Based on the Castle Fanfics Prompt: 3x15. Beckett and Castle go to have those drinks at the end. Josh ends up calling, apologizing that he has to work. So instead, Castle invites Beckett out for a Valentine's day dinner.

Not surprisingly, they end up at the Old Haunt. C'mon Beckett, drinks are on the house, he says with a long face and a weak smile. Her offer to buy goes ignored, but she isn't going to argue with him. Not today.

The place is remarkably quiet when they arrive, save for some hushed conversations and the tinkling notes coming from Eddie's fingers dancing over the slightly off-key piano. It's still early, but Kate wonders how many couples would come to a quiet little dive-bar like this one to celebrate Valentine's Day. Probably not many, she guesses.

Shouldn't you be in a nice candle-lit restaurant, wearing a new dress, ordering surf and turf?

She takes in the ambiance of the Old Haunt, and it occurs to her that she prefers the cozy booths, scratched-up tables, and warm wood paneling of her current surroundings to the sleek, glittering hotspots Manhattan boasts in record numbers. Later tonight, she'll be sitting across from Josh at one of those very places, a trendy, shi shi eatery that serves twenty dollar cocktails and ridiculously small portions of foods she can barely pronounce. It wouldn't be her first choice, but at least he cared enough to make the reservation, right?

They settle on opposite sides of a booth away from the foot traffic and slowly sip at their whiskeys. At first, they make small talk about safe topics, like Alexis and the progress he's making on his next book, but slowly, inevitably, the conversation turns to his youth, and more precisely, to his days at Edgewyck. His eyes are distant and his smile soft as he orders a second and then a third round of drinks for them while spinning tales of his years at the boarding school, the natural storyteller in him weaving so much charm and detail and wonder into every story. His voice entrances her, draws her in completely, transporting her to that time and place in his life, as though she's right there beside him, taking part in yet another adventure with young, trouble-making Ricky Rodgers and his pals.

"We never meant to set the roof on fire, of course. That was not part of the prank, but as these things have a tendency to do, it got completely out of hand. Suddenly, we were all screaming and running away in true every man for himself fashion." That elicits a genuine smile from him, the memory obviously a fond one as he lifts the glass to take another sip.

"Did you guys get in trouble?" she asks, unable to suppress her own grin at their antics.

"Amazingly, no. They were never able to tie any of us to the incident, although the headmaster had his suspicions. Unfortunately, I had a conscience about the whole thing and the damage we caused. I was broke, of course, but I convinced Damian to take some money out of his trust fund and anonymously give it to the school for repairs."

His face turns somber again at the mention of Damian, the shock of learning his one-time mentor was capable of such cold and underhanded deeds still weighing heavily on him. She longs to reach out, cover his hand with her own, weave her fingers through his. It seems like it should be easy enough to do, a simple show of support and solidarity, but if there's anything she's learned in her time working with Richard Castle, it's that nothing is ever simple between them. Everything is layered in subtext and innuendo.

No, it's best if she just keeps her hands to herself.

"Well, it was the right thing to do."

"Are you talking about giving money for the repairs, or turning my friend into the police?"

He stares into the bottom of his glass, giving her time to ponder his question, and she hates how defeated he looks, his shoulders slumped and his affect dulled by the spectacular disappointment he's endured today. It surprises her, the intensity of how protective she feels, how badly she wants to comfort him and make things right, but she struggles with knowing the right thing to do, where the boundaries lie in their relationship. By the strictest of definitions, she's his friend and partner, but she'd be lying if she claimed to be unaware that their connection runs far deeper than those simple labels.

"Both. You did the right thing in both situations."

He responds with a mirthless laugh, his eyes still fixed on the amber liquid.

"Castle. Look at me."

He finally lifts his head so he can meet her eye, and her heart clenches at what she sees there. He's heartbroken.

"You did the right thing. Back then, yes, but today as well. Do you think you're the first person to be completely let down by a person they admired and looked up to? I guarantee you, you're not."

"But what does it say about me that I was so blind to it? I defended the guy, and he…he had his dad killed. For money.' He spits out those last words like they leave a bad taste in his mouth.

"We all trust the wrong person at some point in our lives. That's why we have to hold onto the ones that will stand by us through thick and thin."

She cuts herself off then, realizing the import of her words only after they've left her mouth, Isn't he one of those people to her? Sure, he's hurt her, but never intentionally, never with malice. No matter how difficult she's been, he keeps coming back. He brings her coffee and makes her smile with his dumb jokes. He's put himself in harm's way for her, more than once. He's been more of a friend to her over the past few years than the people she actually calls her friends. What, exactly, does that say about their relationship? The implications make her head hurt.

Castle interrupts her thoughts when he clears his throat. "It's getting late, Beckett. You said your reservation was at eight? You should probably get going."

Looking down at her father's watch, she's shocked at how late it's gotten. Several hours have passed, happily lost in a blur of whiskey and good conversation and even better companionship, and she tries to tamp down her rising disappointment over having to leave.

She takes a moment to blink and breathe and center herself before looking to him again, his own sadness (over the events of the day, or her departure, she can't be sure) poorly disguised under the veneer of a phony, plastered-on smile. She won't stay. She can't.

"You gonna be okay here on your own?"

"Yeah! Yeah. I'll be headed home soon myself."

Kate scours her brain for something to say, some platitude that will make everything alright for him, that will make her feel better about leaving him in this state, but she's got nothing, nothing that would stay within the strict parameters of their current relationship anyway.

She slides from the booth and dons her coat, feeling flushed under his slighty-tipsy, unflinching gaze. She can't stay.

"Hey, Castle? You can call me later. If you need anything I mean."

His answering smile is shot through with a deep melancholy that he just can't keep hidden anymore. "Yeah. Sure. Have fun tonight, Beckett."

He won't call. She knows he won't. He'll drink himself into a stupor before he risks interrupting her Valentine's Day plans.

She reaches out to squeeze his bicep as she walks past, and even through the layers of his shirt and her glove, she feels something akin to electricity pass from his body to hers, a thrill racing through her body even at the slight touch. Withdrawing her hand quickly, she makes for the exit before she does something foolish. She can't stay.

The brisk evening air is welcome on her skin, sobering the slight buzz in her veins. She takes a few deep gulps to clear her head further, because all she wants to do at present is march right back down those stairs, slide back into the booth with another whiskey, and talk about anything with her partner. Anything at all.

Instead, she forces her feet to the curb, hailing a taxi and dropping heavily into the back before she can second-guess herself. The cabbie pulls into traffic upon getting her address, and she allows her head to fall back against the seat, a groan escaping her lips at the thought of having to out again tonight. She cares about Josh, she really, really does, but…

Her phone buzzes in her pocket then, alerting her to the arrival of an incoming text. She halfway expects to get some silly, nonsensical message from Castle, but it's not from him. It's from Josh.

Got called into emergency surgery. Wouldn't do this if they weren't desperate. So sorry to bail on you babe…make it up to you tomorrow night?

She blurts out a laugh, a slightly unhinged, hysterical sounding thing because she's borderline ashamed at how relieved she is. Shouldn't she be upset that her boyfriend is cancelling their Valentine's Day plans? That's how a normal person would feel, right? Except that she's not normal; in fact, someone once told her that she's extraordinary.

Lurching forward, she taps the cabbie on the shoulder. "I'm so sorry, can you turn around? I need to go back."

She can stay.

She has to be careful on the stairs leading to the bar's entrance, stopping herself just short of taking them two and three at a time. They parted ways only fifteen minutes ago, but her heart twists heavily at the thought that he may have already cleared out and gone home. Kate Beckett isn't one for praying, but at that moment she sends a quick plea to the heavens: please let him be here.

To her utter relief, he's still sitting there, precisely where she left him. In fact, if it weren't for the refreshed glass of whiskey sitting in front of him, she would swear that no time had elapsed at all. She's all at once thrilled and ashamed at how happy she is to see him and her conflicting emotions have her rooted to the spot, yearning to return to the booth and wondering if it's wise to do so.

You have a boyfriend, she gently reminds herself.

Yeah, and he canceled on me tonight, comes the snarky, internal retort.

Enough. Forcing her legs into motion, she crosses the room and slides wordlessly back into the booth, once again removing her coat and gloves. Castle can only gape at her reappearance, his mouth opening and closing, then opening again, no sound emerging.

"Close your mouth, Castle. You look like a fish out of water."

"Beckett…what? Why? What's going on? What are you doing here?"

"Not the most eloquent thing you've ever said to me, Castle."

"My apologies. I'm slightly drunk and you're not supposed to be here."

"Better! That was a vast improvement."

"Thank you. I'm a quick thinker if nothing else."

"Well, if you must know, my date was canceled."

Castle frowns, and she knows he's on the verge of cursing her boyfriend for abandoning her, but she's not in the mood for it. Not that she'd ever say it aloud, but she's eternally grateful to the very sick patient who needed cardiac surgery tonight.

She holds up a hand to keep his protests at bay. "Emergency surgery. It happens. He felt terrible about it, but that person needed him way more than I did tonight."

She signals the barkeep to bring her another whiskey as Castle's mouth snaps shut, and she's grateful that he knows to leave well enough alone. And if the soft smile taking over his face is anything to go by, he's just as grateful as she is for the change in plans.

"So. Beckett. No Valentine's Day celebrations for either of us then. What shall we do instead?"

She sips the whiskey, reveling in the rich burn that warms her from the inside out, basking in her partner's appreciative gaze. Yeah, maybe she shouldn't be here, and maybe their relationship is beginning to venture into territory they're not yet ready to face. But tonight? Tonight, they both just need a friend.

"Have you ever been to that Thai place a few doors down?"

"Oh! Yeah. It's actually pretty good. Excellent shrimp Pad See Ew."

"Let's finish these whiskeys and go get some, my treat this time. What do you say?"

Thank you for reading, and as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.