Poof! You're Dead


"Do you want these back?" Castle proffers the rainbow of flowers as they step out onto the sidewalk.

"No, they're yours," she says, enigmatic smile still twitching the edges of her mouth. "I magicked them out of thin air, just for you."

He smiles and her shoulder playfully bumps his; he's carrying a plastic bouquet in his hand and letting the bitter winter wind flap his coat around.

It's miserable out here. There's no line for the comfort food truck this late, and the guy is out of half his menu items. Beckett settles on chili and Castle can't summon the energy to go through the list again, so he echoes her order.

She gives him a sidelong look, but she's still trying. Her smile is real, and that's what always surprises him about her. How real she is. She's not faking it to make him feel better. She's not plastering on that smile out of some kind of duty or obligation.

She's genuinely happy standing beside him in the cold, her cheeks reddened, her hair teasing snakelike into her eyes in the wind. She takes both cups of chili from the guy and hands Castle his, tightly clasps the brown paper bag with a whole loaf of bread.

She hasn't said a word about the anniversary of her mother's death, and here she is teasing and nudging him, trying. True, he's depressed and he doesn't want to admit there's a bitter, sad taste in his mouth, that the prospect of going home to his mother and daughter and explaining why he's not better at this, why he fails at real relationships-

But his blue outlook is ridiculous compared to what Kate has lost.

What she aches to make right.

The least he can do is huddle on a bench for warmth with her, dipping sourdough bread into their food truck chili while the strings of freshly-grated cheddar cheese still cling to their lips, to their bowls.

"Needed this," he says finally, his arm pressed against hers on the bench. Cold metal bench. But the peppery kick in the chili and her body wedged in at his side - those things make him hot in strange places.

The back of his neck.

His knuckles.

The wrap of muscle at his ribs on her side. Makes it hard to breathe consistently.

Gina never changes. Did he? Has he changed? He thought so, he's afraid he hasn't, but three years ago, Detective Beckett would never have presented him with flowers she magicked out of thin air. With that smile of hers that has its own magic.

"I did too," she says. Out of the blue.

He glances at her, finally strings together her meaning. She needed this too.

"Mind me asking how you - do you do anything? On the day."

She shakes her head, and he doesn't know if that answers his rudeness or the question itself. Prying into her life.

"I don't mind you asking," she clarifies, dragging a thumb across her bottom lip to catch the melting cheese. "It's the same every year. I work. I wear her wedding ring around my neck and I feel every bump of it against my sternum. And then I go home and I make myself miserable going through old photos."

He pauses, lets that sink in. Not only that she's told him, but the frustration of each word. A cut to them. She almost hates herself, he thinks; she's been going at this case for so long now that every new year is a failure.

He can relate.

"Do you look at her case?"

"I said old photos, didn't I?"

He drops his head, feeling sick. "You look at her autopsy photos - the crime scene photos? Kate."

She gives a sharp breath. "I was going to cheer you up. This was a good case - a fun case. Wasn't it? I needed that too."

"It was, I still - the residue is still there." He pats the plastic bouquet at his side, and he can't help smiling. "You surprised me in the elevator. I wasn't expecting that."

She smiles back, just that minor key curve of lips. It's enough. It's a good one.

"Everyone says I'm the goofy one. But you're just a goofball who's still in the closet."

She snorts at that, lifts both eyebrows. "You're making a little much of a hat trick."

"You didn't have a hat."


He lets her have that one. Especially because their dialogue has a rhythm to it that makes things right again. "I'll treasure that little bit of elevator magic for the rest of my days, Beckett."

"There's better elevator magic," she shoots back, lips wickedly curved. "If you know just how to..." Her voice trails off, drops low, and so do her eyes.

He breathes out a curse and jerks his own eyes away from that look on her face. But he manages a croaking, "One day, you'll have to show me those tricks of yours. Ice and elevator magic."

She bumps his shoulder to dispel some of the eroticism of it all, and he's grateful, he is, but she stands with her empty soup cup and he finds himself bereft at the thought that this is over already.

She tosses her cup and spoon in the recycle bin beside the truck. Glances at him. "One day, you'll have to hold me to it, Rick."

And then she gently untangles his fingers from his own remains, throws his trash away as well.