DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Total bummer.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

This is a prompt fill for #ThankYouTerri. The prompt and notes about when in canon the events of the story occur are both at the end so as not to spoil any surprises.


A Hands-on Approach


It isn't his fault. Honest.

Castle didn't even notice anything was amiss until the tall brunette's booted foot was halfway up his leg, making a beeline for hallowed ground. It was only then that he realised something was up.

Ummm...not up up. Not as far as he's concerned, not him, no, no. Except... Okay, yes. Maybe a little up. He is single, after all, since he sent Gina packing after their ill-advised attempt to reconcile.

But right now, Gina's the last thing on his mind. Because as he sits with his colleague in a café, having agreed to "grab a coffee" with her, it's becoming apparent there are much more important things to worry about.

Like the way his colleague is clearly keen to transform their embryonic working relationship into something more... And, judging by the position of the marauding toe army right now… is more than willing to make it happen.

She's just his type, too, or what seems to be becoming his type... lithe, athletic - which he knows beyond any doubt by the way she damn near climbed him like a tree in the elevator at the Twelfth, her slim-fit stretch denim-clad thigh muscles cording as she clamped them around his waist. Pretty eyes, with a "come get it" gleam that's hard to ignore; that would scramble the higher intellectual faculties of a lesser man, leaving behind a pathetic husk.

Not him though.

No.


As it turns out, a coffee was the last thing she was interested in grabbing. The evidence is clear. The way her pointed leather weapon makes contact with Private Castle, sending a tremor through him – whether it's arousal or fear, he doesn't even know - and her non-fat latte sits spiralling steam; neglected in the center of the booth table.

But to his mind, there's a time and a place for flirting, and a time and a place for the kind of antics that get you eighty-sixed from your favorite café. And there's no way he's going to give up his daily brew. So he retreats to the relative safety of the corner of the booth, wraps his fingers around the woman's ankle, and firmly returns it to solid ground.

That doesn't hold her for long.

"So...Castle...Rick. Can I call you Rick? I'd love it if we could spend some more time together. I always said, there's no better way to learn how things work than to peel away all the layers. One..." She strokes the tip of a single finger across a button halfway down his shirt..."by..." She flicks the button from its little cotton slit, "one..." she finishes, and her fingernail slips under the fabric and scrapes a tickly trail across his breastbone, raising a wave of goose flesh in its wake, as his skin twitches and flushes at the - not entirely unwelcome - intrusion.

He stares at her, trying to decide if her attentions are off putting or flattering. Her gaze is demure, downcast. But that smirk's a little on the sly side. He wonders what else she has planned.

It's then that her hand drops into his lap.

And his blood supply leaves his brain, and his cheeks flood red as he feels things starting to get congested in Trouserland. He now realises the extent of his folly. Despite his best intentions to keep himself nice, it's...enormous.

And he feels a serious pang inside his chest at this mess. How it's just one more data point to show how intensely screwed up this whole situation is with Beckett.

And at the thought of the woman who's caught and held his attention for close to three years, there's an invisible fist inside his chest that grabs and twists at his heart, even as the rush of blood south makes his head spin. While things seem to be going swimmingly here at the Crazy Backward Universe Café, where a gorgeous brunette is doing her best to get a grip on his um...the situation, it all just underlines how very much things aren't heading in any direction even remotely forward with Beckett.

Hell, he feels like he only just got back into her good graces after he left for the summer and got back together with Gina. Now he's sent Gina on her way, and he's single again, ripe for the picking.

And he wants Beckett to pick him, so very badly.

But she's got a boyfriend, and here he is in a coffee house booth being mauled by a movie actress in a wig, while she pretends to be the woman he's wanted to distraction for years.

There's nothing Crazy Backward Universe about that.


Three years ago, you would totally have been up for it...

There it is again. His evil half, that niggling little voice inside his head that eggs him on to wicked, wicked things. But she isn't some nameless blonde he's met at a book party or on a talk show; it's Creepy Beckett, and her hands are creeping perilously close to the point of no return. And though this could be the hookup of his dreams, the idea that he's considering going through with some kind of dodgy cosplay so he can kid himself that he's got Beckett in his bed? It might just do his head in.

No. Just...no. He sits up, intending to grasp her by the wrist and to set her hand aside to create some distance between them.

And just at that moment, there's a blast of traffic noise and cold air as the café front door swishes open. He doesn't turn around, but the hairs on the back of his neck begin to prickle and rise as the thought crosses his mind that if the new arrival - whoever it is - happened to be someone they know… this little scenario would not look good.

"Castle? Natalie?!"


He can't forget it, the look in her eyes after she saw him last night, in that café. The expression on her face that she was definitely trying to hide. Anger? Hurt? Resignation?

All of the above.

And whatever it is that stuck with him from their encounter last night, and caused the guilt that still churns his gut today, that's become twice as intense since he walked into the precinct five minutes ago; he can still see it in the droop of her shoulders now, as she stands staring at the notice board. The way her head seems too heavy for her neck. She's unmoving, facing away from the break room door, and seemingly oblivious to his presence.

A humming energy runs through him, as it strikes him what else it could mean. It could mean that if she keeps looking at him like she did last night, like his antics actually broke something real... even though she has a boyfriend. He shakes his head. He doesn't know.

None of it may mean much right now.

But it gives him hope.

Right now though, she looks like she could really use a good hug.


"Castle! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Before she realised who it was and who had her in a clinch from behind, it was like he was watching the whole thing unfold in slow-mo. How she ducked down in his arms, and threw her elbows up in a classic self-defense release. Then how she twirled, gaining space and stability by shifting her weight to her back foot, in preparation for using a booted toe to render his family jewels violently, suddenly, barren.

"Sorry! Sorry! It was totally an accident. I thought you were...ummm..." He cringes inside as he watches her recoil.

"Really?! Do we have talk about this now?" Her gaze zips around the break room, out the windows, around the bullpen for onlookers, or perhaps for the unspoken subject of their discussion. The blonde, attractive, slightly obsessive elephant not currently in the room. "Was the hug for me, or was it for the fictional version of me?"

"Oh...ummm."

"You don't have to answer, Castle, I can read it all over your face. Last night wasn't enough for you? Wait-" She scrubs at her temples with her fingertips, screwing her eyes shut, shaking her head. "Don't answer that either."

He chews on his bottom lip in lieu of speaking. He sees her discomfort, and regrets it, but he honestly doesn't know where to start. "Kate...Natalie and me...we're..."

Her stricken look drives home the need for speed and clarity. "Kate! After you saw Natalie and me last night, I didn't stick around. I went home...alone," he finishes, with a helpless shrug. "Natalie is kind of intense about her work and she developed a thing for me. But not the real me. But what you saw-" He breaks off with a blush, because what she witnessed was, admittedly, an eyeful. He gulps. "That was all that happened."

She drops her gaze, and then nods. Then it's like she's dusting herself off, and Beckett is back in the house.

He holds out the cardboard travel mug, which she still hasn't taken. "The coffee will always be for 'you'-you. The hug was accidental. Ish. Spur-of-the-moment, anyway. You looked like you could use it...though for the viability of my future children, I may need to give you advance warning next time."

Her smile is genuine and broader than he's seen from her for a while. "Okay...thanks...And it's okay...I think."

Then, before she can react, he is laying a light, soft peck on her cheek.

She blushes. "Castle! Don't push your luck." She knocks him away from her with a well-placed sideways shove. "Are we done here? Let's get to work."

"Okay. I'm all yours."

All yours.

As he picks up his own coffee cup again, he sighs, and something familiar burns inside his chest. All hers? One day, she might even be on board with that, and it's a day he's looking forward to.

Beckett pokes her head back in through the break room doorway. "You coming, Castle?"

One day.

He steps out into the bullpen and into the beginning of another workday at Beckett's side.

Maybe soon.


AUTHOR'S NOTE

"A Hands-On Approach", filled as a gift for Julie for a generous contribution to the YoungStorytellers Foundation.

Prompt: 'Castle hugged Kate from behind, in the precinct. "It was an accident," he swears. "So was the kiss on her cheek"'. Submitted by Indrani_S.

See all the prompts and fills at the #ThankYouTerri Tumblr page, thankyouterri dot tumblr dot com.

Personal note: I didn't want to give it away at the beginning, but this is obviously set during episode 3.11, Nikki Heat in the airing order intended by the makers (i.e. Castle is single at the time). I inserted a scene after the elevator scene, and replaced part of the following morning scene. You can assume Jenny's jealous outburst happens straight after the end of this fic.

Many many thanks to Fembot79 and nighttimerunner for your marvellous help brainstorming this sucker, and for the cheers and squees when I finally started writing it!

As always, all the 3s to my friend KyinHI for the beta. Long may your 'roons be fresh and crispy on the outside, and chewy in the middle 33333333. I edited the story some more after her beta, so any silliness is all me!

Let me know what you thought!

Edits: Edited the author's note a little