Title: Going Under, Chapter 2
WC: ~5000 this chapter, ~8000 total
Summary: She's going to have to fax him a schedule. He was pretty sure after this morning's discovery and the not-so-whispered argument about accessory price points for last-minute hickey concealment, this was going to be one of those days where everyone was wondering why they were suddenly observing Catholic school dance standards for personal space
A/N: Uh. Yeah. This was supposed to be a one-shot, but Beckett demanded to be heard. At some length.
For Jessie/Cartographical (because friends don't let friends snap fingers) and all the talented, committed writers and artists who are on board with making Castle: Clandestine Nookie Unit a reality.
He complicates things.
Any complaints she has about the last seven months—about the last four years—all come down to that. He complicates things.
His attention caroms around wildly on any topic, in any situation, and then snags. He fixates on the minutest detail, and the one thing she just needs to get done becomes complicated.
Like now, for instance. He's been driving her absolutely insane—insane—all day. Arguing with her. Calling out big-picture gaps in her theory when they've got squat in the way of the little picture so far. What they do have is mostly distilled from some of his more inspired (read lunatic) logical leaps that have just happened to pay off. And doesn't that just put a smirk on his face?
It amounts to him winding her up all damned day. All. Damned. Day. So what did he expect?
Apparently not an ambush behind the vending machines. And, come on, Castle. Connect the dots.
Credit where credit is due, though. He goes from girly scream and a lack of coordination that borders on adolescent to 100% on board in seconds. And she knows full well that he knows full well exactly how to take her from here to there now. But everything's a production with him.
Given half a chance, everything is a production. So instead of double checking her shirt tails one last time and running a hand through her hair on her way back to her desk with some hope in hell of concentrating on this case, she's tugging at his hair, and his teeth are nipping their way to center from the outpost of her right shoulder and his fingers are climbing up, skipping from rib to rib, and he's talking nonsense. This low, steady rumble that travels over her skin.
This was supposed to take five minutes, tops. Five minutes to a clear mind and, yes, a different kind of smirk on his face, but . . . priorities. She needs to focus and this is the quickest way.
It was supposed to be the quickest way. But he has her joining in now. Call and response. He's coaxing little strings of words out of her and something—some sound—that skates along the edge between a laugh and a whimper. It's an assault. A production. Everything's a production.
She just wants to scream. In more ways than one, she wants to scream.
He always has to fix things.
He can't just give her five minutes to be well and truly mad at him for the ridiculous situations he gets them into. Gets her into. Because it's her chest, and there's no reason anyone should connect him to anything concerning her chest, right? No connection between him and her chest as far as anyone at the precinct is concerned. That's the whole damned point.
And it's not like he's sorry. Oh, he says he is. He tips his head down and looks up at her through his lashes and thinks she doesn't know that he's working it.
And he's all about fixing things. He's craning to get a look inside her bag, even though he's already gotten his hands slapped away for being nosy. He's opening and closing the glove compartment and rummaging through the door wells and every little slide-out cubby in the armrest. In the dash board. In the whole damned car. Like she keeps concealer for hickey emergencies in her cruiser. Like any woman over the age of sixteen keeps concealer for hickey emergencies anywhere.
But he's not sorry. His mouth is running. Ridiculous solutions and promises that have her biting the inside of her own cheek to keep from laughing. Because he can't just let her be pissed off that she's a grown woman trying to hide a goddamned hickey that she would have realized needed hiding if he hadn't made her late this morning. If he hadn't turned something really simple into a Richard Castle production in the first place.
No he's not sorry. She can see his mind working. His eyes keep flicking toward it, then back up to hers and that is not helping. He plucks at the sides of her sweater and rearranges the neckline like he can bend geometry to his will. She really needs to get out of this car, right now, because, she's already on the verge of being late and he's got to stop touching her. And looking at her. And trying to fix it because she just wants to be mad at him.
He's not sorry, he's . . . interested. The ways he can help—his dozen genius plans to fix this—are still streaming off his tongue, but she knows that look. He's mentally rifling through his adjectives. He's cataloging it. Color, contrast, location, shape. The sounds she was making. The sounds he was trying not to make, which is why this is his fault.
Which is why she'd like five freaking minutes to be mad at him. Because he gets so fixated on her—on his own battle plan—that he doesn't pay attention. And it's pathetically easy to turn him into a babbling, high-pitched mess.
And she doesn't care if that might have been a stupid move on her part. She doesn't care if "stifling" was the lesser of two evils. She doesn't care if it's ludicrous that she apparently can't go two hours without a fix some days—most days—because none of this would be happening if he didn't complicate every damned thing.
She's mad at him and she has every right to be. But right now, she has to get out of this car.
It works. She has to give him that. It works with the sweater. The color, the pattern. The weight of the fabric and its drape. The proportions and geometry of it. It's all . . . . well, it does the job.
But it's also gorgeous, and she has this giddy, warm feeling bubbling up in her chest. Every time she sees it out of the corner of her eye. Every time she feels the softness of it swinging against her skin.
It's the way he pays attention that gets to her. Obvious, right? He's the writer. She's the subject, so obviously he pays attention. But it's more than that. It's completely her. No gauzy, trailing edges that will snag on every last thing. It's feminine, but not frilly. The pattern is unusual. All interplay of colors and light. Everything about it is her, but it's not just that. It's something else, too.
It's a little less severe than something she'd have chosen herself. Not softer, exactly. The blue is too intense, the pattern too bold for that. By it's elegant. It complements her coloring and highlights the strong set of her shoulders. It brings out the things he sees in her. The things he murmurs into her hair and against her hip and all along the sharp margin of her shoulder blade.
And it cost a ridiculous amount of money. A ridiculous amount.
She'd been in a hurry. Obviously so had he. He'd been impatient with her sloppy attempts to just tie the damned thing. Said she looked like a cowgirl with low self-esteem trying to strangle herself with a bib, and everyone would know she was hiding something. Well she is hiding something, isn't she? And whose 14-year-old-with-no-self-control fault is that?
Then he'd insisted on doing it himself. And that went nowhere good (there wasn't time; he knew that). And then she was really in a hurry. On the verge of being regular late, not just Kate Beckett late (not that she concedes there is such a thing). She'd torn herself away, leaving him disheveled and both of them more than a little frustrated.
She'd been absently toying with the discreet little tag for a while, trying to find some focus, before she realized what it was. His timing couldn't have been worse. She'd just accepted that, no, there was no missing decimal point. That he'd never have told her how much it cost if she hadn't found the tag. That she wouldn't have asked. And that's when he showed up, coffee in hand and a completely awestruck look on his face. Not for long, though.
She'd like to kick him. For being so clueless. For thinking it was ok to spend half her paycheck on something like that. For having no idea how something like that must look. For being right that it doesn't "look" like anything to anyone, because no one who doesn't know them knows about them, and no one who does know would care. For giving her a headache by using "know" that many times in a single, grammatically correct sentence.
She'd like to kick herself. For getting into it like that practically in the middle of the bullpen. For not being over the money thing. For not really doing much to get it out in the open between them. For hurting his feelings.
It really is gorgeous.
There's something seriously wrong with him. She's raking her nails down his bare back and he's still asking logistical questions. Like she'd be using an interview room for this if she hadn't thoroughly scoped it out? Like she isn't absolutely sure that no one will be anywhere near here in the next half hour? Like they aren't on a schedule here?
It's not that he's not invested. His hands, his lips, and a good 70% of the nonsense rolling off his tongue are totally dedicated to the team effort, and he has her panting and practically climbing the walls as he skims along the surface of her. He's invested.
But this is how it goes so much of the time. This is how his mind works, spinning along three or four different threads at once, and she can't help but follow. Can't help but laugh and answer when he asks some bizarre question out of the blue. Can't help but sing the next snatch of melody back to him, give the required rejoinder, or join in the strange conversation. Even when she's three quarters out of her mind under his hands, his body, she can't help it.
All part of the Richard Castle experience. But she thinks she has his attention now. All of it, though it it required a tour of the amenities of this little-used end of Homicide's floor. And some strategic refocusing of his energies. Maybe the scarf was worth its heart-stopping price tag after all. It quieted him down. Not in the obvious way, either. Although . . . No. It's probably dry clean only. Has to be.
It's doesn't matter at the moment, though. She has his attention. Oh, she definitely has his attention, and the shift is so abrupt, so complete, that she's hiding a smile against the low sweep of his ribs. Nipping and enjoying the contrast between the sudden quiet the way they rise and fall erratically with the urgency of his breath.
Because he is quiet. Quiet for him, but his mind is still going and going and going. His fingertips are drumming against her neck in a desperate rhythm, but every once in a while they still under her jaw. Like he's going to tip her chin up and ask her something.
And that's just about enough of that. They're on a schedule.
It's bullshit. The double standard is pure bullshit. Because not a single person has said a single word to him despite the fact that he's stumbling around, slack jawed and glassy eyed. And he's made at least two grammatical errors in the last ten minutes. He's a mess, and no one has said anything. Not. One. Word.
And if anyone has noticed that he came back from his "phone call" with his shirt practically buttoned up to his eyebrows, they're not saying a word about that either. She should probably feel guilty about that. Or at least admit he has a point about stifling and priorities when avoiding detection. She should probably acknowledge that her response to the events of the last 24 hours might—might—have been a little over the top so far.
But apologies and admissions will have to wait, because every single person in Homicide, and a handful of visitors from Robbery have been in her face since she got back. What the hell are the guys from Robbery even doing up here? Other than going over her wardrobe like it's a crime scene. Maybe they know she can't afford this stupid scarf. Maybe they think she stole it.
It's draped left over right now. The scarf. The stupid, gorgeous scarf. Yes, she should have thought about that when she shooed Castle away and retied it herself, but how the hell does that even come up in conversation? Isn't anyone here actually working a homicide? Because she's pretty sure there's at least one active case.
Granted, Esposito is all over theirs. Oh. Stolen property. That explains the assist from downstairs. But don't the rest of them draw a salary for something other commenting on smudges the size of a pencil eraser on their colleagues' accessories? Shit. It's got to be dry clean only. Is that even going to come out?
They're messing with her. All of them. It's the only explanation. The only explanation for why the hell her wardrobe is the hot topic of conversation all of a sudden. They all know, and they're messing with her and everything is about to blow up in her face.
He looks pretty miserable about it all. And it's not just the buttons. At least he has the decency to look miserable. Sheepish. To be annoyed on her behalf every time some new scarf-related piece of evidence comes up. He can't believe it either and he shoots her a look that's half apology, half WTF?
There's a little bit something else, too. Not that. (Well, a little bit of that. There's always been a little bit of that. Which is probably how everyone knows and why they're all messing with her.) But it's like he's . . . exasperated with her?
He's exasperated with her?
She's not sure what she was thinking, forbidding him to touch her. Forbidding him to use his hands in any way. It was supposed to be a conversation, that's all, and a no-touching rule seemed like a sensible way to keep them out of trouble.
She should have known something was up when he agreed to it so readily. When he tucked his hands behind his back and gave her his best innocent smile. And if that's his best, she doesn't know how he's ever gotten away with anything in his whole life. Then again, she's backed up against a bookshelf or something with her sweater rucked most of the way up, and she's never been so grateful for a drop cloth in her life. So apparently there's a lot she doesn't know.
The problem is she left him his words. Some part of her must have realized what a truly stupid idea that was. Some part of her must have wanted . . . not this exactly. Or maybe this exactly. This, exactly, especially right now, is pretty spectacular.
Some part of her must have been counting on this. It's not like she doesn't know how much trouble his mouth can be in any number of ways. Even still . . . even still, he's really, really on his game.
She suspects it has something to do with the venue. For him and for her, however stupid that is. Being down in Robbery probably has something to do with it. Because they've had it out over that. Her lousy timing with Demming and his rushing off to the Hamptons to lick his wounds. Or have Gina do it for him.
They've had it out. She knows he's with her. Everything about him—everything about the way he is with her tells her that he is absolutely with her. And it's stupid, but a different kind of fire rushes up in her at the very thought of anyone else on the other end of his words. And now she's breaking her own rule with a vengeance. She's tearing at his top buttons and his shirttails, hell bent on reaching skin. Hell bent on leaving evidence.
He's not breaking the rule. There's a single moment when he lets out a string of curses and his hands hover in fists above her elbows. And then he finds his words again and his hands disappear. They snake back behind his body, out of her way. He's sticking to the rule, and she's still the one losing here.
Whatever losing means.
It's getting worse. In defiance of all laws of everything, it's getting worse. He comes back from a lengthy bathroom trip (and it's a good thing no one is keeping eyes on him, because how bad would that look?), and she wants him again.
Her hair is a disaster and it's driving her crazy. She has no idea where those two hair pins went and the tendrils that escaped are brushing her neck and she can feel his breath stirring them. She can picture his fingers winding through, pulling out the rest of the pins, one by one, and she wants him.
He's not helping. The look he's giving her says he's thinking exactly the same thing and he's not helping.
It's getting worse. It's not just the hair. It's not just the look he's giving her. He's found something and he can't resist telling her. He can't wait to tell her. He's puffed up and pleased with his new discovery and his buttons are a little off center and the thread isn't quite right, and she just wants him.
She wonders if there's something wrong with her. This cannot be normal. She'll worry about normal later, though, because there's apparently a mostly empty machine room off the beaten path and she wants him now.
He looks surprised and maybe a little dazed. He thought this was just an innocent field trip. Maybe. Maybe not so innocent. With his his stare heavy on her back and now his lips brushing her shoulder blade, how innocent could it be?
Dazed or not, by the time they're stumbling through the door, he's fully committed to the mission. She hears her own voice. Short, sharp orders that she hardly needs to give, because he's right there half a second before she gives them.
But then he's ignoring her. Ignoring some pretty specific orders. And . . . oh . . . not ignoring, just taking his sweet time. The bastard is smiling, and she'd like to kill him just as soon as she's done with him because she just heard something snap and that's almost certainly going to be a problem. Later. Later.
It's dark. Just a strip of light coming in from under the door, but she can feel him smiling. She can hear it in his broken whispers against her ribs, her hip, the crease of her thigh. And somewhere beneath the frantic haze of now, and right there, and God, Castle, she's a mess. Her heart stutters with warmth and affection and gratitude and she's a mess.
He's the most . . . attentive man she's ever been with. He leads, he follows, he listens, and he ignores her and strings her patiently along when he has a better idea. And she'd die before admitting it, but he is absolutely full of good ideas when it comes to this.
He's also strangely without ego about it. Mostly without ego, she corrects herself as a particularly throaty moan escapes her and she feels his smile turn smug. There's too much delight in him for ego, really.
He likes sex and he loves that she does, too. There's no push and pull about that. No games about him wanting and her withholding and she's been down that road before with men who were vaguely suspicious about the fact they weren't always having to talk her into it.
There's none of that with him, and he comes away from every night and day, every stolen moment . . . she can't describe it. She'd need him for that. She'd need him to have any hope of describing it and doing the feeling any justice at all, but she's a mess and its not like she can just ask.
He's . . . delighted. The word makes her squirm, but it's the best she can come up with. Every time, he's just pleased as hell with every new discovery about her body. About his own. About the way they fit and move together. He's just . . . delighted every time.
She can't really blame him. She's pretty damned delighted herself.
She's a mess.
She needs him out of here. She needs her out of here and both of them in a location with a door that locks and furniture not intended for breaking suspects and/or covered in dusty drop cloths. But for right now, he has to go, because he can't seem to stop staring at her chest.
Just the staring would be bad enough on its own, but it's worse than that. The look on his face swings wildly from abject lust at her bra-lessness to cringing guilt over the whole thing. He keeps making sympathetic noises, and really, Castle: Partners do not ask partners about chafing. At least not in the workplace.
He also keeps rummaging through her office supplies and looking up at her with that damned triumphant look every time he has a new master plan for repairing the broken clasp. If people weren't already wondering what the hell is up with them today, they're definitely curious about the near-constant stream of No, Castlesnow.
He's got to go. That's all there is to it, and she doesn't have the time or the patience to explain that it's not a punishment.
She just needs him gone, and now is better than later. Because she also needs to go to the bathroom and spent some quality time scratching the hell out of her own chest. She has some serious doubts about the sweater's 100% cashmere label and half a mind to take it up with the manufacturer. Assuming she doesn't bleed out from self-inflicted wounds first.
Right now, what she needs most is him gone.
She finally orders him. She manufactures a scene, and in full view and earshot of everyone, she tells him he has no focus, that he's messing with her investigation, and he has to go. He does. After a stunned moment of absolutely everyone looking uncomfortable, he heads for the elevator.
She tries to catch his eye. She has a plan. It's already in the works, and if he could be bothered to stop staring at his shoes like a puppy who's just seen his person pull out the big suitcase for a long trip, he'd realize that.
It's possible that all these cloak-and-dagger make out sessions are making him stupid. There's a pattern. In retrospect, there's a definite pattern. First he forgets to take the price tag off the damned scarf, and then he's dumb enough to point out exactly how much disposable income he has for things like emergency hickey coverage.
Then he questions her scouting ability and commitment to covert ops. And it did take three increasingly obvious hints before he clued into the plan to meet up down in Robbery. And maybe if he had clued into that earlier, things might not have gotten so urgent and there'd have been no need for emergency sewing kits and suspicious lengths of time spent locked in bathroom stalls. And the bra clasp . . . well, she's not thinking about that because if the game isn't up already, it will be if she shoves her hand up her own sweater and starts scratching furiously in the middle of the bullpen.
The point is, he is definitely getting stupider. The brilliant mind of Richard Castle is losing some of its edge. Whether it's exhaustion or something about the ever-present fog of lust, she has no idea. What matters right now is that he his clueless about the plan. Which means she needs to get out of there, and Esposito is practically wearing that kid around his neck, and she is not feeding his adolescent fantasies by making a braless appearance anywhere near him.
She thinks about finding Ryan, making her excuses, and beating a quick retreat. But even over the constant drumming of now now now through her blood, she knows she needs to make sure everything is squared away with Espo first. That he's got this.
She finds them together anyway and the kid, for once, is nowhere in sight.
"Hey, boys," she says and it's not casual. It's breathy and urgent and not casual at all. She asks herself how much she cares and the answer is not much. "Where are we with everything?"
The two of them exchange a look. She'd love to knock their heads together, but a particularly vicious wave of prickling sweeps over her midsection just then.
"Under control, Beckett," Esposito says as he turns away from her.
Ryan's jaw twitches and she can tell—she can tell—that he's just dying to take advantage of Esposito's set up, but some instinct for self preservation turns it into a nervous cough and he rearranges his face more carefully.
"Good," she says evenly. "Good. I'm gonna head out of here for the night then. Enjoy your sleepover, Javi."
"You too, Beckett," Esposito calls over his shoulder.
"Yeah, you too," Ryan echoes.
If she didn't have a plan—if Castle weren't so stupid that he didn't realize she has a plan—she would so be kicking both their asses right now.
She makes a mental note to hire Jeff if she ever needs a get-away driver. He's smart, an absolute master of rush-hour Manhattan traffic, and, really, the precinct should have him in for a seminar on completely neutral body language. He hasn't asked a single question or indicated that it is in any way odd that they're madly circling the block looking for Castle. Jeff is definitely her guy for Italian Job-style capers.
She claps a hand over her eyes when she realizes how very Castle this train of thought is. They're in real trouble if they're both getting stupider. And speaking of stupid, where the hell is he?
She'd waited until Jeff was in place before kicking Castle out. By the time she made it out to the car, she should have been greeted by a barrage of questions followed by immediate compliance with the "no talking" order she planned on issuing. But the back seat had been distressingly empty and Jeff had solemnly assured her that Castle had not come out of the building.
He's sulking. He has to be sulking somewhere because he is stupid. He's probably sitting in a stairwell like a child taking pleasure in defying her.
She's just about to throw open the door and march back into the precinct to hunt him down when Jeff taps on the glass. Her head snaps toward the front door of the precinct and there he is. There's Castle.
She laughs outright. He's definitely sulking. She half expects him to shake his fist up at the building, but the fight goes out of him and he scoots out of the flow of pedestrian traffic to fiddle with his phone. His head keeps popping up and he looks both directions like he's trying to decide something.
She clenches her teeth and she's just about to go get him when Jeff taps the intercom and placidly suggests that he'll get Mr. Castle's attention. She thanks him. Sighs and leans back into the seats. That's a better idea. A much better idea, given that cops are streaming out of the precinct, too. It's not much of a plan if she gets caught yanking Castle into the backseat of a town car.
She cracks the street side window a fraction of an inch. The rush hour drone grates on her nerves, and she panics when she sees Castle dive into the flow of traffic and move rapidly out of sight. But Jeff's voice cuts through the bustle, and if she presses herself to the window, she can just see Castle from the elbows down. He's pulled up short in the middle of the sidewalk and she idly hopes that he doesn't get taken out by a mob of commuters.
Jeff has him. Sort of has him. Because he's asking questions again and what is wrong with him? Why isn't he just getting in the damned car already?
She reaches up and fumbles with the knot at the nape of her neck. She unwinds the scarf. For what, she doesn't know. It's not like she can lasso him with it. She just wants him to stop asking questions and get in the damned car, but he's stage whispering now. She hears the word "hostage" and makes a note to have a conversation about his brain damage sometime later tonight. Much later tonight.
She yanks at the door handle and leads with one foot. He's wandered close enough that she's able to plant a boot, get him by the elbow, and duck his head through the door. She throws herself backward and pulls him with her. The momentum carries the door closed and she has him where she wants him.
He's babbling about something. She should probably be offended that he's even capable of babbling, given that she's shimmying her way into a more comfortable position on his lap. For now she ignores him and concentrates on her knot. She feels him relax. Feels the exact minute that he is 100% on board with the plan and she grins at him.
"So it is a hostage situation." He grins back.
"Never said it wasn't, Castle."