Confined Spaces

The Stakeout, part 2

"Ryan." Kate clears her voice. "What do we got?"

Castle could swear her timbre is a little hoarse, and not that he wouldn't write poetry on her every inflexion, pitch and lilt, but right now he really needs to focus, so he'll buy her some throat meds instead – that and a grammar lesson or two.

"The girlfriend's on her way home. ETA two minutes. The suspect's not with her though." Ryan sounds apologetic. The stakeout was Kate's idea and they have a lot running on it. They've been on the case for three days and they need a breakthrough. So far, they have a suspect but no substantial evidence, and a fabricated alibi that needs to be broken. If it all comes to nothing, Gates will be furious and although pretty much everyone feels they are on the wrong side of her on any given day, no-one wants to end up in the crosshairs of the Captain of the 12th.

Kate picks up Ryan's undertone. "It's okay Ryan. The neighbor said he usually drops by a little after she comes home."

Kate ends the communication with Ryan and directs her attention to the screen. The static image isn't great but then again the building's security camera isn't exactly state of the art. At least, it offers an unrestricted outlook over the neat row of mail boxes in the lobby.

The slightly hazy black and white image from the security camera seems to ground Castle. He stares it out like it's some kind of perp that needs to be cracked open and dares it to resist his scrutiny.

His need is no longer liquid fire raging through his body, devastating and unforgiving. Its more ragged edges are blurred, its more physical aspects subdued, and while this quiet longing is just as deep and all-encompassing, it's also easier to rein in; it can be shaped into a more acceptable form and only be let out in the open under the guise of caring friendship.

Sure enough the girlfriend appears on the screen when Ryan said she would and they watch her walk into the lobby and jerk her way to the mail boxes along the wall opposite the security camera.

She unlocks the one before last box on the right side, reaches into it and retrieves something – a wad of letters? A small package? Castle can't quite make out what it is, but it could be drugs, right? There was always a possibility the case was drug-related, wasn't it? Or she could just be checking her mail before going up to her apartment, but where would the fun be in that?

Kate, who claimed the seat in front of the computer, moves her body forward towards the screen as if that might provide her with a better view, and Castle feels his head inching towards her, his body heat attracted to hers like a magnet. For all he knows, (and the theory appeals to his overactive imagination), he could be under the spell of a mysterious, invisible superpower, except that the name of the force that holds him captive is no mystery and his life is no blockbuster sci-fi movie.

Castle is on his way to probable collision with Kate's cheek when he feels her slight movement of surprise and he stops in his tracks to see what caused her to jolt back on her seat and open her eyes wider: their main suspect's girlfriend is now unlocking a second, then a third mail box, and their contents seem to be similar to that of the first box. Looks like they now have a valid justification for a search warrant on the mail boxes and the apartment.

His body drifts back to hers (and the computer screen) but this time, he doesn't stop shy of her skin and when his cheek brushes against her left ear, he reflexively holds his breath and closes his eyes against the expected tug of her long fingers on his own ear.

It is not usually a pleasant feeling. She has developed her skills to perfection and knows precisely how to twist the unfortunate appendage on the receiving end of her attention and exactly what pressure to apply with her nails. But a touch is a touch and while the kind of touching he has in mind where she is concerned is of a more pleasurable kind, he will suffer the indignity of slightly abusive treatment, he will relinquish all pride.

No twisting, pinching or tugging comes his way however and he flicks his eyes open in astonishment, his eyebrows raised in an unspoken question when it's clear that she is not going to retaliate or initiate any sort of revenge of her own.

In lieu of a frown and a rebuke, she gifts him the secret smile of her lips and the feather touch of her fingers on his forearm. Her sparkling eyes are full of knowledge.

And when she speaks, her voice seems to be coming from afar and there's an indistinct quality to it through the dysfunctional media of his befuddled brain.

"Is it enough Castle?" she seems to be saying.

And his heart misses a beat as she meets his startled gaze because she's echoing a conversation he had with his daughter a few months ago and she wasn't privy to that so how could she possibly guess the significance of these words for him? Did she even say them? He can't be certain anymore and anyway he can't think in this stifling heat. He needs salvation in the form of a glass of fresh water or of a kiss of her lips.

"Castle," she repeats louder in the face of his stunned look. "Can you see well enough?"

"Not quite. Can you work on a… er… – on the resolution?" And he doesn't know which question he is answering here but Kate sounds unfazed.

"I'm trying," she says, and her sigh of impatience is directed at herself, at her inability to be better, faster. "I'm doing my best" she adds, attacking the screen with a frenzy of mouse clicks.

Castle stills her hand with a gentle squeeze of his fingers.

"Don't worry, Kate. Whatever you can do, it's enough for now."

She graces him with that tight-lipped, unguarded smile that soothes his heart and slays his demons, and he thinks maybe they were on the same wavelength after all.

Castle redirects his attention to the video just in time to see the mail box enthusiast heading to the elevator. She moves awkwardly as she balances her harvest from one hand to the other but manages to keep her load safe by holding it tight to her chest.

As the elevator door slides open and she disappears into the cabin, Castle hands Kate a pair of headphones and grabs another for himself. The headphones were on her side of the table and he is a little surprised at her lack of reactivity.

Well, not surprised exactly. To be honest, he is glad he beat her to the headphones. If he is not very much mistaken, he's just caught her gazing unseeingly at the computer and he wants to blame her lack of focus on their recent exchange – he wants to believe the subtext overwhelmed her as much as it affected him.

"Oh. Headphones. Yeah. Thanks Castle."

Yeah. The fair detective is clearly flustered –

"So Castle, this is your darkest fantasy coming true, isn't it? How does it feel?"

but the fair detective makes fast recoveries.

She is teasing, he can tell by the mischievous gleam of her eyes, but that doesn't make him any less confused.

His darkest fantasy? Surely she doesn't know about the dark-haired, blue-eyed babies that people his dreams night in, night out, does she?

"The headphones, Castle. I thought you'd be beyond excited to be playing spies with me at last," she grins. "But maybe you've finally grown out of the phase and the game no longer appeals to you," she adds with a shrug and raises her hand to his headphones to take them from him.

He brushes her fingers away and waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

"Detective, I'll have you know that I will never outgrow any game – spy or otherwise – where you might be a willing participant."

She gives him a light-hearted, playful version of an eye-roll and seems about to give him a bit of her own back when they start hearing some crackling sounds over the white noise in their headphones. A door slams shut and straight after that there's the ringtone of a cell phone. An unimaginative four-letter curse word follows as they hear the sound of objects tumbling down on the floor, and then the suspect's girlfriend answers her phone.

Kate immediately switches back to her professional self, raises her eyes to Castle's and holds his gaze as if asking for reassurance that he is right there with her and centered on the case.

Castle stares right back at her, silently communicating his availability for whatever she needs him for.

"Are you ready?" he asks softly.

Her serious expression mirrors his to a T and there's no mistaking the intensity of her voice when she answers with those two words which are nearly those he so badly wants to hear her say to him one day.

"I am."

She sounds committed.