Title: Ramona and the Single Guy
Summary: "He's so not over how fragile everything feels. The bluff her life depends on and her still-healing body. He's not ready for this, whether it's their first fight or not." A one-shot set very shortly after "Cloudy with a Chance of Murder" (5 x 02). References to Headhunters (4 x 22).
A/N: Because I have to deal with Headhunters somehow?
He's not ready for their first fight. He's still really, really not over their not-first fight. Their negative-first fight and everything that came of it.
She's still bruised. Head to toe and front to back. Scrapes and welts. Broken skin in awful shades of angry red, livid purple, and sickly yellow. He's brushed his lips over every one. His fingers and apologies and she tells him Stop. Stop, Castle. She tugs him up to kiss his mouth. To breathe life back into him and tell him it's all right. She's all right. They're all right.
But he's not over it.
He's not over their interrupted morning after. The fact that for ten heart-stopping seconds, she was standing there—braless—in the same room as his mother and his kid. Ryan almost catching them. Esposito saving their asses and almost catching them.
He's not over Smith dying and Cole Maddox blowing up fifteen feet away. Waking up alone and telling himself over and over that she wouldn't kill Bracken in cold blood. She wouldn't. Telling himself that they weren't finished before they'd really had a chance to start.
He's so not over how fragile everything feels. The bluff her life depends on and her still-healing body.
He's not ready for this, whether it's their first fight or not.
"I don't have to go." He catches her eye in the bathroom mirror.
They're at her place. She's sitting tight-lipped on the edge of her tub, watching him get ready. This is all just kind of bizarre.
"You kind of do, Castle." She looks away. Down at the floor. She skims a hand through her hair and winces.
"Beckett!" He's on his knees at her side in a second. He's running a washcloth under the cold tap. There's a bitch of a cut on her scalp. They've bickered about whether she needs stitches or not. She keeps forgetting about it, and it bleeds and bleeds. "Let me . . ."
"Castle!" She snaps at him. She bats his hands away. "Will you stop . . . " Her mouth twists. She's aggravated. She can't come up with the word. "Stop fussing!"
Her mouth snaps shut. She looks sorry right away. Guilty. But she's silent.
"No," he says. His chin juts out. "You almost died, and then we almost died, and then you almost died again. And it's been like a week, and I've been waiting for this forever. And you're all bruised and bleeding and I have to go on a date with a dental hygienist and I am not ready to stop fussing."
It spills out and dries up. His little rant. She's quiet through it all.
He presses the cloth gently to the spot, kissing her temple and mouthing Sorry against her skin when she hisses. When she white knuckles the side of the tub and he counts to sixty. Steady pressure while white goes red under his fingertips.
"Will you ever be?" She's answering back in kind. Matching his stubborn tone for effect. Mostly for effect, he thinks. They're not quite fighting.
"Probably not." He keeps it in the same vein. "I'm a fusser, Beckett."
Mostly in the same vein. She swallows a little laugh.
"I don't have to go," he says again. He lets up a fraction, testing. She starts to pull away, but there's a fresh bloom of blood. "Not yet." He reaches for her with his free hand. She holds on to that, rather than the tub this time around.
"You promised Ryan. And he promised Jenny." She lets her thumb sweep over the back of his wrist, softening the words a little. "And it'll look weird if you keep saying no . . ."
"And they'll ask questions," he finishes. He tries letting up on the cloth again. Red wells up at the edges, but it's slowing. Almost stopped. "I think you're good."
"I don't want you to go." That's in a small voice. Smaller than he's ever heard from her, and the last thing he wants to do is fight. "I meant it . . . about . . . I don't want to . . . I don't want us to date other people."
"And I meant it too." He kisses her softly. "Even without the gun."
"Even without the gun." She laughs. A real smile against his lips. "But don't forget the gun while you're out with Ramona."
"Never." Her promises with another kiss and a grin of his own. "I'd never forget the gun."
They're meeting at the restaurant. There's that, at least. No enclosed spaces. Not that he seriously expects any cousin of Jenny's to corner him and unleash the fuchsia bikini or anything. But he so thoroughly doesn't want to do this that he's grateful for the public backdrop.
He lowers his shoulder into the heavy glass of the revolving door and makes for the host station. A blonde woman in tailored black gives him a generic smile that crumbles right away. Her eyes go wide.
"Oh! You're . . ." Her brow furrows. She recognizes him, but not really. The worst of all possible worlds. A conversation he absolutely doesn't want to have.
"Rodgers," he says shortly. "Reservation for two."
The woman recovers immediately. She's back to the generic smile, a shade colder, and he doesn't blame her. "Of course. Mr. Rodgers. This way."
The hostess hands him off to a server who's equally impassive. Taking her cues from the stiff, awkward exchange.
He feels like an ass. The worst kind of ass. He kicks himself for whatever stupid instinct made him not want to use Castle. He's been kicking himself since the minute it came out of his mouth. Since Ramona's bright, curious voice on the other end of the phone. A little nervous now.
Oh. I guess you have to . . . I hadn't thought . . .
And that's not it at all. He doesn't have to. His name—the one he chose—is pretty much neutral-to-good. People recognize it or they don't, but it's rarely that big a deal, however much he likes to preen and play it up sometimes. To annoy her, mostly. For the last few years, anyway, that's why he plays it up. To pull her pigtails.
And that's why he didn't want to use it for this. That's really why. Because he feels like it's hers. The name he chose. It's Beckett's. Because he doesn't want to do this at all, and it feels more like cheating.
Ramona is already at the table. He cringes. Glances at his watch and wonders if he actually dragged his feet enough to be late.
"I'm early," she says quickly. Her eyes dart away and back to him. "Nervous." She holds out her hand. "It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise." He presses her fingers and steps around to hold her chair as she sits.
It flusters her. She blushes and thanks him too effusively. Too many words rushing out of her. It's not long before he misses it, though. They both miss something to talk about as they hide behind their menus.
It's excruciating, and he has no idea at all how to break through this. The terrible, awkward shell that's formed around them.
He peeps over the top of the heavy leather folder of the wine list. Short glances at first, then longer. There's no chance she'll catch him. Her eyes are absolutely fixed on the menu. Her cheeks are still burning. She's dying inside. He knows the symptoms.
"Wine." It comes out flat. It takes him a second to realize it's him. She's startled. She looks up with her eyes wide, and that's how he knows. "Do you like . . .? What do you like? Or do you even . . ."
He trails off. His eyes skip away from hers. There are candles on every table and he weighs the advantages and disadvantages of setting a fire as a distraction. A small fire. Something to talk about.
She's the one to save them. Ramona. She takes a breath and smiles. "I like wine. We should definitely have wine."
He laughs. Relief fills him up, and just like that, everything is 90% less horrifying. He ends up handing over the wine list. She and her ex went to Napa with Jenny and Kevin a few years back, and she finds something they loved.
It's nice. New to him, and they talk about that. The trip. They order things around the bottle and it's easier. Conversation and going through the motions.
It's still awkward every once in a while. There's no way at all for it not to be awkward from time to time. She makes a quip, some kind of inside joke, and he looks up sharply, but it comes by way of Ryan. By way of Jenny. She's a fan. She's read his stuff, but that's not the script they're working from.
And he's distracted. Brooding and missing Kate, and he knows he keeps drifting out on her. He knows it's rude. It's worse than that, because she's nice. She's cute and funny, and she is definitely doing the heavy lifting here.
They get through it, though. Dinner. Dessert. Coffee. It's perfectly pleasant. It's fun when he can focus for long enough, and he has some excellent new ammunition against Ryan.
But they're winding down now and the awkwardness creeps back in. He's antsy in more ways than one. He's anxious about how to end this. And he misses Kate. Physically misses her like it's his own body that's bruised and battered and still aching.
There's no plan for afterward. That makes it worse. It takes up too much of his attention, because he wants to see her, and they kind of left it at I'll call and a grumpy, minimal acknowledgment from her. Kidding, but not. Their first fight, but not.
He helps Ramona into her coat. They spin out on to the street, and he's chattering about something. He doesn't know. He's nervously filling the silence, and thank God, she's the one who has it together again. She waits for him to wind down. To stop. She gives him a look. A raised eyebrow that asks if he's finished, and he sees Jenny in her. He trails off with a sheepish laugh.
"Thanks for this," she says.
It's warm. Sincere. But odd. There's something else he picks up on.
She gestures between them. Back to the restaurant. "The whole . . . Win a Date With Rick Castle thing."
He blushes. That's . . . ouch . . . "Ramona . . . I . . ."
She pats his arm. Cuts him off. "No, really. I mean it. Thank you. This was fun. And a little weird."
"A little weird," he echoes. He smiles. He's still dying a little inside, but this isn't as bad as it could be. "But fun. Thank you."
She smiles broadly. Raises up on tiptoe and drops a quick kiss on his cheek.
"And don't worry," she whispers. "I won't tell Jenny and Kevin."
"Tell?" There's something sly in her tone. Something alarming.
She's already walking away. She tosses it over her shoulder. "That you're seeing somebody."
He waits until he gets home to call. Until he almost gets home. He wants to call the second his ass hits the back seat of the cab. But that's not where he wants to have this conversation. Whatever it's going to be. A fight. Not a fight. Him pleading without dignity for her to come over. To let him come over. It's definitely not the place.
So he waits. He makes it all the way into the lobby. Well. He makes it into the revolving door. He stumbles and juggles the phone.
She sounds annoyed by the time he finally has the phone to his ear. She answered right away, though. Right away, and he holds on to that.
"Hey," he says and it's . . . ugh . . . it's low and breathy and smitten and kind of disgusting. He glances over his shoulder at Ted, the night doorman, and decides he doesn't care. He definitely doesn't care. "I'm home." He punches the button for the elevator. "Almost home."
It's maddeningly noncommittal. She's making him pay, and it's hardly fair. He jabs his floor, slumps against the elevator wall. He tries to decide how much he cares about fair.
"So . . . what are you up to?" Not much. He doesn't much care about fair.
"Nothing, really." That's straightforward enough. A little ashamed, maybe.
"Kate . . ." He swaps the phone to his other ear. He cocks his head at an awkward angle to hold it there as he digs for his keys. "Can I . . . I want to see you. Can I come over there?"
There's silence on the other end. A long pause filled only by the scrape of his key in the door.
"Oh, I don't know, Castle."
There's something dragging through her tone. A thrum. Prelude to a fight or something. His shoulder connects harder with the door than necessary. Frustration bleeding out. He pushes inside.
"Seems like a wasted trip."
It's loud. Coming from the wrong direction. Too many directions at once, because she's there. She's sitting at the counter. She swings around on the stool to face him.
She's on him.
They make it as far as the couch. Eventually they make it there, and she complains again about the leather. She's not a fan of the leather in practice.
"Sticky." She makes a face and flips them. A quarter turn so he's on his back and she's stretched out along his body. "Better."
"Pretty sticky, too." He laughs in her ear.
"Gross." She bites his shoulder.
"A little gross," he admits. "But true. And mostly your fault."
She laughs. Hits out at him as he gropes along the floor for the throw that should be somewhere. She's shivering a little, but she stops him. She reaches for his hand and links their fingers.
"No blanket. It's good. This is good." She hesitates. "Unless you're . . ."
"No, I'm . . . " He folds his arms around her. He twists and turns his shoulders a little and drags light fingers here and there, finding the smooth spaces. The healed expanses between bruises. He settles. Brings them both to rest. "I'm good."
"How was it?" She asks after a while.
He tucks his chin awkwardly to peer down at her, but there's nothing to see. Her body is loose against his. Her fingers trace waving lines down his arm.
"Terrible. Awful." He keeps it deadpan. "The worst."
"Good," she says. She hides a smile against his chest. "But really . . ."
"It was . . ." He heaves in a breath. Loves the rise and fall of her cheek along with it. "Awkward? A lot of awkward. But fine. She's nice."
She shifts a little at that. Bristling and fighting against it. "She's Jenny's cousin. I guess she would be."
He nods. Brushes his fingers along the arc of her hip, because it makes her eyes flutter closed. It smooths out the little line of tension between them. Unravels it. It's ok. They're ok, but he wants more than that. He wants to tell her what it was like. A perfectly nice evening. A perfectly miserable one, because he missed her and he really doesn't want to have to play this game again.
"She knew," he says quietly. "I was trying. And it was nice enough. Mostly because she's nice. But she knew I was . . ." He hesitates. Almost chickens out, but he wants her to know. "She knew I was taken."
She goes still against him. Her fingers stop their wandering and her breath catches. She won't look up at him, but he feels the warmth of her cheek against his chest. She's blushing. She's smiling. "Taken."