After Midnight 1/? (Castle)
SUMMARY: Rick's lusted after an invitation to the Bellinghams' summer solstice party -- one of New York's most exclusive social events -- for as long as he can remember. When the invitation finally comes, it's addressed to Detective Beckett.
DISCLAIMER: ABC Studios owns Castle and everything it encompasses. This is a work of fan fiction, and thus derives no profit or material benefit therefrom.
The Bellinghams' annual summer solstice party at their North Shore estate, an event that opened with Pimm's and croquet on the east lawn in mid-afternoon and didn't wind down until long after the fireworks display over the bluff at midnight, was the most sought-after invitation on New York's social calendar. The Bellinghams were as upper-crust as they came, their status in the registry as rock-solid as the foundation of Notre Dame de Paris. The luster of their name had dimmed somewhat when Samuel Bellingham made a few unwise investments in the 1930s, but when his great-grandson Philip married the stylish and sophisticated great-niece of the Danish queen, the cachet of her lineage buffed away the tarnish of the familiy's reduced fortune and restored them to their historic place at the top of the New York social pyramid. It helped that Philip was as rakishly charming as his ancestor had been dour, and that Sophia was as gracious and as generous as she was lovely. When Philip became patriarch and lord of the manor upon his father's death in 1985, it was compared in the New York Ledger to witnessing the birth of a new star.
Rick had yearned for an invitation to Bellemarsh for years. As a teenager, he'd get together with friends and ride out into the sound on someone's parents' purloined sailboat and watch the party from a distance, drinking beer and smoking weed until he woke up late the next morning, groggy, sunburned, and seasick. He knew he didn't have a chance of getting in: his mother was an actress and the progeny of carnies and circus performers, and his father was a mystery. Later, he learned that not all his fame and fortune could buy him an invitation either, nor could all his best efforts to charm anyone he thought might be willing to include him as their designated guest. By then he had a cabin cruiser of his own, and anesthetized his envy each June with more expensive libations and more comely companions that a group of rowdy, raunchy teenage boys. He still woke up sunburned and seasick, though.
It seemed only fitting that when the long-coveted invitation finally arrived, it was addressed to "Detective Katherine Beckett and Guest," delivered to the station house by a dark-suited man with a French accent.
"What are you up to, Castle?" Kate asked, glancing at him with raised eyebrows as she reached for a nail file to slit open the envelope. "Not an invitation to one of your publicity events, is it?"
"If it is, it's news to me." He picked up the discarded envelope and rubbed his fingers over the surface. "Gina'd never use stationary this fine anyway, not on my account, and certainly not for a publicity event." He laid the envelope down and leaned forward. "So what is it?"
She cocked her head at a slight angle and smiled. "It's an invitation to a party."
Esposito and Ryan, their own curiosity as piqued as Rick's, drew closer. "Must be some party, if they won't even use the mail," Esposito observed.
"And on really expensive stationary too," Rick said.
"Who's it from?" Ryan wanted to know, voicing Rick's own thought.
"You remember that case we worked back in January, where our only witness was a girl with Down's Syndrome?"
"Oh yeah, the rich girl with the - the--" Esposito made a vague gesture towards his head.
Ryan made a face at his partner. "Dude. She was mentally retarded."
"I think the proper terminology these days is 'developmentally disabled'," Rick said. He turned back to Kate. "How is that connected to this?" he asked, indicating the folded sheet of paper Kate had in her hand.
"Her parents are hosting a party at their home on Long Island in a couple of weeks, and have invited me to come." She retrieved the envelope and started to stuff the invitation back inside.
"Wow," Ryan said. "How'd you swing something like that?"
"Oh, I don't know -- maybe because I treated their daughter like a human being?"
Rick sat back and tried to call the case to mind. "What was her name?" he asked the company at large.
"Stephanie?" Esposito suggested.
"Sophie-Marie," Kate said. "Sophie-Marie Bellingham."
"Bellingham?" Rick spluttered. He grabbed for the invitation, his hands suddenly unsteady, his fingers thick and uncoordinated. "You're kidding me! What date is the party?"
"Um," Kate began, giving him a strange look, "June twentieth?"
"Castle, are you all right?" Ryan asked.
"Bro looks like he's about to have a heart attack."
"I think I might be," Rick squeaked out. He'd finally managed to extract the note and unfold it. The elegant print -- clearly hand-written, by a finely-tutored hand -- swam before his eyes.
"Castle?" Kate prodded.
"June 22," Rick whispered. "At Bellemarsh. Oh, my God." He pressed his fingertips to his forehead and closed his eyes.
Rick cleared his throat. "You have no idea what this is, do you?"
She made a face as she shook her head. "An invitation to a party?"
He shook his head as well, in despair. "Not just any party. The party. This is--" He gestured helplessly, words failing him. He thought he might cry. "The Bellinghams are -- they're like American royalty. Sophia Bellingham is royalty, in fact, and Philip is... his great-great grandfather makes Cornelius Vanderbilt look like a peon. Astors, Rockefellers, Roosevelts? Wannabes, compared to the Bellinghams. They're the sort of people you find in an Edith Wharton novel, the uppermost of the upper crust. They're not crème de la crème, they're the cherry on the crème de la crème. And their annual summer solstice party is--" He raised a finger, in full-on lecturer mode now. "--it is the event of the year. Everyone who is anyone in New York society would sell their souls to the devil for one of these." He tapped at the envelope. "You could not get any more exclusive if you tried."
Kate had leaned back, arms folded, and listened with an indulgent but interested smile as he'd rattled on. He'd been around her long enough to guess what her first response would be: "Have you ever been to one of these parties, Castle?"
"Not for lack of wanting," he confessed, "or trying."
"Maybe it's one of those things that the harder you try for it, the harder it is to get," said Ryan.
"Yeah, like you gotta pretend you don't want it."
Kate grinned at them. "You guys make this sound like a unicorn or something."
"But that would make Castle a virgin, and--"
Esposito glared at Ryan. "Yo man, don't even go there."
Her expression grew thoughtful. "I had no idea Mrs. Bellingham was such high society when she came in. She certainly didn't come across that way, though she was obviously wealthy."
"Wait -- you met Sophia Bellingham? Why don't I remember -- how did I miss this?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, Castle. Maybe you had something going on with Alexis. She wasn't here long, just stopped by briefly to thank me after we'd interviewed and cleared Sophie-Marie as a suspect. I remember she said I'd made a big impression on her daughter."
"A good one too, obviously," Ryan said, pointing to the invitation.
"Yeah." She blew out a breath. "Huh."
"Are you gonna go?" Esposito asked.
She thought for a moment before answering, her face twisted with doubt, "I don't know."
Rick thought he might explode. "Oh, come on!"
"Are you nuts? How could you possibly -- how can you even think -- do you have any idea -- I just -- I--"
All three detectives stared at him in bemusement. "Castle, I'm a cop. I deal with the dregs of society on a daily basis. This--" She picked up the invitation and waved it at him. "--is so far out of my league I'd get a nosebleed just thinking about going." She tossed the invitation in his lap. "You're the social butterfly, you go."
"Believe me I would, Detective, but for one thing." He picked up the invitation and waved it back at her. "It's addressed to you."
"Dude's got a point," Esposito said.
"I don't think he'd fool anyone if he tried to crash dressed like you," added Ryan. "Not without a hell of a lot of Spanx." Rick grimaced at his mischievous leer.
The hand pressed over her mouth didn't hide the laughter in Kate's eyes. "Seriously, Castle, I'm incredibly flattered, but I would stick out like a sore thumb. This would be, like, ten times worse than that charity event you dragged me to, and I wouldn't even have the excuse of being undercover."
"You wouldn't have us as backup either," Ryan said. "I wonder if you'd even be able to wear your gun?" This time Kate made a face at him.
"The invitation is addressed to you and a guest, though," Esposito pointed out, his finger tapping the relevant words on the envelope. "You don't have to go completely without... backup."
Rick was very aware that Esposito had pointedly not looked at him. He was also aware that he was holding his breath as he watched Kate, waiting for her next move.
She pursed her mouth in a look he knew well, then gave him a sidelong glance. The anticipation about to boil over, he pressed his lips together more firmly and dug his nails into his palms. "Social event of the year, eh, Castle?" she asked. He nodded vigorously. Her voice grew low and sultry as she leaned towards him. "And you've been dying to go for years, am I right?" Again a nod was about all he could manage. She picked up the invitation to tap the edge against her lower lip, a wicked grin teasing at the corners of her mouth and eyes. He felt lightheaded, his eyes watering.
Slowly Kate held out the invitation to him. "Will you help me find something suitable to wear?"
(I haven't abandoned Pandora's Box! I've been revising ch. 1 and working on ch. 2. I just had to get this out to clear up space in my brain.)