"Mr. Castle," Beckett said, drawing the eye of the author, who was comfortably seated in his chair, his jacket removed. The top few buttons of his shirt were open, but she refused to let her eyes be drawn to that tantalizing slice of skin. He gazed up at her curiously as she entered the interrogation room with Sorenson on her heels.
"You've got quite a rap sheet for a best-selling author," she commented, opening the folder again and casting her eyes across it, even though she had already committed the pertinent details to memory. "Disorderly conduct, resisting arrest..."
"Boys will be boys," Castle offered, shrugging, affecting a cherubic expression. But his attention was drawn to Sorenson, reading the file over Beckett's shoulder, and Castle's eyes narrowed. "Well, maybe not all boys, am I right?" he added, casting Beckett a conspiratorial glance, rolling his eyes toward Sorenson.
Beckett ignored that. "Do you-"
"Says here that you stole a police horse," Sorenson exclaimed, reaching around Beckett to take hold of the file.
"Borrowed," the author corrected, as Beckett scowled in Sorenson's direction. She wasn't going to call him out in front of an interview subject, but she hated being interrupted.
"And you were nude at the time?" Sorenson went on, sounding scandalized.
"It was spring," Castle shrugged, smirking. Beckett had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep her expression blank, especially when she caught the tiny noise of astonished outrage that Will let out.
"And every time, the charges were dropped," she said coolly, cutting effortlessly through both Will's discomfiture and Castle's enjoyment of same. The writer immediately refocused his smirk on her, while she could still sense Will seething behind her. She slid into the chair opposite Castle, keeping her gaze firmly on him, her face betraying nothing.
"The mayor's a fan," he explained offhandedly, leaning forward. "But if it makes you feel any better, I'd be happy to let you spank me."
Beckett had only the briefest moment to experience the twisting flutter of arousal that the words created in the pit of her stomach before Sorenson was surging forward, halfway across the table with a growl of anger.
"You smug son-of-a-"
"Back off!" she snapped, her arm shooting up, slapping the back of her hand against Will's chest. She held him back with the press of her arm, her eyes never leaving Castle's face. The writer had flinched backward at Sorenson's outburst, but now he froze, eyes wide, watching her.
"Agent Sorenson, back the hell off," she said, keeping her voice low and controlled, vibrating with menace. She saw Castle shiver ever so slightly. Will's body was tense against her arm, but he gave in and took a step backward, still radiating anger that she could feel crackling in the air.
Beckett leaned forward over the table again, beckoning Castle toward her. She knew that he had tried leaning in as an intimidation technique, but she would be the one doing the intimidating in this room, damn it.
"Mister Castle," she said, still in her quiet but dangerous tone, as he submitted to the crook of her finger and leaned closer. "This whole bad-boy charm thing you've got going might work on bimbettes and celebutantes, but here in this room, you have one choice to make: you can be the guy who makes my life easier, or the guy who makes my life harder. And trust me, you do not want to be the guy who makes my life harder."
She watched with carefully concealed interest as Castle swallowed, his eyes wide and fixated on her. "'Kay," he murmured in acquiescence, and she allowed the intensity of her expression to drop down a notch.
"Alison Tisdale," she said, pulling a glossy photo from her file folder and putting it down on the table. "Daughter of real estate mogul Jonathan Tisdale."
"She's cute," Castle commented, studying the picture.
"She's dead. You ever meet her? Book signing, charity event?"
"It's possible," he mused, his lips curving upward in that cocky smirk again. "She's not in my little black book, if that's what you're asking."
From behind Beckett, Sorenson gave a huff of disgust, startling both Beckett and Castle. Somewhat guiltily, Beckett realized that for a moment she had almost completely forgotten he was there.
"Try this one," Will said gruffly, moving forward to slap down a photo of his own.
"Marco di Solesino," Castle said, sounding surprised. "Oldest son of the head of the Solesino mob family."
"Ah," Sorenson exclaimed. "So, you know him."
"I know of him," Castle corrected. "I'm a crime writer, so of course I'm familiar with the major players in the organized-crime world. But I've never met him."
"What about this guy?" Beckett cut in, pulling out another photo. "Marvin Fisk, small-claims lawyer."
"Most of my claims tend to be on the, um, large side," Castle replied, his expression full of mischief. Beckett rolled her eyes. "So what's this got to do with me?" he added.
Beckett took out the crime scene photos. "Fisk was killed two weeks ago, but I didn't put it together until we saw the Tisdale crime scene tonight." She showed Castle the picture of Alison Tisdale's dead body, and watched him blanch, his cocky demeanor slipping as he took in the image.
"Flowers For Your Grave," he murmured, staring at the photo.
"And this is how we found Fisk," Beckett added, showing him the next picture. "Straight out of Hell Hath No Fury."
Castle's forehead furrowed. "And what about Solesino?"
"What?" she said, jolted out of her rhythm by the question.
Castle looked over at Sorenson, who was still glowering in the corner of the room. "How was Solesino killed?"
"He wasn't," Sorenson replied. "He's a... person of interest in the investigation."
"Oh." Castle returned his gaze to the two photos, then looked back up at Beckett. "Well, it looks like I have a fan."
"Yeah," she agreed, "a really deranged fan."
"Oh, you don't look deranged to me," he shot back, his grin beginning to reappear. "Hell Hath No Fury? Come on, only hardcore Castle groupies read that one."
Sorenson let out a snort at that. Beckett narrowed her eyes, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of turning to glare at him. She kept her focus on Castle.
"Do any of these groupies ever write you letters?" At his nod, she went on, "Because sometimes in cases like these we find that the-"
"-killer attempts to contact the subject of his obsession," Castle interrupted, finishing her sentence for her. "I'm pretty well-versed in psychopathic methodologies." He leaned closer again, intent on her face. "And do you know you have gorgeous eyes?"
"Hey! Watch it," Sorenson snapped. Beckett bit down another surge of irritation and swept all of the photos back into their folder.
"So, I take it you won't object to us going through your mail," she said in her no-nonsense, brooking no argument tone.
"Sure, knock yourself out," Castle answered. His attention was on Will again, the two of them locking eyes across the room. Beckett rolled her eyes again and stood up.
"I think we're done here."
After Castle had left, Beckett took a few minutes to update her murder board. It was late, far past time to go home, but she needed to get all of the case information organized before she'd be able to let it go for the night.
Will stood beside her desk and watched without comment as she wrote down what little they knew so far about Alison Tisdale's final day of life.
"You really think there's a connection with Castle?" he asked when she picked up a magnet to attach Castle's photo to a corner of the board. "Kate, the victim was about to give testimony that could put Solesino behind bars for the rest of his life. That's gotta be why she was killed."
Beckett turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. "We'll look into that angle too," she said, "but yes, I do think there's something to the Castle connection. It can't be a coincidence that we have two murders staged to look like scenes from his books."
Will pursed his lips. "Well, Fisk had no involvement in the Solesino case, so that's not the connection. Do you really expect to find anything in Castle's fan mail?"
"I don't have expectations. I follow the evidence where it leads me."
"It's because of him, isn't it?" Will leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Because he's on the list."
Beckett stared at him blankly. She had no idea what he was talking about. "What list?"
"You know." He spoke even more quietly, glancing around to make sure no one was nearby. "Your freebie five list. The celebrities you'd want to... you know."
"That dumb thing?" Kate huffed in disbelief. "What does that have to do with anything?" She felt her cheeks flushing and cursed herself for the reaction. What had ever possessed her to confess to Will just how attractive she found the playboy writer? It had been a silly 'getting to know you' conversation early in their relationship, and if she'd had any idea that one day she would be hauling Castle in for questioning on a case...
"I'm just saying," Will shrugged. "You put him on your list, which obviously means you're interested in him, and now here he is, in the middle of things."
Beckett studied her boyfriend, her eyebrows rising as his meaning slowly sank in. "Wait a minute," she said dangerously. "Are you seriously implying that I would let my hormones dictate the course of a murder investigation?"
"No! No, no. Of course not," Will said, quickly backpedaling, lifting both hands in a submissive gesture. "I just don't think you're going to find Tisdale's killer that way. That's all."
She took a slow breath and forced her jaw muscles to relax. "It's late," she said, keeping her tone even. "Time to go home. We'll pick up the investigation in the morning."
"Okay." Will looked at his watch. "Uh... well, goodnight then."
"Night," she replied.
Beckett turned back to her desk and began to shut down her computer. In her peripheral vision she could see Sorenson still standing there, looking at her, shuffling his feet indecisively. But he didn't say anything, and after a moment he turned and walked away.
Beckett picked up some takeout on her way home, and settled in on her couch with a sigh of relief. Will's apartment was perfectly nice, but she preferred her own space.
After she had eaten, she ran a hot bubble bath and sank gratefully into it, letting the hot water soothe her tense muscles and frazzled nerves.
She let her mind wander as she lay in the tub, drifting freely. She had long ago given up on the idea of "leaving work at work," and in fact she often found that a relaxing bath or even a long shower could shake loose new ideas about a case she was working on. Some of her best investigative breakthroughs had started out that way.
So she didn't try to stop her mind from looping around the details of Marvin Fisk's and Alison Tisdale's murders as she lay there, surrounded by bubbles in the quiet bathroom.
But very quickly, without her conscious volition, her thoughts turned to Castle. She tried to push him away, wrenching her brain back to the CSU report on Fisk, but Castle just kept intruding. His rough-stubbled chin, the naughty twinkle in his eye when he had invited her to spank him... try as she might, she couldn't seem to shake him.
Damn it, this was all Sorenson's fault, she thought irrationally; he had to go and bring up the stupid Freebie Five thing. She hadn't even been thinking about that, had entirely forgotten about it until he mentioned it.
Of course, it was still true that she found Castle attractive. Who wouldn't? But that didn't mean anything. Damn it.
The calm of her bath shattered by these ruminations, she sat up, grumbling, and pulled the plug. She muttered grouchily under her breath the whole time she was drying off and getting ready for bed. At last she slid between the sheets, forced Castle out of her mind one last time, and fell asleep.
Beckett awoke with the unsettling feeling that she had been dreaming about things she shouldn't have. But she didn't remember any of the dreams, so she shook it off.
After getting dressed, she went to her living room and stood in front of her bookshelves, glaring at her Castle books. She had a sneaking suspicion that the man pictured on their back covers was going to make her day very irritating.
With a sigh, she found a box and packed all of the books into it. Then she strapped on her gun and went to work.
At the precinct, she dumped Castle's books on Ryan and Esposito, resolutely putting up with their teasing about it. Her sense of impending doom only intensified when she discovered that Castle's fan mail had arrived at the precinct with an accompaniment: the man himself. Captain Montgomery confirmed her suspicions by telling her that Castle had offered to "help" with the investigation.
Will Sorenson arrived just in time to hear Castle saying "It's the least I can do for the city I love," in a saintly tone that made Beckett want to gag. Montgomery made it quite clear that the arrangement met with his approval, and refused Beckett's attempt to change his mind.
"Captain Montgomery, with all due respect," Sorenson said with a scowl, "this investigation is no place for an amateur."
Montgomery was unmoved. "Agent Sorenson, with all due respect," he said, deliberately echoing Will's phrasing, "my team is involving you in this investigation as a courtesy, so you're in no position to tell us how to conduct it."
Sorenson paused with his mouth halfway open, but he thought better of whatever he'd been about to say, and simply nodded acceptance, pressing his lips together in a thin line.
"Right then," Montgomery said, sweeping his gaze over all of them. "Get to it."
He went back into his office, and Will immediately turned to Kate, holding up a file folder. "Solesino has an alibi," he said. "We should check it, but it'll probably hold up - he usually has someone else do the dirty work for him. We've got names on a few of his flunkies, so we should run them down and check their alibis too."
"Any of them have an M.O. that involves covering the body with flowers?" Beckett asked. Sorenson gave her a blank look.
"Sorry?" he asked.
She sighed. "Never mind. Hey, Ryan, you were in Organized Crime, right?" At the detective's nod, she said, "So you can help Agent Sorenson with his list."
Ryan took a look at her expression and decided against voicing any objection. "Sure," he said grudgingly.
Beckett felt fairly reluctant about it herself, but she knew from experience that giving the Feds at least some input into the investigation would make it all go more smoothly. And she did want to appear conciliatory toward Sorenson, for several reasons, of course.
"Espo," she went on, "keep trying to find a connection between Tisdale and Fisk. Castle and I will look through the fan mail."
As the detectives and agent moved away to get started, Beckett turned to Castle, forcing herself to sound polite and professional. "If you'll follow me to the briefing room, Mr. Castle, we can get started on the mail."
"Lead the way, Detective," he chirped. Beckett stifled a sigh and started walking.
"So," said Castle as they settled into chairs in the briefing room, pulling on protective gloves before they began on the stack of fan mail, "what's the deal with you and Mr. Stuck-Up Federal Agent?"
"I don't know what you mean," Beckett said quellingly, which of course had no effect on him whatsoever.
"Come on," he said with his annoying smirk, "like, you're dating him and working a case with him; that's gotta be awkward, right?"
Beckett felt her mouth fall open. "How did you-" She stopped herself abruptly and firmly closed her mouth again, cursing the burning of her cheeks.
"Oh," Castle said, his eyebrows going up curiously, "is it supposed to be a secret? My bad."
Beckett blew out a frustrated breath. "Why are you here?" she couldn't help asking, her tone betraying her irritation. "You don't care about the victims, the case, any of this." She sharpened her glare, wishing it could do any real damage. "So what is it, Rick? Are you here to annoy me?"
"I'm here for the story," Castle replied simply. "Why these people? Why these murders?"
Beckett sighed, the fire draining out of her, leaving her simply feeling embarrassed at having lost her cool. "Sometimes there is no story," she said with resignation. "Sometimes the guy is just a psychopath."
"No." Castle shook his head firmly. "There's always a story. Always a chain of events that makes everything make sense." He tilted his head, studying her. "Like you, for example, and Federal Agent Man."
"Agent Sorenson," she corrected wearily.
"Whatever. The point is, it doesn't fit. You don't fit. Not here, and not with him." Castle's smirk was gone; his expression was serious now, contemplative, his eyes not leaving her face as he spoke. "Smart, good-looking women like you become doctors or lawyers; they marry doctors or lawyers. They don't become cops dating federal agents. Yet here you are. Why?"
Beckett shifted in her seat, trying not to let her discomfort show, but well aware that she was letting Castle get under her skin in exactly the way she had vowed not to. "You're the novelist. You tell me," she snipped, picking up an envelope from the box of fan mail. She slipped the letter out, pretending to find it much more interesting than Castle.
But he wasn't put off; he leaned back in his chair, studying her openly. She tried to ignore the way goosebumps went racing across her skin under his gaze. His lips were curled in the tiniest of smiles, just enough to bring his face alive with intrigue - so much more attractive than the fake persona he usually wore, she caught herself thinking.
"Well, you grew up in Manhattan, that means money," he said with a judicious nod. "You went to a good college; you had lots of options, but you chose this. That tells me something happened."
Beckett blinked. With an effort, she kept her poker face in place, an unpleasant mixture of emotions swirling through her. Anger, grief, and reluctant admiration - Castle was smarter than he let on, more insightful beneath the carefree façade than she would have guessed.
"Not to you," he went on, "you're not that wounded, but it was someone you loved. And you probably could've lived with it, except that the person responsible was never caught."
She stared at him for a long, tense moment, feeling frozen, unable to speak. How had he guessed all of that, just from a few minutes' interaction with her? And more than that - how did he manage to make her sound noble, rather than simply broken?
"Cute trick," she managed at last, her voice coming out creaky through a dry throat. "But don't think you know me."
Castle cleared his throat and looked away, suddenly seemed unaccountably embarrassed. "Well, I still haven't figured out how it leads to you being with someone like him," he said, shaking his head as if in disbelief. Beckett bristled, but he went on before she could muster up a defense of Will. "But the point is, there's always a story. You just have to find it."
The thought flickered through Beckett's mind that Castle had shown more interest in her history in the past five minutes than Will had shown in all their months of dating and working together. Will knew about her mother's murder, of course, but he had never asked for details - and he sure as hell hadn't shown any curiosity about how that one moment in her past defined who she was as an adult.
But as quickly as it had come, she pushed that thought away, and forced her eyes to focus on the piece of paper in her hand as she unfolded it. And felt a sudden jolt of excitement as she realized what she was looking at.
"I think I just did."