Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watched the show.
With his hand tilting up her chin, he can–and does–look straight into her eyes. He may not be 100 percent sober, but he's close enough to know what he's doing and to gauge her reaction. For two people who've never so much as kissed, they're astonishingly intimate. He's thrilled by how long she holds her gaze on him before breaking away.
"Castle," she says sternly. "Put your shirt on."
Put his shirt on? Shit. How could he have completely misread her? She's sending him home? This is mortifying. He turns back to the bathroom to retrieve his shirt from the floor. It's no longer just wrinkled, but has two large, unappetizing wet splotches.
"Wait," she says. "I have a better idea." This time it's she who turns around, then disappears into what he assumes is her bedroom.
Better idea? What's her better idea? He's got so many better ideas, and he'd bet serious, serious money that they're all way more appealing than whatever hers is, since hers obviously includes tossing him out. He runs the towel over his head to kill some time.
And here she is, waving something. What the hell? "Wear this," she says, suddenly looking bashful. It's a look that he has never, ever seen on her and immediately makes him wonder what he can do to make her look that way again.
She extends her hand, a navy blue tee shirt dangling from two fingertips. She must have taken it from a drawer, because two neat vertical creases and one equally neat horizontal crease are visible. He takes the shirt from her and gives it a little shake. "Oh. Hey. Is this mine?"
His prayer, though he hadn't even thought of it as one, has already been answered: she looks even more bashful than she had a moment ago, and her cheeks are pink.
"Yes. Yes, it is. I, uh. I stayed at the loft back in March, do you remember?"
Does he remember? He may have writer's block, but at least one area of his brain is in perfect working order. "Vividly," he says, keeping it brief in hopes that she'll keep talking.
"My apartment blew up and I didn't have any clothes, you know?"
"Yeah." No kidding. Her wardrobe consisted of his jacket. That was it.
"I borrowed this shirt. Before I, got, was able to get, some new things. And I hung onto it and when I moved into this place I washed it and I was going to give it to you, but."
She stops on "but," and he can tell that she's nibbling the inside of her lip. It's torturing him, but he's going to wait her out. This might be going somewhere. Now she's swallowing, and he watches a muscle move in that gorgeous neck of hers.
"The time didn't seem right, and then, I dunno. And then." She breaks off again. "Listen," she looks up at him in a way he can describe only as imploringly. "Would you put that shirt on and come back to the living room so we can talk?"
"I have to put this shirt on so we can talk?" He should have kept his mouth shut, but he couldn't help himself.
"Yes," she answers, striding towards the sofa they had abandoned not long ago. She says something else under her breath, and he's pretty sure he knows what it was.
He trots behind her. "Sorry, what was that?"
"You said something."
"Beckett. May I remind you that I'm a parent? I have the hearing of a moth."
That brings her to a halt. "A moth?" She was about to sit down but she's straightened up again. "What?"
"Best hearing of any creature on this or probably any other planet. Better even than your bats or your owls. I'm confident that you muttered something that you didn't want me to hear, but you were unaware of my moth-like characteristics."
She sits down. Flounces down, if that's possible, her arms crossed over the front of her teeny, tiny tank top. "I hope your moth-like characteristics don't extend to eating holes in sweaters and winter coats."
"Nope." He flicks a finger against the side of his ear. "But to hearing, yes."
"I'm positive that I understood you."
""You said–" oh, he's reaching for this. It's a big gamble, but since she's not sending him packing he has the guts to risk it. The expression in her eyes when he said why he was here, about someone to love, was unmistakable. He has to be right about it. "You said that my bare chest was too distracting."
Her formerly pink cheeks turn the shade of perfectly ripe watermelon. A few seconds pass. It's like watching time-lapse photography as he sees her skin grow redder than any apple, strawberry, or fire engine. Or tomato. Or alternating stripes on the American flag. He pulls the tee shirt over his head, and as the soft cotton passes his nose he struggles against the urge to hold it tight against his face. It smells of her. Distinctly, assuredly, erotically of her. Is it possible? Is it? Could it be? Has this neatly pressed shirt come not from a drawer but from under her pillow? HAS SHE BEEN SLEEPING IN HIS SHIRT? He tries to compose an impassive expression before emerging from inside the jersey. He looks solemnly at her.
"Okay," she says at last. "Okay. I might have said something like that."
"Possibly?" This is getting fun.
"Probably. All right. Yes. I did say it. Now stay here." She gets up again. "I'm gonna get some of that wine you brought. You don't need a drink, but I sure as hell do."
He tracks her every move. She pours herself a glass but leaves the bottle on the kitchen counter, and takes a sip before coming back. As soon as she sits down, she takes another. It's more a gulp than a sip.
"Dutch courage, Beckett?"
The tip of her tongue captures a drop of burgundy from her bottom lip, before she looks appraisingly at her glass. "French, actually."
This time he has to stifle two urges: the first is to laugh, and the second is to kiss her. The alternative is rewarding: he stares at her, and she doesn't seem to mind.
"I have to get something off my chest," she says, after drinking some more wine.
She wipes her palms down her (unclad) thighs and squeezes her hands between her (also unclad) knees. "When you left with Gina," she says, addressing the floor although she's talking about him, "it nearly killed me."
He hadn't expected that, nor had he wanted to have two little unbidden words tumble out of his mouth. "It did?"
"Right before that, suddenly I was going to Asbury Park with Demming for the weekend. And then you told me you were going to go away for the whole summer to work on your book. And as we were working that case–"
"The spy adventure thing."
"Right. Anyway, the more we worked on it and the more I thought about your being away for months, I, well, that's really what made me realize that Tom, Demming, and I were a dead end."
"Plus, um, something Espo said when he told me that he and Ryan wanted to give you a going-away party."
"When I said you were leaving for the summer, not forever, he asked me if I was sure. 'Why do you think he's been following you around all this time? What, research?' He said you'd done enough to write fifty books, and then he said, 'Look, whatever the reason is, I'm pretty sure it doesn't include watching you be with another guy.' And that really made me sure of my decision."
She's a cop. He's seen her do CPR on innumerable occasions. Another second of this and she's going to have to do it on him. He feels as if his oxygen level has plummeted.
"And after we wrapped up the case," she adds, "I told you how much I'd really enjoyed working with you. I don't know if you remember that."
"It's imprinted on every part of my brain, Beckett."
"Oh. Well, I was about to say that I'd like to come to the Hamptons for the weekend after all, and then Gina popped up. I guess you remember the rest."
"So, now you know why when you left together it nearly killed me. I wanted to be the woman in the elevator with you." She's still not looking at him, but she presses her hand against the chest, as if for emphasis. "Except then I was so mad at you. Like, I had turned you down so you just substituted your ex-wife for me. Just another warm body."
An icy, invisible hand squeezes every one of his vital organs so hard that it hurts. He takes her glass from the coffee table and tosses back the rest of the bordeaux. It might as well be three-day-old ginger ale. "Oh, God," he says, setting down the empty glass. "What a screw-up. You're right, sort of. I see why you felt that way. I have a horrible history."
"I thought you loathed her, Castle. But off you went."
"Off we went. But not for long." Taking a cue from her, he begins talking to a spot on the far wall. "I wanted you to be the woman in the elevator with me, too. Even then. But I thought I didn't have a chance with you. That's why I decided to take the summer off. I couldn't bear seeing you with Demming. Then Gina called me and, I dunno, classic rebound. I was an idiot." He closes his eyes for a moment, and opens them as he shakes his head. "You know what she said to me when she left?" He doesn't wait for an answer, and not only because she couldn't possibly know what Gina had verbally thrown in his face. "She complained that I talked about you all the time. When I denied it, she said that I should–." He winces. He can't use the actual word. "I should, uh, sleep with you and check you off my Got Lucky, Got Laid list."
Even though he's focussed on the wall, he can see that she has lifted up her head and turned it towards him.
"When I think of all the times I could have told you how I felt about you. So goddamn many missed opportunities."
"I wish you had, Castle."
"Believe it or not, I was afraid to."
"I think that's on me."
"Oh, there's enough blame to go around." The air around them is both still and electric.
There's a protracted moment of silence before she asks, "So where does that leave us?"
Even in the dim light, he can see that she's holding back tears. He smiles, tentatively. "I'm going to quote One Hundred Years of Solitude again. "'It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment'."
She slides across the sofa until there's not a millimeter between them. "It is?" Her voice is so low, her breath so soft against the side of his neck.
"Not for me." She sounds very serious.
"No. A few minutes ago I said I wanted to get something off my chest, and I did. Now I think you should get something off yours."
"I thought that's what I was doing."
"I mean really off your chest." She tugs on his sleeve. "Take your shirt off."
"Are you going to take yours off?"
"No. I was hoping you would."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure."
She throws one leg over his and slithers onto his lap, her lips almost touching his. "You might want to reconsider. What I have in mind will give us both a lot more pleasure than that."
A/N Thanks to you all, especially the anonymous reviewers whom I could not thank individually. I am so grateful to everyone, but special thanks to Roadrunnerz for the suggestion that got me out of my long writing funk.