Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.

Quick note: this is a season three story which exists in the universe where 'Poof, You're Dead' and 'Nikki Heat' aired in the originally intended order, meaning that Castle is no longer with Gina.


"Through others we become ourselves."

~Lev S. Vygotsky

The bathroom door opens and Castle holds his breath, anticipation humming in his chest. He's been in a constant state of anxious excitement for the past twenty minutes, ever since she closed the door on him, a package tucked under her arm and a smirk on her lips.

Wow.

His eyes travel down, skimming over the leather jacket, the loose silk top, the skin-hugging jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. Her legs grow out of four inch stilettos, the graceful arc of the top of her foot a work of art. But it's the hair that gets him. Thick and brunette, the ends perfectly curled and spilling over her shoulders, brushing along her collarbone, marking a path he wants to trace with his tongue.

"You look -"

"I know, right?" Natalie strides across the room, hips swaying. "I look amazing."

The wait has given him just enough time to start overthinking, doubt pressing at the seams of the hastily constructed box he'd shoved it into. On some level, he knows this is wrong, that he shouldn't do this. But looking up at her, the tequila shots Natalie had insisted they have buzzing in his veins, he can't make himself care about all the reasons why not. He wants this.

"You just gonna sit there and stare at me, Rick?" Natalie leans over him, hot breath caressing his ear. "Or should I call you Rook?"

Growling, Castle wraps his hands around her biceps and yanks her down, his teeth sinking into the side of her neck. Natalie laughs and he leans back on the bed, pulling her with him until she's straddling his hips. They tear at each others clothes, nails and teeth scraping. It's hot and furious, both of them pursuing their own goals, taking what they need from the other with unabashed fervor.

He rips open the condom with his teeth, tossing the wrapper somewhere near the foot of the bed as he slams his body into hers. They don't moan or kiss, don't pant each others names into the thick air. Castle closes his eyes when his orgasm hits, choking on groans of pleasure that he doesn't want to voice, doesn't want to hear.

Natalie's pulling on her bra when he comes back from the bathroom, boxers slung low around his hips and sweat still drying on his skin. The wig lays in a tangled heap of synthetic strands on the end of the bed and his stomach rolls, the realization of what he's just done hitting him square in the chest. Bending over, he scoops up her jeans and hands them to her as he passes, the denim rough against his fingers.

Castle tugs a t-shirt over his head, deliberately averting his eyes while Natalie finishes dressing. The tequila buzz breaks apart with each passing second, guilt filling in the empty gaps. He tells himself he has nothing to feel guilty about. It was nothing more than sex between two single, consenting adults. A nagging voice whispers quietly in the back of his mind, telling him over and over that he's selfish, that he's a bastard.

That he's a cheater.

He walks Natalie to the door, half-listening as she chatters about how this was great for her process, how she feels more in tune with Nikki now, feels like she can really do her justice. The wig swings from two fingers as she turns to face him, grinning.

"So, was it everything you'd hoped it'd be?" Natalie steps closer, trails two fingers over his bicep. "Having Nikki Heat in your bed?"

Castle swallows thickly. "Uh -"

He jerks when Natalie laughs, stepping away and opening the door. She's halfway out when she turns back to him. "Don't worry about it, Castle. It's fine."

"What?"

Natalie looks at him for a moment, her face softening in a way that humanizes her, strips her of her persona and leaves a real person standing before him. Her lips turn up in a gentle smile and she cocks her head to the side, shrewdness glittering in her eyes. "We both know I'm not the woman you just had sex with."

A denial hangs in the back of his throat as Natalie leans toward him and presses a kiss to his cheek before gently closing the door. Castle stands rooted to the spot, his body swaying with the remnants of tequila and a sudden bone deep exhaustion. Sighing, he reaches out and flips the light switch, casting the loft into darkness for the slow walk back to his bedroom. The comforter they never bothered to pull down lays twisted across the bed and Castle strips it off, throwing it into a corner.

Castle stares at the ceiling, Natalie's parting words playing on a loop in his head. He finally admits the truth to himself at three am. It wasn't Natalie's body he felt writhing under his, it wasn't her face he saw when he closed his eyes. Wasn't her name on his tongue when he came. Rolling onto his side, he closes his eyes, willing sleep to come, to cast its shadow over the single word now imprinted on his brain.

Kate.


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