight irritation. "If it's a bad time, we can always reschedule."

"No," he replied tersely, taking a moment to center himself. It had been two weeks since he'd last seen her, and it was almost unsettling to once again be in her presence. Part of him was elated, while the other part was terrified. After they'd left things at the hotel room, Castle didn't know how to behave around her anymore. He'd been worried last week when she'd skipped out on family dinner night, but when Jim and Alex had arrived at the Mexican restaurant they'd agreed to meet at last Friday, Jim had told Castle that Beckett had been called into the precinct for a case. Seeing her narrowed eyes, he firmed up his jaw and returned her gaze. "I was trying to write, and I… I just lost track of time. Pizza's okay for dinner, right?"

"Duh! Pizza's great, Dad!" Alex cheered as he made his way over to the couch, rolling his backpack of his shoulders and dumping it on the floor. "You got pepperoni and black olives, right?"

"Of course," Castle grinned down at his son, reaching out to affectionately ruffle his hair. "And the Greek combination for your mother and Alexis."

Alex squirmed and scooted back, combing his hair back. "Dad!" he whined. "You're messing up my hairdo."

He chuckled. "I didn't know you were going for a particular look," he replied with a lighthearted smirk, plopping down on the couch as Alex dug through his backpack for his comic books.

As Castle worked to get comfortable on the couch, he felt a strong feminine hand tap his shoulder. It was only for a second or two, but even that brief contact still sent an electric tingle through his veins. It also didn't help that the air around him was invaded by the sweet scent of cherries. He bit the inside of his mouth, stifling the almost involuntary response of certain parts of his anatomy. His chest tightened and a sudden warmth permeated his body. He groaned inwardly. Now was not the time to become aroused, especially when his 10-year-old son was getting ready to show him his latest comic books. Gritting his teeth, he arched his neck to look up at her, raising an eyebrow in question.

"Mind if I help myself to some wine?" Beckett asked him, her voice flat and unemotional.

"No, not at all, help yourself. Mi casa es su casa," Castle replied with a wave of his hand, dismissing her and turning his focus back on his son. He got a thrill out of Alexander's interest in comic books. He had tried getting Alexis into them when she was Alex's age, but it wouldn't take.

While Beckett remained alone in the kitchen, sipping from a full glass of wine, Castle sat in the living room, avidly listening to his son talk about his favorite superheroes. It didn't take long until they got into a debate over the difference between superheroes with and without superpowers. Alex was arguing that Batman was more heroic because he used his intellect and inventive mind to beat the bad guys, while other superheroes relied too heavily on their superpowers. Castle agreed with him, for the most part, but just for the heck of it he spent his time arguing the other side, just to see how Alex would defend his opinion. And he was good. Which didn't really surprise him, when Castle took into consideration the boy's lineage.

When the doorbell rang, Castle excused himself, asking Alex to go find his sister and grandmother and tell them dinner was ready. As Alex scrambled up the stairs in search of Alexis and Martha, Castle turned to ask if Beckett would mind setting the table. But when his eyes fell on her, he stopped dead in his tracks, mouth hanging open in astonishment when he noticed she was already in the process of doing just that. Despite his unease at being so close to her again, a small smile worked its way onto his lips as he watched her move about the kitchen. He couldn't help but marvel at how she knew where everything was, just how at home she appeared in his kitchen.

Castle took the time to admire her from afar, appreciating the way her jeans hugged her backside as she stretched up to pluck some glasses down from the cupboard, and the way her hair, which she'd allowed to grow out over the summer, framed her beautiful features. No one could say Kate Beckett wasn't attractive, that's for sure. He should definitely get some sort of medal for his super human restraint at holding out and rejecting the free no-strings-attached sex she offered.

The doorbell chimed again, breaking his trance, and returning him to reality. He sighed, and, not for the first time, wished things had gone differently back in the spring, and that she'd listen to him when he had explained his reasons for looking into her mother's case. If only she could have understood him, then they wouldn't have been in the awkward place they were now. After one last glance in her direction, Castle turned around and jogged over to the door.

After he paid for and retrieved the pizza from the scrawny teen, to whom he gave a generous tip, Castle heaved in a deep breath and prayed to whatever god was listening to grant him the fortitude to last the next couple of hours without giving in to his seriously needy base desires. It was harder going cold turkey than he had anticipated. So being around Beckett again, seeing her in the flesh and smelling her intoxicating scent, was going to be a serious test on his willpower.

Thankfully, before he could reach the table—and Beckett—the "Double A's", his affectionate nickname for his lovely children, came down the stairs, followed by their flamboyant grandmother, who was draped in some puce monstrosity.

"Dear heavens, Mother, what are you wearing!?" Castle shrieked in mock-horror, all in good fun.

"And a pleasant evening to you, Richard," she replied with equal sarcasm.

"Oh, I don't know, I think it's nice," Beckett spoke up, giving Martha a smile of true female solidarity.

"Thank you, darling," Martha beamed at her and wrapped her arms around the brunette in an exaggerated embrace. "At least someone in this family has some taste!" she declared haughtily as she cast a disapproving glance Castle's way.

"What do you say to that, Castle?" Beckett challenged, raising an eyebrow, a light smirk gracing her lips.

"I'd say it's too early in the evening to have you two gang up on me," he replied, easing into the light banter they'd been sorely lacking for the last couple of months.

"Oh, don't be so droll, dear," Martha patted his cheek as she walked past him. "You love it!"

"Ha!" he snorted. "Double ha!"

"I'm with Mom," Alex announced to the room, catching everyone's attention. "Grams looks cool. Like she's some sorceress ready to conjure a spell to summon a dragon!"

"Why thank you, Sir Alex," Martha did a little bow and then settled down into the chair beside her grandson, giving him a half-hug. "How was your day, dear? I hear you start school again soon."

"Ugh… don't remind me!" Alex bemoaned, rolling his eyes and theatrically flopping his head down on the table, a true testament to the innate acting abilities passed on to him from his grandmother.

"Hey now," Beckett admonished lightly as she placed a plate in front of him. "I thought you were looking forward to going to school."

"I only said that yesterday because I got bored stuck in that stupid break room," Alex objected, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest in a gesture that was very Beckett-esque. "When you told me that I could come to the precinct with you, I thought I'd get to follow you around and catch some dirt bags, you know… like you do with Dad."

Castle's breath stilled and he noticed that 'deer in the headlights' look flash across Beckett's face. They both knew he hadn't shadowed her at the precinct for the entire summer, but that wasn't something Alex needed to know.

"I said nothing about any such thing," Beckett finally spoke up, ending the slightly awkward silence. Castle caught Alexis staring at him with a confused expression, and he bit his tongue, praying the conversation would move on before his bright daughter caught on to the awkwardness between him and Beckett.

"You should have gone into advertising, Mom," Alex griped. "Because you certainly know how to make a good sales pitch."

"Right," she chuckled and handed the other plates to an amused looking Alexis, who dutifully set the rest of the table. "But I think you're trying to distract from the fact that you said you were looking forward to school."

"Come on, Mom!" Alex complained. "You were sneaky. Sticking me in that smelly old break room with nothing to do. And… and you tricked me."

"I did not," Beckett shook her head, but smiled just the same.

"Did too," he pouted, now resembling his father.

The whole conversation threw Castle for a moment. It wasn't the first time he'd witnessed such an exchange between Beckett and Alex, but it was the first time he'd seen such a thing in a while. And he found it oddly comforting. The tightness in his chest seemed to ease with the normalcy of the repartee between mother and son. He suddenly felt happy again, a feeling he hadn't felt in months. It was very agreeable.

"Earth to Dad!" Alexis's amused voice broke through his daze. Castle shook his head, and glanced at his daughter. "Yes, Pumpkin?"

"Are you going to serve the pizza, or would you like me to do that?" she questioned, pursing her lips as she suppressed a laugh.

"Right… pizza," he nodded, quickly placing the two cardboard boxes in the center of the table and opening the lids. "Dinner is served!"

"About time!" Alex asserted as he sat up and stretched out to grab a slice of his favorite pizza.

Castle smirked, and turned around, intent on getting himself a glass of wine, but was stopped short when he found Beckett was already holding out a freshly filled glass for him. He gulped in surprise at her sudden close proximity, and hesitantly reached out to accept the proffered glass. A shiver rippled down his spine when their fingers brushed.

"Thanks," he squeaked out, unsure of himself.

"You're welcome," she replied with a soft voice, her lips pursed in a tight smile.

Furrowing his brow in confusion, Castle watched as she walked around the table and took her seat next to Alexis. He stepped back to his spot, and sat down at the head of the table, flicking his eyes up to notice Beckett was staring at him with warm dark eyes. He took a long sip of his wine, suddenly having a sinking feeling that he'd need the liquid courage to get through the rest of the evening.