A co-authored story by chezchuckles and International08.

"Okay," she growls, waving her glass of wine at him. "Enough. What about you? You haven't kept up with your high school friends either."

He shrugs. He liked talking about her high school friends more than his own. "You know what happened with my high school friends. Maybe it's best I didn't."

She stills, regarding him for a moment, then sips her wine, her eyes watching him over the rim of her glass.

He didn't mean to bring the party down. Castle mops the sauce from his plate with a slice of bread, hesitates over spilling his guts.

She clears her throat, leans forward and crosses her arms on the table as she nudges her plate away. Empty, licked clean, he's glad to note. So far, she's liked everything he's cooked for her. They'll make it to s'morelettes one of these days.

"I showed you mine," she says, her voice low, throaty, dripping with sex.

He raises an eyebrow at her underhanded tactic, but she just smirks at him. Uh-huh, she knows exactly what she's doing.

"One of the guys from the high school lit mag - Jason - sent me a really nice letter through my publisher. After the first book sold so well."

"Oh," she murmurs, and some of that bedroom voice disappears. Too bad.

"Yeah, it was really nice of him. I wrote him back, thanked him for it, said we should meet up and talk about old times."

"And did you?" she asks, tilting her head, her eyebrows knitting together.

He nods, gives her a self-deprecating smile. "Mistake. I was an ass. Though he was too polite to tell me. Looking back, that was probably the beginning of a series of stupid and immature behaviors. I think the worst part was when I handed him a signed photo."

He expects a joke, a wry comment and a roll of her eyes, but she doesn't do that. "The magnification of your inner child," she says, and she's studying him now as if she can take him apart and figure out how he works.

"Yes, that. Also . . . Beckett, people stop saying no to you. When you have a lot of money. They stop making you work for it. So you get lazy. And selfish. And really, really stupid."

Her finger traces the base of her wine glass.. "Is this what led to naked police horse stealing?"

He grins, feels a sharp sting of memory - not for the event itself, which is hazy and made indistinct by inebriation - but for the conversation she first had with him about it. The disgust and desire in her eyes across the interrogation room table.

Really, their first date.

"It is. And I'd still be stuck there, making an ass of myself, if you hadn't told me no."

She lifts an eyebrow.

"Repeatedly told me no. Ordered me around like I'm not a millionaire, snapped at me like I'm not a famous author, in general busted my ass so that I wouldn't be an ass. I appreciate it, Beckett."

"Did you just admit that I make you a better person, Castle?" She's smirking at him, clearly pleased, and he doesn't even consider it a win for her, a loss for him, because it's just true.

She does.

"Yeah. I did."

Kate sits back, blinks as she averts her eyes.

Too much, then. Too serious. They don't talk like this, do they?

She gathers her plate and stands up from the table; he sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. He's surprised when, instead of disappearing into the kitchen, she pauses and collects his plate as well, nudging him in the shoulder with her elbow.

He watches her for a moment, stunned, and then gets up to follow.

All kinds of indecent thoughts are running through her head after that.

She wants to stop telling him no.

Because the sensibility behind his statement, the truth of it, it touches her; it gets to her. A broken-hearted I love you in a cemetery as she bleeds to death below him doesn't do it quite like You make me a better man does it when she's a conscious, active participant in the exchange.

There's nothing standing in the way, is there? She keeps him waiting, but only because she honestly didn't think he could survive her, that they could survive her. But he's man enough to handle her issues; she's made him man enough.

Kate rinses off their plates, loads them in the dishwasher, then turns to find him in the kitchen, elbows on the bar, hands clasped, watching her.

She knows him, this man, knows what it takes, where she can go, how deep his loyalty runs. She knows him, and she knows nothing about him. Cryptic answers to her more meaningful questions about his childhood, sarcastic and teasing remarks about his mother that she almost can't believe.

Time to start knowing him, time to start sharing this - whatever it is and wherever it leads them - because she's tired of being not enough and too much.

"When you were a kid, what was your favorite place in all of New York?" she asks suddenly, thumb playing with the finger of her other hand, taking a deep breath. She's starting small, okay? Give her a break.

Castle watches her a second, pondering, then smiles. "What was yours?"

She hesitates, opens her mouth, and finds herself answering at the same time he does.

"Public library."

Kate grins at him, feels the heat of connection between them. She realizes she's stepped closer to him, propped her own elbows on the counter as well. His fingers uncurl, touch hers, tugging a little.

"Of course," she says softly.

"Of course," he echoes. "You read."

"And don't you forget it," she murmurs, hooking her fingers around his.

"How could I?"

Naked and uncovered, his adoration pours through his gaze, and she doesn't mind. She can handle it. She can handle him; he's made her into the kind of woman who can handle him.

Handle them.

"Let me take you there," he says suddenly.

She smiles, shakes her head. "Castle-"

He closes his eyes, a brief flicker, only a second, the rejection etched into the lines of his face, but she realizes it's because she ruined the moment, she denied it, denied them, even though she didn't mean to. It's habit.

And then he opens his eyes and she's not even sure she actually saw it, his disappointment, his searing hopelessness, not even sure it was there, except even with the excitement galloping across his face like wild horses, he still has a veil between him and her, an inner sanctum that he's closed off. For his own protection.

"Come on, let me take you. It'll be fun. A midnight trip to the library. I know you wanted to do it when you were a kid."

She did, actually. And she doesn't want him closed off, doesn't want him to have to guard himself against being hurt by her. Not anymore. Not when they've made it this far, not when they just make each other better.

"I always wanted to go in my pajamas," she says suddenly, reaching out and wrapping her fingers around his wrist. "I wanted to have a slumber party in the stacks upstairs."

His grin is so wide and grateful and pleased, he's so very pleased with her, that she feels an answering smile start in her own mouth, spread like wildfire so that she can't help the childlike anticipation that comes over her.

"You wanna change into something more comfortable, Beckett, don't let me stop you," he says, runs a finger down the back of her hand, circling the bone at her wrist.

"I didn't bring anything to change into," she shoots back, delicious heat cramping her belly, tingling her hip flexors.

"Don't let that stop you either."

"Quit while you're ahead," she warns him, her voice quiet but she knows her eyes are invitations.

"Then come with me," he says finally, and she's not sure if he says it in all innocence, or if he intends the erotic image that burns to life behind her eyelids.

All she knows is that she had to close her eyes to maintain her equilibrium, and now he's tugging on her hand and pulling her towards the door.

"I'm coming," she says, and she's appalled at the breathlessness in her voice.

"This isn't going to be like that movie is it?" she asks as he pulls her through the door.

His hand firmly on her elbow to keep her from straying too far away, he glances down at the detective.

"What movie?"

"'Night at the Museum.'"

He laughs, the sound of his happiness echoing through the cavernous foyer.

"Are you scared of the books coming to life and chasing you, Detective?" he teases.

"Hm, you should know better. I like books." She gives him a look from the corner of her eye, a little smile.

"Ooh, were you one of those kids with fifteen books checked out at a time and all of them overdue? No wonder you're afraid the books will come to life."

She elbows him in the side. "Actually, the limit per card is 23. Or at least, that's what they told me when I was a kid. But no. I'm more worried about the lions outside. After the tiger incident?. . .Let's just say, I'm not a fan of cats."

He catches another smile, this one wide and unguarded, one she rarely lets him see. It's similar to the one she gave him after he disarmed the bomb last year, but without the added adrenaline that made her eyes a little shiny, her laugh a little hysterical. Smile minus last-ditch effort to avoid imminent death equals a strange tightness in his chest.

"I don't think you need to worry," he assures her. "That would require some magic. You don't believe in magic."

She shrugs, and he wonders what exactly that little bit of body language might mean. As they pass the front desk, he nods at the guard on duty, who returns the gesture and holds up a book in response. It's Heat Rises, and the man is at least halfway through the novel.

"Thus the special privileges," Castle whispers to his partner, the synchronized tattoo of their footsteps on the marble floor resounding in the otherwise silent room.

She shakes her head. "They really don't mind if you're here after hours?"

He grins and nudges her shoulder with his. "I do book readings and special events for the library on a regular basis, I'm one of their Leadership Donors, and they'll be getting be getting a considerable amount from my estate one day - hopefully many, many years from now. They don't mind if I come in to do some research on a rare evening."

She hums at his side, a small smile playing across her features.

"Research," she says softly. "Is that what we're doing here?"

He shrugs, cocks his head. "I'm here with my muse, am I not?"

He leads her through a series of corridors, past the library shop until they reach a door marked with a jagged upward sloping line.

"We'll have to take the stairs," he says, voice hesitant. "Is that okay?"

She nods her assent, follows him in. As if she would turn him down. He takes the first step up and turns back to her, his hand extended, perhaps unconsciously.

"It's only two flights," he promises. "Come on."

The little boy excitement on his face has her slipping her hand into his, warm palm to warm palm, and he jolts a little, as if he hadn't even realized that he'd reached for her, as if his hand by pure instinct decided he needed her closer.

"Just in case," she offers when their eyes meet as she steps up next to him. "This way, if the books do come to life, we won't lose each other in the mad dash to get out of here."

He glances down at their joined hands and back up at her, stumbling over the words when he speaks. "Right. Yeah. You're right. Just in case."

As they ascend slowly, she remembers the first time she came to the library with her mother, can't help now opening her mouth in the hush and the solitude to share it with him. "My first time?" - and yes she knows how that sounds, intended it to sound that way - "My mom came here with me, looking for a book called Deviance and Liberty. It was about social problems and public policy. She dumped me in the children's section while she did her research; it was one of the best days of my life. All these books. I think I was five or six."

"I'm impressed you remember the name of that book. Five or six?"

"I found the book in her office, after she was gone," she tells him, but for once, there's no stab of hurt at the thought of not having her mother, just the pleasure of sharing her with Castle. "She had never returned it. I still have it actually."

He shakes his head, lips pursed in teasing disapproval. "I'm sure one poor law student after another has been trying to check out that book for years, only to find it missing."

She laughs, listens to the ringing of her joy in the stairwell. "I'm sure they replaced it long ago when it came up missing in inventory, Castle."

"Always so practical," he murmurs, and even though he's smiling, there's something in his phrase that relates back to her not believing in magic, something sad.

But then he seems to shake it off and drags at her hand, pulling her up the stairs a faster pace. "I came here a lot. All the time, actually."

"You've told me," she says softly, squeezing his hand. He pauses and looks back at her, curious and hesitant at the same time. She doesn't know how to reach out past that, to break down his wall as well as her own. But she's got to try. "I was here a lot too. As a kid. I bet we were here at the same time."

His breath catches; he pauses on the landing to look at her, and she's so glad she mentioned it. In that way, like it's possible they've met before.

"One time, when I was twenty or so, I spent all day holed up here in a research room."

She stays with him on the landing, can sense this is going somewhere.

"I was writing my first book. I had all these huge anatomy textbooks and police procedure manuals, and just . . . can I say that following you around is infinitely more appealing than research?" He laughs but that's not it either, is it? Not the point.

She smiles back at him in encouragement and he continues.

"I came out of my little room, probably walking too fast, head up my own ass. I was going back for a couple more books, when I practically trampled this girl."

Kate feels the smile slip from her face as she realizes where this going. Oh, Castle.

"I don't . . . she was probably twelve, dark hair, dark eyes. She was wandering the stacks with her nose in a book. I don't remember the title, but I know I had to catch her book as I knocked it out of her hands."

Her heart pounds, but she can't interrupt, can't make him stop the story. His eyes are bright, too tender.

"I – I told her she should be reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys instead of whatever it was she had. She didn't seem too happy to take orders from me, but she followed me back to the young adult section, and I pulled all kinds of books off the shelves for her to read."

"Presumptuous of you," Kate murmurs, glances away from him. She can't stand the glisten of hope, of magic in his eyes.

"It was. I was twenty and thought I knew everything. But she took my advice. I remember that. I saw her later that day at one of the research tables, back upstairs, reading Nancy Drew, a stack of them next to her."

"What do you want me to say?" she murmurs at him, passing her hand over her eyes. "That I remember that?"

"Kate…" He sighs, and when she lifts her gaze to his, the melancholy has resettled into the lines of his face. It makes him look so much older like this, distinguished and handsome still, but not the playboy she took in for questioning one night.

She tugs on his hand, pulls him up the final few steps. "So what if it's not fate, Castle? We're here now, aren't we?"

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