Disclaimer: I don't own Castle. The only profit being made is my own amusement (and hopefully yours).
The wanting began the moment he met her. Even with her cropped hair and her no-nonsense dress pants, he could tell that Detective Kate Beckett was gorgeous. The fact that she didn't fawn over his money or fame made her even more alluring. Richard Castle already had plenty of girls throwing themselves at him, and he was bored with it. This woman presented a challenge—a game he was determined to win.
He was well aware that Beckett found him physically attractive. So he made every effort to weaken her defenses, peering over her shoulder to read a file, standing too close to her in the elevator, staring at her while she finished her paperwork. He entertained a fantasy—one evening, maybe after one too many suggestive comments, the serious, all-work-and-no-play Detective Kate Beckett would lose her last ounce of self-control and launch her buttoned-down self into his arms. It was incredibly hot, the image of Beckett in a helpless surrender, and it kept him awake for many nights.
Somehow, over the next few months, so gradually that he didn't notice it at first, his focus shifted from conquest to curiosity. He became intrigued with learning her hobbies and her favorite breakfast; he wanted to hear the stories of all the times she'd ever fallen in love. He found himself admiring her, too, and not just for her looks. He respected her intelligence in analyzing the evidence for her cases, her compassion as she comforted grieving families, and yes, her ability to shock him with a witty and salacious comeback to one of his baited remarks. When it came time to write his book dedication, he could only think of one word to describe her.
To the extraordinary KB and all my friends at the 12th.
"Oh, my God! It's Rick Castle!"
Castle turned to see a giddy twenty-something, wearing a short red cocktail dress and an obscene quantity of equally red lipstick, pointing at him and pulling her companion by the arm towards his seat by the fireplace. "Oh, my God!" she gushed again. "It's so nice to meet you! Isn't this a great party? I'm Anna, and this is my friend Grace."
He flashed a charming grin at the pair. Grace managed a tight, polite smile, the kind Beckett used to give him when she was annoyed. Meanwhile, Anna fished a pen out of her sequined purse, almost scattering its contents in the process. "What do you want me to sign?" Castle asked, plucking the pen from her fingers.
Anna raised her eyebrows suggestively and sidled up to him. "There's a lot of space here," she purred, as she grabbed his wrist and shoved his hand to the neckline of that low-cut red dress.
Castle turned to glance at Gina, beautiful and elegant and glowing in the dim light, and he decided right then to show her what a loyal, committed partner he could be. He quickly removed his hand from Anna's chest to snatch a cloth napkin from the table behind him. "This is more permanent, don't you think?" he joked, signing it and folding it into a swan.
"That was sweet of you," Gina whispered in his ear later, as they walked home from the party hand in hand.
"Wasn't sweet," he responded. "It's what a guy should do when he has a wonderful woman like you in his life."
"And Detective Beckett's not a wonderful woman?" Gina asked, and Castle thought that she sounded a little timid, a little threatened.
"She's not you," he was quick to assure her, but Gina's question made him think about Beckett for what felt like the thousandth time in the last few weeks.
Of course Beckett was a wonderful woman. In fact, she was an extraordinary one. True, he'd fantasized about her time and time again, but he'd never thought of her in that way—the kind involving candles and flowers, and cuddling and holding hands—until Demming came along. What he felt for Beckett was an infatuation, a passing fancy that only started because he was jealous of another man. He'd been like a child fighting over a toy just because another little kid had decided to pick it up.
Kate Beckett wasn't a toy, wasn't a plaything; she meant more to him than that. She'd taught him to take life and death seriously, to finish the job he signed up to do, to accept responsibility for his mistakes. He hadn't won Beckett, but she'd indirectly led him to something better—a second chance with a woman he had loved years ago and, if he were honest with himself, still loved now. He thought of the time seven-year-old Alexis had come to him, crying because she hadn't been asked to come to Marie Sylvester's birthday party at the ice-skating rink. That weekend, Gracie's mother had set up a play date with Alexis since little Gracie hadn't been invited either, and the two girls had become fast friends. "So what did you learn today?" he'd asked Alexis at the end of the day, as she watched Gracie waving from the rear window of her mother's blue sedan.
And wise, wonderful Alexis had replied, "That it's good that I don't always get what I want?"
It was his good fortune that Beckett hadn't agreed to come with him to the Hamptons, so he vowed to keep his distance until the infatuation had passed. He would resist the urge to call her, to drive down to the city to see her, no matter how strong the temptation. Once summer was over, he would come back to the precinct, invite Beckett and Demming to dinner with him and Gina, and thank them for the happiness they'd unknowingly given him.
To the real Nikki Heat, with gratitude.
After the decontamination tent and the freezer and the bomb, Josh started coming around the precinct more often. Once, at four in the morning after an all-nighter for a double homicide investigation, Josh arrived in turquoise scrubs—too much blue to be the same color as Beckett's eyes—with a stethoscope around his neck, carrying a tray of four coffees in one hand and a bakery box in the other.
"I hope you like bearclaws as much as Kate does," Josh said, as he set down the food and leaned down to wrap Beckett in a bear hug. He glanced at Ryan and Esposito, who had been busy flipping through the case files but were now staring at the box with barely concealed interest. "Although I'm told you'll eat anything. A little bird told me a story about you two raiding the buffet when there was a crime scene at a wedding?"
The two detectives didn't respond; they had already gotten out of their seats to rummage through the pastries. Castle stayed glued to his chair as Beckett glanced up at Josh with a shy smile, apparently delighted at the term of endearment. Josh kissed her on the mouth, just a brief, chaste peck—so domestic and familiar that it made Castle's chest ache more than if he had witnessed a passionate make-out session. Castle tried to avert his gaze, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the happy couple.
"You'd better solve the case today, young lady," Josh joked, tapping his finger to Beckett's nose. "I'm off tonight and I think we need to bring some extra business to Castle's bar. Right, Castle?"
"Agreed," Castle said, trying to smile back at Josh but not altogether sure if he succeeded in hiding his anguish. He quietly studied Beckett as she followed Josh with her eyes all the way back to the elevator.
Of course he should be glad that Beckett had found a smart, decent man who was obviously doing his best to make their relationship work, but Castle couldn't help feeling hurt—because he was in love and she didn't love him back. He thought of what had happened last year with Demming—back then, he'd known that having Beckett around made him happy, but he hadn't considered her hopes and fears at all. He'd told her the heart wants what the heart wants, hoping she'd throw all sensible-Beckett thought out the window and—do what? Go to bed with him? Start a relationship with him? It startled him to think that just twelve months ago, he hadn't been sure exactly what he wanted from Beckett, and he certainly hadn't known if he'd be able to give her anything in return.
Now, Castle knew what he wanted, for her to be happy, but he knew it was too late for this to happen with him. He tried to find comfort in the stolen moments, the late-night raids of the break room refrigerator and the burgers at Remy's and the trips to the comfort food truck. He hoped that soon, he would stop feeling the dull, nagging pain under his ribs that came along every time Josh put his arm around Beckett's shoulder or ran his fingers through her hair. He hoped that by the time Josh proposed to her, by the time she showed up at work hugely pregnant with Josh's baby, he wouldn't mind because her friendship would be enough.
He didn't use her name in the dedication that year because he suspected that Josh might not like it, and besides, he was certain that she'd understand exactly what he meant.
To my best friend, who deserves every happiness in the world.
One week, Castle noticed that Josh had stopped making his little surprise visits to the precinct. Beckett offered no explanation and Castle decided not to push her.
"We broke up," she told him a few days later, interrupting the silence as they reviewed surveillance tapes from the storage facility where their victim's body was found.
His first reaction was to say I didn't ask, but he realized that Beckett had become an expert at reading him by now, and she was probably well aware how curious he had been all week. He wondered if she also knew how much she mattered to him. "I was not asking very loudly, wasn't I?" he said, trying to sound light.
She offered a tight-lipped, humorless smile in response. "Yes, you were. Actually, he dumped me."
"His loss," Castle said, and because he didn't think it would be quite right to say I love you, he added, "If I were him, I'd never let you go."
Castle thought he detected a sharp inhale and a flash of fear in her eyes that disappeared almost at once. She shrugged and explained, almost rambling in a way that was unusual for her, "We both saw it coming, you know. Couldn't give each other what we wanted. Like kids. We both want kids. But we're so busy that no one would be home to take care of them. I mean, one of us could quit our job, but that wouldn't be fair, because one person would feel dependent and the other would feel guilty and—I know that probably sounds so selfish and weird of me but—it makes sense to you, right?"
"Of course it does," Castle said soothingly, trying not to think about how if Beckett were with him, neither of them would have to make that sort of sacrifice.
He wasn't really sure where to proceed from there. He could declare his feelings for her, tell her he was willing and ready to be her one and done—not just her friend and partner but also her lover, her husband, maybe even the father of her children. But he worried that he might be taking advantage of her if he spoke up; she'd just ended one of her longest relationships with someone she genuinely cared about, after all, and she was probably feeling a bit vulnerable.
So he decided to continue with the friendly outings—fast food stops and movie nights, only now these sometimes happened in their homes. He occasionally sent out little hints that he hoped she would interpret as signals of interest from his end. Once, he challenged her to a game of darts and bet her a trip in his Ferrari against a ride on her motorcycle. She was a good player, but not as good as Ryan, and he beat her after a single round. He spent the entire afternoon sitting behind her on her bike as she zoomed through the streets, his arms wrapped around her waist, his hands slipping under her leather jacket and resting against the thin shirt fabric covering her stomach. But he didn't hang mistletoe at the Old Haunt at Christmas, nor did he suggest that they kiss at midnight on New Year's. He just stood back and patiently waited for Beckett to make the first move.
Eventually, she did.
One evening, they were sitting on her couch watching Forbidden Planet when Beckett suddenly asked, without warning, "You know what else Josh told me about why we couldn't stay together?"
It was the first time she had mentioned Josh since the breakup. Castle didn't like being reminded of the handsome surgeon, but he did enjoy getting as much information out of Beckett as possible, so he sighed and said, "No. What did he say?"
Beckett twisted her hands in the popcorn bowl, sending kernels flying everywhere. "He told me... I wasn't putting everything into it because I had feelings for someone else." She paused for a long moment, as if trying to decide whether or not to continue, before she finally mumbled, "For you."
Dozens of thoughts race through his mind simultaneously—Josh noticed something, so it must be true and I've loved you for so long and this is really happening, finally and but wait, do you really have feelings for me? But he didn't have time to sort through the jumble of ideas, because Beckett immediately started talking again. "I realized something, these last few months."
Castle's chest was constricting so tightly that he could barely force his voice to choke out, "What?"
Beckett focused her eyes on his in a bright green stare, almost challenging him to stop asking questions. She leaned forward, so close that their mouths were just an inch apart, and whispered, "That Josh was right."
Their lips met, and just like that night outside the warehouse, one of his hands went to her back, the other to her hair. Her palm came to rest against his shoulder. But this time, there was no guard, no danger, no excuses—just the two of them, eyes closed and hearts open, diving into it together.
To Kate, with love.