Author's Note: I don't own Castle, okay?
Cover Note: Stock/texture courtesy of lookbackseeforward on tumblr.
He knew he'd find Kate here, standing in front of the murder board. In another era, he might have likened her to a priestess, offering sacrifices of Chinese take-out and dry erase ink to the gods of truth and justice at the porcelain-steel altar. Of course, she probably wouldn't like that analogy.
"What are you doing here?" she asked without turning from her board.
Castle felt a little sheepish. He'd been avoiding Gina, and so had let his phone die, ensuring he wouldn't get the body-drop call that morning. By the time he'd found and charged his phone, he'd been on his way to his lunch appointment. Well, lunch date. "Oh, I was just stopping by."
"Stopping by? Don't you have a dinner date or something? It's about that time, isn't it?"
Castle couldn't help but grin smugly to himself. She still had her back to him, scrutinizing the truth-telling bones cast in front of her, searching for the clues to the answer. "Well, I might have a dinner appointment in, oh, half an hour," he said. "But I'm not sure if she'll be available."
Kate didn't answer.
"She's pretty great, actually. You might like her. She's smart, has a pretty good sense of humor, but she's been working all day, and—"
He threw his hands up. "And she really needs to take a break!" he finished quickly.
Kate eyed him warily. "Who's this date of yours, anyway?"
Castle smirked. "You're the detective. You tell me."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm working," she said, turning back to the board.
Clearly, subtlety and joking would be futile. "When did you start this morning?"
"Body dropped at 4:30."
Easy math. "You've been working for fifteen hours. This is no longer a subtle invitation. I'm taking you to dinner."
"I'm not going on a date!"
"You didn't eat breakfast, and you had half a bowl of inadequate take-out chow mein for lunch."
"How do you know?"
Castle shrugged. "You get a little furrow between your eyebrows and you tap your foot a lot more when you haven't eaten."
"I do not! The boys called you."
"Nope." He held out his phone in case she wanted to check, but she didn't take it. "I just know you. Also, there was half a bowl of chow mein on top of the trash can."
"No." If she was going to resist him at every turn, then he'd just have to be straight with her. "You took care of New York City all day today. Now I, as a representative of the city you've been saving, am going to take care of you."
"You don't have to," she said. "I'll eat when I get home."
"You're right. I don't have to. But I will, and not just because I'm the most qualified private citizen in the city. Come on," he insisted.
He sighed. "The murder board will be here when you get here tomorrow at some ungodly hour of the morning, okay? Remember what Montgomery used to say?"
Kate sighed and looked at her coat. "Fine."
She wants to know what the hell Castle is up to. He's had six dates in a row with someone else—not that she's counting—because she (not Kate) is "what his life needs right now", and then he shows up out of the blue to take her to dinner?
Kate doesn't know what's worse: that he's taking her to dinner, or that he showed up exactly when she needed him. He always shows up exactly when she needs him. She wonders if he has some sort of Kate-dar.
She's driving, because she always drives. Well, except that time they were in L.A., but that really doesn't count. They're going to a burger joint. Castle let her pick the food, and then he picked the place. He doesn't know, he can't possibly know, that he's picked her favorite place this side of Central Park. It's one of her secret favorites, one of the things she secretly loves but never tells anyone about, because telling people would spoil it.
She has to park half a block away because the pizza shop across the street has a zillion patrons who've taken all the decent parking. Silence rules over the walk from the car to the front doors of Burger Man. Castle pulls his winning smile on the server, who seats them in a booth away from the doors. Kate already knows what she wants, but she pretends to look over the menu anyway.
Castle doesn't pretend. He doesn't even touch the menu. When the server comes back, Castle looks questioningly at Kate. She shrugs; she's ready to order. He gestures for her to order first.
"Can I get the Sweet Joey?" Kate asks. It's not on the menu, and very few people know it exists.
The server nods. "Mmhmm. And you, sir?"
Castle shakes his head, gathering his wits about him. "Uh, yeah, can I have the Big Cheese with sweet potato fries and a Coke?"
"Sure." The server takes down their orders. "I'll be right back with your drinks."
When the server walks away, Castle asks, "What's the Sweet Joey?"
"It's not on the menu," Kate says.
"Thanks, Detective," Castle says sarcastically. "But what is it?"
"Cheeseburger, no onions, extra tomatoes, and a sort of sweet special sauce, with sweet potato fries and sweet tea," she recites. She could make a Sweet Joey at home, if she really wanted to. She knows the recipe for the special sauce. But it's so much better to have it here, at Burger Man.
Castle narrows his eyes. "How do you know Burger Man's secret menu? More importantly, how do you know Burger Man's secret menu better than I do?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kate asks defensively.
"It means that I thought I knew everything on that secret menu."
Kate shakes her head. "Oh, Castle. The things you don't know could fill a book. Several, in fact."
"I don't know. Between my speed-reading and the Library of Congress—hold on. You're sidetracking me on purpose!"
Nothing gets past Writer Boy. Kate shrugs.
"How do you know Burger Man's secret menu?"
Kate crosses her arms. "I thought you were a consultant for the NYPD, Castle. You tell me."
"Hold on. I picked Burger Man because it's my favorite burger place."
"Just because it's your favorite burger place doesn't mean I can't like it, too."
"I get dibs, because I'm older."
Kate snorted. "You might be older, but I have a secret menu item named for me." Oh, shit. Did she just say that out loud? And she was bragging about it, too.
Castle is flabbergasted. "You—"
Well. At least her statement did its job. He's sitting there like a dumb fish, his jaw working and, for once, no sound coming out.
"Oh. My. Gosh. You're Kitty Kate? The secret kids' menu?"
Kate blushes. "You tell anyone, and I'll break your fingers," she threatens.
"That used to be Alexis' favorite."
"Well, it was my favorite first."
Castle grins smugly as the server comes back with their drinks. "So if you were Kitty Kate... your parents must have brought you here a lot."
"Yeah, so?" Kate sips on her sweet tea. She feels very maudlin all of a sudden, and she isn't sure ordering the Sweet Joey was such a good idea.
Castle studies her for a brief moment, but instead of pushing forward, he just shrugs. "They must have gotten a kick out of it."
Kate doesn't answer. She swirls the ice in her sweet tea with her straw. She doesn't realize she's playing with her necklace until she catches Castle watching her toy with it. She sees puzzle pieces falling together in his mind and she looks away. She tries not to think about... well, about anything.
They're saved from awkward silence by the arrival of food. Castle digs into his Big Cheese like he hasn't eaten all day, but Kate just picks at her sweet potato fries and tries to swallow them down past the growing tightness in her throat.
"So," Castle says between bites. "This case."
Kate shrugs. "The usual. We've got leads that we'll follow up tomorrow, and hopefully we'll catch the bastard before too long."
Castle's got ketchup on the corner of his mouth, and an errant, naughty part of Kate wants to 'clean it off'. Instead she just gestures to the corner of her own mouth. He doesn't pick up on her cue. He looks at his burger—half gone—and then at hers. "Aren't you going to eat?"
She looks at the burger and hopes he can't hear her stomach snarling at her. Her stomach is fine with eating (it's getting pretty insistent, actually), but her stupid heart is in the way. She shoves her heart and its stupid melancholia away and picks up her burger, ignoring everything a Sweet Joey burger means.
It tastes amazing, but it also reminds her of... things. Things she'd rather not be reminded of right now. And now she's got special sauce on her face. She reaches for a napkin, only to find that there are no napkins. "Castle, what did you do with the napkins?"
He blinks, only now realizing that they're missing napkins at their table. "I didn't do anything with them," he says just before shoving the last bite of burger into his mouth. He looks so ridiculous with his face and fingers all covered in ketchup and mustard.
Kate gives him a Look.
Castle swallows, licking his lips and missing all of the condiments decorating his face. "If I'd known we didn't have napkins, I would have said something. But I don't worry about napkins—"
"Clearly," Kate says, wiping the sauce from her face with her thumb.
"—until I'm done," Castle finishes. "What's the point of interrupting a good burger when it's going to get on my face again?"
Kate can't find any major flaws in his logic. She shrugs.
"But now I really do need—" Castle flags down the server as he passes. "Hey, could you get us some napkins?"
"Oh, wow. Sorry, sir. Yes, of course. I'll be right back." The server leaves in a hurry, and Kate has to fight to keep herself from laughing at the poor kid's expression.
Castle eyes her sweet potato fries; his have vanished.
"Don't even think about it, Castle."
He pouts. "But Kaaate!"
Kate sets the last few bites of her burger down, licks off her fingers, and starts eating her sweet potato fries one by one. The server comes back with more than enough napkins, and Castle doesn't even try to hide the fact that he's watching her tease him. The errant, condiment-cleaning part of Kate has gained more control and is testing how much she can tease him with fries before he says something.
"Nah, it's okay," he says after a minute or so, but his voice quavers a bit and gives him away. He clears his throat. "I think I'm full anyway."
Kate shrugs and picks up her burger again, but Errant Kate has let Kate's Heart out of its pen, and she can't finish. "Me too," she says quietly, looking out the window next to them.
Castle looks at her unfinished food, then at her. "Kate," he asks, his voice low. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she says absently. "'M fine." Fine? A fine mess, maybe.
"You're not fine," he says. "Come on, let's go."
She looks over at him. How does he know? How does he always know? "Okay." When the server asks if they want a to-go box, Kate's about to say yes—no point in wasting good food—but Castle just shakes his head. Kate thinks he's already written the most of the story she isn't telling him... and he's probably got a good chunk of it right.
They don't go home. Castle directs her to a building with an amazing rooftop view of Manhattan. "I used to come up here all the time," he says. "But the stairs were a lot shorter then."
Kate stifles a laugh. He acts like such a boy, sometimes she forgets that he's older than she is, that he's got an eighteen-year-old daughter. Except when he makes comments like that. "You're old," she teases. "And out of shape. Those stairs were nothing."
Castle shakes his head and leans against the short wall that surrounds the rooftop, looking at the city lights below. Kate leans on the wall, too. There's a long silence, until Kate says, "The special sweet sauce was my mom's recipe. She was good friends with the restaurant owner, and she gave it to him after a grill-off one summer."
"You miss her." It's not a guess.
Kate nods. The tight feeling is back. "She used to make her burgers at home sometimes, but it was always more fun to go to Burger Man."
Castle wraps an arm around Kate and hugs her for a moment before he lets her go. "It's okay to miss her, Kate."
"I know. I just... I get that at Burger Man all the time. I don't know why—I mean—I don't usually miss her this much." Kate stares out across the city at all the lights, wondering which ones are giving light to killers and criminals tonight. Castle stands against the wall with her, not really waiting, not really watching, just standing with her. It's exactly what she needs.
She tries to muffle a sigh, but the Kate-dar is on full power, and Castle nudges her with his elbow. "Come on. You're going to be up absurdly early tomorrow saving the world. You should go home and sleep."
"Yeah." She walks down the stairs first, Castle following close behind.
She drops him off at the loft on her way to her apartment. He doesn't get out right away. Instead, he puts his hand over hers on the steering wheel and says, "You've got my number." I'm here, is what he really means. Or maybe, more accurately, if you need to talk or cry or vent or scream or just know that someone in the world cares about you enough to listen to every silly little thing on your mind, you can call me and I'll be that Someone.
Sometimes it scares her how he always knows.
A/N: I blame my poor shipper heart for all the Caskett. There is some Who on the way, I promise.