A Muse Stalks Into A Bar

Fandom: Leverage & Castle
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Nathan Ford; Richard Castle/Kate Beckett
Rating: PG-15
Word Count: 8,668
Summary: Two men go to a hotel bar hoping to blunt their sorrows.

A Muse Stalks Into A Bar PDF

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Chapter 1

Standing at the doorway of the bar in the Waldorf, Nathan Ford was still in awe of the simple elegance that spoke of wealth and comfort.

The last time he’d been here, he and Maggie had worked a case about a year before Sam got sick. He yanked his mind away from those thoughts, and took a seat at the bar.

Soon a crystal glass of aged single malt sat on the bar. Enjoying the smoky burn of that first sip he let his mind slip back six weeks. He wondered about the team, where they were—what they were doing.

Parker went on a stealing binge, her form of therapy after being caught by Sterling. Sophie … She was probably sunning herself on her island. Alec would be outfitting a new hideaway to make up for blowing up his fantasy office.

Eliot was foremost in his thoughts. The lone wolf had disappeared. He was the only one that there had been no whispers of on the grapevine.

Sterling had seen the enforcer as the biggest threat to his plan, and ordered Quinn to use extreme prejudice. Quinn’s ego wanted to prove he was better than Eliot, and like the rookie gunfighter going against the wily veteran, Quinn paid the price. Nate didn’t know what became of Sterling’s hitter, but there had not been word of the man since he challenged Eliot.

Before Nate could get any deeper in his own head, his elbow was jostled.

“Sorry. This seat’s not taken is it?” A stunning younger man with short brown hair and blue eyes sprawled on the chair next to him.

“Uh … No.” Ford was disgruntled at being pulled into the real world so abruptly.

“Richard Castle.” He held out a friendly hand.

“Nathan …” He shook the warm smooth hand.

Nate laughed at himself for not offering his whole name. Definitely spending too much time with thieves.

“Castle? The writer?” He asked.

“In the flesh. Though my critics would say calling me a writer is a stretch.” He chuckled.

“Never listen to critics … I like your stuff.” He signaled for another scotch.

Nate eyed Castle as the barman sat down two drinks.

“They know me.” He chuckled. “What’s put you in the Waldorf bar in the AM of the day?”

“R and R.” Nate gave Castle a scrutinizing look. “Is this where famous crime fiction writers hang out between chapters?”

“Not usually, but a month ago I stuck my nose where I was told not to. Right now I’m persona non grata.” A deep frown came over the handsome face.

“Probably involves a woman.” Nate snarked.

“Two actually … Mother and daughter.”

Nate’s eyes widened. “You like living dangerously or you do your research hands on.”

“What!? Not like that. This woman’s a cop … My muse you could say.” His expression softened. “Her mother was killed. I asked Kate, the cop, I’m following for research,” He blushed at Nate’s snort, “about it. Then I ‘borrowed’ the file and had an expert I know take a look. He said it was murder and that there had been others. When I told Kate, she cut me off, just like she said she would.” He sighed deeply and took a long pull on his drink.

“Not many women treat a pretty boy like you that way. You always con and wheedle your way back into their good graces.” The ex-investigator stated flatly. “Now you pine for the one that takes no prisoners, including you.”

“How can … How would … Do you know my mother?” Rick stuttered.

Nate’s eyebrows rose towards his hairline. “You have a mother?” His tone dry. **Good God he was channeling Eliot.**

“Wouldn’t go so far as that. She has a three act play she performs about the agony of my birth, but I actually raised her and my daughter.” Rick beamed brightly. “My daughter’s my masterpiece. I just don’t know where I failed with Mother.” His tone was exasperated. “Wonderful as I am, enough about me. Since I’m cut off from NYPD homicides I need something to stimulate my creative juices. Tell me about Nathan.” Rick cajoled while ordering another round.

The hair was the wrong color brown, the eyes the wrong color blue … Castle made Nate long for the strong quiet presence of Eliot—so he told Rick the story about a chef who took down a Russian mob enforcer with an appetizer.

The sounds of their laughter echoed through the empty bar.

There was a sudden change in the air. Nate felt the hair on the back of his neck raise. He looked at Castle whose eyes were wide. Feeling like a rabbit under the eyes of a wolf, and trying to be inconspicuous, Nate let his eyes survey the room, never turning his head.

“Neat trick.” Rick murmured. “Anything? I could call Kate’s captain… We play poker … He’d send Ryan, maybe Esposito if you think I need to …”

**The Gods save me from nervous babblers.**

“Hard … Castle!” Nate hissed while still trying to be nonchalant.

He gave up on nonchalant when he heard a gasp from the bartender.

The two men turned in unison toward the entrance. The afternoon sun backlit the figure of a man. Nate took in the wild halo of waves and curls, average height, broad shoulders, narrow waist. His nerves began to tingle.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear.” Nate whispered.

The look Castle threw reminded Nate of a high strung thoroughbred.

The figure moved causing the barest hint of light to illuminate the pale eyes.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” Castle exclaimed as Nate fought the urge to cross himself. “He’s magnificent!” Rick gushed while Nate bristled, but agreed.

Nathan Ford now understood why Eliot was at the top of his profession.

Eliot Spencer on the hunt was a force of nature and everyone’s life was easier if you got out of the way or gave him what he wanted.

The retrieval specialist stalked over to Nate, eyes narrowed as he glared at Castle, who smiled back like he’d just gotten Christmas and his birthday early.

He stopped when he was nose to nose with Nate.

“How’d you know where to find me?” Nate asked, awed by this Eliot.

“It’s what I do.” Eliot growled. “There’s nowhere I can’t find you.”

Nate shivered.

Strong fingers closed around his slender wrist.

“Time to go.” He yanked the older man to his feet.

Castle stared after the pair as the shorter man pulled Rick’s new friend through the bar like a recalcitrant child.

Eliot stopped in the lobby and spoke to a beautiful woman.

“Yer boy’s in the bar. Better teach ‘im some boundaries.” Eliot snarled at her.

She scoffed. “Castle and the word boundaries are not even remotely acquainted. I owe you, El.” A smile lit her face as she hugged the prickly hitter and kissed his cheek.

“Take care yerself, Kate. Warn your boy not to make me come back here.” His posture softened as he hugged her back.

“He’s not ‘my’ boy.” Kate growled.

“Keep tellin’ yerself that, girl.” Eliot laughed low and dirty.

“He’s not!” Kate yelled as Eliot’s laughter trailed behind the men as they headed for the door.

Chapter 2

The sound of expensive leather sliding on marble drew Kate’s attention away from Eliot and his friend.

“Tell me you know that magnificent man and that you’ll introduce us.” Castle gushed.

A devilish grin started across Kate’s face.

“I didn’t know you swung that way, Castle.”

“What! … No … I … He … Then again …” Watching the laughter dancing in whiskey colored eyes, Rick took a steadying breath and tried again. “He’d be perfect for the book. He could be just the man to tame Nikki Heat.” He teased gently … Unsure of his reception.

Kate sobered thinking of Eliot. That man certainly did have a way with skittish creatures … If anyone could gentle the rough and tumble Nikki Heat it would be a man like Eliot Spencer. She shook herself from her reverie to glare at Castle.

“He’s an old friend.” Her voice was clipped.

“Can I meet him?”

Kate was reminded of a six-year-old on Christmas morning.

“I think he’s going to be busy for a while, but I can give him a call … Later.” She emphasized. “I’ve got to warn you, Castle. You pester him with a lot of nosy questions you get a face full of bad attitude.”

“That’d really be perfect.” Rick shivered with anticipation as he followed Kate out the door.

Kate rolled her eyes at Castle’s unbridled enthusiasm. “Are you ever going to grow up?”

“Been there, done that. Now that mother’s finally an adult and Alexis is in high school, I’m having the childhood of which I was sadly deprived.”

Castle’s tone was lighthearted, but Kate caught a flash of something in those blue eyes before he slipped on his sunglasses that told her perhaps there was truth in the joke.

Knowing she was going to regret it later, Kate sighed inwardly, and followed after Castle.

“Castle!” She yelled before he disappeared into the cab.

“Yeah?” He sounded dejected.

“I’ll call him, but I need a really good incentive.”

The writer’s entire demeanor brightened. “Anything. Like what?”

“He likes to cook. He could probably be a chef in any restaurant you care to name.” Kate’s tone was thoughtful.

“Did you say a chef?” This was just getting better all the time. He put that rugged face on the chef in Nathan’s story. “All of you come to the apartment around 7. I’ll order in something fantastic.” He was almost bouncing.

“Recipes, Castle.”

“I beg your pardon?” The comment stopped Castle in his tracks.

“If you’re going to ply him with gourmet food, wine and questions you better have recipes to go along with your gourmet catering.” Kate snickered.

“Recipes?! Do you know how hard it is to get recipes from a chef?” Castle stammered.

Kate batted her eyelashes at him innocently. “Too tough for you? I can probably get him there with the promise of a great dinner, great wine … But to get him to talk … I don’t know.”

Castle’s ego immediately rallied at her insinuation. “You get him there … I’ll have recipes.” He huffed.

“We’ll see you at 7.” Kate headed for her car.

Knowing there was a line in the sand next to the wall Beckett had raised between them over her mother’s murder Rick stepped across the line and pushed on the wall.

“We ever going to talk about it?” He asked softly.

“You always have to take that one step that’s too far, don’t you?” Kate asked through gritted teeth.

Rick held his hands up in surrender. “See you at 7.” He ducked into the cab.

He spent a frenetic afternoon talking to chefs across the city. They didn’t mind feeding his dinner party, but none wanted to give up their culinary secrets. His last hope was Chef Ignacio Mattos at Il Buco. He and Mattos had formed a fast friendship when Rick had needed insight into the workings of a mind whose artistic venue was food.

“Please help me out. I’ll sing your praises forever if you do this one favor for me.” Castle pleaded.

“I’ve heard you sing, Rick.” Mattos mocked.

“I need this guy to talk to me. Kate says Eliot’s some quasi chef type person, and the only way to bribe him is great food along with recipes. He’s going to be perfect in my book, but I need to get a feel for the character. Pleassssse let me have some recipe that no one will ever miss, that won’t ruin your prima donna reputation.”

“Ah Ricky, you beg so pretty you break my heart.” The chef chuckled. “But you know my rule … No one knows my recipes.”

“I guess if a fantastic dinner for six is all I can bribe him with … At least make it something that I might be able to talk him around afterward.” Castle sounded defeated.

Ignacio paused as if Castle’s words had finally sunk into his brain.

“Did you say Eliot?” He asked.

“Yeah. Kate didn’t tell me his last name. But he has this presence. You know … All bad attitude and danger. You throw in the long hair and blue eyes, and women everywhere will be buying my book just to read about him.” Rick waxed poetic.

The silence on the line lasted so long Castle thought Mattos had cut off the call.

“This is going to cost you my friend.” The chef prefaced.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou. I am forever in your debt. I’ll send all my friends to Il Buco’s.” He was so relieved he sank down into his desk chair.

“All your friends already come the restaurant, Rick.” Ignacio teased.

“Yes … Well … Could the food be here between 7 and 7:30?”

“Not a problem. I promise it’ll be perfect.”

When the doorbell rang at 7, Rick was so wound up he nearly tipped his chair over backwards in his haste to get to the door.

“Kate?” Sharp eyes slanted to the empty space behind her.

“They’re coming, Castle. Eliot’s taking care of the cab.” Beckett pushed by him as the elevator dinged.

Eliot and Nate came through the door just as Alexis raced down the stairs.

“Ah this gamine young lady is my daughter, Alexis. Alexis, these are Detective Beckett’s friends, Nathan …”

“Ford.” Nate supplied.

“And Eliot …”

Eliot gave him a shark’s smile that told Castle he knew exactly what the writer was playing at.

“Spencer.” He raised the teenager’s offered hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles. “Real pleasure to meet such a beautiful young woman.” He crooned in his soft southern drawl.

Alexis blushed to the roots of her red hair as she took in the handsome face, long hair with beads that had to be real diamonds twinkling from the braid that fell from behind his PIERCED! ear. She nearly swooned at his attention.

Nate smirked at Castle as he watched Eliot woo the teenage girl. Castle’s head snapped around at the sound of Kate’s chuckle, but before he could utter a word, his mother made her entrance.

“Richard, darling, you didn’t tell me we were having guests for dinner. Kate, how nice to see you. Do you have a case?” She asked, her eyes never leaving Nate and Eliot.

Rick rolled his eyes. “Martha Rodgers … Nathan Ford and Eliot Spencer. Mother’s an actress.” He said in way of explanation.

Even though actresses were Nate’s forte, Eliot stepped forward before the mastermind could speak. Using that same ‘aw shucks’ manner, the retrievalist continued to woo the women of the Castle household.

“Ma’am it is a real honor to finally meet you. I saw you in a play ‘bout ten years back and that performance has stuck with me to this day.” Eliot held her hand between his as he looked earnestly into her eyes.

Martha preened under the young man’s praise. Nate stood with mouth gaped as he watched his ‘say three words a day’ hitter working the Castle women.

“What was it you saw me in, dear boy?” She leaned in closer.

“It was right here in the city. Shakespeare in the Park I think they called it. You played Juliet’s nurse. Your performance just grabbed me and made me watch ‘til the end.” He drawled watching Rick over her shoulder.

Castle’s eyes widened as a younger, prettier face superimposed over the rugged countenance. He remembered Martha finding enough work to keep her in the city for an entire year. She had stayed with them to help take care of six year-old Alexis … Giving moderately successful author, Richard Castle, a chance sow a few wild oats. Some of those oats were staring at him over his mother’s shoulder. He was brought back to the present by his mother’s voice.

“See, Richard, there are young people who enjoy my work.” Martha gushed.

Castle rolled his eyes as the doorbell rang. “Why don’t you see to getting our guests drinks while I answer the door?”

“Certainly, darling.” Martha herded them toward the wet bar.

Kate pulled Eliot to the side.

“What was that!?” She hissed.

“What! You told me to make nice.” He smirked.

“I said nice. Not seduce his 16 year-old daughter.”

“What can I say? I’m irresistible to women of all ages.” He whispered into her ear.

Kate punched him in the arm, bruising her knuckles

Castle entered the room followed by Chef Mattos in time to see what appeared to be an intimate moment between Beckett and Spencer. Grinding his teeth to stay civil he announced.

“Dinner has arrived!”

Eliot and Kate turned to face the new arrivals. The chef took one look at Eliot and came toward him with open arms … Rapid fire Spanish directed at the shorter man. Engulfed in a bone crushing hug the two men exchanged news while the rest of the room just stared. Nate had seen this side of Eliot with Donny, so was the first to move. The only reason his hand was still attached was because the hitter knew it was Nate who touched him from behind. As it was the grip Eliot had on his wrist caused the bruises from their earlier activities to ache in a way that rekindled the fire low in his belly.

Eliot’s knowing smirk irritated the older man, but he never paused in his conversation with Mattos.

The chef finally turned to Castle.

“I have no recipes that Eliot doesn’t already know. I even have several that I got from him, but you have reunited me with an old friend … For that I thank you.” Ignacio bowed his head in an old-fashion acknowledgment of Rick’s service to him.

The two old friends disappeared into the kitchen, the others still staring in amazement. Nate finally broke the silence.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I could do with a refill.”

The others agreed, not noticing Alexis slipping toward the kitchen.

Never looking up from what he was doing, Alexis jumped with a startled squeak when Eliot’s growl snapped her out of her staring.

“You can quit peekin’ ‘round the corner, girl. Git yerself in here, and help dish this up ‘fore it’s ruined.”

Blushing at being caught, then blushing even harder when she noticed Chef Mattos grinning at her, Alexis rushed to comply.

Once dinner was on the table and everyone seated, Mattos took his leave once again thanking Castle for allowing him to catch up with Eliot.

Blue eyes bright with curiosity, the writer turned on Eliot.

“How do you know Ignacio?”

“We met on the job in Italy.” Eliot paused to savor the combination of flavors in his mouth.

“You worked as a chef in Italy?” Martha volunteered.

“No. He was the job.” Eliot stated flatly.

Nate coughed as a bite went down sideways. “You retrieved a chef?”

Eliot slid his eyes sideways to Nate as he watched the rest of the table.

“Job paid too much to pass up.” He shrugged and turned his attention back to his dinner.

“How do you retrieve a chef?” Alexis asked.

“Get him drunk toss him in the car and leave.” Eliot never paused from his dinner.

*Matty had really outdone himself.*

“You get paid to retrieve people?” Castle was more confused and intrigued by the minute. Eliot’s blasé attitude seemed … Odd.

Nate and Kate exchanged a look of alarm. Eliot was playing with Castle. Eliot was playing with Castle like a cat plays with a mouse right before the mouse goes from being a toy to being food.

The two kicks the retrievalist received under the table never registered on his face as he asked Kate how she was enjoying her barely touched dinner. Stammering her answer, Kate turned her attention to her plate.

“For the right amount of money I’ll retrieve ‘bout anything.” Eliot paused to watch the writer chewing on the information he had so far.

Just as the silence at the table was about to turn uncomfortable it was Martha with her impeccable timing that blurted out.

“What about Kate?”

Blue/grey eyes twinkling with mischief and laughter, Eliot answered. “I did Kate for free.”

Watching the slow creep of red up Kate’s neck and face, Eliot excused himself to bring dessert and coffee into the living room.

“You retrieved Kate?” Castle asked on his return. “Stubborn as she is you probably had to force her to leave at gun point.” Rick snarked.

“Don’t like guns.” Eliot stated flatly. “’Sides … Kate’s a reasonable woman when you explain things to ‘er.”

The members of the Castle family turned to look at the detective.

“What? I gathered all my facts and made a mature decision.” She stated flatly.

The hitter arched an eyebrow as if to say, ‘oh really’. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorway leading to the living room.

Nate started to chuckle at the familiar stance and expression Eliot used on his teammates. Hearing that chuckle, Kate threw her hands in the air.

“Fine. He told me if I didn’t stop acting like a spoiled brat he’d turn me over his knee in front of God and everyone.”

She stood from the table and flounced into the other room to the sounds of laughter.

“She was just a bit of 18 at the time.” Eliot offered.

Kate heard Eliot’s quiet rumble in the midst of the laughter. Whatever he said soon brought it to an end.

An arm around her waist and cheesecake waved under her nose with a whispered, ‘sorry, girl’, was Eliot’s peace offering.

A sharp elbow to the ribs that didn’t even cause ripple in the muscled frame was her reply as she snatched the plate from his hand.

“I’m never going to hear the end of it, you know?” Kate grumbled around a forkful of cheesecake.

“But he’s distracted from the real story.” Eliot added quietly.

Shortly after, Eliot gathered up Nate, with the excuse of catching an early flight, and left the Castle residence. Kate followed close behind saying she had court in the morning.

As the door closed behind their guests, Martha turned to her son.

“You do realize you learned next to nothing, darling.”

“Yeah, but Grandma he was like a character from a Ludlum novel … Handsome, mysterious … Makes you want to drape yourself across him and confess to anything.” Alexis sighed dreamily.

Castle rolled his eyes silently agreeing with his daughter. “Not to worry, ladies. Tomorrow is poker night, and what I can’t find out there I can find out other ways.”

“Good luck with that, darling.” Martha grabbed her coat and bag.

“Where are you going this late, Mother?” Rick asked.

“After show party.” She waved absently on her way out the door.

Blue eyes turned on his red-headed daughter. “Homework?”

“Done.” She crowed.

“Good you can help me with the dishes.” Rick grinned wickedly.

“Daaadd.” She whined on her way to the kitchen.

Poker the next evening with Patterson, Cannell and Kate’s captain, Roy Montgomery, soon showed Castle how turned around he was about Eliot Spencer and his profession, especially after he mentioned Nathan Ford, and the story about a chef that took down a Russian mob enforcer at a wedding.

“Oh Ricky …” Cannell laughed with tears rolling down his cheeks, “You’re lucky you still have your apartment, daughter and mother if you crossed swords with those two.” He wiped his eyes. “I wondered if the rumors about Masconi’s daughter’s wedding were true.”

“Nate seems like a regular enough guy it was Spencer that seems kind of dodgy.” Rick defended.

“Eliot Spencer is at the top of his field. What happened to the Butcher of Kiev is proof of that.” Patterson commented as he folded his hand.

“Kate, Alexis, my mother, and Mattos are besotted. It’s like he’s a cross between Julia Child and James Bond.” Castle whined. “He retrieves people for a living. What is that?” He spread his hands in frustration.

This started the three men to laughing raucously.

“For the right price, Spencer will retrieve anything … Anywhere.” Cannell tried to stifle his laughter.

“How’d he get to be friends with Kate?” Rick turned to the captain.

“I don’t know the story, just that he stops by once in a while. He’s not wanted for anything that I know about or want to know about.” Roy answered pointedly.

Castle wanted to thump his head on the table. He didn’t know much more now than he did before he sat down.

Two weeks later he was still wrestling with the character he’d modeled after Eliot Spencer. He heard the apartment door slam. Assuming it was his daughter finally getting home he closed out his manuscript and headed for the living room.

“Mother?” Rick was confused. “Where’s Alexis?”

“I haven’t seen her since breakfast, darling. I had auditions today.” Martha answered while hanging her coat in the closet. “Did she have one of her school things?”

“No.” Castle checked his watch. “She should have been home a couple hours ago.” He pulled out his cell phone. “Voicemail.”

He started dialing the school and her friends’ numbers, but no one had seen Alexis since school. His next call was to Beckett.

When he got to the station, Beckett met him at the door.

“Come on … We gotta go.” Kate raced by heading for her car.

“Where?! … Did you find her?!” Castle hurried after her.

“Maybe. Someone called in a riot at the bar where you played poker with those Russian mob guys.”

“Nobody in that neighborhood calls in anything!” Rick quickly buckled his seat belt as the tires squalled for purchase on the blacktop.

“Exactly. I’d almost bet you I know who caused that riot and why.” Kate’s head swiveled as she pushed the sedan through New York City traffic.

“Are you going to share with the rest of the class?” Rick snarled. “And tell me how this helps us find Alexis.”

“Something must have happened between Eliot and Nate. Eliot called to say he was passing through town on his way out of the country …” Kate’s eyes landed on Castle briefly, “He didn’t sound happy.”

“What does the state of Spencer’s sex life have to do with Alexis?!” The writer’s frustration level was growing exponentially.

“I think Eliot’s retrieving Alexis.” Kate mumbled.

“What! How does a riot in a Russian mob bar equal Eliot Spencer retrieving my daughter? How would he even know she was missing.”

“You were the reason we arrested a table full of Russian mobsters.” Kate reminded the novelist. “Eliot always knows what happening wherever he lands, and when Eliot’s in a bad mood he likes to find … Something to release his frustration.”

“You think they took Alexis as some sort of retribution?” Rick sounded incredulous.

“Things like that happen in the real world, Castle.”

Rick sat back limply his face pale in the early evening twilight. The rest of the ride was silent.

When they stepped into the bar the sight that met them made them stop to stare wide-eyed. Kate’s gun was drawn when she looked behind the bar where a man slowly stood from his hiding place.

“What happened?” Kate asked as they walked toward the bar, stepping lightly around bodies and debris.

“Odinokiy Volk.” The trembling man answered.

“What’d he say?” Castle continued to stare at the moaning, groaning bodies starting to move on the floor and tables.

“Lone wolf.” Kate answered curtly.

“A what?” He looked back at the detective.

The bartender began rambling in Russian.

“English.” Kate insisted.

“I was minding the bar when little man with big attitude came looking for red haired, green eyed girl. When no one answered him, he asks in Russian. Valslov told him is girl his payment for men he lost because of her father. That made little man very angry. He grabbed Valslov. Then Valslov’s men tried to grab him, and it was releasing of Hounds of Hell.” He poured himself a shot of vodka. After downing it he finished the story.

“He used Valslov’s head to open door to room where he’d put the girl. He took girl and left …” He looked at his watch, “Twenty minutes ago.”

While he was telling his story, Beckett was on the phone with the station house. The bar was soon crawling with uniformed cops and paramedics.

Kate watched as Castle sifted from foot to foot.

“Shouldn’t you be getting yourself home, Castle?” Kate prompted.

Rick took off like a gold medalist in the 100 yard dash.

He was breathless by the time he came through the penthouse door. Sitting on his couch was Eliot Spencer … Scraped, bruised, and dusty all mixed with bloody splatters, some of it his own. Wrapped around him like he was the world’s best teddy bear was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen … His dusty, bruised, and tattered around the edges daughter.

Martha rushed from her room. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, a glare from the man on the couch sent her back to the other room.

Castle dropped to his knees and ran his hands gently over the bright hair.

“Is she?” He whispered.

“Scared, pissed, bruised, but okay.” Eliot growled. “She just dropped off. Wouldn’t let go long enough to shower or go to her room. Brave kid ya got, Castle.”

“I know. I have no idea where she gets it from.” He smiled weakly.

The girl in question rubbed her face against Eliot’s chest like a sleepy kitten and blinked blearily.

“Daddy!” She toppled them both over as she threw herself in her father’s arms.

After babbling for the next ten minutes, Rick finally got her on her feet and sent her room to shower while he ordered dinner. Hearing this, Martha left the safety of her room just in time to see Eliot’s right hand connect with Rick’s jaw. The novelist landed back on the floor. The hitter grabbed Castle’s shirt front and pulled him up to where they were nose to nose.

“You ever pull another dumb ass stunt that puts that girl at risk again, and what you saw in that bar is gonna look like my Gramma’s Tuesday quiltin’ circle.” Eliot snarled.

He let go Rick’s shirt front dropping the taller man back to the floor. Nodding in Martha’s direction with a softly spoken, ‘Ma’am’, Eliot ghosted out of the apartment.

The next afternoon, the phone rang.

“Beckett.”

“Where’s Spencer?”

“Hello to you, too, Castle. How’s Alexis?”

“Better than me. Eliot?” Rick insisted.

“Gone. Flew out this morning.”

“What about Nathan?”

“No idea. Reason Eliot was a little out of sorts.” Kate poked at Castle.

“If he was only a little out sorts this morning then he mellowed considerably from last night.” Rick muttered rubbing his bruised jaw.

“What was that, Castle?” Kate grinned at the writer’s words.

“I just wanted to thank him for getting Alexis back for me.”

“He knows, Castle.” Kate said softly.

Six months later

Castle’s attention returned to the outside world. He left behind the further adventures of Nikki Heat needing to flesh out the details for the upcoming chapters.

He was stretching the kinks out of his cramped muscles on the way to the kitchen. He stopped when he saw his daughter coming down the stairs dressed to the nines.

“Wow! You look great! You didn’t say anything about a date.” Rick looked confused.

“It’s not a date—really.” Alexis smiled wide. “Kate and I going to dinner.”

“Kate? You and Detective Beckett are going to dinner?” Now Castle was more than confused.

The red head bobbed in agreement just as the doorbell rang.

“Gotta go! We won’t be out too late.” She bubbled as she headed for the door after kissing her dad on the cheek.

Rick just stood dumbfounded until he saw his mother.

“You knew about this?” He pointed toward the door.

“Hmmm, oh yes.” Martha was slightly vague as she pulled her attention from the script she was reading. “Something about a friend just got in town from the Middle East … On the way to Boston for the opening of some other friend’s musical.”

Four hours later, Rick heard a key in the lock. He looked up from his laptop as Alexis came through the door wrapped in a beautiful Pashima shawl she didn’t have when she left. He watched as a man with long dark hair bowed low over his daughter’s hand, brushing a kiss across her knuckles.

“I had a great time. Thank you.” Alexis gushed.

“Take care yerself, Sweetheart.” A gravelly drawl floated across the room.

“When will you be back?” She asked with a hitch in her voice.

Broad shoulders shrugged. “I’m like a bad penny, darlin’ … You never know when I’ll show up.” Eliot smirked over her shoulder at Castle.

The door closing broke Rick out of his trance. He rushed to the door and pulled it open, but the hallway was empty.

Chapter 3

Summer in the city was sweltering. Rolling blackouts kept the building’s air conditioner from accomplishing anything close to cool. Pale skin glistened as a sheen of sweat reflected the street lights.

All the hair on her body stood on end as primal instinct warned her she was not alone. A single finger slid down her arm, marking her. A shiver ran through her slim frame as current ran along her nerves from that single touch.

“You came back?” She never turned from her perusal of the street.

“You drew me back.” Warm breath stirred the short hairs on her neck. “My siren.” His tongue chased the drop of sweat tumbling down her spine.

“They’ll come for you.” Her breath caught in her throat though whether from fear for his life or his ministrations to her body … She couldn’t tell.

“They won’t even know I’m gone ’til they bring breakfast.” Fingers continued to leave trails, painting his arcane sigils on her body. “Relax, sweetheart I’m the best at what I do.” White teeth flashed in the dim light, nibbling the long column of her neck.

Minute shivers followed his fingers as they played down her sides. She finally relaxed against his heat, giving herself over, trusting him to take her to new heights while bringing her back to earth.

“Cade…” She breathed.

A low nasty chuckle in her ear shattered Kate’s immersion into Richard Castle’s world of Nikki Heat. Brown eyes flew to the owner of said chuckle.

“Eliot! Youuu! How’d you get in here?!” Kate practically screeched.

“I’m a bad guy, darlin’. It’s what I do.” This time the chuckle was devilish, inviting her to share the joke.

“How can you read that with a straight face?” Eliot turned and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.

“Castle’s running the ultimate con. You pay money for the book then he sucks you into his world and makes you want to stay.”

“Fangirl much, Katie?” Eliot teased.

Kate cocked her head at the hitter. “You’re certainly in a good mood. Beat somebody bloody on the way here? Is my phone going to be ringing?”

“Kate, I’m truly wounded. I came all this way to take my two favorite women to dinner and all I get is abuse.” He placed a hand over his heart.

Kate rolled her eyes. “Boston’s not that far away.”

“Was in Nebraska.” He said keeping to the shadows.

“Eliot?” Kate moved toward the retrievalist.

“Dress.” Was all Eliot said as he moved to the door. “See you at 7.”

Alexis’ squee could be heard all the way from Castle’s uptown apartment.

“Did Spencer say where he was taking you this time?” Rick Castle called across the room.

“Just that it’s someplace where we have to dress up and he knows the chef.” Alexis tried to sit still while her grandmother scattered delicate braids through her hair.

Rick huffed in frustration. Spencer knew all the chefs … So that was absolutely no help. The ringing of his phone startled him out of his speculations. The caller ID showed ‘private’.

“Castle.”

“Wanna have a nightcap after I bring Alexis home and talk about the summer you got a little bent.” Eliot purred, his chuckle sounded like warm nights and hot sex.

“Are you dumping Kate for me?” Castle quipped.

“Kate’ll be anxious to get home and continue her voyeuristic affair with Cade and Nikki Heat. Alexis probably doesn’t want her daddy along while her fantasy takes her for an elegant dinner.” Eliot pointed out.

“She’s reading the book?” There was that tingly feeling again.

“Like it’s Dr. Zhivago.”

Castle could almost hear Eliot rolling his eyes.

The rest of Eliot’s words finally registered in Rick’s brain. Mouth gaping like a fish out of water, Rick finally formed a word.

“WHAT!” He almost squeaked.

“White knight … Damsel in distress. It’s a classic plot.” Eliot answered conversationally.

“Black knight, maybe.” Castle grumbled. “I look forward to our nightcap.”

“Sure ya can handle the pressure?” Eliot teased.

“I’m always looking for new material.” Rick snarked.

Spencer’s low down chuckle was his only answer as the line went dead.

A couple hours later, Alexis floated into the apartment carrying a bag from Le Bernardin with Eliot sauntering in behind the excited teen. Martha confiscated the food and practically dragged her granddaughter to the kitchen to hear about her evening.

“Every time you come to town, Alexis goes up a couple notches on the high school social food chain?” Rick’s tone was resigned to the antics of teenagers.

The writer turned into the library assuming Eliot would follow. The retrievalist closed the door and silently moved in behind the older man. Castle’s heart nearly stopped when he turned to ask Eliot a question.

“Holy hell, Spencer. Shouldn’t all that metal make noise when you move?” Rick snapped pointing to Eliot’s bracelets and necklaces.

“Years of practice, Son.” Eliot smirked as he accepted the glass of whiskey.

A sly look crossed Castle’s face. He wondered momentarily why Eliot was being so amenable, but didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“So how does someone who’s what … 35 become the world’s top retrieval specialist?” Rick sprawled on the leather couch.

“Military. They’ll teach you to lie, cheat and steal all in the name of some war on somethin’ or other.” Eliot took a sip of his whiskey.

He rolled the amber liquid over his tongue. Single barrel Gentlemen Jack. Castle definitely didn’t stint on his bar.

“Special Ops?” Rick almost leaned forward in his excitement.

A dark eyebrow arched over the crystal tumbler.

“Black Ops?” The writer’s excitement moved up a notch.

Eliot settled on the coffee table in front of the Rick … Practically sitting between his legs.

“That summer we met?”

“Workin’ an op.” Blue eyes met. “You were a fringe benefit.”

Rick blushed deeply. “I was making up for lost time.”

“Hmmm. You certainly were.” The smoldering looking Eliot threw him nearly caused Castle to spit his mouthful of Jack.

Eliot Spencer was the only male Rick Castle had taken to his bed. The experience had been such that like a heroine in a bodice ripper, he feared tarnishing the memory of that week, so never let that side of himself see the light of day again. Having Eliot this close, flirting, giving off those ‘I could make you scream so good’ vibes, feeding him tidbits of his past …

“What’s your deal, Spencer?” Rick sat back and took a deep breath to calm his mind and body.

Eliot just arched an eyebrow at Castle. “No deal.” He studied the liquor in the bottom of his glass for a minute. “Kate suggested I try being sociable … I think she called it.” He shrugged like it didn’t matter one way or the other to him.

“Does she know?” Rick asked.

“What? That we bumped boots for a week ten years ago?” Eliot waggled his eyebrows at the writer as he finished the last swallow in his glass. “Naw. Know ya got a hankerin’ for her.”

“How … I mean … We don’t … She won’t.” Rick closed his mouth with a snap.

Spencer always did this to him. Reduce him a stuttering teenager.

Eliot chuckled as he moved back to the bar to refresh his drink. “Seriously? You’re like a hound on a fox.”

The chuckle he gave sent shivers down Castle’s spine … Again. *Damn the man.*

“‘Cept this fox keeps the hound all tied in knots. Better than watchin’ TV.” Eliot held up the decanter in Castle’s direction.

Accepting the refill, the novelist took a deep drink before stepping out into no man’s land.

“What about you and Ford?” Castle noticed the faded bruising on the younger man’s face.

“Nothin’ to tell.” Eliot’s face was carefully blank.

“But … The way he talked and acted that day in the bar … I thought …”

“Like he said, he was drunk most of that year.”

Rick could feel the temperature in the room dropping quickly as the retrievalist turned cold.

“So … He’s drunk and homo-flexible or sober and straight?”

Eliot shrugged. “He’s the Wizard of Oz right now … Controls all he sees. When the curtain drops, I’m not sure who’ll be left standing.” His tone was wistful.

“You think that’s how it’ll play out?” Rick asked quietly. “You could walk away.” His hand reached out as though to brush his fingers down the mottled cheek.

Eliot shook himself out of his thoughts as he noticed the hand moving his way. He took a step back.

“Yeah I could, and normally I would, but this helping people thing gets under your skin … Like an itch, and I can’t leave Parker and Hardison to Nate’s tender mercies.”

He set the tumbler carefully on the bar before he gave in to the urge to hurl the crystal across the room.

Castle just couldn’t leave the obvious sore spot alone. Like Parker, he had to poke the bruise just one more time.

“You’re a regular Tootsie Roll Pop. Hard candy shell wrapped around a soft chewy center.” Rick smirked.

The statement was just past his lips when he found himself pinned against the back of the couch with a forearm across his throat, and a snarling Eliot Spencer in his face.

“Never make the mistake of thinking I’m some tame lapdog, Castle.” The growl was low and deep. “Just ’cause I don’t like innocents gettin’ hurt don’t mean I got a heart. It’s a waste, and I hate waste.” Eliot removed his arm and headed for the door.

Rick blinked a couple times to regain his equilibrium. Eliot hadn’t hurt him, just scared the hell out of him. “Spencer.”

He jumped up and headed for Eliot, excitement racing along his nerves from being manhandled, but his usual aplomb back in place.

Eliot paused, his hand on the knob. “I won’t bother ya’ll again.”

“You want Alexis to never talk to me again?” He sounded aghast.

Eliot’s expression became confused. Rick cautiously reached out and laid a hand on the hitter’s arm.

“I was just going to say … Next time we can work on that sociable thing. You really could stand some practice.” Rick gave a small chuckle.

Eyes leeched to grey with the turbulence of his emotions, Eliot studied the writer for any tells that said he was being conned. Everything told him that Castle was being honest, and not running a game on him for research.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. Plus all the women in my life will make it a living hell if you suddenly stopped turning up to spoil them, and I’m badly outnumbered here.” Rick chuckled again.

The men could hear Alexis still telling her grandmother about her dinner with Eliot and Kate. Letting the sounds of a normal family soothe his jangled nerves, the retrievalist nodded briefly.

“Some more of that Gentlemen Jack would go a long way to makin’ it more enjoyable.” Eliot’s voice was still rough from the rollercoaster ride of emotions.

“Besides, what 16 year-old wouldn’t want an Eliot Spencer of her very own?” Rick waved his arms as he refilled their glasses. You pop in from your mysterious wanderings. The wounded hero …” Rick pointed to the fading bruises on Eliot’s face. “Who admonishes her to don her best frippery and escorts her and her chaperone to all the places she’s only read about in her grandmother’s magazines.” Castle pauses with a hand over his heart and grins widely at scowling Eliot.

Eliot mumbled into his glass that Castle’s the only person he’s met crazier than Parker as he let the fine sippin’ whiskey further soothe his temper.

“It’s perfect.” Rick face lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “You’re the perfect gift for the teenager who has everything.”

“What the hell ya talkin’ about, Castle?” Eliot was back to scowling.

“I’m giving you to Alexis as an honorary uncle.” Rick smirked.

“I never thought I’d hear myself quote Parker, but are you injured in the head?” Eliot growled.

“I’ll bet none of her friends can say they have the world’s best retrieval specialist as an uncle.”

“And you don’t want her to have one either. There are people out there that would use you, her, your mother, Kate, anyone they thought would give ’em leverage to get to me. My idea is the best. For me to walk out the door and never look back.”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a teenage girl, Spencer.” Rick poked at the hitter’s pride.

“Did you listen to anything I said? You remember the Russian mob? They were going to take her.” Eliot tried to reason.

“You got her back before we even knew she was missing. See the perfect gift, Uncle Eliot.”

Eliot ducked his head, his hair hiding his expression.

“Rick.” Emotions make the drawl heavy in his voice. “I’m not who or what you think. I’m not some noble ‘wounded hero’. I’m a guy who steals things and hurts people for obscene amounts of money.”

“Who’s friends with nearly every chef in the city, has a beautiful cop that treats him like a big brother, retrieved my daughter, humors my mother without letting her railroad him, expanded my horizons in ways I’d never thought possible …” He blushed deeply as his voice trailed off.

Eliot looked at the writer who was looking at Eliot like his life depended on the retrievalist saying ‘yes’. Huffing out a deep sigh, knowing he was going to regret this, Eliot Spencer gave a brief nod.

Eliot heard Parker give a growl matching his own as they watched Tara sashay toward the door. He couldn’t believe Nate was going to trust this wench on Sophie’s recommendation.

“We really doin’ this?” He glared at Nate.

“We need a grifter, and she’s a friend of Sophie’s.” Nate talked into his coffee mug, never looking at any of them.

“Don’t that just make it all good, then.” His eyes rested briefly on Parker and Hardison. “I’m outta here.” He growled as he grabbed his duffel from behind the couch.

Parker’s eyes got wide as she grabbed his arm. “You coming back?”

Eliot looked over at Nate, who refused to meet his eyes. His lips curled in a reassuring smile as he looked back at the thief.

“Yeah. Gonna visit family for a couple days. Be back before ya miss me.”

She gave a sharp nod before moving back to Alec. A brief glare at the hacker warned him not to track him got him a brief nod.

The door had barely closed behind the hitter before Nate was looking at Hardison.

“No way, man. He made it clear he’d hurt me if I tracked him.” Alec raised his hands in surrender.

“He didn’t say anything.” Nate frowned. When had the three youngest become close enough that they understood each other without talking?

“You threw him away.” Parker announced.

“What?” Nate’s head snapped around.

“When you quit drinking and became creepier Nate …  You threw him away.”

Hardison grabbed her arm and was rushing them toward the door as Nate stared after them, the hacker whispering harshly. Parker jerked her arm away.

“Don’t shush me. It’s the truth.” She jerked the door open and with head high and back stiff marched from the apartment.

Giving Nate an apologetic look, Hardison dashed after her.

Nathan Ford stared at the door of his empty apartment wondering what just happened.

Summer in the city was sweltering. Rolling blackouts kept the building’s air conditioner from accomplishing anything close to cool. Pale skin glistened as a sheen of sweat reflected the street lights.

Nikki gazed at the true face of the man sleeping next to her. She imagined a clear-eyed young man who had wanted to make a difference in the world.

If Cade were awake he would scoff at her fanciful notions of him. Flint hard eyes would glitter with cynical humor as his calloused hands would begin playing a rhapsody on her body.

She smiled softly. They were the perfect couple. Too dedicated to the job for a normal relationship, Cade was her perfect mate. He blew into the city with the wind. He never stayed long, but the effect was both cleansing and devastating. He was unpredictable as a summer storm. He struck quick as lightning …. Scorching her heart and soul. When he blew out again, the pieces of her that remained were jumbled and unrecognizable much to consternation of her captain.

He always showed up when the real Nikki Heat was getting lost under the piles of case files and dead bodies. Just as she was being pulled into the sinkhole of indifference, Cade would roll into town and break her out of her stupor.

“Would you like calloused hands to break you out of your stupor, Katie girl?” The low growl blew across her ear.

So engrossed in the scene between Nikki Heat and Cade, it took Kate a minute to realize a real person had spoken. In a move that would have done any cat proud, she sprung straight up and backwards at the same time.

Blue/grey eyes danced with amusement at her antics.

“ELIOT SPENCER! I OUGHT TO SHOOT YOUR INSUFFERABLE ASS!” The detective shrieked.

“Good evening to you, too, sweetheart.” The orneriness in his chuckles forced her to smile with him.

“I know I locked that door with a deadbolt!”

“Told ya ta git some better locks.”

“I did. Why are you in town?” She hugged him while she questioned him.

“Lexi.”

Kate grinned at Eliot’s moue.

“Tux, suit or come as you are?”

“She called it business casual. Just thought I’d check up on ya.”

“That included scaring ten years off my life?” She glared at the unrepentant retrievalist.

“That was a bonus, but you’re easy.”

“ELIOT!”

He waved over his shoulder as he headed out the door. “Get better locks, Girl.”

The cab dropped him at the address Alexis had sent him. Copies of Castle’s latest book were everywhere. Rick stood by the door.

“What the hell, Castle?” He growled.

“My publisher’s having a book party. They like when the whole family shows up.” Rick started through the door.

“Ain’t family.” Eliot pointed out.

Rick gave him a Cheshire cat smile. “Alexis wanted to surprise you.”

“You explain to her why it’s not a good idea to surprise a retrieval specialist, or does she listen like her daddy?” Eliot cocked an eyebrow at the writer.

“Some days the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Rick smirked. “Think of it as your debut.”

Eliot rolled his eyes as they walked through the door together. The hitter immediately spotted the bright red head in the party goers. The way her voice carried would be the envy of any Broadway actress. Rick’s hand on his shoulder kept him going into the room.

“Uncle Eliot!” She danced through the crowd to throw her arms around his neck.

Martha grinned at the three of them. “Eliot, darling, how sweet of you to join us.” She kissed the stubbled cheek.

“Seriously?” Eliot glared at Rick.

“Welcome to Castle Chaos.” Rick slapped him on the back.

~ Fini ~

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