#2: What if… Castle had already been inside Beckett's apartment when the bomb went off in 2x17?
It's the second evening in a row Castle is sitting on her sofa.
He'd shown up about an hour after they left the precinct holding a Remy's bag and two milkshakes, and damn it, she hadn't meant for him to figure out exactly how much she loves that place.
"I brought dinner," he offered, tentative hope in his voice and an apology in his eyes. He was clearly still taking the blame for Ben Conrad, despite her assurance that it's absolutely not his fault, and she didn't have the heart to turn him away.
So they eat dinner on her couch while chatting easily, despite the apprehension coiling like a serpent through Kate's stomach. It was never supposed to be like this between them. It wasn't ever supposed to be more than cop and shadow, a strictly professional arrangement. He was never supposed to become someone she enjoys spending time with. Someone she's beginning to trust far too much, and with more than just the details of her mother's case.
He was never supposed to become the guy she's slowly falling for.
But he needs the company tonight, so she pushes the unease aside and keeps up the flow of dialogue and their usual easy banter until her milkshake is empty and the haunted darkness has vanished from his eyes.
Eventually the conversation reaches a natural lull and she excuses herself to finally take a shower – she'd been just about to when he knocked on her door – leaving him alone in her living room.
Kate sighs heavily as she soaps up her body, trying but failing to ignore the suspiciously Lanie-sounding voice in the back of her head asking why she's breaking from her normal every other day schedule to shave her legs for the second day in a row. She forces herself to suppress the thought. She's just tired and she mixed up the days, and she's not going to stop halfway through.
It certainly has nothing to do with the man sitting on her sofa.
Ordinarily Castle would take the time alone in her apartment to snoop, but something holds him back. A niggling feeling in his mind that he can't quite put his finger on, but he's fairly certain it has to do with their now-closed case. Something about it doesn't add up. It was too neat, too easy.
They're missing something.
Times like this, he hates that he has a writer's mind, his brain already playing out various scenarios. What if Ben Conrad faked his death? What if he has a partner? What if someone else comes for Kate? He never wanted to put her in danger.
His phone vibrates in his pocket then, startling him from his thoughts. He retrieves the device; a reply from Alexis flashes across the screen – have fun with dinner, it says, with a winky face at the end. Castle is thankful for the interruption, forces himself to take a deep breath to calm his frantic, racing mind. Wow. That got out of hand far too quickly. He needs to relax, needs to…
Ben Conrad is left handed, but the man they saw in the window was holding the gun in his right hand. The man in the window wasn't Ben Conrad.
"Kate!" Castle yells, forgetting that she's in the shower, likely unable to hear him over the running water.
He practically launches himself off the sofa, dashes down her hallway just in time to collide with a dripping wet Kate Beckett as she emerges from the bathroom clad in only a towel.
"Kate," he breathes again, though the urgency has momentarily evaporated.
Steam and the scent of cherries wafts through the open bathroom door, the dancing cloud of vapor haloed by the bathroom light that casts a golden glow. Water droplets cling to the ends of her hair, pooling in the hollows of her collarbones, and Castle is briefly distracted before her voice brings him back.
"Castle, what the hell?"
"It wasn't Ben Conrad," he gasps.
"The man in the window," he clarifies. "It wasn't Ben Conrad. He wasn't the killer."
"What are you saying?" Kate asks, eyes narrowing. He can tell she's torn between exasperation and believing him, and he has to make her understand.
"The killer is still alive."
"Castle, we saw his dead body…"
She's interrupted by a beeping sound and they both freeze as a familiar voice echoes through the air.
Goodbye, Nikki. Goodbye, Nikki.
Kate's eyes widen, meeting his in horror. She grabs his arm, yanking him into the bathroom and slamming the door shut. "Go, go, go!" she exclaims, diving for her bathtub just as the explosion rocks her apartment, tearing the bathroom door off its hinges and flinging it towards them.
The force of the impact momentarily stuns her as flames erupt all around them and fragments of her apartment begin to rain down on them like confetti. Castle is lying on top of her in the tub, half cradling her body, half covering it, and if not for the fact that everything she owns just blew up, she'd think it sweet that he's trying to protect her.
They lay frozen for a long moment before Kate takes a breath, coughing as smoky air fills her lungs. Castle can feel the coughs painfully tear through her chest beneath his hand, squeezes gently in comfort, and Kate's entire body jolts.
"Castle," she rasps.
"That's my boob."
He jerks his hand back as though he's been burned, slams his elbow against the cast iron bathtub in his haste to release her. He'd wrapped his arms around her as they fell, hadn't even realized…
Her response is lost in the wave of coughing that overtakes him this time.
"You okay?" Castle finally questions, still semi huddled over her body in case the ceiling decides to start caving in.
"Fine," she manages. "We gotta get out of here."
Castle forces himself to sit back, waving an arm in front of his face to dissipate the cloud of ash.
"Oh, you're completely naked," he suddenly observes.
Real eloquent, Rick.
"Where's your towel?"
"On the floor, I think."
He leans over the curved metal edge, spots the vanishing piece of cotton. "Uh, it's on fire."
Kate pulls herself into a seated position, tugging her knees up and crossing her arms over her chest. "What about the bathrobe?" she questions, glancing around in confusion.
"Also on fire."
"Don't look," she hisses as he turns back to her.
"We have to go, Kate. Not really the time for modesty."
She huffs a sigh. "Give me your shirt."
He's untucking the fabric immediately, tugging the soft cashmere over his head and handing it to Kate, leaving him in just an undershirt.
"Don't look," she instructs again.
Castle turns and steps out of the tub, his ankle twinging and his knee nearly giving out as his left leg takes his weight.
"Ow," he curses. He's fairly certain he's going to have multiple bruises from their crashing descent.
Kate turns as he's finally steady on his feet, his sweater draped loosely over her body, but a vee of skin remains at the collar and her long legs are almost entirely exposed. He'll never be able to look at this sweater the same again. Castle swallows hard and forces himself to focus on the crisis at hand. Flaming apartment. They need to get out before it collapses.
"Here." He extends a hand and Kate grasps his forearm as she hobbles out of the tub.
"Just a little bruised," she answers, allowing him to loop his other arm around her waist and guide her through the blazing rubble.
They pick their way through the flames, stepping around the wreckage of furniture and splinters of wood, finding the quickest path to her door. Sirens already echo up the streets, red and blue lights flashing through the darkness from a couple blocks away by the time they make it out to the street. Kate shakes off Castle's hold as they step out onto the sidewalk.
"You're bleeding," he comments, indicating her forehead.
"I hit my head on the faucet."
"Are you okay?" He gently brushes his thumb over the skin near the cut, his touch a soft contrast to the chaos that surrounds them.
Kate ducks, steps away from the gentleness of his caress. "It's fine."
"You're bleeding," he reiterates.
"Yeah, and my apartment's on fire," she snaps, far more forcefully than he deserves. She knows he's worried, knows he's just trying to help, but she's not exactly in the mood for tenderness. She's pissed as hell and determined to nail this guy, whoever he is. Not to mention the fact that she's confused about her feelings for her partner. Feelings she really doesn't have time for right now. "I don't think a little cut is the priority right now."
FDNY and EMS roll into the scene a moment later and the street corner becomes a hive of activity. Castle gets separated from Kate in the hustle, finds himself being tugged into an ambulance by a woman in a medic uniform. He tells her she's fine when she asks, but the truth is he's been so worried about Kate, he hasn't even bothered to assess his own well-being. Nothing hurts too terribly – that he's noticed – but that's probably just the adrenaline. The woman takes his pulse and blood pressure, shines a light in his eyes, assesses his head and limbs for any sign of serious injury, but other than a couple bruises and sore spots, nothing seems too out of the ordinary.
She finally allows him to step out of the ambulance just as Ryan and Esposito arrive on the scene.
"Castle, is she here?"
"In another ambulance, I think," he guesses. He's sure EMS decided her head wound should take precedence, despite Kate's lack of concern.
They find her around the corner, stepping out of a second ambulance with a wrap on her wrist and a bandage on her forehead. She's wearing a loose pair of pants that Castle doesn't recognize and is currently pulling on an NYPD windbreaker that's about three sizes too large.
"Hey, you okay?" she asks, giving Castle a quick once-over.
She shrugs offhandedly, hastily averts her eyes as his meet hers, bubbling over with concern and something she's unwilling to put a name to. "Fine."
Ryan assesses Beckett, flicks his eyes to the author's white t-shirt and lack of jacket. "You were here?" he asks.
Espo quirks an eyebrow in disbelief. "Two nights in a row, huh?"
"It was just dinner," Castle protests.
Espo glances pointedly at Kate. "Wearing each other's clothing?"
She huffs in irritation. "I was in the shower and everything of mine was on fire."
"And you were, what?" Espo challenges the author. "Just hanging out while she showered?"
"Is that a problem?"
"Depends on what your intentions were."
Kate holds up a hand, putting an end to the questioning. "Okay, we're done here."
"Fire's out, you can head on up," Montgomery states as he approaches the group, observing the scene astutely. If he notices Castle and Beckett's relative states of (un)dress, he doesn't comment.
Kate turns away without a word, striding purposefully towards the building and leaving the four men confused and concerned in her wake.
When Montgomery agrees that she should stay at the loft after Shaw boots them off the case, panic flares up with a vengeance. Kate's been on edge all day, and not just because of the explosion. She knows Castle's boob grab was accidental, but it sent a different kind of explosion through her despite the dire circumstances, heat spreading like wildfire in her veins. She's been able to suppress the memory for most of the day but it's invading her mind again now that she doesn't have a case to focus on. The last thing she needs is to be in close proximity to him.
"Consider in an order," Montgomery demands, ignoring her protests.
Well, then. Apparently she's going home with Castle.
For the third night in a row, Kate finds herself in a casual situation with him. And for the third night in a row, she finds herself chewing her bottom lip nervously. She trusts Castle, trusts his intentions.
But in her current state, she's not sure she trusts her own.
She thinks she's done a decent job of hiding it, but she's devastated about the explosion. Her father's watch seems to have been reduced to ashes and she hasn't had a chance to fully dig through everything else and determine what other important items may have been damaged beyond repair. Clothes and furniture can be replaced but photos and heirlooms can't.
Castle seems to sense her turmoil, her desire for comfort, and he's drawing her into a hug before she can protest.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs, enfolding her firmly into his embrace. Kate loops her arms loosely around his waist, finds herself unsure of where to put her hands, how tightly to hold him. They don't normally do this.
"For what?" she asks instead.
He sighs heavily. "I wish I'd figured it out sooner. FBI could've swept your apartment and disarmed the bomb."
Kate lifts her head, meets his eyes with a piercing gaze. "It's not your fault, Castle. We've been over this. None of this is your fault."
"I know," he concedes, though she's fairly certain he only half believes her. "But I still wish I could've done something to prevent it."
Kate sighs, sinks into his embrace once again. The proximity is setting off multiple alarms but for once she suppresses them. She has a feeling he needs this and, if she's being honest with herself, she does too. She curls her fingers, knuckles coasting gently along the line of his vertebrae through the fabric of his sweater. Castle relaxes into her at the gentle touch and she tightens her other arm around his hips, clings to him as he's clinging to her.
They both could've died today. Right now, they need a moment to just be.
Castle isn't sure how long they've been wrapped up in each other when the soft whisper of her exhale fans across the skin of his neck and his body is wracked with an involuntary shiver. He's not used to being this close to her, to having all of his senses surrounded by her. He knows Kate feels it because she lifts her head and she's close, so close. Castle freezes and time seems to stand still for a long moment. Their gazes meet and lock, knowledge in both sets of eyes; she can tell he's going to kiss her, and Castle knows she's not going to stop him.
His eyes fall closed as his lips meet hers softly, a tentative whisper of a kiss. It's over as quickly as it began but they separate only by a fraction of an inch as two shuddering exhales are released into the space between them. The waning adrenaline of the last 24 hours combines with a fresh shot of adrenaline at the feeling of finally kissing Kate Beckett; Castle is fairly certain his entire body is trembling.
It's Kate who moves now, closing the gap and kissing him again. Castle cups her cheek and she leans into his touch, captures his lips a third time.
"Stay," he murmurs as they separate, forehead coming to rest against Kate's.
"My apartment blew up," she points out. "Where else would I go?"
"I meant down here," he clarifies nervously. "Tonight. With me."
Kate straightens, meets his eyes in surprise; in them, she sees the lingering fear, the unease, the desperation and desire she knows are reflected in hers as well. The rational part of her brain is screaming no. She's confused, emotionally wrung-out, and so far beyond exhausted. But if she's honest with herself, she's been secretly entertaining the possibility for a while now. She almost took the leap the first night he showed up with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Jordan Shaw's instructions to decompress. She almost certainly would have last night if everything hadn't gone up in flames.
The aftermath of losing her apartment may be what's pushing her over the edge, but they've been teetering at the brink of the cliff for months now, waiting to take the final leap.
Kate offers him a tentative nod, a timid smile. "Okay."
Castle steps back but doesn't let her go, hands trailing down her arms until his fingers twine with hers. He leads her through his office, across the threshold into his bedroom. Their steps are tentative, his hold on her fingers loose – as though he's afraid she'll flee if he holds too tightly. He's probably not wrong.
Castle pauses to close the door, leaving Kate to survey her surroundings. The room is bathed in the overwhelming scent of him, masculine just like the décor. She feels her stomach tying itself into knots, apprehension building now that she's here in his space, surrounded entirely by him. Now that this is actually happening. The soft flutter of fingers at her hip bones draws her back from the edge of her growing anxiety and she turns in his arms, forces herself to meet his gaze. It's not the first time their eyes have met today but this time the blue of his irises is entirely replaced by shimmering black, darkened with pure desire.
"You sure about this?" Castle asks, swallowing heavily. She watches it ripple down his throat, the lines of his muscles tense. He's clearly as nervous as she is, and the tension in the room is thick, palpable.
Kate nods before she loses her nerve. She wants this. Wants him. She has for a long time. She finds herself worried about the aftermath, but they can deal with that later. Right now, she just needs to feel, to forget. To help him forget, too.
Castle is cupping her face the moment the word leaves her mouth, palms spreading wide across the line of her jaw and fingers weaving into her hair. He kisses her, confidently this time, lips moving over hers with intent. A spark ignites the moment their lips meet, vaporizing the apprehension and replacing it with a very different kind of tension. Castle tilts her jaw to change the angle, deepen the kiss, and her lips part on a moan, granting him entrance.
Kate's fingers slip beneath the cashmere of the sweater she borrowed mere hours ago, finding the soft white cotton of his t-shirt and tugging it from his waistband. Castle shudders as she touches his skin for the first time, nips at her bottom lip in retaliation. Her palms trail up his back, spreading wide on either side of his spine and leaving a trail of fire in their wake. She blazes a path back down, fingertips sneaking beneath the edge of his waistband, and Castle groans, severing the connection of their mouths and dropping his forehead into the crease of her neck.
"God," he breathes, the syllable a coarse, broken thing. He's so utterly on edge and they're not even naked yet.
He's so not going to survive this.
He does survive, but just barely.
His heart is racing, his head is spinning, and his entire body seems to have the structural integrity of Jello as he collapses on top of her. Kate doesn't seem to be faring much better. She's sprawled beneath him, arms draped limply across his back, chest rising and falling rapidly. Castle buries his nose in her neck and she shivers, her entire body still thoroughly overstimulated.
He rolls off after a long moment, collapses onto the bed beside her, utterly spent. Kate looks relaxed and sated, softer than he's ever seen her as she curls beneath the covers, face mashed into the pillows. He cups the back of her skull, presses a kiss to her temple.
She smiles gently, peels her eyes open and blinks up at him lazily. "Night, Castle."
He wakes to the feeling of lips on his skin, soft flutters trailing down the line of his spine. Castle sighs contentedly, reaches an arm behind him in search of her; his palm lands on her ass and he squeezes gently.
"You stayed," he murmurs in awe.
Kate hums a reply, tries not to be offended that he's surprised. In his defense, ordinarily she probably would have fled.
"Early," she answers, lips against his neck as her hand settles low on his hip.
Castle rolls onto his back, lifting his head to capture her lips in a firm kiss. Morning breath be damned. It's his first time waking up next to Kate Beckett and he's absolutely going to enjoy every second of it.
She swings a leg over his body, rises to settle onto his hips, and for the second time in eight hours, Castle finds himself in bed with Kate straddling him. There's nowhere in the world he'd rather be.
When he wakes a second time, she's gone. But he hears voices in the kitchen, the clattering of pots and pans, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee lures him from beneath the covers in which they were thoroughly tangled mere hours ago. Castle pauses to savor the lingering scent of Kate on his sheets, the memory of her hands in his hair, her lips on his skin. The last 24 hours have run the gamut from terrifying to exhilarating. He knows the killer is still out there, but he'd rather focus on his newfound bliss for a few moments longer.
His mother and Alexis are in the kitchen when he emerges, erasing his plans for any type of morning make-out session, but it warms his heart just the same to see Kate chatting easily with his family as she moves about the kitchen, scrambling eggs and arranging crispy strips of bacon on a plate. He doesn't know exactly what they are, doesn't know what they'll become, but the fact that his family already lo… likes her as much as he does is encouraging.
Kate's eyes meet his as he crosses the living room and she smiles shyly, ducking her chin to hide the fingers of heat climbing her neck. Castle notices his mother glancing between them, assessing the scene knowingly as Kate passes him a coffee and her hand lingers on the mug just this side of too long.
Martha smiles to herself but wisely doesn't speak. It's not her place. But Kate looks happy, and so does her son. She doesn't need to ask to know that something has changed in the last few days. Martha helps herself to a mug of coffee before sneaking away. She won't share her suspicions with Alexis, but she nudges the teen out of the kitchen as well.
Whatever bubble Kate and her son have settled into, she wants to let them stay there for as long as possible.
Thoughts? Prompts? Send them my way!