A/N: Another photo that reminded me of Beckett, so another story. This one is set after the end of 3x15: "The Final Nail." An AU on Valentine's Day after Kate went to a bar for a drink with Castle.
KB: "Are you okay?"
RC: "Yeah, I'm okay.
My Sunny Valentine
It was Valentine's Day and Kate Beckett was running late. She answered the door to her boyfriend, Josh, the one (significant) man in her life who didn't have a key to her apartment, wearing a towel, lotion half-smoothed into her arms. Her hair was dried and roughly styled in the casual, beach-effect manner she'd intended, so that was one saving grace, and her makeup was all but finished. However, she was still running late for their Valentine's dinner date, and in bare feet and a towel there was simply no hiding it.
Instead of the sight of his girlfriend this close to naked provoking a seduction scene fit to honor this particular Hallmark holiday, Josh jumped on her lack of readiness as a cue for an argument, specifically when Kate's apology included the name, "Castle," and the surgeon saw a shade of red that had nothing to do with roses.
He entered her apartment, empty handed, leaving the door lying open and headed straight for the fridge to help himself to a bottle of water. "So…let me get this straight. You're late getting ready for our date because you went to a bar with your tagalong? On Valentine's?"
Pretty much, Kate thought, though she kept the actual words to herself. "It was one drink. He wasn't doing so well. I wanted to cheer him up."
"And what about me?" Josh turned to face her, the cap off the bottle, taping his chest before taking a swig of water.
Kate looked him up and down, feeling a little off-kilter as a result of this uncharacteristic outburst. He was a handsome guy, really fit, sexy in that undeniable, empirical way, but her heart wasn't racing as she felt it should. "You look fine to me. Why? Is something wrong?"
The last thing she felt like after the end of their last case was a fight. But the look on her boyfriend's face told her that's exactly what she'd be getting for Valentine's Day this year. She mentally braced herself for what was to come.
Josh's jaw muscles ticked with tension. "You blew off our date for the writer."
Kate rolled her eyes. "I didn't blow off—" She paused and took a breath before she lost her temper. Trying to take things down a notch, she lowered her voice and started over. "Look, Josh, I'm running a little behind. Okay? Because I did something nice for a friend who was having a hard time."
She didn't explain to Josh why Castle was having a hard time. But then there were a lot of things in Kate Beckett's life that Josh Davidson wasn't privy to.
She held up her hand, fingers splayed like a palm leaf to indicate the time and tried to offer him a smile. "Five minutes and I'll be ready. It's no big deal," she added, attempting to placate, to get them back on track.
"No big deal to you maybe," Josh muttered, turning his attention to his phone.
Kate sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. The posture was defensive, but that's exactly how she felt, since she was having to defend her choices when she'd actually done nothing wrong. "Josh, what is this about? I mean really about? You don't like that I spend time with Rick, I get that. It's not exactly news."
"Oh, it's Rick now, is it?"
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be childish. That's his name."
"Yeah, and I'm not likely to forget it. The guy is never not around."
Double negative, Kate thought, chiding herself that this was something Castle would say and now he was inside her head, talking to her when he wasn't even here. That should actually have told her something. Maybe Josh was onto something.
She carried on with her denials while trying to pour a little calm on the situation, which seemed to be spiraling all too quickly tonight.
"Look, we work together. We had a tough case. This one was personal for him so..."
"And that makes it personal for you. Right? Are you seeing a pattern here, Kate?"
"Yes, it makes it personal for me. He's my friend. He's my partner. He's always there for me when—"
"What? When I'm not?" he snapped, a drop of guilt bleeding through. "And where does that leave me?"
Kate frowned. "You're—"
She was saved from explaining exactly what place Josh held in her life when his cell phone suddenly rang and he turned away without a second thought to answer it, dropping the discussion like a hot brick. Kate shook her head and returned to the bedroom to finish getting dressed.
She slipped into the sexy black jumpsuit she had left hanging on the back of the bedroom door that morning and then she added a pair of strappy heels while Josh took his call. After getting dressed, she applied a little lipstick, touched up the rest of her makeup and fixed her hair, all before he'd even finished talking. Truth be told, she wasn't exactly in the mood for a romantic dinner anymore, but they had made a reservation – or Kate had – and it seemed a shame to waste it when they got so little time together as it was.
She was just coming out of the bedroom with her clutch and a coat thrown over her arm when he ended his phone conversation and hung up. She slowed to a stop by the door at the look on his face. She had been all set to apologize until she saw his expression and realized that he was totally over their fight already, almost as if it had never even happened. But it was forgotten not because she was forgiven or because he had come to realize that the fight had been petty and pointless. It was forgotten because their relationship held a position of such low importance on the totem pole of Josh Davidson's life that he had already moved on to bigger and more interesting things.
"Work?" she asked, guessing right as usual. "You look…excited," she noted when he nodded; eyes dancing with anticipation she knew had nothing to do with her.
He approached her with a smile, the one he used when he needed to get her to excuse him from some plan they'd made. She'd seen it a million times before. It never got any easier.
"Babe, listen—" He reached out to touch her, but she drew out of reach just in time.
Kate shrugged, collapsing in on herself. "It's okay. I get it. You have to go."
"That was Barry. He needs an assist on a tricky valve replacement."
"Yeah. Look, I'm sorry I—"
She waved him off, her voice a little strained and brittle, though she did her best to hide that it hurt her: Josh always assuming she'd be fine with his job coming first. She had done the same on occasion - cut out on him when a case came up - so she could hardly criticize. But his changes of plan tended to be on a whole other level, often involving months apart in other time zones on continents halfway around the world.
"Don't. It's fine," she lied.
He let his eyes graze her body for what seemed like the first time since he had arrived. "You look amazing, Kate. It's not fine. But…"
"You need to go. I get it." The muscles in her face felt tight and her jaw ached from holding it together. Josh couldn't be the only one who could do this operation, he wasn't that good, but he had made his choice. "Clearly, there's no one else...to step in," she clarified.
She cupped a hand to her ear. "Sorry, what was that?"
Josh looked cornered, and reluctant. "I can tell Metzinger no if…" He tailed off, waiting for her to bail him out of having to choose, as usual.
"Kate, don't be mad."
She tried not to snap, not to be someone she didn't want to be: a nag, a doormat, the needy girlfriend no man wanted. "I'm not mad. It's just…it's a double standard." She shrugged. "I get caught up at work and you get angry, and yet—"
"You went for a drink with a guy who's clearly in love with you. It's not the same thing."
Kate was so stunned by Josh's accusation and by the jealousy in his voice that she barely heard the next words he uttered. His suggestion was a shock and yet it set her mind racing, her mental P.I. running around looking for proof that what he'd just said might be true.
"Am I excited to do this procedure?" Josh droned on in that impassioned tone she used to admire. "Yes! Barry Metzinger is a leader in his field. And he called me, Kate. He called me."
She dragged her head out of her heart, where it had burrowed itself searching for evidence of Castle's feelings towards her, in order to answer him. "I'm pleased for you. I am. You should go. It's a great opportunity." Her smile was tight, fixed in place.
Suddenly, she couldn't wait for him to leave. That told her a lot. She had to deal with this situation before it dragged on any longer, before they chipped away at a one another with more fights on a recurring theme.
"So…we're good? We can just postpone dinner, right?" Josh said, evidently expecting an easy yes.
He was so clearly excited to do the procedure and he had looked to Kate assuming she'd just give in once more and swallow down her disappointment, make a new plan to do something by herself. Out of habit, she began to nod and then walk away towards the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, though in truth she was unhappy that he had made her give way to the lure of his job once more, and tonight of all nights.
But then she stopped and turned back to face him. She pursed her lips and shook her head. "Actually, Josh, I think we've reached the end of the line. We can't keep fighting about how much your job needs you or whether or not I spend time with my partner outside of work. Castle is a big part of my life and—"
"And we're back to him again. Great." Josh let his hand fall to slap against his thigh. He turned away.
Kate stood her ground. "This is not an argument you're ever gonna win."
"So…what are you saying? You two are a package deal now? Date one of you and I'm dating you both?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Really? Is it that far fetched? Because from where I'm standing it already feels like there are three of us in this relationship, Kate."
"Yeah, well, from where I'm standing there's just me right now. About to spend Valentine's by myself. Is this my punishment for having a drink with Rick instead of getting ready for you?"
Josh made a sound of dismissal, air hissing out through his teeth, and then he began to pace the floor. "Kate, you knew what you were getting with me. Wasn't that why you chose me in the first place? Our careers always come first. You know that. Hell, I thought you liked that."
Kate crossed her arms and looked at the floor. "Maybe I'm not so sure that's what I want anymore," she admitted.
Josh's features took on the unfamiliar mold of a sneer. "Well, if it's romance you want, the full hearts and flowers treatment, you can always put your lovesick writer out of his misery and go to him instead."
Meanwhile, out in the hallway, Kate's little old neighbor lady stood watching people come and go while she leaned on her walker by her front door. "Those were the days," she said, waving a bony hand in the direction of Kate's apartment as sound drifted out into the hallway. "I remember my pops chasing them off with a stick," she told Castle, who was standing outside with her trying not to listen to the fight.
After a beat, she nudged Castle. "I always preferred you anyway," she whispered, giving him a surprisingly saucy wink.
Castle had overheard everything that had been said since Josh ended his phone call, after he came upon the open-door scene. He was just debating whether leaving might not be the best option when the surgeon barged his way out through the open door and caught him loitering out in the hallway along with Kate's elderly neighbor.
Josh paused to glare at the writer. But his face turned a darker shade when he saw the bouquet of flowers Castle was cradling and he scoffed.
"She's all yours," he told Kate's partner, muttering some insult before turning back to yell into the apartment, "Kate, your date's here."
Only she didn't hear him.
Kate was in the bedroom, slumped on the corner of her bed, her back to the open door. Her night was ruined, she'd broken up with her boyfriend on Valentine's, which felt like some dreadful rom com cliché, although it hurt a lot less than she would have anticipated, and now she was all dressed up with nowhere to go.
She sat quietly for a minute, toying with the row of gold bracelets on her wrist, wondering whether or not to call Lanie, when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. She straightened up and then spoke out, assuming that Josh had come back to apologize and beg for another chance.
"Look, Josh," she sighed, all the fight drained out of her, "I'm done arguing. Go, do your job, be the brilliant surgeon we both know you are. But above all, be happy."
"And what about you?" asked a deep, concerned voice.
Kate stiffened and then whirled round. "Castle!"
Castle lounged against the doorjamb, the eighty-dollar floral bouquet dangling from one hand.
Her cheeks burned. "How…how long have you been…"
Kate closed her eyes. "What does that mean?"
"Your front door was open…so…" He shrugged and then he presented her with the bouquet of flowers. "Happy Valentine's Day?"
Kate did not miss the question in his voice or the uncertainty on his face. She accepted the bouquet, dutifully sniffed the fabulous arrangement of flowers and then carefully laid it on the bed beside her.
"They're just a thank you I had planned to leave on your doorstep," Castle explained.
Her head was in her hands, her voice muffled. "Castle, can I just—"
"Beckett, forget it. My timing sucked. I didn't think you'd be home or I wouldn't have…" He shrugged, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his pants.
She turned to look at him. "Thank you. You're too kind."
"Don't think anyone's ever accused me of that before," he laughed. "But I'll take it. Since it came from you. I prefer "too kind" over Dr. Motorcycle Boy's "lame" any day."
"I'm sorry you had to listen to that. Thank you, again, for the beautiful flowers. There was no need."
Castle shrugged as if the thoughtful gesture was nothing. "I just wanted to say thank you for earlier. For the drink."
She frowned. "Thank me? You paid."
"For your time then. For thinking of me."
It hurt her that Castle would value so highly a simple drink in a scruffy bar squeezed in on the way home from a case. But it also pleased her, too, that he appreciated her and considered her in a way that Josh apparently had not.
"I had fun. I…I enjoy your company," she admitted.
Castle liked her use of the present tense, hoping that implied she might be prepared to enjoy his company again sometime.
"When you're not being a snoop," she added, trying to make them both laugh.
Castle grinned and nodded. "Noted."
Silence crackled. Castle took the quiet moment to look around Kate's bedroom, which was feminine without being overly pretty. The timing was bad, but then better be here now than never, he reasoned. He looked over at her. She was wearing the sexiest black jumpsuit he'd ever seen and heels. The broad straps crossed over her bare back, exposing a lot of skin. He wanted to touch her. Her skin was so smooth, her shoulder blades like wings. He was turning into a sap, which he'd blame on Valentine's Day, but he felt the drive to touch her more keenly now than he ever had in the past. Maybe there was something about knowing she was single that had green-lit his brain. Whatever it was, it made him brave.
He rubbed a hand over his mouth and dove in. "Look…I know this is kind of awkward…"
Kate's eyebrows shot skyward. "Kind of?"
"Majorly then. But since you're all dressed up. Would you let me take you out to dinner? Unless…if you're not in the mood, I totally understand."
He ran at the subject courageously and then made a hasty retreat, offering her space and a way out if she needed it.
Kate squared her shoulders. "That wasn't a drown your sorrows in red wine and overdose on chocolate breakup you overheard."
Castle feigned innocence. "Me…I overheard nothing."
"Rick," she chided.
"Sorry. You were saying?"
"That was…it was long overdue, actually. It wasn't working. Hasn't been for a while."
"Oh?" Castle felt the urge to prompt for more information, though he tried to hide his enthusiasm for the subject as much as he could.
"I thought I wanted fun and uncomplicated. But…"
"Change of heart?" Castle fought to keep the surge of excitement out of his voice.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm getting too old for fun and uncomplicated."
"You're never too old for fun."
Kate raised her eyebrows. Her expression was serious.
"So…then what do you want?" the writer asked, his pulse thrumming with vain hope.
Kate bit her lip. "Someone…considerate, thoughtful. I'm not saying they have to put my needs first all the time, but just once in a while…"
"It would be nice?" Castle finished for her.
She nodded and Castle nodded too, as if this was something he'd seldom experienced in a relationship either.
"You wouldn't feel…trapped by something like that?" he asked, tentatively. "Sounds like it would have to be a two-way thing…for it to work, I mean."
"I can be considerate and thoughtful." She sounded defensive, as if he had just rebuked her.
"But do you want to be?" he pressed, unaccountably emboldened by the fact that she hadn't changed the subject or shut him down like she usually would.
"For the right person, absolutely." Her eyes slid up to his face.
"Ah." He nodded, sagely, trying not to show too much.
"What? What does that mean?" Her face colored and her lashes flickered. The man was just too adept at figuring her out.
"There are conditions. Rules. One foot out the—"
Kate shook her head. "No! Not if it was with the right person."
"Okay. Understood," Castle said, both of them privately wondering just how theoretical this conversation actually was.
Since she hadn't shot him down or thrown him out for eavesdropping on her breakup with the surgeon, he decided to take one more risk. "So…not that you need cheering up, but would you let me take you to dinner? It would be a shame to see that outfit go to waste."
Kate ducked her head to hide a smile and then she lightly fingered the decorative paper wrapping the bouquet of flowers. "Let me put these in water. And then…yes, why not. I think we both deserve to have a date on Valentine's Day, don't you?"
She got up off the bed and headed for the kitchen, brushing Castle's chest with her bare shoulder as she passed with the flowers in the crook of her arm, while he stood rooted to the spot in her bedroom doorway, wide-eyed.
Finally, he came to his senses. "Did…did you just say date?" he gasped, hurrying after her.
So, there was no date at the end of my last story, "Always The Bridesmaid," but there will be in this one. Thank you for reading.