No Such Thing As Coincidence
As soon as Castle cleared his throat, Kate tentatively raised her head, swallowing as she braced for whatever was coming now.
"So, Beckett… You make a habit of hanging out in airport bars?" he said.
She was surprised when Castle asked this question not sixty seconds after he'd taken his first sip of wine. That he said anything at all was frankly astonishing after his recent determination to give her the silent treatment at any and all opportunity. But that the question itself had a dry, teasing edge to it was perhaps the most eyebrow-raising thing of all.
Well, if this was the line Castle was taking, Kate decided she could be equally droll. "As I said before, I could ask you the exact same thing," she said.
Castle nodded once. "Ah, but I didn't come here to hang out in the bar," he said, scoring his point with a jab of his finger.
The second these words were out of his mouth, Kate sensed her partner's regret for the door this casual remark had opened onto the real reason he was hanging around Newark's Liberty airport at gone ten-thirty at night. But she decided to let him off the hook, for now.
"Right. Of course not," she said quietly, diverting her attention back to her wine.
Castle turned to stare at her. Whatever his regret at giving her an opening to question him, he obviously wasn't expecting her to let the subject drop so easily. Her equanimity and lack of curiosity seemed to disappoint and confound him.
"What? That's it? You're not even going to ask what I'm doing here?" he said, leaving Kate to wonder where this sudden up and down, recklessly direct streak was coming from. He was behaving very much like a man with nothing left to lose, and years of experience working up close with criminals meant that Kate Beckett very much knew what that looked like.
"Because I don't need to ask why you're here," she said calmly.
Her answer obviously drew him up short. "You don't?"
"Nope." Kate let the word pop out of her mouth, but it sounded bitter and hard, and she hated that. "I saw you," she added more softly, toying with the stem of her glass.
Castle shook his head. "You saw—"
"At check-in. Oh, and then the big farewell scene at security. Very touching by the way."
"Yeah, oh. Things must be going pretty well if…" She stopped herself just in time. She was starting to sound insanely jealous and totally pathetic for a woman of her age and achievements. She waved her remarks away with her hand, as if a gesture could erase them. "Look, forget I said anything. This wine's actually quite good," she added in a lighter, faux-carefree tone.
Now she definitely sounded unhinged.
Castle fully turned in his seat this time to stare at her. "Did you really just compliment the wine?"
She knew what he meant, but she decided to brazen it out anyway. "Well, it is pretty good for an airport wine bar," she said.
Castle rubbed his head. "Yeah, look, Beckett, can we just forget about the wine for a second?"
Kate sighed, and the sound came out more loudly and dramatically than she intended. "So…we're back to Beckett," she said.
Castle's knee jiggled nervously or impatiently, shaking his stool. "That's your name, last I heard."
She tapped her nails on the bar. "No, my name is Kate. We're not on the job right now, Castle. We're just two friends having a drink together."
"Hold up. You just called me Castle after tearing me a new one for calling you Beckett. How's that fair?"
"I didn't 'tear you a new one', and that's different. Castle is…it's our thing. Or at least it used to be," Kate said. God how she hated herself right now.
"Our thing?" Castle sounded amused and his lips twitched upwards, almost as if he might be laughing at her.
Kate shoved Castle's arm off the bar with her elbow. "Don't laugh at me. You know what I mean."
She'd pay for him to laugh at her right now, was the truth. But she was happy to play the clown if it meant that he would smile at her instead of scowl and grit his teeth.
"Actually, I don't know what you mean," Castle said. "Surnames…that's a cop thing. So if we're off-duty why wouldn't you call me—"
"Rick, fine. Are you sleeping with her?" The question was of her mouth before she could stop herself.
"Jesus, Beck— I mean, Kate. Keep your voice down," Castle hissed. "I think the guy out there in the cockpit actually heard you through the glass."
God, he was an idiot. Kate couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Don't be such a drama queen," she said, nudging him again as she rolled her eyes. The little alcohol they'd consumed seemed to be doing the trick, loosening things between them until…
A heavy silence settled over proceedings, halting any progress they might have made, and gradually, as with a self-fulfilling prophecy, their smiles began to fade. Desperate to prevent them from backsliding, Kate took a chance and opened her heart a little.
"This is good, having a drink with you…just…joking around. I've missed it," she said bravely.
"Yeah." Castle's response was more sober and less enthusiastic.
Reaching for its magical properties, Kate took another mouthful of merlot to fill the void and prevent herself from losing hope. But eventually, there was simply no avoiding the elephant in the room.
"So, you and Jacinda. Getting pretty serious?" she said, risking a peek at her partner's face.
Castle's brow wrinkled into a frown. "What makes you think that, and…where's your English Police Inspector, by the way? Isn't this his seat I'm taking?"
This time it was Kate's turn to be surprised. "Wait. You knew Colin was here all along?" she said.
Castle nodded to himself and a twisted smile appeared on his lips. "Ah, Colin. Right, I see how it is. So not five minutes after your London Bobby arrives on the scene, he gets 'Colin' while I'm still stuck in the friend zone with 'Castle' four years down the line." He downed a rather large gulp of wine and then he turned to face her. His eyes were blazing. "Just tell me one thing, Beckett, why was I never good enough for you?"
Kate felt something icy begin to slither through her body, despite the warmth of the airport bar. Like a slap, her partner's question left her shocked and painfully mystified. The expression on her face must have displayed her naked horror that he could ever imagine himself to be less than he actually was and less than Kate knew him to be – loyal, kind, stronger than most people gave him credit for, a talented writer, an astute observer of human nature, a great father and son, not to mention smart, funny and good looking. Sure he could be annoying, but mostly he was the complete package.
Of all the things he could have said and all the questions he could have asked, this was not one Kate was expecting. Not good enough? Why on earth would he ever think that? She decided to go for broke and just ask him for once.
She swivelled in her seat. "Not good enough? What are you talking about? Where would you even get that idea?" Kate said. Her own frustration rose to color her voice and she didn't mind one bit. She wanted him to know how vehemently she disagreed with this absurd notion he'd acquired from God knows where, one that so badly diminished his self-worth.
"We shouldn't do this here," Castle said, glancing at the barman, who in truth was far too busy serving drinks to bother with their private conversation.
Kate dug in stubbornly. "Well, here is where we are. So we're just gonna have to. We've had enough ridiculous interruptions over the years, Castle. This conversation is long overdue."
He looked over his shoulder for a second, scanning the bar and the corridor outside. "Speaking of interruptions, where is the charming Inspector Hunt? Not gonna show up wearing nothing but a towel to surprise us, is he? Because I'd like to prepare myself this time if that's the case."
Kate smiled. She couldn't help herself.
"You find this funny?" Castle said.
"Oh, come on. Where's that famous sense of humor gone?" she said.
"Kate, don't baby me, okay? I'm not in the mood."
"What's wrong? Sad because your girlfriend had to leave?" she said, taunting him because the whole idea of Jacinda pained her like a pushpin in her shoe.
"She's not my girlfriend."
Kate arched an eyebrow. "Looked pretty cozy to me. I mean, seeing her off at the airport already. That's a pretty big step."
"She had my car. I offered her a ride. What you saw was— What does it matter to you anyway? You're here with Colin. So I could say the exact same thing."
"Have you not figured it out yet?" Kate said.
With considerable force, Castle ripped a cocktail napkin in two. "Figured out what?"
"Hunt asked me to drive him here, he ordered a glass of merlot, he left these twenties on the bar, and then he disappeared and never came back," she said.
Kate let her fist fall until it struck the bar. "Castle, Hunt set us up."
"Set us up for what?" he said.
Unsure whether he was being obtuse on purpose, she let go a frustrated growl. "He was matchmaking. He must have heard that you were taking Jacinda to the airport, and so he engineered for me to be here, too."
"You're saying he set this whole thing up?"
Kate rolled her eyes and then took a cleansing breath. "Isn't that what I just said?"
"Well, yeah, but…" Castle frowned. "Why would he do that?"
"I don't know." She sounded only half-convincing.
Castle stared at her pointedly, his eyes narrowed to slits. "Then I guess I don't either."
Kate took a deep breath. She couldn't keep hiding from the truth if she really wanted to make things right between them. "Well, I don't know for sure…but I have a pretty good idea," she said.
"Care to share with the class?"
"Castle, this isn't a joke anymore. I'm through dancing around this…this thing between us. Whatever it is."
"You think I'm joking?" he said, so serious all of a sudden that she almost didn't recognize him.
"No. But…I have been wondering what you're doing with some random flight attendant you only just met."
"That's not fair. You don't get to do that," Castle said.
His flash of anger surprised her. "Do what exactly?" she said.
"Blame me for how this turned out."
"I'm not blaming you. I want to fix it. And whatever Colin Hunt saw over the last few days, he clearly wanted to help fix it, too."
Castle closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. "Kate, why are we fighting over two random strangers? Are you going to see Hunt again?"
"No! I already told you. He conned me into bringing him here so that you and I could meet and talk. What about Jacinda? Got any big plans?"
Slowly, he shook his head. "That was over before it even got started. She's a nice enough woman, a little on the 'flighty' side, if you'll pardon the pun." Kate rolled her eyes at Castle's bad joke. "But…no. I needed a distraction and I thought that was the answer."
"You don't have to explain," she said, losing her nerve the closer they got to the truth.
"Isn't that the point to all of this – to explain?" Castle said.
"I…I didn't mean— I was just trying to say that you don't have to justify your life to me, Rick. I haven't exactly earned that right," she added quietly.
"Funny, until recently I thought you had. I thought we both had," he said.
Kate looked down at her glass rather sadly. "Funny, so did I," she said, removing a smudge of lipstick from the rim with her thumb.
"Glad we still agree on something," he said, though his tone withered Kate's hope even further.
A long moment passed in miserable silence before Kate was able to summon a new burst of courage. "Castle, where did we go wrong? I thought—" But then she saw his face, so closed off, and she stopped herself, her brow knit into a tight frown. "No. Forget it," she said under her breath.
But Castle thumped his fist on the bar and his glass vibrated. The woman next to them turned to stare, but the writer remained oblivious. "Please, stop doing that. Don't start what sounded like a pretty important thought and then decide to censor it before you even tell me what it is. Half the time I feel like I need to be a mind reader with you, and if that's the case then I'm hopelessly out of my depth," he said.
Kate closed her eyes and squeezed them tightly shut. "This all seems hopeless. You're so mad at me and I don't want to make a fool of myself. You've clearly moved on…or at least you've started to. I should just get out of your way and—"
"Get out of my way? Are you hearing yourself?" Castle said, barely managing to keep his anger in check.
Kate rolled her eyes. "I just said it…out loud. Of course I can hear myself."
"You want to know why things didn't work out with Jacinda?" he said.
Kate opened her mouth to protest, to cut in and tell Castle that he should save his breath because she didn't want to hear it. She really, really didn't. But he'd had enough, and now he was that man with nothing to lose.
"Too bad," he said off the look on her face, "because your buddy Colin got me here under false pretenses. And you were party to that, so you're going to hear it whether you're ready to or not. Jacinda was a nice girl, Beckett, pretty, fun—"
Kate was desperate to cover her ears. "Yeah, you said that already. Can we just—"
"Beckett, please? Let me do this." His look silenced her. "She was a good person. Just like Gina and Ellie Monroe, Natalie Rhodes and even dear, sweet Kyra were all wonderful women in their own right."
"You forgot Serena Kaye and Sophia Turner," Kate said through gritted teeth, her jealousy on full, ugly display for once.
But Castle ignored her interruption. "Trouble is," he said, "none of them imprinted themselves on my soul the way that you have, Kate. None of them. Like it or not, you've ruined me for other relationships. And I know that sounds overly dramatic, but it's actually true. Because I've tried turning off my feelings for you. I really have. And I know that you care about me, just not in the same way that I care for you, and so—"
Kate held up her hand to stop him. "Wait…where exactly did you get that idea?" she said.
Castle reached out and touched Kate's wrist. After everything, his touch was so gentle that she felt tears prick her eyes. He looked sad but kind. "Hey, it's okay. Well, not exactly okay. What I mean is, there's no law against not loving somebody back. I just wish you'd been honest with me a long time ago."
"I wish I'd be honest, too," she said, smiling weakly as she slipped her arm out of his light grasp to reach for his hand.
Castle cleared his throat. "If I wasn't driving, I'd suggest we blow the rest of Colin's forty bucks on another glass of wine."
"To celebrate?" Kate said.
Castle shook his head. He seemed puzzled. "More like drown my sorrows."
He was right: she had been expecting him to read her mind. She tugged on his hand to get his attention. "Rick, look at me. Please?"
But he was already fishing for his wallet as he began to stand. "Beckett, I should go."
He sounded so sad and exhausted that she almost let him leave. Only she knew that might truly be the end for them if she let him walk out of there without the truth, and she so badly wanted tonight to be the beginning not the end.
Kate cleared her throat. "I wish I'd be brave enough and smart enough and honest enough to tell you that at some point in the last four years, I don't remember exactly to the second, but you imprinted yourself on my soul, too. Probably about the same time I fell in love with you." Castle had frozen in place, and now he was staring at her intently. "So if you're sunk for other people, Rick, then I'm sunk, too."
Without saying another word, Castle retook his seat beside her at the bar, and then he ordered them both a club soda. They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, until the barman delivered their drinks, and then Castle turned to Kate and clinked his glass against hers as if nothing major had just happened between them. She still couldn't read the expression on his face, but that he was still there, sitting beside her, was enough for the moment. She would not let tonight slip through her fingers, not after everything they'd had to battle through to confess their true feelings to one another.
"You realize we're sitting in an airport bar pretty late at night and neither one of us is actually flying anywhere," Castle said at length. "That's kind of crazy, don't you think?"
Kate smiled. "Definitely something to tell the grandkids," she said without thinking.
They both froze, and then slowly, slowly, they turned to look at one another.
"Sounds like that would make one helluva story," Castle said.
Kate felt herself blushing, but her blush hid the visceral thrill she felt at the thought of the future she'd inadvertently sketched for them. "Yeah. I really like the idea of that, too," she said somewhat shyly.
She toyed with her glass and took another drink before summoning the courage to clarify things once and for all.
"Am I— Castle, tell me we're not too late to make this right?" she said for the avoidance of any more doubt.
He swiveled to face her, brushing her thigh with his knee as he did so. "You really meant it when you said that you'd fallen in love with me?"
Kate nodded rapidly.
"And that still holds true?" he said.
"Of course it does. What about you? Graveside confessions still hold water when the recipient of that confession is alive and kicking?"
Castle covered his eyes with his hand and shook his head at her. "That was the most gruesome way to ask if I still love you, you know that? We really need to work on your romantic syntax," he said.
Kate laid her hand on his knee, allowing her fingers to skirt lightly over the fabric that was stretched taut over his muscles. "Castle, take me home?" she said earnestly. "Please? We can work on my syntax all night long if you want."
Castle laughed out loud, and the barman gave him a wink. He looked beyond delighted. "What about your car?" he said.
Kate shrugged. "I'll text Espo. He owes me a favor."
"Dare I ask?" Castle said.
"Mmm," she hummed seductively and then smiled. "Show me your syntax, and I'll tell you everything," she said, joining in when Castle started to laugh again.
They paid the check with Colin Hunt's generous gift, and then they rode the escalator down to the lower floor together. When they reached the curb outside and had to wait for the crossing guard, Castle slipped his arm around Kate's shoulder. He drew her into his side and leaned closer still to press a kiss to her hairline.
"I feel so sick to think that I could have lost you," he said quietly, tightening his grip on her arm while he nudged her ear with his nose and then kissed her temple again.
Kate waited until they had crossed to the other side before she drew him into the elevator lobby of the parking structure, and then she guided them over to a wall out of sight.
She cupped his face in her hands, standing as close as she dared in public. "What's done is done. I know we both have regrets. I've made so many mistakes, and you'll never know how sorry I am, Castle. But tonight and tomorrow and all the days after that, they're what matter now," she said.
She watched her partner's eyes drift closed after he saw her gaze drop to focus on his mouth, and then he waited to welcome her kiss when she finally gave herself to him.
"Let's take your car home," he said. "Whatever you have on Espo, use it. He can pick mine up tomorrow and take it straight to be detailed. Inside and out."
Baffled, Kate shrugged, but she didn't argue with Castle's plan. She just wanted to be home alone with him, how they got there didn't matter.
He wrapped his arm around her again and let her lead them down the aisle until they reached her parking spot.
"Did I mention that you should never date a flight attendant unless you like perfume by the gallon drum?" he said, and finally his need to have his car valeted made sense.
Kate laughed as she unlocked the car. "Let's check dating flight attendants off the bucket list, okay? And promise never to mention her again."
Castle threw her a cheeky salute before they climbed inside. "Roger that!" he said.
As soon as she got behind the wheel, Kate's cell phone chirped with an incoming text message. "Sorry, I'd better check on this," she said, swiping to unlock the screen.
'Apologies for the deception tonight, Detective. My flight is about to take off. I just wanted to say, I hope everything works out for the best. You and Castle make a great team. In our line of work, that's rare in my experience. If you're ever in London, on honeymoon perhaps, ;) look me up. All the best, Colin Hunt.'
Kate was smiling and maybe blushing a little when she finished reading the short message.
"Problem?" Castle said.
Kate chewed her lip for a second and then she handed him her phone. "In the interest of openness going forward," she said.
Castle read the message for himself, and by the end, he, too, was smiling. "Those Brits can be so forward."
"Yeah, real strange sense of humor, too," Kate said, fighting the same crazy-happy smile that Castle had on his face.
He cleared his throat. "London's supposed to be lovely in the spring," he said, taking her hand and laying it on his thigh so that he could play with her fingers while they talked. Touching her felt like the ultimate in luxury, now that the wall between them had been swept away for good.
"Ever been?" she said.
Castle shook his head. "London? No, but I'm pretty sure it's on my bucket list. Somewhere above flight attendant."
Playfully, Kate nudged him with her shoulder, and then she leaned closer so that she could kiss him again. Light and exploratory, his mouth turned her vision into a twinkling shower of sparks. Kissing him felt like a gateway drug to something more. Yeah, more of the 'hard' stuff, her reptilian brain supplied.
"Mmm," she hummed when she finally, reluctantly pulled away from him, though she left her hand on the back of his neck.
Castle reached out to stroke her cheek. He couldn't take his eyes off her. "Ready to go home?"
"Your place or mine?" Kate said.
"I thought you'd never ask," he replied, before releasing her seat belt and drawing her in for another long-awaited kiss.
A/N: I want to thank operaluvr once again for such a great prompt. I really enjoyed writing this one. Thank you to everyone who left a review, too. There would be no stories without readers, just a howl into the darkness.