A/N: This fic was inspired by the Rio Olympics - obviously. But more specifically, the fact that there have been 3 Olympic proposals (so far). In particular, this ficlet popped into my head after reading the article about the Chinese diver's proposal. Enjoy.
Please note: I used the Athens Olympics to get (a little bit) closer to their real ages. ;)
The moment she surfaced from the cool blue water her mind could focus only on two things: seeing the scoreboard and seeing him. He was out there in the crowd—somewhere. Her coach told her, but she had not had a chance to find visual confirmation herself. She needed to focus—her coach, her teammates, and the five gleaming interlocking rings atop the stadium told her as much. She knew she needed to focus and she was focusing, but in the back of her mind she saved a spot for him.
Rarely a moment passed when Richard Castle wasn't somewhere in Kate Beckett's mind.
She could remember the moment they met just as clearly nearly four years later as on the day it happened. It had been her second day at Stanford, her first in the pool. Her nerves had been so out of control that morning she'd barely been able to choke down a granola bar before trekking across campus to the aquatic center. This wasn't high school anymore, her mind kept telling her. This was college and she'd come to Stanford on diving scholarship no less. This was the real deal.
Changing out of her t-shirt and shorts and into her suit was terrorizing; she may as well have been naked for how she felt. Everything from her hands to the tips of her toes were trembling as she sat on the pool deck for the welcome meeting with the full swimming and diving team—upperclassmen too, not just the newbies.
As she sat, nervously waiting, she observed her new teammates and it was then that she saw him approaching from the men's locker room area. He wore a Stanford t-shirt along with his Speedo bottoms; a towel was casually slung over one shoulder. From his casual demeanor and toned frame, she could tell he was not a freshman, but with the way his hair flopped down over his forehead boyishly, she doubted he was too much older than her. (She later found out he was only a year her senior). When he caught her eye he smiled, her heart fluttered, and she immediately turned away. Kate Beckett had come to Stanford for one reason and one reason only: diving, not boys. She didn't need a boyfriend, she needed to focus.
By the end of practice she knew his name was Richard Castle. By mid-September they'd had their first kiss and by October she'd abandoned her "no boyfriend" attitude; they'd been together ever since.
As Kate swam her way to the edge of the pool and trudged up the steps, she reached back and squeezed out her ponytail relieving it of the saturated water. The dive she just completed was her fourth of five—an inward dive, her least favorite as they made her the most nervous thanks to a few mishaps with the board during her youth. She also knew the inward dive was the weakest of her five and the one where she generally scored the lowest.
Moving away from the pool, Kate craned her neck to see up into the crowd, but she could not see Rick; the area above was merely a sea of faces and flags flapping in the breeze. She wanted to see his face more than anything, but the knowledge that he was there supporting her just like she had done for him during his events earlier in the week meant everything to her. He was and forever would be her biggest fan.
Never date a fellow elite athlete; it will never work out. If Kate had a dollar for every time she'd heard that so-called advice during her twenty-two years of life she would be able to retire at forty. Logically, she could understand their point. Elite athletes—especially those preparing to go to the Olympics—barely had time to eat and sleep with all their training. The concept of hanging out with friends on a Saturday night and going to dinner and a movie was downright laughable, so dating should have been a notion akin to flapping ones arms like wings and traveling to the moon. Yet, for them, there was no other way.
Kate could count on one hand the times they had a proper date in the prior year, but that didn't matter to her. What mattered was that Rick was her support system as she was his. They only shared a pool not a sport, but so much of the training mindset was the same: the hours of dedication, the repetition, the frustration and triumph. They understood each other's drive and need to press on because they had it themselves; it was the thing that brought them closer not the thing that tore them apart and always had been.
As the crowd erupted with louder cheers, Kate turned to the scoreboard to see the judge's assessment of dive four. Her scores were a mix of 7's, 7.5's, and a lone 8, which was removed along with the 7's to leave only the middle range of 7.5's for her final score. When her degree of difficulty was taken into consideration, Kate remained ranked in fourth place with three divers left to go in the fourth round. Satisfied with this, Kate nodded and gave the camera a smile and wave before walking over to warm up under the showerheads.
Fourth place—within arm's reach of a medal. It would be silly to be let down; she knew this. Coming in fourth at the Olympics would be an incredible accomplishment to add to her collection of national and world titles. Being disappointed in a fourth place finish would make her feel selfish and spoiled, but still…she wanted a medal.
She felt eighty percent confident this would be her only appearance at the Olympics. She and Rick had discussed it practically ad nauseam in the prior months. They decided to wait and make the official call once these games were over, but Kate felt strongly that it was time for her to move on and to use law school as a path to a fresh start. Her boyfriend wasn't sure he feels the same. Like her, training so hard for the momentous event had him near the point of burning out, but he was not sure he wanted to give in or keep going. Even if he left the games and never swam again he would still have three Olympic medals to his name.
Days earlier, as Kate watched her boyfriend just barely touched out for first place in the 100 meter backstroke event, she was moved to tears from joy and relief. Yes, technically he had not won, but he had gone into the finals in second to last place as far as their semifinal standings. All six countries represented had stellar athletes—several of whom he had faced before in competition—but that evening he had swam his fastest 100 meter ever and his silver medal would represent that absolutely astounding accomplishment. She was so happy for him, so proud of him.
The following day, Rick came in third in the 200 meter backstroke and on the final day of the swimming competition, his 400 meter medley relay team won gold thanks to an unbeatable American swimmer from Baltimore. As far as Olympic medals went, Rick had a full set at his first games; a remarkable accomplishment. Later that night when they met up finally in the athlete village and held each other tight, Kate knew that no matter how her event ended, she would always remember their trip to Athens because of the astounding performance of the man she loved.
Now warmer, Kate made her way back towards the staging area to await her fifth and final dive. Just as she crossed in front of the nearest row of spectators, she heard with deafening level over the chattering crowd, "Beckett!" Her head automatically turned towards the crowd to see who had called out her name and with the American flag whipping over their heads it was impossible not to see them. She laughed and clapped her hand over her mouth at the sight of Rick, wildly flapping his arms, and two of his teammates behind him holding the flag. It had been the joint yell of her name by the trio that enabled her to hear them and she could not have been more grateful. She raised her hand to acknowledge them; Rick blew her a kiss and somehow she just knew her final dive will be her best of the night.
As he watched Kate Beckett, the love of his life, accept her Olympic silver medal, Richard Castle was overwhelmed with emotion. She was, without any question, the most incredible person he ever had the pleasure of knowing and, with the contents of the box in his pocket currently searing his leg through his cargo shorts, he planned on solidifying their future together as soon as he possibly could.
When at the end of the fourth round of the women's 3M springboard diving Kate had squeezed her way in to third place he knew she'd get a medal; he just knew it. They would return to America as Olympic champions and that prospect thrilled him. They had trained and sacrificed, but it had all been worth it.
Kate's fifth and final dive was her best that night. With all the 8.5's and 9's littering the judge's scores it was actually one of her best dives ever. When he saw that the dive put her into first place (with two divers left to go) Rick had leapt out of his seat, punched the air, and celebrated so voraciously he'd nearly fallen down the bleachers. Her stellar dive guaranteed her a medal, now the question was only what color.
The next diver's dive was not as strong, but her prior scores were higher than Kate's so she took first and Kate was moved down into second. Though slightly disappointed, Rick was not shocked; this had been expected. The final female diver that night—a raven haired woman from China—was the favorite to win; she was defending her gold from the prior games and had been practically flawless all night. Then, in a jaw-dropping move, her foot caught the edge of the board wrong during her dismount and she belly flopped into the water; she had removed herself from medal contention and Kate would take the silver.
As he watched Kate scream and fall to her knees on the pool deck tears poured down Rick's face. Calling his emotion pride would have been an insulting understatement. He was indescribably happy for her. He reached to the row behind him, pulled Kate's tearful father in to an embrace, and wished her mother could be there to see.
While the national anthem for the People's Republic of China played overhead, Rick could not take his eyes from Kate. She cradled her flowers in the crook of her arm while her hands were clasped respectfully in front of her; her eyes gleamed with tears. Watching her, Rick choked up again. As he sniffed, he thought about just how comical it was—the number of times he cried in the prior week. Then again, no experience quite compared to the Olympics. How could it?
As the anthem ended and the athletes clustered together for their picture, Rick shot a backwards glance to Kate's father before making his way down the stairs. Fortunately, his seats were only a third of the way up and he was able to reach the bottom platform before the spectators filed out into the aisles too much. He scooted his way towards the stairway leading towards the exit, but instead turned to take the stairs leading into the pool, flashing his athlete's badge to the security person in order to gain entry. This was it; this was their moment.
Fighting through the crowds of athletes, coaches, press, and officials might have deterred some men, but Richard Castle barely noticed them; he goal was singular. His only difficulty in the dense space was finding her face. He blindly made his way towards the podium, hoping she was still there, hoping he didn't pass her on her way out of the pool area.
After an agonizing three minute search, he saw her, standing off to the side talking to an American television reporter. He waited patiently for her brief interview to end, before hurrying up beside her and taping her shoulder. She turned to him, her face lit with recognition, and then she squealed and jumped into his arms.
This was the first time they'd been in contact since her competition began. When the final standings were announced they were able to wave and mouth out "I love you" to one another, but had not been able to communicate any more in the chaos of the day. Now that he was holding her tight Rick was even more certain of his decision; she was perfect in every way.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, speaking a bit louder than she normally would in close proximity, but the hum of the emptying stadium was nearly deafening.
"Had to see you; couldn't wait another moment."
She slid out of his embrace and dropped her hands to the silver circle now hanging from the cord around her neck. She picked it up, smiled at him and said, "Now we both have one."
"We do. I'm so proud of you, Kate; so proud."
Dipping her chin she thanked him and let the medal fall out of her grasp. He reached out and skimmed his hand below her jaw, forcing her to look at him once again. They shared a smile. "Best day of your life?" he asked.
She let out a light laugh. "Might be."
His heart now thundering against his ribcage, he inquired, "Want to make it even better?"
Her brow furrowed and her head shook ever so slightly. "How would that—what are you doing?"
The words escaped her lips as he decended before her, dropping to one knee on the concrete pool deck. The prickly surface was uncomfortable against his kneecap, but he barely noticed. He focused solely on her lovely face, retrieving the ring box from his pocket with trembling fingers and not accidentally dropping in into the deep diving well.
"Kate." He began, but she interrupted with a gasp.
"Oh my god, Rick! What are you doing?!"
He flipped open the ring box and was distantly aware of someone in the crowd who yelled, "Hey! That guy's proposing!" but he did not look up to see who was speaking; he only looked at her. Her eyes, sparkling with tears, and her trembling hand covering her lips. He was more in love than ever.
If put to a popular vote, Rick would wager to guess that many would deem them too young to get married. She had barely graduated college two months earlier; he the December before. It was true; they were young chronologically speaking, but they had been through more than most. International travel and competition aged them beyond their years and they had gone through both together. Their relationship had faced many tests, much heartache, the most significant of which being the murder of Kate's mother. Yet, they had made it through it all and Rick knew they could make it through the rest—together.
"The day we met I had no idea how you would change my life for the better, but you have in ways I could not even imagine. You make me want to be my best self every moment of every day and you are, without question, the reason I am the man I am today. I never thought I'd find the person I wanted to spend my life with on the other side of a swimming pool, but I'm so glad that I did."
His voice growing thick with emotion, Rick reached out to take Kate's left hand with his right. "I love you, Kate Beckett, more and more each day. I promise to love you and support you for the rest of our days. Will you do me the great honor of marrying me?"
With tears streaming down her face, Kate nodded. The man now her fiancée stood and pulled her into a smothering kiss in front of a crowd of thousands of Olympic onlookers. As they were on their way out of the stadium, only a few watched the scene unfold, but those that did applauded and offered their congratulations. Neither Rick nor Kate took much notice; they were too consumed with each other.
"Oh my god, Rick." Kate exhaled when she pulls back and cradled his face with her hands.
He chuckled as she shook her head, clearly at a loss for words. "Surprised?"
He chuckled again before kissing her, quickly. While they had not specifically spoken about getting engaged, with all their discussions about the future Rick never questioned whether or not she would accept his proposal. They had lived together for over a year, had a pregnancy scare that led to discussions about their thoughts on children and a future family, and had shared family holidays since their first year of dating. They were, and had been from the start, forever.
"Oh! Can't forget this!" Rick said, plucking the ring from the box still clutched tightly in his left hand. He grasped on to her wrist, slid the ring on to the correct finger and waited for her to examine—and recognize.
"Oh Rick it's so…" Her voice drifted off as she studied the ring and spun it on her finger. She gazed up at him, curious. "My mother's?"
The man nodded. It's not the late woman's engagement ring, but the anniversary ring given to her by her husband for their twentieth just a few years before her untimely death. Kate's father had offered the ring to Rick when he asked for his daughter's hand and Rick gratefully accepted. Unfortunately, the life of an amateur Olympian was not a lucrative one and he would not have been able to afford a ring even half as nice.
"He said she'd want you to have it. Is that okay?"
Tearful once more, Kate closed her fist tightly and looped her arms around his neck once more. "I love you."
"Love you too," he said while exhaling against her shoulder. Squeezing her just a little bit tighter, Rick shut his eyes and burrowed his face against her neck, knowing with one hundred percent certainty he would never let go again.