When you sing a song of love, you're actually giving something to yourself, too. You're singing and casting these affirmations of love out into the universe.
Roy Montgomery seemed a little surprised to find Castle standing there alongside Beckett when he opened his front door, but he took it in stride. "Come in," he invited, stepping back to open the door wider. His normal stoic demeanor had returned, but there was something in the way he looked at Kate that wasn't usual at all.
"I hope you don't mind," Kate said with careful formality, gesturing to Castle, "but we wanted to tell you what we found out, about that letter you got, and the drug ring all those years ago."
"Sure," Roy said, his eyebrows lifting. "Sounds like you've been busy."
"You could say that," Castle agreed. They followed Roy into the living room and, bypassing the piano, took seats on the sofa.
"When you were here the other day, you mentioned that someone else had gotten the same letter," Roy said once they were settled. "I take it that means someone had asked you to look into it."
"Yes," Kate admitted, ducking her head in embarrassment. Castle smiled ruefully. He knew Kate was less than thrilled with how many people knew about their history of dabbling in criminal investigations.
"Yes," Castle echoed, meeting Roy's eyes. "In fact, it turns out that a lot of the professors got the same letter. All of the ones who are still there, who were there when Bill Forrester was running his drug ring."
"All of them?" Roy repeated. "This sounds like quite a story."
That was Castle's cue, and he took it, laying out the whole thing for Roy, starting with when Greg had approached them a week ago to ask them to look into the matter. He left out the part about Templeton attacking them with her car - he hadn't discussed it with Kate in advance, but felt instinctively that she wouldn't want to worry Roy with that detail.
Kate kept quiet through most of his recitation, inserting a quiet word here and there but largely letting him tell the story in his own way. Castle knew that she was still feeling awkward and nervous about facing Roy, and that was a big part of why she had brought him to her lesson today. He was there for moral support, and to provide a little bit of a buffer in those first few uncomfortable moments - although Kate hadn't put it that way when she'd hesitantly asked him to come along, he knew that was her intent.
He didn't mind. Whatever it took to help her and Roy start rebuilding their relationship, Castle was willing to do.
When he'd finished telling Roy about their discoveries and the aftermath, the older man blew out a breath, sinking back against the couch cushions. His eyes were hooded as he stared at the floor, thinking it over.
"I don't know what to say," Roy said after a moment. "I honestly had no idea about any of this. Diana was always closed off, I wouldn't say antisocial, but not the chatty type."
"That's what Greg said too," Kate murmured.
"I'm glad to know that Greg is going to fill in for her," Roy added. "He's a steady guy, and those students will be needing that now." He pursed his lips, frowning. "The dean and the directors must be going out of their minds, with me out and now Diana too."
"I'm sure they understand, you need time to heal," Castle said. Roy huffed with distaste at that.
"Not as much time as the doctors said," he complained mildly, but then he shook that off. "Well, that's neither here nor there. Thank you," he said, lifting his eyes to Castle, "for telling me all of this. For looking into it." He turned to look at Kate, including her in the statement as well. "I appreciate it."
"We were glad to do it," Kate said, her cheeks coloring slightly.
Roy reached over, somewhat tentatively, and covered Kate's hand with his own. "Sounds like you've had quite a week," he said softly. "A lot of difficult discoveries."
Kate stared at him, her jaw tightening as she swallowed thickly. "It's okay," she said carefully. "It was all... necessary."
"Yeah." Roy sighed. "Necessary can be a bitch." He studied Kate's face. "But you're ready to sing?"
"Yes," she said firmly. She lifted her other hand and rested it on top of Roy's for a brief moment. Then, disentangling from him, she reached for her purse. "The next rehearsal is tonight."
"Let's get started, then," Roy said decisively. He stood up, and looked over at Castle again. "Are you staying?"
"Uh..." Castle looked at Beckett. He had never sat in on one of her lessons before; it had never even occurred to him to ask. Now that he thought about it, he would love to observe a session sometime. It would probably be good inspiration for Nikki... but today didn't seem like the right time. Kate needed privacy with Roy, to start getting their relationship back toward normal.
So Castle stood up, giving them both a smile. "I'll just go take a walk and come back," he said. Kate looked as if she wanted to object, but she held her tongue. He kissed her cheek and turned to the door as Kate and Roy began moving toward the piano.
Rick wandered around Roy's neighborhood for a while, enjoying the pleasant sunny early-autumn weather and the ample opportunities for people-watching. He found a tiny park a few streets over, and sat for a while on a bench, notebook in hand. He watched the people go by: nannies pushing strollers, elderly couples with canes and walkers, dog-walkers, mail carriers, and even the occasional businessperson in pinstriped suit, talking on earpieces and gesturing into the empty air as they walked.
He jotted down some thoughts about the plot of the new opera he'd been working on, thought about it for a while, crossed out some of his notes, wrote new notes, thought some more, wrote some more.
Eventually he put away the notebook and began walking again, finding a coffee shop, where he got an iced latte for himself and an iced green tea for Kate. Then he found his way back to Roy's house.
As he walked up the front stairs, he could hear Kate's voice floating out through the open window. She was up near the top of the soprano range, singing a series of notes that rambled up and down in groups of three, alternating fast and slower. She paused, and Castle could just barely hear the low rumble of Roy's voice, and then Kate started again.
Castle stood on the doorstep, listening; he didn't want to disturb the moment by ringing the bell. But after a moment Evelyn Montgomery opened the door.
"Saw you standing out there," she said in a low voice, ushering him inside. "I was just about to tell them it's time to stop anyway."
"How's he doing, really?" Castle asked quietly as he stepped into the foyer.
Evelyn shrugged, a small smile gracing her lips. "Still complaining mightily," she huffed with a shake of her head, "but he's doing well. Honestly, he's been so much better since Kate called yesterday."
"Good," Castle murmured. "That's good."
He realized then that the music from the next room had stopped, and he could hear Kate and Roy talking. Castle stepped toward the doorway, smiling when he saw the two of them at the piano, Roy sitting and Kate standing, their heads bent over the music together.
Just then they stopped, both nodding, and Roy spotted Rick and Evelyn in the doorway. "Ah, perfect timing," he said in his reserved way. He pushed himself up onto his feet as Kate closed her score and turned to put it away in her bag.
"Everything good?" Castle asked, keeping his tone light. "All set for the rehearsal tonight?"
"Yes," Roy and Kate answered in unison. They looked at each other, surprised, and both laughed. It lifted Castle's heart to see it, even though there was still a hint of self-consciousness in both of them. But he could see that things were better between them, and Evelyn could see it too, he thought; she was smiling as well.
"It should be fine," Roy said to Kate. "You're in good shape for it. Call me tomorrow and let me know how it went."
"I will. Thanks," Kate said, coloring slightly. Even the mildest of praise from Roy seemed to have that effect on her.
"See you Tuesday?" Roy added.
She nodded, and this time Castle could see that her smile was genuine. "Yes," she said with perfect poise. "See you then."
Castle was again standing by Kate's side when she rang the doorbell on Sunday afternoon, this time at her father's door. Her heart was light; the rehearsal on Friday evening had gone very well, and her shopping trip with Lanie had also been a success. There was another busy week ahead - it was time to begin rehearsals with the symphony for the upcoming Haydn recordings, as well as more Carmina Burana rehearsals, tutoring sessions, and continued lessons with Roy - but for tonight, this was all she needed: a nice quiet dinner with her two favorite men.
Jim opened the door, a warm smile already on his face for the two of them. "Come in, come in."
"Hi, Dad," Kate said, stepping through the door and wrapping her father in a hug. "How was your week?"
"Fine, fine. Boring," he said, squeezing her in return, then releasing her to shake Castle's hand. "Rick, nice to see you."
"Likewise," Castle agreed. "You're sure you don't mind me butting in?"
"Don't be silly. You're always welcome," Jim said easily. "You brought the pizza, right?"
"Dad," Kate chided, unable to hold back a giggle at the look of dismay on Castle's face.
"Just having a little fun," Jim chuckled. "Relax, son. I've got dinner in the oven."
"Peas in a pod, you two," Castle grumbled good-naturedly. "Here," he added, handing Jim a bottle. "Organic artisanal nonalcoholic sparkling cider."
"Thank you," Jim said, genuinely pleased. "This looks like it calls for the good wine glasses. Get them out, would you, Katie? I've got to check on the chicken."
The three of them settled in at the table, and within a few minutes they were chatting comfortably over the meal Jim had made. The conversation flowed easily, and they were all smiling as the food slowly disappeared.
When the meal was over and they stood to help clear the table, Kate took a deep breath and decided it was time. "Dad," she said as she followed Jim into the kitchen with a pile of dishes, "I learned something new this week, about - about Mom."
"Oh?" Jim put his stack of dishes in the sink and turned to take Kate's pile from her hands. "From Roy?"
"Yeah," she agreed. Castle came in then, carrying the empty wine glasses, and gave her an encouraging smile.
"Thanks," Jim said to Rick, taking the glasses.
Castle came over to stand next to Kate, his arm slipping around her waist, his silent support giving her strength.
"Did you ever wonder," she asked her father, "where she got the pills from?"
"Sure," Jim said, calmly, but with a slight frown. "The police asked me about that."
"They did?" Kate felt her eyebrows go up, but after a moment's thought she realized that made sense. Of course, the police would have found out that Johanna didn't have a prescription for the Valium, so they would have known that she'd gotten it illegally.
"I couldn't tell them anything," Jim said, sighing, staring at his hands. "I didn't have a clue where she'd gotten it from. But I..." He paused, looking up at Kate. "Oh. It was Roy, then?"
"Yeah," Kate acknowledged. She bit her lip, breathed carefully, and added, "There was a guy at the school who was selling drugs, and Roy got the Valium from him."
"I see." Jim was quiet, digesting this. Kate leaned against Rick, covering his hand with hers where it rested on her hip. Then she disengaged from him and moved to the sink to start rinsing the dishes.
"Well," Jim said after a minute or two, "I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised. He cared about her, I know that. I'm sure he thought he was trying to help." He moved to Kate's side, touching her shoulder. "Leave that, Katie. It can wait."
"Come on." Jim reached over and turned off the faucet. "Let's have dessert first. I've got some ice cream." He handed Kate a dishtowel and studied her face as she dried her hands. "How do you feel about this?" he asked gently. "About Roy. It took him all this time to tell you this?"
"He - I was... I was pretty mad at first," Kate admitted. "But it's like you said... he was just trying to help. He didn't know." She sighed. "What's the use of being angry at him for it? It doesn't fix anything."
"No, it doesn't. But it's still okay to be angry," Jim said softly. Kate pressed her lips together and swallowed hard, blinking, fighting back a wave of tears.
"I know," she said, when she could control her voice again. "But I'm not. Not any more."
Jim nodded acceptance. "Okay," he said. "Good. Good." He pulled her into a tight hug, and she felt something loosen in her chest as she hugged him back.
Castle was quietly taking out bowls and spoons in the background, and by the time Jim and Kate let each other go, both wiping at their eyes, Castle had the ice cream ready. They sat around the kitchen table to eat it, and Kate let Rick tell the story again of the week they had spent investigating the blackmail notes. She was grateful that, as he had with Roy, he omitted the part about the car attack. She definitely didn't need either Roy or her father to be worrying about that.
"Well, you've had a busy week, Katie," Jim said with humor in his voice when Castle had finished the story. "Should I be expecting you to change careers again, become a private investigator? Maybe join the FBI?"
"Dad," she groaned. "Don't give him any ideas." But it was too late. Castle's eyes were already unfocusing as his imagination ran wild.
"I just had the best idea for our Halloween costumes this year," he gushed. Jim laughed out loud, his spoon clattering in his bowl as he gave over to it, his whole body shaking with mirth while Kate just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
After they had finished dessert and helped clean up, Kate excused herself and went to the bathroom. Finished, she washed her hands and checked herself in the mirror. Her eye makeup was ever so slightly smudged, but not too bad. She stared at her reflection for a long moment, not really seeing it, as her mind wandered back over the conversation.
She had told her dad the truth; she really wasn't angry at Roy any more. There were still a lot of feelings to work through, but it was going to be okay. She was determined, as she had told Castle, not to let anger and guilt run her life any more.
When she came out of the bathroom, she found Castle and Jim in the living room, standing next to the bookcase where Jim had his family photos on display - dozens of them, from his earliest days with Johanna all the way through Kate's teen years. But the two men weren't looking at the pictures; they were deep in conversation, their heads bent close together, and they both startled when she came in. Their heads came up almost in unison; they stepped away from each other, both looking slightly guilty.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Oh... nothing," Castle said, just a shade too casually.
"Nothing," Jim echoed, smiling innocently. "I was just showing Rick some more of your baby pictures."
"Okay," she said skeptically. She was pretty sure there was something else going on, but maybe it was just her imagination working overtime. Castle and his endless conspiracy theories rubbing off on her, she thought ruefully. "Well, we should get going," was all she said, moving forward to hug her father again. "Thanks for having us over, Dad."
"Yes, thank you," Castle added. "For everything."
"It's my pleasure," Jim replied, smiling fondly at both of them. "Break a leg at that concert, Katie. I can't wait to hear all about it."
"I'll tell you all about it at dinner next Sunday," she promised.
A few minutes later, she and Castle were strolling toward the subway entrance, hand in hand. "That was nice," Castle said. "I want to have your dad over for dinner at the loft sometime soon. Return the favor."
"That sounds great," she murmured. "But you don't have to try too hard, you know, babe. He already likes you."
Castle smiled a little, squeezing her hand. "I know," he acknowledged. "How about this - I'll put together a menu, and you can tell me if I'm going overboard."
"Deal," she agreed, smiling back. They paused for a sweet, lingering kiss at the top of the subway stairs and then descended, their fingers still entwined.
Nearly a week later, Castle was sitting in the audience, surrounded by dignitaries, luminaries, and VIPs, listening to the Carmina Burana concert. He was enjoying himself immensely - even more so now that the brief intermission had passed and Kate had come onto the stage along with the other soloists. For the first half, she had stayed backstage.
Kate looked stunning in the gown that she and Lanie had picked out. She'd modeled it for Castle earlier that day, and he knew she had been pleased by his reaction. He only regretted that she hadn't allowed him to take it off her, but maybe later tonight he would get that honor. The dress was a deep burgundy velvet ("Lanie wanted something in a fire-engine red, so this was our compromise") and hugged Kate's figure in all the right places, with a dramatically flared full skirt and a neckline that was just deep enough to display a tantalizing hint of cleavage, but high enough to be socially acceptable - even elegant.
Now she was sitting on her chair at the front of the stage, her hands folded on top of the musical score in her lap, a slight smile on her face as she listened to the baritone soloist. He was singing Estuans interius, a forceful aria about leading a life of vice after having been mistreated by fate.
Castle had spent some time in the past few days refreshing his memory of Carmina Burana, reading over the translations of the various Latin and German texts, the better to enhance his appreciation of the performance. He had followed along raptly during the first half of the concert, as the chorus and the baritone soloist sang passionately about the cruelty of the goddess Fortune and then about the delights of springtime, with lyrics full of not-at-all-subtle sexual allusions.
One of his favorite numbers was Chramer, gip die varwe mir, in which the sopranos of the choir played the part of a woman of dubious virtue. She entreated a merchant to give her makeup, and then exhorted all young men in the vicinity to admire her. The rest of the choir responded with a low, slow hum, which Castle thought was meant to evoke a mental image of the young men indecisively eyeing the heavily rouged woman.
"Seht mich an, jungen man!" the sopranos sang, and Castle had grinned as he imagined the prostitute chasing the nervous young man around the marketplace, boldly urging him to look at her.
That song was followed by two more about the delights of the flesh, and that was the first half of the concert. Then, after the intermission, the performance had resumed, beginning with the portion of the piece called In Taberna. This section evoked a tavern, and the female singers were entirely silent for the four hearty songs about drinking and gambling. Castle could see O'Leary in the very back row, towering over all of his fellow basses, hardly even glancing at his score; clearly he was very familiar with the music.
Then the bar scene was over, and a rustle of anticipation went through the audience as Kate stood up, opening her score and holding it up in front of her. The adult choir sat down, leaving the children's choir standing. The flutes played a sweet melody, and the children sang in response, "Amor volat undique."
The flutes and orchestra played again, the children sang another phrase, and then another, and finally it was Kate's turn.
"Siqua sine socio," she sang. She was still smiling slightly, a hint of humor in her eyes, and her voice was clear, steady, and pure. "Caret omni gaudio."
Castle found that he was smiling too. It was silly, this dulcet melody with the lilting flutes and the innocent children's voices, paired with lyrics about the bitterness of a girl who had no boyfriend. But Kate sounded wonderful. Her body language was confident, relaxed; her eyes sparkled, her lips curved, and her voice floated out into the hall, filling the whole space with the glorious music.
When the song was finished, she sat down again, and the baritone rose to sing Dies, nox et omnia, a song of a rejected lover.
Then it was Kate's turn again, and Castle recognized in Stetit puella the meandering series of notes that he had heard through Roy's window the other day. He was enraptured, his eyes glued to her as she sang. It wasn't the first time he had sat in an auditorium and listened to Kate singing, but he thought he would never get tired of it.
After that song, Kate sat for a few more numbers, and then sang her second solo aria, In trutina, a contemplative piece in which the singer debated whether to remain chaste or to indulge her lascivious desires. Then the baritone soloist and the two choirs - children and adults - rose to join Kate, and they all launched enthusiastically into Tempus est iocundum, a rollicking song about the delights of young love. Kate and the baritone soloist grinned at each other as they took turns singing the verses, hamming it up for the audience's benefit. The chorus members, young and old, were also smiling as they sang, everyone having fun with the rowdy lyrics and the energetic tune.
As soon as that piece had ended, Kate launched directly into Dulcissime, her voice soaring effortlessly up to the high register. Her eyes were still dancing with merriment and she threw herself wholeheartedly into the short song. When she reached the high D, chills went down Castle's spine. It was clear, sweet, brilliant. Her voice seemed to be caressing the notes as she descended into the final few words of the song.
The conductor, Pamela, allowed the final notes to resound through the space for a long moment after Kate had stopped singing. Then, with a decisive snap of her wrist, Pamela brought the choir and orchestra into the penultimate movement, a big bold sound that crashed over the listeners like a tidal wave. Kate, smiling, stepped backward to take her seat again.
The final movement was a reprise of the very first movement of the piece, and Castle enjoyed it just as much the second time around, although this time he was distracted by Beckett, his gaze repeatedly wandering back to her as she sat there listening. He thought his chest might burst open with love and pride at how well she had sung, how poised and elegant she looked, how lucky he was to have her in his life.
The choir and orchestra brought the piece to its conclusion, and the audience surged to its feet, cheering and applauding vigorously. Kate stood alongside the conductor and the two male soloists, beaming. In the end, they had to do three curtain calls for the appreciative audience before at last the house lights came up and the choir and orchestra began to leave the stage.
Castle made his way out of the auditorium along with the rest of the audience, and then he weaved through the crowd toward the side doors that led backstage, stopping several times along the way to chat with various VIPs who recognized him. Everyone he met had glowing words to say about Kate's performance, and he couldn't stop smiling as he thanked them all.
Finally he found himself backstage, and after asking directions from a passing chorister, eventually located the dressing room door marked WOMEN.
"Kate?" he called, knocking lightly on the door. "Are you in there?"
After a brief pause, the door opened, and his face fell in disappointment when he saw that Kate had already changed out of the gorgeous gown. The dress she was wearing now was much more restrained, as befitting the post-concert dinner event that they were to attend next.
"Sorry," she smirked, correctly interpreting his expression. But he recovered quickly, slipping into the room and shoving the door closed behind him as he pulled Kate against him.
"You were amazing," he husked, staring into her eyes. "Incredible. Extraordinary."
"Thanks, babe," she said, her cheeks flushing pink with pleasure. She spoke softly, as she always did after performing, to let her vocal muscles rest. "It felt good. I thought the whole thing went really well."
"Oh, definitely. It was a great concert," he nodded. "And you were the best thing about it."
He kissed her before she could reply, tugging her body more tightly against his; and she responded, threading her fingers into his hair, pressing him back against the door, her tongue teasing at his. But after a few heated, breathless moments, she wrenched herself away.
"Nice try," she rasped, twisting her head to evade his attempt to recapture her lips. "Still not gonna happen, Castle."
"But this dressing room is even nicer than the other one," he pointed out reasonably, but he reluctantly let go of her when she pulled back.
"I hope you realize that makes no sense at all," she said. "And now I need to fix my makeup," she added, grumbling, as she checked herself in the mirror.
"It looks fine," he said, his hands finding her hips again. She narrowed her eyes at him in the mirror.
"Castle, behave yourself."
"What? I'm not doing anything." He crowded her from behind, watching as she opened her purse and took out her lipstick. She leaned toward the mirror, pursing her lips in preparation, but then she paused, her gaze snagging on his in the mirror. He smirked. She had definitely caught him watching her mouth, waiting to see her apply the lipstick.
"Castle," she snapped.
"What?" he said again, affronted, widening his eyes to show his innocence.
Kate put down the unused lipstick and turned to face him, her arms coming around his neck again. She pulled his head down and kissed him searingly, scorchingly. His knees went weak, and he clutched at her hips, drinking her in.
And then she was opening the door and shoving him through it, biting her bottom lip, giving that Mona Lisa smile of hers. He found himself out in the hallway, panting, his hair mussed, his pulse pounding. He stared dazedly at Kate as she gave him an affectionate pat on the chest.
"Be out in a minute," she murmured, and shut the door in his face.
Champagne fizzed through Kate's bloodstream, giving her a pleasant buzz as she sat with Castle and some of the other performers and their significant others at the governor's birthday dinner. She was feeling positively euphoric from the combination of the alcohol, the satisfaction of having given a good concert, and the nearness of her boyfriend - her heightened awareness of his presence creating a tingling sense of anticipation.
Despite the elegant setting of the upscale hotel ballroom, the dinner was a boisterous affair, drinks flowing liberally even before the meal had begun. Several of the governor's high-profile friends had roasted him while the guests ate, telling a series of jokes that left the entire room laughing.
After the food had been cleared away and dessert and coffee brought out, a band began to play; some of the guests trickled onto the dance floor in pairs, while others stayed at their tables, still conversing. The governor himself was circulating, his face red and shiny from drink, beaming with indulgent pleasure as he moved from table to table, chatting up the attendees.
Eventually he found his way to the soloists' table, and spent some minutes gushing delightedly about the performance. "Fantastic. Absolutely amazing," he pronounced, shaking Pamela the conductor's hand with gusto. "I can't thank you all enough. It must have been an amazing effort to put this together. I loved every minute of it."
"You're quite welcome," Pamela said, smiling widely. "It was my pleasure. I'm so glad you enjoyed it."
"Of course! Of course I did," he exclaimed. "And you," he added, as his gaze swept across the assembled faces and found Kate. "You were incredible." Quickly, he made his way around the table to take her hand, pressing it between both of his. "Stunning. The best I've ever heard. I got chills, let me tell you."
"Thank you so much," Kate said, unable to hold back her smile. She just hoped she wasn't blushing.
"I especially liked your In trutina," the governor went on earnestly, pulling out the chair next to Kate and sitting down, his eyes still on her face. "You know, usually when I listen to Carmina Burana, which I do all the time, by the way - I have at least a dozen different recordings," he added, "I have to confess that I find that number kind of a downer. So slow and boring in between Veni, veni and Tempus est iocundum. But you made it work for me. For the first time I felt like I understood what it's trying to say. A moment of contemplation in the midst of all the madness."
"That's exactly how I think of it," Kate agreed, delighted by the unexpected commentary. "It's like a little bit of introspection to break up all of that partying. The woman takes a bit of time out to think about what she really wants."
"And of course, in the end, she decides to go back to partying," Castle added, grinning, from behind Kate's shoulder.
The governor chortled, slapping his thigh. "Yes! Exactly. Exactly. A pleasure, by the way, Mr. Castle," he added, reaching out to shake Castle's hand. "Quite a pair you two make, don't you? I feel more talented just sitting here with you."
Kate lowered her eyes, blushing again. "Thank you, sir."
"No, no. Thank you." The governor stood up again, laying a hand briefly on Kate's shoulder. "Thank you so much for being part of this. It was lovely to meet you, and to hear you."
After he had gone, Kate turned back to the table, grateful to discover a fresh glass of champagne at her place. She took a hearty sip, still feeling flushed from the encounter.
"Had no idea he was such a music geek," Castle commented, and she nodded agreement, looking sideways at him.
"Me either," she said.
Castle put his napkin on the table and looked at her until she turned fully toward him. "Dance?" he asked hopefully.
Kate glanced over at the dance floor, which was well populated now, but not too crowded. "Sure."
It took them a while just to get to the dance floor, because it seemed that everyone they passed wanted to stop Kate and compliment her singing. She thanked them all sincerely, but her head was spinning from all the praise by the time she was securely in Castle's arms on the parquet. The band was playing a peppy, upbeat number as they began to dance.
"They're right, you know, all of them," Castle murmured as he whirled Kate across the floor. She bit her lower lip, hiding her embarrassed smile in his shoulder.
"I'm not used to this part," she admitted. "The accolades, everyone gushing over my performance. It's not the same when you're the concertmaster."
"No," he agreed. "It's different when you're the star of the show. You'll get used to it." He pulled back to look into her eyes. "You're going to have a lot of practice."
She nodded slowly, her arms tightening around Castle as they continued to move to the music. "This might sound weird," she said softly, "but it actually makes me feel closer to my mom. Thinking about how many times she did this kind of thing, how much she loved it." She held her head high, her eyes clear, fixed on Castle's beloved face. "When I sing, I can forget about everything else that happened, and just feel like I'm sharing something with her, even though she's gone."
Castle nodded, his eyes still on her face, gleaming with tenderness. "That doesn't sound weird at all. She's proud of you," he said with conviction. "Wherever she is, she's proud."
Kate breathed carefully. Her chest was tight with emotion, but in a good way. "I never could have done this without you," she said, brushing her lips lightly across Castle's cheek. "Thank you."
He smiled and held her close. The song changed then, the band members taking it down a notch, beginning a piece with a slower beat.
"Are the stars out tonight?" the lead singer crooned. "I don't know if it's cloudy or bright."
"I only have eyes for you," Castle hummed under his breath. Kate laughed softly, turning her head to get a look at the band as their singer continued the song.
As she was taking in the tiny stage where the five musicians were set up, watching them play, she felt Castle's arms slide off of her, releasing her; the front of her body felt suddenly cool, missing the warmth of him against her as he pulled away.
Surprised, she turned back, and when her gaze found her boyfriend again, the breath stopped in her throat.
Castle was down on one knee in front of her, a tiny black velvet box in his hand.
"Rick," she gasped, her hands flying up to her mouth. She was vaguely aware that the other dancers around them had fallen back, that every eye in the room was on them, but none of it really registered. She felt as if the whole world were spinning around them, the two of them here in the middle of a bubble where everything had stopped.
"I don't know if we're in a garden, or on a crowded avenue..." the singer warbled.
"I could have written a thousand flowery speeches," Castle said, his eyes shining with adoration as he looked up at her, "but none of them would be adequate for you, Kate. I just love you so much. Will you marry me?"
His face went blurry before her as her eyes filled with tears. "Oh god, yes," she choked out. "Of course I will."
With a smile splitting his face from ear to ear, Castle opened the box and reached for her hand. When he slipped the ring onto her finger, the whole room erupted into applause.
The band stopped playing, and the singer announced into the microphone, "She said yes, ladies and gentlemen!" He held up his phone to the mic, and music rang forth - the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.
Kate burst out laughing through her tears as Castle surged back up to his feet and wrapped his arms around her, bringing his lips to hers in a passionate kiss.
"You're incredible," she gasped against his mouth as she kissed him back, again and again.
"You're incredible," he contradicted, his face shining with happiness. The band started up anew, and the other dancers resumed dancing. Castle pulled Beckett against him and whirled her back into motion, her hands resting on his chest. The ring on her finger caught the light, and she stared at it, bewitched by its brilliant sparkle. It dazzled her eyes; but then she lifted her gaze to his face, and that was even more dazzling.
"I love you," she breathed, feeling lighter than air.
"I love you," he murmured back, and they sailed across the dance floor as if they were the only two people in the world.
Author's Note: Once again, thank you all so much for coming along on this ride with me. It's gratifying to know that this alternate universe has its small but dedicated fan base. :)
A special shout-out again to Katherine (The-KLF) for fabulous beta work. This story is definitely better than it would have been without her assistance!
This concludes the saga of musician-Caskett as far as it goes inside my head. I don't have any further ideas or plans to continue this AU, although of course, you never know what could happen in the future.
Thanks for reading!