Hang Me Out To Dry
co-authored by beautyofsorrow and chezchuckles
Warning: Some spoilers for the Frozen Heat and Deadly Heat books.
Careless in our summer clothes, splashing around in the muck and the mire
Fell asleep with stains, caked deep in the knees (what a pain)
Now hang me up to dry
You wrung me out too, too, too many times
-Hang Me Up To Dry, Cold War Kids
"I'm going to need your gun and badge, Kate."
Castle watches her step on silent feet towards his study and the wall safe, can't for the life of him figure out how they got here so fast.
"She's a very good agent," McCord offers, like an apology.
He turns his bewildered face back to her. "Yes," he rumbles. "She is."
"She'll figure it out."
Figure what out?
Kate walks back into the room during their awkward silence, hands Agent McCord her government-issued weapon, the ID that's still stiff and shiny and new. McCord parts her jacket and pushes Kate's gun into her empty holster with significance. And then Castle realizes that Rachel came here unarmed, that it's a gesture, that she's showing Kate that she still has the agent's full trust.
"There will be some men," Agent McCord goes on. "They're in your apartment in DC right now."
Kate gasps and steps forward, like she could do anything about it, but Rachel shakes her head.
"They think she stole something?" Castle asks.
"No, Castle." McCord gives him a narrow look for bringing that up, but they were all thinking it. "It's just standard operating procedure."
"When you fire someone," Kate finishes flatly. Everything about her looks flat - her eyes, her face, her mouth. Her cheeks had been the color of her shirt when she'd closed her fingers around the key to their DC place, but now she looks drained.
"I thought you deserved a heads-up," Rachel says, taking a step back with Kate's badge going quickly in her jacket pocket. "Your hotel room-"
Kate sighs, her shoulders dropping, and she walks stiffly to the edge of the couch, takes her wallet from the small bag she'd brought over to his place. She hands the keycard over with a tired set to her eyes, and Rachel leans in and gives her a quick hug.
"Call me. If you need anything. But I think you're well taken care of."
She turns to leave, slipping out of the loft without any preamble. Castle closes the door behind her, and then he turns back and stares at Kate.
She's rubbing the silver DC key in her fingers. Her head tilts and a breath escapes. "I guess... here."
She lifts her hand and offers the key to him, but he really can't stand the idea of her giving it back.
"Well, it's still yours," he says with a shrug. He keeps his hands at his sides and gives her a smile. "Still your key - I've got one of my own."
"But I got fired."
"Doesn't make it not yours," he laughs. "Ours."
She opens her mouth but her face creases in something he thinks is amusement.
"All right," she says slowly. "So what are we going to do with our place in DC?"
He'd rather know what she plans on doing next - without the AG's office, without the NYPD - but if she wants to throw herself into this instead. Sure. He can do that. They speak in subtext half the time anyway, right?
"Whatever we want," he answers her. "We can do whatever we want."
She takes the first step into his body, her arms around his waist, and he presses his palms to her shoulders and hugs her closer. Her cheek brushes his, another little sigh.
"Would you do it again if you knew this would happen?" he asks. He can't help it. His curiosity always ruins the best moments.
"Yes? I hope so." Her hand slides up his shirt and curls around his neck. She seems to want closer, her torso brushing his. "I hope so, Castle, but..."
"But you were so good at this job," he murmurs in agreement.
"But I didn't press it when you - when Secretary Reed... I should have done something then, but I didn't. You almost died and I didn't say anything and no one arrested Reed. It was like since you were fine, and recovered, then no harm, no foul."
And he doesn't know what to say to that.
"Is there room for me in here?" she laughs, lifting an eyebrow at him.
They've been in DC all week, packing up some of her 'essentials' - as she calls them - in boxes and putting the rest on a truck bound for the New York to go in storage. Until... when, she won't say. Hasn't said.
Castle glances around at the scant boxes that nevertheless fill his living room, the couch still unmade because Pi probably only got out of it only thirty minutes ago, the kitchen cluttered with green-ringed glasses and decimated fruit.
"Ah, doesn't really look it, does it?"
"Not really, Castle," she says.
The amusement is there, but he's suddenly so weary with Pi and Alexis and his mother and just everything. Everything. He wants things to be easy but they're not.
"I don't what we'll do," he admits.
Kate leaves her suitcase in the entry and takes his hand, draws herself up against his side. "We'll do fine. You, me, and Pi."
"Don't be mean."
She hums against his chin as she's coming in to kiss him, but she diverts her flight plan to rear back and give him a little smile instead. "Pi isn't that bad."
"I feel Nikki'd."
"What is that?" she laughs.
"If you can be Castled, I can be Nikki'd. Pi is like Petar Matic come to life-"
"Well, that's just not true. He's not going to kill you in the kitchen."
"You don't know that. My father is a spy, Beckett. His enemies are all around us. They could have trained Pi to-"
"You have an overactive imagination," she murmurs, and this time her kiss lands lightly on his lips.
"And you like it." He bends down to take more, but the door pops open behind him and all that mess he was mentioning comes loudly inside.
He groans as he hears Pi's voice topping the rest of them and Kate only laughs, turns around to greet his daughter and mother. And Pi.
"So you never told me. Were they there? When you went back to the hotel room?"
Castle hands the question out carefully, just like the dish he's passing her, as if hidden soap suds might cling to it and make it slippery. Kate accepts the plate, her own plate, shrugs a little as she dunks it in cold water and sets it on the drying rack. She has no idea where they'll put her stuff in his loft, how her plates will fit next to his in the cabinets.
"No, they weren't there." They had just left, actually. The manager had warned her, skittishly, that men with badges had let themselves into her room and he was sorry, but they had badges, and he couldn't say no to the badges, because they were badges, see –
"But you wanted them to be there."
Kate bites her lip. "Maybe."
"Because then you could've kept an eye on them."
Kate dunks her favorite coffee mug into the sink so savagely that water slops over the counter. She curls her toes as the water drips coldly onto them. "Nothing was missing except the computer and my files. But I don't like people poking through my things," she says.
"Does that mean I have to stop snooping in your underwear drawer?"
"Yes. Yes it does."
Castle pouts beside her, shoulders drooping. "Oh, but I like your underwear drawer."
"You have a dirty mind."
"Yeah, I should wash it, shouldn't I? Better yet, you should wash it. For me." He grins, but it comes out more goofy than sexy.
"Nice try, Castle. But lame." Kate presses her lips into a thin little line, holds her hand out for another dish.
"Should I try harder?"
He sobers, shoulders straightening. "Right. You just got fired, and I'm joking about lingerie. Coping mechanism, remember?"
"Yeah, well, I'm trying to wash my dishes. Give me that bowl?"
Castle surrenders the dish, but doesn't reach for another one, stands there watching her instead. Kate pretends to ignore him as she rinses the bowl, sets it on the rack. It was her mother's, the bowl, and she remembers serving everything from scrambled eggs to mixed vegetables from its gold-rimmed mouth.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
"About what?" On the drying rack, a plate is crooked. She fixes it.
"You got fired, Kate. From your job."
"Yes." She adjusts a mug, turns the fork tines down because she hates getting stabbed in the palm when she goes to put things away. Did she really need to bring her forks? But she likes the weight of them better than Castle's heavier flatware.
"Well – doesn't that… bother you?"
"I haven't really thought about it, Castle," she sighs. Not true, a voice whispers, but she shuts it out, closes her mind. "It all happened so fast."
"I'm just – I wanted to make sure you're okay."
"I'm fine, Castle."
She reaches past him and grabs another bowl, slops it into the dishwater so she doesn't have to look at him. "It was just a job."
"Yeah, a really good job. That you were good at."
"There are other good jobs out there."
"But not this one. Not one that gives you access to the nation's highest politicians and connections to your mother's case and a really awesome partner who will go the extra mile to – "
He stops, startled into silence. Kate sighs and abandons the dish, wipes dripping fingers on the towel tucked into her jeans. She will tell him everything, get it all out in the open, but… not tonight. She just wants it to be normal, to have him all to herself for a night and get back into the groove of this, them. Together. Then she can tell him, crack open the rest of it.
"We'll figure it out in the morning, okay? Right now I just want to finish these dishes and go to bed. It's been a long day, long week."
"But – "
She touches a finger to his lips. "In the morning."
He stares at her for a moment, eyes creased and dark against Kate's own. She can tell that it's killing him, all this waiting, this not knowing, but she can't do it, not tonight. She's too drained, too mentally spent, to explain her reasoning the way she needs to, and to be honest, Kate really just wants normal right now.
Is that too much to ask?
"Okay," he says finally, nodding once. "In the morning."
"After coffee," he agrees.
They go back to the dishes they unpacked, and her shoulders hang heavy with relief. Or is it guilt?
Kate doesn't know.
The clock leers at her, numbers insultingly low and a migraine pounding in her skull. Castle is over her like a clumsy blanket, hot and sweaty and heavy, and she loves him, she really does, but this whole cuddling thing has got to stop.
Sleep. She wants to sleep.
Kate sighs and rolls over, slowly so Castle's head slides off her chest and onto his pillow. He sighs and nuzzles down into it, fingers trailing out over the mattress towards her. It's sweet. Yeah, her heart is a little melty. But he was sweating on her. Sleep sweating. Gross.
She rolls her eyes back to the clock. 2:31. Ugh. Kate sits up and scrapes a hand through her hair, tugging as her fingers catch on the tangles.
Pointless. She's sweat a damp spot into the sheets and her body feels like its combusting; she slides out of bed and piles her hair on top of her head. In the bathroom, Boba Fet makes her heart kickstart too hard, not helping her attempt to cool down, but it's just been too long since she's spent the night, too long since she's had his human-shaped shadow in the darkness.
This week they packed up her place and listed both her own apartment and the one Castle found for them. She still feels that rush of heart-thump over the idea of Castle buying them a place together, putting in the effort to - well, put in the effort. But all week she was caught up in lists - call WGES to cut off the power and water, contact her landlord for the final walkthrough, deposit the money into her account so that her lease-breaking check wouldn't bounce.
This is the first night she's had a moment to think.
She wishes she wouldn't.
Standing dumbly in the bathroom for how long now? So Kate sighs and snags a rubber band, ties up her hair to keep it off her neck. She runs water over her hands to help cool her blood, trails her fingers around her collarbone and pats her cheeks. She watches herself in the mirror, but she still doesn't know whose face stares back at her.
This is almost worse than when she quit the NYPD after Gates censured her for chasing her sniper. Same as then, she has no idea what comes next, where she's supposed to go.
And then as now, the one thing that's at all clear to her is the man in that bed and what she needs from him. Back then she had been so tired of just surviving - scraping by, treading water; at least these last six months - even with all the issues - she's been thriving.
She's had a purpose again. Though the grey areas made her uneasy.
Kate leaves the bathroom with every intention of crawling back into bed, but when she puts a knee to the mattress, it's still damp with her sweat and his heat.
She pauses and hesitates, then heads for the doorway and something else.
Maybe she'll unpack for a little while, maybe she'll figure out the mess of her professional life if she unfolds her clothes from her boxes and finds a place to put her elephants.
Kate has just stepped through the study and into the living room when she's arrested by the sight of Pi, asleep on the couch.
She sighs, crossing her arms over her chest, but there's nothing for it.
It's seriously crowded in here.
He rouses slowly and stupidly, sleep clinging to him like kudzu, pulling him down. Castle groans and rolls over, knocks feebly at the hand shaking his shoulder. "Go 'way," he mumbles, but it comes out slurred and sounds like Gawain instead, which sets his mind on green knights, and he's confused when he rolls over and sees a beautiful woman standing over him instead of some terrible emerald giant with an ax. He blinks.
"Are you up?"
"Am now," he grunts, peering through the dimness. Kate is on her knees in bed next to him, looking at him like she's been awake for hours. "Why are you up? What time's it?"
"I don't know." She shrugs. "Three o'clock?"
"Three o'clock?" Castle sputters. "In the morning? Kate, that's ungodly. Go to back to sleep."
"Yeah, well, Pi was on the couch." She flips on a lamp.
"What?" Castle drags a pillow over his head to block out the light and smothers his next words in the cotton. "What does Pi have to do with any of this?"
"I got fired."
He sighs and struggles to sit up, abandoning the pillow and squinting in the light. He watches her sink back down on the mattress, crossing her legs. She drapes her elbows at her knees and her head falls forward; the pale arch of her neck is vulnerable.
"What happened to coffee?"
"I didn't mean to get fired," she mutters, tipping her head back and staring up at his ceiling. Maybe. Her eyes might be closed. She's piled her hair on top of her head; her face looks thin and angular without it, her eyes overlarge, as if the secrets welled in them might break and spill over any second.
He could really use that coffee. "What did you mean to do?"
"Just... not ruin her life. Her fiance died and-" Kate shrugs, chin dropping.
"They weren't engaged, were they?" he says stupidly. "They were just secret lovers or something."
And then he gets it.
You almost died and I didn't say anything and no one arrested Reed.
Right. He should've seen that coming. "Ah, okay." No one arrested Reed and she wanted to make it right - not just for Svetlana, but for him as well. Because Castle was the victim last time.
Huh, that's funny because he saw it more like he stuck his nose into things and kinda got what was coming to him.
"Kate. What did you think would happen when you called in the anonymous tip?"
"It wasn't anonymous," she says calmly.
The lamp light casts her face in shadows, angled away like it is, even while his own eyes are still getting used to the burn of illumination.
"It wasn't anonymous?" he echoes.
"Television stations and newspapers don't take anonymous tips - not like the police. They need to corroborate the story before they can air it. I had to leave my name, badge number. I'm sure they called around to verify my credentials."
"Oh," he says, completely floored. She did it anyway. She left her name and proof of her job with some reporter at a television station just to allow Svetlana the chance to get away from her mobster family. "Kate. You left your badge number."
"Yeah, stupid in hindsight."
"No," he sighs. Kate is never stupid. He holds out a hand but she doesn't seem to see it, so he strokes his palm up her knee to the top of her thigh, leans in and kisses her cheek softly. Chaste. "No, Kate. Not stupid."
She sighs and her nose nudges against his, pushing him back. When he withdraws, her eyes are on him. "I knew what I was doing."
"Yeah, I guess you did." Self-sabotage. He just doesn't understand why.
"I just didn't think it would - get me fired? Or at least not so soon. Not like that. I guess I thought I could change them. Change the system from within by... being like you."
"Like me?" he laughs, forehead knitting as he studies her. He doesn't want this to be his fault, something to come between them - another thing between them.
"Pulling one over on them. Getting my way." Her lips twitch and fall. "Castle them."
"Is this... my fault?" he asks finally. He did mess around in her classified case and get her in trouble and, yes, himself as well, but he promised to be better. He promised and then he didn't stick to it either. "I asked you for more information and you gave me the thumb drive and I shouldn't have-"
"No. I – Castle, this job, D.C., us – " Kate pauses, hanging on some inner precipice of confession. "It wasn't what I expected," she rushes at last, her body slumping. "At all."
"Okay." Castle stretches the word out, wondering where this is going. "What does this have to do with calling in the tip?"
"I knew what I was doing," she repeats. "When I called. I knew that if I left a trail, the AG would eventually track it back to me. And… maybe I wanted that."
Castle blinks, not sure if he heard that right. "You wanted them to fire you?"
"Well, no. Not like this."
"What other way is there to fire someone?"
"I didn't expect to get fired, Castle. I thought I'd get my hand slapped and a suspension. I thought it would... be easier. I thought this was the job I wanted but nothing about it feels right and I'm not being a good partner and I don't know. I'm not making any sense. I don't know what I'm supposed to do now."
"I know what you should do."
Her head jerks sharply towards him and he realizes she thought he had some profound moment. Ah, no, sorry.
"Coffee," he says sheepishly. "Let's make some coffee - decaf, because I really do want to get back to bed at some point. But we'll just hash it out all night if we have to. Build theory until it makes sense."
"All night? Thought you said you wanted to get back to bed at some point."
"Well, one of us is fired," he grins. "So it looks like you're keeping writer's hours. That means hash it out all night and sleep all day."
She gives a soft laugh, catches his wrist with her fingers. "Okay then. I can indulge in your more sloth-like tendencies. For a day. But Castle. Pi is on your couch."
"So he's asleep on your couch in your open plan living room. We'll wake him up."
"He's woken me plenty of times with his vegetable smoothies. Turn about fair play."
"Or we could hash it out here. Who needs coffee?" She leans in and pushes on his shoulders, drops him back down to the mattress. He grins up at her as she slides her body over his, and her necklace swings free of the t-shirt she wore to bed.
She didn't wear that to bed though. He wonders when she hung it around her neck, wonders how long she was roaming the night - unsure and seeking guidance - before she woke him. He reaches up and snags both rings on the chain, his finger threading through the bands.
"Guess I can wear it now," she says softly and sits back on her heels to take the necklace off.
He watches as she unclasps the chain and slides the engagement ring off - his, hers - and then she hands it to him.
He's still lying flat on his back where she playfully pushed him down, but he props himself up on elbow for this, takes her hand in his.
He slides the ring on her finger where it goes, feels the moment rush in over him once more.
"I think everything's been said that needs to be said," she murmurs, and her smile meets his for a kiss.