To See You


castle_icon.gif chess4_icon.gif

Scene Title To See You
Synopsis Masks come off as Castle and Chess get to know one another through a series of questions, some harder to answer than others, and some requiring no thought at all.
Date October 31, 2020

Ferrymen's Bay, Castle's Houseboat

It probably came as little surprise when Castle drove a Volkswagen microbus. Gray and lime colored, with some of the original fittings, but still not quite as old as one of the true hippie vans. It felt newer, certainly, and didn’t smell like one might have expected. It didn’t smell like Cat’s Cradle, for one. It smelled… earthy, really, and like herbs. There were even sprigs of dried herbs hanging from the front mirror, and not hemp or weed, as one might have suspected.

After a detour, the van pulled into a small private dock area in the Ferrymen’s Bay. At the dock sat a boat-house— or more accurately, a house built on a floating barge. There were a few other boats on the dock, but this boathouse seemed to be the nicest and the most maintained, sporting a visible solar panel on the roof.

“Ever been in a boathouse, Lady Stardust?” Castle kept with the pet-name, it would seem, as he glanced over, now no longer wearing the mask. The light of the full moon reflected off the still waters of the bay and off of his eyes, and while they didn’t illuminate the area as well as the city lights did, there was some lighting coming from the dock itself as well. Security lighting, perhaps. The boathouse had power, despite definitely not being hooked up to the grid.

By now, Chess has taken off both mask and wig, her face painted with the lightning bolt below the mask, though by now it’s a little smudged. Her long blond hair is in a lank ponytail that had been tucked beneath the fake orange-hued punk mullet, which now rests in her lap as they pull into the parking spot.

When she sees the boat, her brows lift in surprise. Whatever she expected his boat to look like, this wasn’t it.

“It’s cute,” she says, before shaking her head in response to his question. “Barely been on any boats at all. Paddle boats a couple times at Sloan’s Lake growing up in Denver, a ferry or two, I guess here? This is the first time I’ve lived on a coast — the last couple years, that is. With the exception of a few months when… well, I was on the other coast.”

She had spent a lot of time sitting outside staring at water, but she hadn’t done much traveling across it, except for the couple of jaunts to Oakland.

“What’s it like to live on a boat?” she asks, glancing over her shoulder at him while reaching for the door.

“It depends on the type of boat and the water it’s in, really,” Castle says after a moment of consideration, trying to figure out exactly how to explain it. “This one’s pretty stationary. Doesn’t move much, the bay is pretty quiet, too, even when it rains. The water’s not very rough. I assume it could be rough if there was like a hurricane or something, but so far…” That’s said with a small laugh as if one might say when they wanted to knock on wood and hope a thing like that never occurred. As long as Castle was there, they could probably protect the place, right? One might imagine so, based on the sights at #xpressurself.

“There’s different boat houses, though, this one’s pretty big. They gave me a nice signing bonus, I guess you could say,” he jests as he reaches past her to hit a few buttons near the door on a small keypad. A code instead of a key. Electronic locks on the front door, it would seem.

With a click, the door opens and he slides it aside. It wouldn’t take much to break in, though, if someone really wanted to. “It’s pretty much just like any other house. Even has a bathroom, though that cost extra to put in, and it can only be used a few times before I have to empty the tank out— kind of like a mobile home.” But the extra cost might have been worth it to not have to go in a port-o-potty? Probably. “Even got a full kitchen.”

And right at the entrance sat a coat rack with— a very eclectic array of coats. Some were sparkly and bright, some were dark and mysterious, one was lined with faux fur. And then there was even a black leather-looking coat that looked like something that Chess might have worn.

“Signing bonus, fancy,” says Chess, two-toned gaze taking in the various features, though she does politely look away from the keypad when he taps in the correct sequence.

Her nose wrinkles slightly at the mention of having to take the tank out. “Well, now I’ll be holding it for the duration,” she quips. “I wouldn’t want you to have to do that on my account.”

One hand reaches out to touch one of the sparkly jackets, before looking back to him. “So’re you from the UK? I can’t quite place your accent and I don’t want to offend you by guessing wrong,” she asks. “You know, Americans with their rubbish geography skills.”

The rubbish is said in what might be an attempt at an English accent, but luckily it’s only two syllables, because it’s not very good.

“Go if you have to. I’ll need to drain it eventually anyway,” Castle says without even really thinking too much about it, because, well, if she really did hold it— “I can’t exactly offer you more to drink if you have to hold it,” is added as he moves deeper into the boat house, which actually has rooms. Lights flick on, showing wide windows and simple decorations. There’s definitely something colorful about the whole place, and as she looks at the coats, he responds in that— well— muddled accent, “Ireland, originally. That’s where my father was from, at least. My accent can be dodgy at times. We moved around so much, so I picked up so many different accents.”

As he talks, he slips off out of sight for a moment, where she can hear some shuffling as if something was getting moved around— taken off a wall maybe? With another sound of something getting put down, he returns around the corner, dusting his hands off, with a grin. It doesn’t look as if her attempt at an accent had insulted him at all, at least.

“My American accent isn’t great, but I try,” he jokes, in what actually is an American accent. It’s close enough, really.

“A bit dodgy,” Chess repeats with a smile, not trying to make it sound British this time, before the smile broadens into a grin at the attempt to sound American, and adding. “That’s really good!”

Her gaze moves to the wall he’d disappeared around, clearly curious as to the sound, but she doesn’t ask what he moved. “I’m originally from China but my Chinese accent is atrocious. Mostly understandable, but tonal languages are really hard for a not-native speaker, and I’m not really a native speaker.” Despite having been born there.

“I’ve probably accidentally insulted a lot of people over the years. Like, xiān means delicious or tasty, and xián means salty, so you can see how that can go south really quick if you’re commenting on someone’s home cooking,” she explains.

Chess lifts a shoulder. “Mostly I use it to swear and eavesdrop,” she says in a conspiratorial tone.

“Was that sarcasm?” Castle jokes quietly, a hint of a grin on his lips as he walks over to a stereo system, that looks both old and new all at the same time. It’s got a turntable for vinyl and a CD player and a Cassette deck and even an 8-track deck on the side, as if it has options for all kinds. And a USB port for a computer and possibly even a bluetooth hookup even. It somehow seemed to be up to date and fully out of time all at once. “I actually have a full discography of David Bowie, but— maybe something a little different,” is what he says after a moment, hitting a few buttons and putting on a playlist.

“I used to be able to speak Gaelic, but it’s not really had much use lately. I could probably still say a few swear words in it that no one else would recognize, but that’s about it— but I know a few other languages. Not much Chinese, though. And my cooking can be both tasty and salty,” he adds with a wink— that’s not really a wink— as green letters start to scroll across a small screen on the stereo before some music starts to play—

It’s too soft to really do more than add a bit of a mood to the background, something they could still easily continue to talk over without needing to raise their voices. Soft music that could easily be danced to, even. “Would you like something to drink?” he gestures toward the kitchen. “I do have water, so I’m not trying to get you drunk. I bet I’m a lighter touch with the drink than you are, anyway. I was a famously cheap date in my youth.”

“No, actually,” is a quick reply to the accusation of being sarcastic. Chess watches as he finds something to play on the stereo system, gaze curious at the juxtaposition of old and new.

She huffs a short laugh in response to his ‘cheap date’ comment. Her cheeks color a little because she knows she drinks too much and has for over a year now — and nothing that could be considered “light” — sake, whiskey, and moutai aren’t the sort of things you mix in with some ginger ale.

“I wouldn’t suspect that of you.” There is no trace of sarcasm. “Whatever you’re having is good. Cheap or otherwise.”

Chess finds a space to lean where she can watch him. “I’ll trade you swear words in Chinese for swear words in Gaelic,” she offers.

“No one seems to believe it until I get drunk within a few drinks,” Castle jokes, but perhaps, he wasn’t joking, because that probably wasn’t something someone joked about very quickly. There wasn’t anything deceptive in the way he was talking, a little poking fun at himself, but not outright lying. Without waiting, he crosses the kitchen to open up the fridge, looking past cartons of soy milk and some bottled waters and picking out two dark bottles.

“Guinness?” he cracks a grin as he turns around, letting the fridge door close as he presents the stouts with an origin across the ocean. It’s possible they came across through official transport lines, cause it’s a popular enough brew, unlike some of the other things in his fridge that certainly had a little help from a friend at work.

The kitchen and dining area has a nice set up, mostly open, with some art on the walls, but there’s one spot that’s noticeable as Chess looks, that appears to have had something on it recently that had been moved. There’s that dust line of a painting or picture frame that recently got taken down off the wall, that shadow of something gone. But it wasn’t really gone, it was actually leaning against the wall, showing the backing of the frame. Perhaps that had been what he’d stepped around the corner and moved when he disappeared briefly?

Chess tips her head and looks confused for a moment, then finally breathes out a short laugh. “I meant I wouldn’t suspect you were trying to get me drunk, but good to know you’re a lightweight. She gives him a nod to the offer of Guinness, then, despite the implication she trusts him, she keeps an eye on his hands until the bottle’s in her own hands.

Her head tips toward the painting that faces away from them — it would probably be more polite to let it be, to pretend she doesn’t see it, since obviously Castle doesn’t want her to see it.

“You know, I’m probably imagining worse things than whatever that picture is and subconsciously judging you for those instead of whatever it is,” she says with a smirk. “My top guesses at the moment are Dogs Playing Poker, some sort of fantasy art like a barbarian princess riding a pegasus, maybe, and a nude self portrait, probably painted on velvet.”

The fact that he didn’t even open the bottles might indicate that he understood the possibilities of trust issues. Once she took hers, though, Castle pops the lid of his own and looks down at the badly hidden painting and shakes his head a little. “Yeah that was a little clumsy of us wasn’t it,” he murmurs softly before taking his first drink. “Just went and brought even more attention to it.” It’s almost as if he’s berating himself now, or perhaps— not himself. Who knows. “But then I’m the idiot who decided to put it on the wall in the first place anyway, so— fair. A well deserved twenty questions about a mysterious decoration I obviously didn’t want a very lovely woman to see on a first date.”

Is that what he thought this was? Oops.

He kept right on talking, though, so perhaps she will overlook that implication. “All three of those do sound like something I would definitely have on my wall, the first two, I probably wouldn’t bother hiding, the third— well— like to leave some surprises for you to uncover on your own.” He didn’t strike as the shy type, for sure. “But no. Not that either. If you wanted, we could make a game of it.”

Reaching for the bottle opener to open her bottle, Chess tips her head as he talks, looking amused. At the word date, she glances away, brows knitting together slightly. She doesn’t date — and that’s what she would normally say here, the usual fair warning she gives at the first sign of interest.

For some reason, it doesn’t come. Maybe because he doesn’t give her the opportunity of a pause.

“If you don’t want me to see it, I don’t have to see it,” she says, with a shrug that might seem indifferent, but her tone is gentle, almost contrite for calling attention to it in the first place. “I admit I’m curious, but that’s gotten me in trouble in the past so you honestly should just tell me I’m rude or something. I mean, it’s probably true.”

After a smirk, she shrugs again, lifting the bottle to her lips. “I’m up for a game, sure, if you don’t mind me seeing it eventually. But it should be fair stakes — play for something you want to know, too.”

“Only one topic I’m really interested in learning about tonight and that just happens to be you— “ Castle says with a hint of a tease to his voice, definitely flirting from the sound of it, a little flippant about the way it’s stated, but somehow sincere all at the same time. “We can make it a little more interesting,” he continues, putting down his bottle and leaving it unattended on the table while he returns to the kitchen to pull out an already opened bottle of whiskey and two single shot glasses. “You don’t have to stick to the painting. It’s probably not as interesting as you’re thinking it is.”

Or maybe it is, but— well— it could go either way.

Setting the two shot glasses down, he drops onto the couch, the small shifting of the boat can be felt under them, but it’s so minor to almost be invisible. He gestures for her to sit wherever she wishes, with options of either beside him, or across. “Yes or no questions, any topic. Ten each. You can choose to not answer at all, but if you do, you gotta take a shot.” Ten shots would be a pretty large amount, but he likely thinks most of the questions will be something they can answer.

Chess watches him, the corner of her mouth tipping up at his open flirtation, and her cheeks color a little, more visible here than under the glittering lights of the museum party. She watches him return with the whiskey and shot glasses, one brow lifting.

“You already told me you’re a lightweight. Are you trying to get yourself drunk?” she says playfully, before opting to sit next to him.

“It’s not one of my ten questions,” she prefaces, “but do you mind if I take my boots off? I am not used to heels that high and these aren’t exactly worn-in.” The original boots worn by David Bowie with the striped outfit weren’t heels, but she had amped up that part of the costume a bit.

But she’ll go ahead and ask her official question as well. “Is it actually a painting?” she says, with a nod to the object on the floor. It could be something else — a poster, a map, a blueprint.

“Perhaps I’m using it as an incentive to answer whatever questions you throw at me,” Castle responds, grinning as he takes another drink from the beer before pouring a shot of whiskey for himself and for her— cause he imagines at least one will get downed at some point. Plus a shot of whiskey with a beer was usually traditional anyway, one shot couldn’t be too bad. Ten definitely would be. He gestures for her to take off her boots, kicking off his own shoes without any problem. They were practically slippers anyway, so they came off with just a push of his toes against the heels were pushed aside.

“Get comfortable,” is the verbal answer, before he settles in to listen to the question, with the beer in his left hand and the shot glasses sitting there waiting, a hint of motion as the boat sways ever so slightly. The music continues to play in the background, something from the 90s, too soft to really make out specifically.

“Yes. It is a painting.” Is the first answer, then he raises a finger, to indicate the first question on his turn, “Is Chess your real name?”

She bends to unzip the sparkly red boots, revealing black Bad Batz-Maru socks beneath, the tips and heels yellow. She probably hadn’t expected to go home with anyone but herself when she put those on, but at least there are no holes in them. They’re also very comfortable, okay?

She leans back against the sofa back, then pulls one foot up — he did say to get comfortable — to tuck beneath herself. Her mismatched eyes find the painting again, clearly curious about it, despite his warning that it’s boring, and then her gaze finds his face.

The question is a little more complicated than yes or no, but she only has to give one of those answers, for now at least. “No,” is simple, and technically correct, even if Chess is the name she chooses to go by.

“Is Castle yours?” is an easy second question to toss back at him.

“No,” would be the simple answer. But, it would seem that it is complicated for him as well. And Castle just seems very comfortable making up the rules as he goes and not just sticking with his yes or no answer as he continues to speak on the topic of his name, or what isn’t his name, instead of moving on to his second question immediately. “The Irish name that would be Castle is actually Cashel or Caisleán, which is similar, but not the same. But it’s a good enough name.” A bit of trivia, to go with his answer.

“It’s my legal name now, if that makes any difference.” As real as it could be on paper, without being the original name.

He continues to watch her, his eyes that have settled on green watching her mismatched eyes.

“Did you choose the name Chess for yourself?”

She reaches for the beer bottle to take a sip of that while he talks. When he expands on his answer, she looks somewhat surprised, but nods in agreement that it is in fact a good name.

“Legal isn’t always the most important thing, but don’t tell anyone in the government I said that,” she quips. Of course, he’s an agent, so it’s meant to be a bit of a joke.

“Yes, kinda,” is the answer to his next question.

“It’s just a nickname, short for Francesca, which doesn’t really suit me but probably the girl my adopted parents wanted me to be,” Chess explains. “My other given name was Yīngsù, but no one calls me that.” Ivy did, her mind reminds her, a pang that makes her take another swallow of beer, her gaze leaving his face to explore the sitting area for other things to look at for a moment.

“I’m not very good at this game,” she says after a moment with a huff of a laugh. “Way more information than yes or no. Anyway.” She looks back to ask her next question. “Did you change your name because you didn’t like it?”

“Even I can’t follow my own rules, I know,” Castle admits, shaking his head as if he is answering a conversation with himself. He’s also looking at his hand as if he was already forgetting what question he was on. “Really blew it with the yes or no part.” But he was asked a question, so— “No. I didn’t hate my name or anything. But there’s not a lot of people around who know what it was anymore. And the few who do know it didn’t actually know me then.” With that, he’s looking away, taking a long drink on the beer to give a small pause.

“But Chess… never a fan of the game— always thought it was a rubbish game, but it’s a good name. Suits you.” Probably more than other ways of shortening Francesca? Her other name is filed away quietly in his memory, but— it’s his question. “I never was good at following the rules, mind if we break them a little and make yes and no… optional?”

Even more than they already were, at least. And the way he raises a finger shows he’s penalizing himself by making that one of his questions.

She watches that look off to the side — she knows it well, one she’s mastered herself when she finds herself in one of the too-often moments where grief or anger or wistfulness becomes overwhelming.

“I don’t even play. Don’t have the attention span for it,” Chess says. “Or the ability to see the future consequences of my moves in the moment.” That statement makes her huff a little in amusement, her shoulders lifting and falling. “Some might say that’s true of me in the real world, too.”

Her head shakes in response to his question. “I don’t mind, but I think you probably intended that modification to the rules all along. I’m on to you, Castle,” she says, tone teasing. “You don’t have to count that as a question. Unless you want to.”

She tips her head in the direction of the painting that spawned their little game. “Did you paint it?”

Me neither. I mean I know the pieces and I know how they move, but I’m a little too spur of the moment to plan things out. I don’t do plans very well.” It’s said as if he knows quite well it is to his own detriment, but it seems that this might be something they have in common at least, which— well. This might be how they both ended up here together in the end? They definitely didn’t plan for this… It’s making Castle smile, it touches his eyes even with hints of wrinkles on the edges that lighten his whole face a little.

“And no, like I just said, I didn’t plan that far ahead. I was just thinking about how twenty questions is usually yes and no questions and was going off of that, and I mean fair it works fine for you asking about the painting since you have a topic, but it really effed me over cause how am I supposed to ask you yes or no questions about and learn anything fun about you?” Cause he was running out of ideas already!

“If I painted it is a tough one, though. Yes and no. I painted this one here. But I didn’t paint the original. You could say it’s a forgery. Or a knock-off. I painted it from memory really, cause I didn’t have the original anymore. It was lost, but I got a pretty good memory.”

But now that he’s free to ask better questions, he shifts in the way he’s sitting, drawing his own legs up onto the couch so he can face her better, “Why were you out west?”

The smile brings a mirror to her own face, and she watches him talk with a sort of look of wonder in her eyes that jars with her usual cynical expression — not that he knows her usual expressions yet.

“I wouldn’t call it a forgery if you’re not pretending it’s the same or trying to sell it as if it is,” Chess says with a glance to the painting. “Maybe an emulation, yeah?”

At the next question he asks, though, her mismatched gaze moves to the whiskey glass considering. It at least looks like decent whiskey. A huffed out, breathy laugh follows. “So now even the questions aren’t yes-no. I see how it is. I feel like I’m playing Calvinball.”

She’s not sure he’ll get that reference, but leaves it there without explaining.

Turning back to him she pulls her other foot up onto the couch. She studies him for a moment, still considering the question. “To get to know my biological…”

She pauses on the next word. She usually calls Adam and Joy her progenitors, to avoid the word parent, but it seems overly complicated at the moment.

And she doesn’t want to be complicated.

“…parents. Some other stuff, too. Trying to do some good, protect people.” She takes a swig of the stout. “It didn’t really work out that way.”

She juts her chin at him, tipping her head as she poses the next question. “Who painted the original?”

“Emulation is a good way to put it. I mostly wanted it as a reminder,” Castle admits, with a grin as he keeps his body shifted so he can look at her. He’s fidgeting a little subconsciously, toying with the hem of his trousers at his ankles with his free hand. There’s a soft laugh at the mention of Calvinball and he has to shrug a little. “I guess we can call this Castleball, or something. It’s ‘good cause it’s named after me’?” in reference to, well, the Calvinball song. Even if they’d already established that it wasn’t his real name.

It was definitely a change of the rules, though, but it seemed fair, if you wanted to drop yes or no answers one might as well drop the yes or no questions.

“Oh no. Parents. That’s always rough,” he says with a grin and a shake of his head, because, well— most everyone had some kind of experience with parents. At the question, which definitely dropped all possibilities of yes or no, his green eyes shift over to the back of the painting for a moment, then toward the shot glass of whiskey. After a moment, he seems to make up his mind and looks back at her with a playful grin.

Because his answer is right on the same subject line.

“My mum.”

There’s no further elaboration, beyond that, though, as he shifts a little closer, “What level of Shakespearean tragedy would you call your family?”

At that simple answer, Chess shakes her head and smirks, looking up a little comically at the ceiling, murmurs a quiet “Jesus” under her breath.

His question draws her eyes back to his, and she laughs aloud, a little ha that’s less of a huff and more of an actual laugh.

“Probably somewhere between Hamlet and Titus Andronicus as far as violence goes. Actually maybe worse,” she says, but at least she’s still smiling, though it fades a moment later. “I don’t think even Shakespeare could have dreamed up my father’s issues, to be honest.”

Her brows draw together and she glances to the painting with the return of a small smile. “Did you like yours?” It’s in the past tense; she seems to assume he’s lost both, thanks to language in the past-tense, his talk of no one knowing his real name.

“My life was one of the weirder comedies,” Castle admits with a laugh, one that almost feels as if he’s doing it at his own expense. “Like a gender-flipped Tempest.” That jest gets followed by a small drink from the beer as he continues to watch her, some part filing all this away for later, while the rest of him is still distracted by, well, her. But she’s asking the next question, and it’s, again, complicated.

As families often are. “Sometimes, I mean I loved them. Da wasn’t really around that much, they never actually married, but that didn’t completely keep him from being part of my life growing up. I became something of a contrarian in my teen years, so there was always some friction, though. Got myself into trouble, a lot of it on purpose. And some of it not. Even when your life’s a comedy, bad things happen.”

There was a glance again toward the topic of so many of her questions, before his eyes focused again on her, “Do you wish you hadn’t met them?”

The mention of The Tempest draws an appreciative look from Chess, but her expression grows more serious as he talks of conflicts with his father. “To be fair, bad things happen just as often in Shakespeare’s comedies — they just ten to resolve at the end. Usually in marriage.”

Her eyes narrow slightly as she considers that particular possibility, but fair is fair, and he asked her a question, and it’s one she’s been grappling with for the past nine months. Her brows draw together and she looks away; he can see the tears well up in profile, blurring the convex outline of her eyes before she blinks hard to push them back.

Her smile is apologetic and a little embarrassed. “Is ‘I don’t know’ an answer or a shot?” Chess asks, reaching for the whiskey bottle regardless.

“That’s a rules question, not a real question,” she clarifies, before following it quickly with, “You’re not married, are you?”

Raising his hand, Castle seems to be ready to forestall her on the drinking of the whiskey even as she reaches for the bottle, but then she asks that question and he laughs. It’s the kind of laugh that would have probably led to a drink being coughed up the wrong pipe if he had been drinking, and it definitely ends in a snort as he starts to suppress it, “No— no. No. Never married. I know that’s the route of most of the comedies, but no.”

There’s that twinkle in his eyes again as he looks at her, “Why, are you asking?” And he gives that grin, as if he wouldn’t mind if she was?

His laugh draws her brows up and she tips her head, her own eyes sparkling a little with rare merriment. She finishes pouring anyway, but doesn’t take the shot just yet. After all, her answer was honest.

The new question tossed so casually back at her draws an unladylike snort. She shakes her head, then leans an elbow on the back of the sofa, resting her head on her head. “I wouldn’t want to marry someone I actually liked,” she says, tone wry. “Well, I wouldn’t want to marry someone I didn’t like, either, but for different reasons.”

The beer bottle’s bottom tips upward as she takes another swallow and then leans to set it down. “I have a confession to make,” is said very seriously, in a quiet voice, before she adds, “I don’t like Guinness, apparently. You can kick me out if you need to. I’ll understand.”

Her mouth tips up at the corner to break that deadpan, and she considers her next question. “Why do you do your job?”

“So you do like me,” Castle blurts out automatically with a grin, before waving a hand to go, “Not a question. Just a statement.” It’s one said with surprise, though, even if she’s also saying she wouldn’t want to actually marry him one way or the other. “Marriage is such a weird thing anyway. It’s just a piece of paper in the end, anyway,” he says dismissively, as if it really wasn’t something that he would have really wanted anyway— but he’d wanted to tease her and used one of his questions to do it— without even really meaning to.

He didn’t want to use up the second one that way, though, so he clarified it was a statement.

There’s a scandalous gasp at her confession, but it doesn’t go much anywhere really, because, well, “Half the time I don’t much care for it either, honestly.” It’s said like an inside joke, before he focuses on the question, which, well—

Is a very difficult one to answer. “Well it’s not the paycheck,” is the first bit of an answer, and he reaches forward and holds his hand out for the shot glass that she poured, because, well. Maybe he can’t answer all of that question completely. Or honestly.

And he’s willing to take the penalty there.

“Let me throw a hypothetical question at you now, for fun. Let’s say you were told that the world was going to end and everyone you ever knew or would ever meet was most likely going to die— what would you do with the time you had left?”

Her cheeks flush at his takeaway from her answer, but luckily she doesn’t have to confirm or deny when he clarifies that it’s not one of his questions. Leaning toward the table, she picks up the shot glass and hands it to him.

Her eyes narrow at the hypothetical question coming from the government agent working for a mysterious agency right on the tails of a question about why he works there.

“First of all, must be Tuesday,” Chess says wryly. The question, though, is a hard one, and she thinks for a long moment, before lifting a shoulder and shrugging. “I’d try to stop it. Probably stupidly and to no avail, if past experience is any indication.”

She tips her head, no amusement in her eyes as she studies his face. “And that’s why you do your job,” she concludes. It’s not a question, no lilt of her voice to indicate a question mark at the end.

Her brow furrows. There are a lot of questions coming to her mind about whatever threat they’re facing now — if it has to do with Uluru, or some new, fresh hell. But he probably can’t answer those, either.

“Do you have hope you can?” she asks instead.

While by some technicalities, Castle’s question may have very well been the answer to the question he still holds the shot glass quietly for a moment and watches her. That soft boyish smile and cheerful expression has softened into something more serious, quieter, deeper, and there’s just the smallest hint of a nod in response to her statement. She understood that his question itself, and her answer to it, was the answer.

But then, instead of answering her question, he downs the shot finally, grimacing a little as it goes down, before putting the shot glass back on the table past her— and his beer as well. What he does say comes in soft, serious tones, with his accent rolling the rs and playing with the vowels, “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore…

As he begins the sonnet, his left hand reaches up, brushing the backs of his fingers against her cheek bone. “So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

The sonnet trails off as his hand lingers, eyes following the trail left by his touch before sliding back up to her eyes, “Would you like me to kiss you?”

At the gentle touch of his hand on her cheek, Chess’ lips part and her chest rises with a soft inhalation; her gaze stays on his face, the mismatched eyes widening a little in wonder — at this touch, at the lines from the sonnet spoken in that rich, solemn brogue.

There’s worry, there, too, for the non-answer to the question — if there’s no hope…

…it makes her answer to his question simpler.

She still doesn’t give it for a moment, though, quipping instead in a soft voice, “And here I thought you’d find me depressing once you got beneath the shiny Bowie mask.”

Chess turns her head slowly, not to dislodge his light touch, but to graze his knuckles with her lips. “God, yes.”

Breath catches as lips brush his knuckles, a tremor running down his arm. There’s a small smile and Castle murmurs as his hand drops away, “We’re all a little bit masks.” Sometimes the masks were literal and sometimes they were worn at almost all times. Sometimes they were a smile and a laugh while the world fell into ruin and despair. The hand doesn’t stay away long, it is soon joined again cradling her head, reaching into her dyed hair, pulling himself toward her, one hand on either side.

The kiss tastes like whiskey and Guinness. It’s sudden, a little desperate feeling, like trying to hold onto something that’s already gone, even as it morphs into a small tinge of a smile and a laugh building in his throat. Masks aren’t all masks, after all.

It was still him. And he was definitely enjoying kissing her.

One corner of her mouth lifts in a small, crooked smile at his short but deep assessment, and she looks for a moment like she might reply, but drops whatever retort she has to return his kiss instead. One hand moves to his chest, the fingers grasping at the fabric of his shirt, and when she hears that laugh welling up, it evokes the same from her.

Worry and sorrow — and that ever-present grief she carries with her at all times — are pushed away to enjoy this instant. To enjoy the handsome man who quotes Shakespeare and paints and makes her feel alive in a way she hasn’t for so long. The man who saved her life.

“I think,” she whispers between kisses, “you’d see through all of mine, somehow. How do you do that?” There’s that wonder in her eyes again as she pulls back long enough to look in his eyes, but she doesn’t let him answer right away, leaning in to bring her lips to his; he can feel them curve again into a smile, though he can’t see it.

The ocean of worries and concerns and fears washed away as Castle just focused on her, on this moment. Her question, which may not have been intended to even be a question between those kisses, gets an answer anyway, even if it takes some time to get out all the way. Between breaths, between motions, he manages to say a soft response, “Maybe because I want to see you…” He’s not looking at her right now, though, because his eyes are closed.

But he is feeling her. Which he immediately comments on. His hands slide down from her head, running over her neck, “And feel you…” he says with a hint of amusement at himself as his fingers brush against the fabric of her costume.

Then his hands drop away and join her hands on his shirt, deftly going down and undoing the clasps and buttons in the front and getting his top open. As he pulls his top open and over his shoulders and through his arms, he pauses the kiss by pressing his forehead against hers, taking a moment to breathe—

And ask another question, more breathless now than before, “Would you like to stay?”

Her hands slide over his newly-bared skin, chasing the path of the sleeves as they slide off his arms, then coming back up, over his shoulders. Her fingertips stretch up to bury themselves in his hair and when he parts to take that moment to breathe, she finds herself breathless and needing to do the same.

In the aftermath of the hypothetical question,’ that question carries more weight to it than he probably means (yes, she wants to stay in this world, in this life, with everyone she’s ever met or will ever meet). And it also makes that question, like his last question, so much easier to answer.

But even easy words fail her sometimes. Luckily yes-or-no answers were made optional a few rounds ago, so Chess answers instead by renewing their paused kiss while reaching behind herself to find the zipper of her striped pantsuit.

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