Word Count: 2,896
"Are you really hungry?" she asked once they were a couple of blocks away.
"Not necessarily, though I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. If you were, I mean. Hungry, that is."
"Well, there are certainly enough places to eat by my apartment."
"Yes, that is true. Did you want to then?"
"If it's getting late…"
"Not at all. I have nothing to wake up for in the morning. Unless you need to call it a night."
"No, I have the day off tomorrow."
"Perfect timing then."
"Yes, I think that was why Nathan tried so hard tonight."
"Well, what are you in the mood for?"
"I don't care."
He went over what he knew of in the vicinity of her apartment. There were probably close to a hundred restaurants only a short walk from her front door.
"Anything you don't like?"
"You're not making this easy."
"Any places around here you like?"
"Any of them! I don't eat out too often."
"Yeah, I guess that wasn't the wisest question to ask if I wanted to narrow down the choices."
"All right. Well then," he said, making a quick decision.
He told the driver where to go. It was a nicer neighborhood type restaurant he'd been to a time or two over the years. Good food. The dining area wasn't exactly conducive to intimate dinners, but that wasn't his goal tonight anyway. There was also a bar, which he'd watched a game or two in.
It was late enough the dining room was pretty empty. A few parties probably stopping for a bite to eat before heading home from their evening's excursion much as they were doing. They were seated immediately by a polite hostess he vaguely remembered seeing the last time he was there.
It was one thing he liked about the neighborhood places over the chain restaurants most people who came to Times Square frequented. People tended to stay put. You went somewhere like Chili's and you'd be hard-pressed to find the same person waiting on you after a month let alone a year or more as it had been since Rick's last visit to this place.
Once seated, they both agreed to not being particularly hungry. So, they shared a couple of appetizers and a bottle of wine, with Rick drinking most of the wine. He found out a little more about her, but not much really. And was no closer to finding out who or what she was to Nathan, other than her saying her family was friends with the Petrelli's.
"So, you can't even go out to eat late at night without being spotted."
"I guess not," he said after one of the other customers recognized him. He'd signed a cocktail napkin for him without question. He didn't mind the intrusion too much.
"You don't mind, though, do you?"
"Nah, like I said, my time may be up sooner rather than later so I enjoy it while I can."
"Do you think you'll run out of ideas?"
"I don't think that's the issue, but authors whose works span decades. It just doesn't happen very often. And all it takes is one review dragging Nikki Heat through the mud and it could be over."
"What do you do?"
"Well, I go to school."
"I mean with your spare time. Do you have hobbies? Do you write? Draw?"
"I draw, can't say I'm very good. I read."
"Just not my books."
"Well, I do now."
"Glad to know Nathan is looking out for me."
She laughed lightly. "Yes, well, someone has to, right?"
"So my mother keeps saying."
The restaurant closing pushed them out the door faster than he would have liked. It wasn't cold, but her wrap wasn't very heavy so he knew she'd be chilled just walking back to the car. So, he offered her his tuxedo jacket. She took it, draping it around her shoulders as she would have looked like a kid playing dressup if she tried putting it on the right way.
"So, do I get to learn about Rick Castle?" she said, taking his hand as they started toward her place.
He glanced at her hand in his then at her, reading nothing on her face as to why she did it.
"Mm, not much to say really. I write, which allows me the luxury of being home with my daughter most of the time. Mom lives with us, so if I have to be gone she's home with Alexis. I'm sure one of these days Alexis is going to tell me she no longer needs one of us home, but for now she's content with the arrangement."
"Where's your dad?"
"Never met him."
"Nah, nothing to be sorry for. Mom was a little eccentric. Still is. Add to that she was an actress. Well, let's just say monogamy and not believing wholeheartedly in free love at the time wasn't her thing."
"Have you ever been curious?"
"Not really. I mean, so I have someone else's genes. Mom raised me. Whoever he is, he's had no input in my life beyond hereditary things," he said as he opened the car door for her.
"What about illnesses and stuff?"
He shrugged, sliding into the spot next to hers. She didn't seem to mind and he admittedly wasn't too put out by her touch. "We're all going to die of something. I guess if you know parent X has cancer or something you might be more cautious, but that doesn't mean you won't get something else entirely. Or weren't going to get it to begin with."
"True," she said.
"Anyway. We do all right. Perhaps I'm a little eccentric as well. I don't know, but I do enjoy having a good time and sometimes my idea of a good time is more in line with something Alexis likes than anyone else."
"Should I not have said that?"
She laughed, squeezing his hand a little. "No, I was just thinking."
"I think Alexis is lucky."
"My dad is so ultra serious. I mean, I love him, don't get me wrong. But he rarely has fun."
"Well, you can come over and join us for paintball whenever you want."
"Sure," he shrugged. "Or if that's not your thing we've got other gadgets and fun things."
"I'll just bet."
"Boys and their toys."
"So I've heard."
Neither was in any hurry to get back to her place, but even if your car drives at a snail's pace you still eventually get to where you're going.
"Did you want to go somewhere else for a while? Or are you ready to call it a night?"
"It's up to you. I know you have people at home waiting for you."
"Nah, they both know better than to stay up waiting for me after something like tonight's doings."
She grazed the top of his hand with a fingertip lazily.
"We could go back to my place."
"I don't think that would be too wise."
"Why not?" she asked.
"You're tied to Nathan and he's no one I want as an enemy."
She cocked her head a little as she laced her fingers through his once more. "As if I tell him everything I do."
"I'd know. He's a friend. There's an unspoken code between friends."
"What kind of code?"
"You don't infringe on another man's territory," he said.
"Well, in a manner of speaking, yes."
"You think I'm Nathan's territory?"
"You're something special enough he called me for tonight. He told me Monty's sick, you knew nothing about that, and at the fundraiser, I overheard him telling someone Heidi was out of town. So, something's not adding up."
"It's not what you're thinking."
"If it's not Nathan, it's Peter."
"No, I just happened to meet Peter first. I told you, the Petrelli's are friends with my family. That's all."
"Yes, I promise," she said softly and leaned in a bit to kiss him.
It wasn't much different than the kiss on the dance floor. Something to let him know she was interested but not too pushy as kisses went. He closed his eyes a moment after hers fluttered shut, a delicate hand sliding to the lapel of his tuxedo jacket.
She didn't initiate taking the kiss further than this and he took his cue from her. He couldn't remember the last time he was with someone who just wanted this from him. Usually there was the expectation of more. A shared kissed suggested so much more than a mere touching of lips.
He drew away, taking her in for a moment. She was young. How young he wasn't sure, but he sensed that a kiss for her was not an automatic segue into different, baser things.
He drew her hand from his jacket and kissed the back of it, grazing the backs of her fingers with a kiss as well.
"Still. I was asked to take you as a favor," he said, lowering the divider in the car to tell the driver to take them back to her place.
"Well, you did your favor, no one can say differently. And I'll even have my picture in tomorrow's paper."
He grimaced a little. "You say that now," he said, grazing a thumb along the back of her hand. "You realize that some of those papers are not so reputable and don't hold back."
"Meaning snapshots of that kiss are going to be sold and bought and you're going to be talked about as my flavor of the week," he clarified, bringing their joined hands to his thigh.
"And you don't care?"
"It's not like we engaged in dirty dancing or sex in the coat closet."
"No, I'm pretty sure the murder there would have curbed any desire to do that we may have had."
She laughed a little, letting her head fall back to the seat.
"Speaking of which," he said.
"What? Sex in coat closets or the murder?"
"The murder. If they call you for anything and you don't feel comfortable talking to them by yourself, let me know."
"You're welcome. We didn't see anything, but Esposito and Ryan may give you a hard time in fun because you were with me."
"I understand. They seem to like you, though."
He shrugged. "They're good cops. The whole department is."
"Well, I'd hope so or you wouldn't work with them. Would you?"
"No, though having insight into a dysfunctional squad could prove beneficial to my writing as well. But that's not what Nikki Heat is about."
The car pulled up in front of her building. This time Nathan waited for the driver to come around to let them out. Nathan helped her out just as he'd done at the event. He walked her to her door, mindful that her neighbor probably had a keen ear tuned to the hallway, listening for Claire's return. He followed Claire into her apartment, no intention of staying for very long.
He took in the room he could see. It was a combined kitchen and eating area. Not huge, but big enough for a two-seater table. He wondered briefly if she had occasion to have people over for dinner or if the table was just a decoration. There were things on it. Mail, papers, a laptop, textbooks, and a glass with something in it.
"Why molecular biology?"
"Well, I've found not only in my experience but when doing research for my books. People who go into lines of work like yours tend to have a reason. Researchers for cancer cures had a loved one who died of it. That sort of thing. Not always, I realize, but it's a pretty intense thing for someone to just wake up one day and think they want to get into it."
"You could say I have an interest in it, yeah."
He noticed another book on the table and picked it up.
"You've read this?"
"Yeah," she said, looking momentarily panicked as he opened the copy of Activating Evolution.
"For a course?"
"Not really," she replied. "You know it?"
"Yeah, sure, read it a while back when I was trying to think of a new character. Everywhere you look in bookstores these days there's paranormal this and vampire that. Someone recommended this book, thought it might get me brainstorming about a way a new character could have an ability without being a wolf or witch or anything else otherworldly."
"What did you think?"
"A little farfetched, as far as I can tell he has nothing really to back his theory, but it was interesting reading. Not to say I didn't get some ideas from reading it."
"Nothing specific, just jotted some notes down as I was reading."
"So, you don't believe it?"
He shrugged. "Not sure what to believe, really," he said, setting the book down. "Just surprised to see it here on your table."
"I'm not completely finished with it yet."
"I read it once before, back in high school."
"Why'd you go and read this back then instead of going out shopping with your friends or to parties?"
"Who says I didn't do those things, too?"
"Well, I guess I just picture someone reading this type of nonsense in high school may not have had much else to do."
"I had plenty to do. I was a cheerleader, you know."
"Were you now?"
"Yes," she said, folding her arms in front of her chest. "And it's not nonsense."
"You may be right. It's too bad he died before he could prove his theories had any substance. I doubt anyone will carry on his work, so I'm afraid most people will consider it to be just that. A work of fiction."
"You may be right," she said with a shrug, though he could tell she was lying to him. That she believed it, in the book. "Who knows, right?"
"Well, right, I guess my mom never believed they'd land a man on the moon."
"And yet, if you met someone, knew someone who could do things."
"Then I guess I'd have to reconsider."
She looked somewhat relieved at that and he was glad, for whatever reason, he'd said the right thing.
"I had a nice time, really. I admit I usually detest those things, but it was refreshing to be with someone who wasn't there just to be seen," he said, figuring a change of subject to close the night on a higher note was in order. He hadn't meant to come down on something that she liked or believed in. If she'd read the book in high school, maybe it was part of the reason she was taking the scholastic path she was.
"You don't have to go," she said as she stepped out of her shoes. She reached down to grab then, setting them on a mat just the other side of the door. There was another pair there, much more casual. Sneakers she wore much of the time he imagined judging by their lived-in appearance.
"I do," he said with a slight nod. "Not that whatever you're offering isn't tempting, but I do."
"I didn't say what I was offering."
"Oh, I know, that's why I said whatever. I just really should go."
"All right," she said, walking toward him then. Without the shoes on she didn't even hit his shoulders.
"You are a tiny thing, aren't you?"
"You're just noticing that now?"
"You had heels on all night, so the difference wasn't quite so vast until now."
She stretched up a bit, her arms going around his neck. He took the hint and gave her a kiss. Ending it perhaps too soon, but he had to leave. It really had nothing to do with Nathan and more to do with her. She didn't really know what can of worms she might have opened with that public kiss on the dance floor. Nathan didn't get his picture plastered over the Times and Post for kissing Heidi (unless it was a staged photo to further his image and therefore his career).
He wouldn't do that to her. She was young, new to the city, she didn't need that kind of reputation dragging her down.
"Good night, Claire," he said, hands at her hips as he drew away from the kiss and her.
He could tell she had something on her mind. The question of whether she'd see him again? He couldn't answer that. It really depended on her and how she felt over the next few days as her friends commented on whatever photos were out there. More about that book? He probably shouldn't have been so outspoken as to his opinion of Chandra Suresh's work. The book had been interesting, he had to admit, but as no one seemed to take him seriously Nathan found it difficult to do so either.
"Night," she said, following him to the door. He heard the sound of the lock from the hallway. That wasn't the only lock he heard tumbling into place. He chuckled as he glanced in the direction of the other door on the floor, knowing the older woman had indeed been waiting for Claire's return.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com