The Consulate Ball

Kate Beckett only has one full length evening dress. And Richard Castle bought it for her. AU Insert for The Limey. I blame my husband for this one.

While Colin Hunt was on the phone to his Scotland Yard mates, Beckett walked over to Castle, to try and re-engage him in the case. She had been totally blindsided by his arrival at the crime scene with the flight attendant, and his refusal earlier to go into interrogation with her. Now she was determined to get their partnership back on an even keel, so she could get to a point where she could confess her feelings for him – minus blonde stewardesses.

"Hey, Castle, there's a chance for a little undercover work at this ball tonight, and I know you have your tux on standby. Wanna go as my partner?" She tried to make her tone light and easy, but it was taking all her concentration.

"Nah, I'm good, I have a date. Anyway, Scotland Yard probably wants to take you and show you off." His tone was cold and dismissive, and she winced hearing it, but made another attempt.

"Well, I only have the one evening dress, the gorgeous red one you bought me. Remember, for the home invasion case? It would feel weird wearing it for – uh, with – anyone else." She lifted hopeful eyes to him, pleading silently for him to agree, so they could get some private time.

"Oh." It was the only thing Castle could say, but he did take note of her eyes, and the soft smile she was aiming at him. He almost gave in, but then reminded himself it was all in his imagination. He shook his head, mumbled 'sorry' and then walked away. He didn't see Beckett's face fall and her body slump, before she took a deep breath, fixed her poker face on and re-joined the boys around the whiteboard.

Castle was making himself a coffee in the break room, trying and failing to put the image of Kate in that red dress out of his mind. He was also stuck on her verbal slip – if that is what it was – about wearing the dress for, instead of with, someone else. He heard her confess to a petty thief she remembered every second of her shooting, so that obviously had to mean she knew he loved her but didn't return his feelings, but was equally obviously too embarrassed to let him know. But in the face of her reaction to his arrival at the latest crime scene, and her repeated efforts to have him be involved in the undercover operation, not to mention her expressions when he caught her looking at him, he began to wonder if the 'obvious' conclusion he had drawn was actually the correct one.

He had never seen Beckett be embarrassed about anything, and four years of observing her had given him pretty good insight to all her moods and facial expressions. Now, as he took the time out of his initial anger to consider all the evidence, he realised that he had hurt Beckett by turning up with another woman, and not just because it was her crime scene. What he should have done was confronted Beckett, and asked her straight out if she remembered him declaring his love for her. All the progress in their unconventional relationship had been made at times of high stress, and it was past time for him to ask for something in return. And if it turned out that she didn't want to pursue a romantic relationship with him, at least he would know for sure, and not be guessing or making assumptions.

While he was pondering, he saw Beckett return to the bullpen, with a clear suit bag over her arm, which she very carefully draped over the back of her chair, and placed her makeup case and shoes onto the desk next to it. He could see that it was in fact the red dress he bought her, and suddenly a plan dropped fully formed into his brain. He left his half-drunk coffee on the bench, and made his way to the back stairs, not wanting anyone to see him or ask questions.

Beckett looked around the bullpen when she returned from home with her evening wear, but couldn't spot Castle. Well, he really must have a date, she told herself, and turned towards the locker rooms when Hunt caught her attention.

"I managed to acquire two tickets to the Consulate Ball tonight, ready to go. We will be appearing on the guest list as Sir Alfred Heath and Miss Jean Harrington. I just need to go and hire a dinner jacket so I can blend in with the crowd. We should leave here around 7, if that suits you?" Hunt had obviously noticed her dress, and the lack of her shadow suggested she would be on his arm for the evening, which Hunt was looking forward to.

"Yeah, that will be fine." Beckett replied, but she seemed distracted as she collected all her things and went to get changed.

Beckett decided that pulling her hair back in a simple chignon would have to do, lacking the necessary implements or time to do anything more complicated with her hair. She fixed her makeup, making sure to cover up the scar between her breasts with lots of concealer, and she was ready in just under 30 minutes. When she stepped out into the bullpen, however, there was a surprise waiting for her.

Hunt had obviously found a local suit hire place, and was dressed to the nines in his tuxedo. What she was not expecting, was Castle standing next to her desk, also wearing a tuxedo, and looking a little sheepish. She was momentarily stunned, and both men noticed the hitch in her step, but then she continued walking towards Castle, intending on leaving her day clothes on her chair. When she was standing in front of Castle, she dropped her attire, reached out to touch his arm with just the tips of her fingers, and spoke.

"You changed your mind." There was surprise and pleasure in her tone, and when he looked up and caught her eye, she gave him the brightest smile she could muster, still a little hesitant after the events of the last couple of days.

For his part, Castle was stunned anew by the gorgeous woman in front of him, wearing the dress he had brought for her, and smiling with her whole face, directly at him. He knew that she reserved that special smile just for him, and he could finally see just how much she cared for him in her eyes. No longer was she shuttering her feelings from him, all of it on display, just as it had been after the hostage situation at the bank. He wished he could go back to the weekend before he flew to Vegas, and protect both of them from the pain of the last week. He shook his head, and only smiled when she raised her eyebrow at him, then answered her question.

"Well, I couldn't let my partner go undercover without me, could I?"

Beckett nodded, but then moved closer so only he could hear, and asked the question that had been burning its way up her throat.

"But what about your date?" He could see that was uncomfortable for her, and he kicked himself again mentally.

"Ah, no, that's not happening. Just a misunderstanding, really." He replied, but his eyes were boring into hers, asking her silently to understand his subtext, and then he whispered 'later' to her, as he offered her his arm.

Beckett accepted the arm, but then remembered Hunt still standing there in his hired suit. She felt a little sorry for him, but there was no way she was parting from Castle now, so she turned to address him directly.

"Hunt, I think it best if Castle and I go undercover, we have worked together for a long time and can adapt and improvise as required. I don't want to blow this operation on miscommunication, you and I both know how important this is. How about you stay in the van with Espo, and monitor for any suspicious activity from the other guests – if Wyndham is the one responsible, he probably wasn't acting alone."

"Sure." Hunt agreed, a little miffed he was relegated to the sidelines, but he could see a new confidence in Beckett with Castle by her side, and he was enough of a detective to see that a positive change had occurred in the last few minutes, and arguing about who was to do the operation when the team leader had made the decision was bad form. He nodded to Castle as the couple walked past, and Castle returned the nod, something in his eyes letting Hunt know that the gesture was appreciated.

After they returned to the precinct, and the card case that Beckett had lifted from Nigel Wyndham had been sent to CSU for urgent processing of the finger prints, Beckett was just about to go and get changed when Castle stopped her in the hallway, around the corner from the bullpen.

"I, ah, would like to apologise for my behaviour, earlier."

Beckett was surprised, and unsure of what he was referring to. Castle continued.

"I have said and done some things that were inappropriate since this case started, and my only excuse is that I was hurting, and lashing out. I really want to sit down and have a proper conversation with you, but I know you need to solve this case first, so-"

"No, Castle. I think I have some things to apologise for as well, and while the case is important, we have a little while until the prints come back. How about we go out for a coffee? Just let me get changed first, into something a little less conspicuous."

"Kate, I don't think it's the dress that makes you stand out, but if you feel more comfortable-" Castle left it at that, indicating towards the locker rooms. Kate was blushing as she turned away.

Beckett was back in only a few minutes, having left her dress hanging in the locker room, and she walked with Castle to the elevators, then out of the precinct and a couple of blocks to their favourite coffee bar, surprised it was still open so late, but pleased at the lack of other patrons which meant they could be served quickly and have their choice of seats. By unspoken agreement they selected a booth near the back.

As they drank, they caught each other's eye, but both looked away again, hesitant to be the first to speak now the time had come. Finally, Castle decided that he should start.

"The last case we had, the Boylan Plaza bombing, I came in late the morning you were interrogating the pickpocket. I put your coffee on your desk and then went to watch from behind the glass."

Beckett didn't understand why Castle was talking about the last case, until the end of his sentence, and then suddenly the memory of that conversation slammed into her brain.

I was shot in the chest and I remember every second of it!

Oh god! Castle must have heard that, and assumed - correctly – that she had lied to him. That was absolutely the worst way for him to find out, and what on earth must he have thought, hearing it like that? Well, based on his recent behaviour, she could surmise very easily what he thought, but he was wrong, and she only had this one chance to correct him. She looked up into blue eyes filled with pain and insecurity, so she nodded to acknowledge his point, and began.

"I wasn't sure I had any of the details of the shooting correct at first, there were so many conflicting images in my brain, too many moments for the actual time it should have taken. It was almost like everything slowed down, like I was trying to move through deep water. I could see your lips moving, saying something, but the words were disconnected, disjointed. The drugs in my system, the residual anaesthetic and the pain killers didn't help either. When you came in after the surgery, I was so confused about all of it, and I honestly didn't remember what you said to me. I sent you away because I didn't want you of all people to see me as I was then, weak and broken. I was so far from Nikki Heat and I didn't honestly believe I could ever be like her again."

"Kate, I didn't want Nikki Heat. And you were never weak, you are absolutely the strongest person I have ever known, to survive all that the universe has thrown at you, not just a bullet, just proves how extraordinary you are! And I would have been there with you, every step of the way, to help you heal, or make you laugh, or whatever it was that you needed."

"Yes, I know you would have, Castle, but I had to heal on my own, had to get back to being Detective Beckett on my own, otherwise I would have come to resent myself for relying on you, or become so dependent that I could never see myself as an individual again. Honestly, those first few weeks were hell, and I made quite a few decisions that in hindsight were ill-advised, but by then it was too late. The longer it went without me calling you, the harder it was to pick up the phone and explain the delay. I convinced myself that the best thing was to let you move on and maybe find someone who wasn't so damaged. I even made myself believe that your deathbed confession of love was just that, a spur of the moment declaration. After I returned, and you never said it again, I had all the proof I needed of that, and I resigned myself to just staying friends."

Castle tried to interject "No, Kate, that's not what it was, although my timing sucked." Beckett cut him off with a wave of her hand, silently asking him to let her finish.

"I was so jealous of Sarina Kaye, and you seemed so engrossed with her, that I slowly acknowledged deep down in the bottom of my heart, that I wanted more with you. But I had to get better, so I could give you my whole heart. I have been going to therapy since I came back, at first to work through the shooting and handling a gun again, but lately it's been all about you. And just when I thought I was ready to tell you how I felt, you started pulling away, and then turned up to my crime scene with a blonde in your Ferrari." She held her hand up again, because she could see Castle about to speak.

"Now I know why, although I still can't understand why you didn't just confront me about it, or even how you could convince yourself I didn't love you, when you have become so good at reading me over the last 4 years."

"I didn't confront you about it, because we never talk about anything, Kate. It's all subtext and innuendo with us, and while mostly that's OK, it's not near enough for the really important things. And I had gotten good at reading you, but then I thought perhaps I was just seeing what I wanted to see, reading too much into innocent looks and touches. This might surprise you, with my Page Six reputation, but I have always been insecure. I know what it takes to be liked, to be the popular kid at the new school, but that is because I had to learn that lesson well, and hide how I really felt, pretend nothing bothered me, but deep down I don't think I'm good enough, nothing I ever did before I came to shadow you made any difference to anyone else. Now I help you solve murders, and I can see the difference that makes to victim's families, and for the first time I feel like a part of something important. But you were solving crimes before I ever came along, and you will no doubt continue to be the top NYPD team even after I am gone. And if I couldn't have you, I at least wanted to be around you and do something worthwhile with my life for a change. I just needed to be able to get over you first." Castle dropped his eyes to the table top, run out of breath and words.

"Castle, I am so sorry that I made you doubt my feelings for you, and that you thought you had to 'get over' me to stay with the team. I thought you understood my meaning that day on the swings, but perhaps I wasn't as clear as I should have been. The longer time went on since I came back, the harder it was for me to tell you what I remembered of the shooting, and as I thought we were growing closer, I had hoped that perhaps I wouldn't have to go back to that time, we could just continue on from the present. I wish – well, I wish for a lot of things, but mostly I wish we could have talked before, been clearer on what we both wanted. But now-"She was interrupted by her phone.

"That is Ryan. The finger prints are not a match. Damn it!" She sat in silence a moment longer, not sure if she should continue what she was trying to say, or respond to Ryan. Castle, in tune again, put his hand over hers to get her attention.

"Kate, let's get the case solved, and we can continue after that, now that I know where you stand. If you truly want us" She nodded vigorously," then I can wait for as long as you need."

"No more waiting, Castle, I was ready to tell you before misunderstanding got in the way. How about dinner at my place after we solve Naomi's murder?"

"You're on!" Castle was smiling, and for the first time in over a week Kate could see it reaching his eyes, crinkling the skin around it, and she could do nothing but smile back, grab his hand and practically drag him out of the café back towards the precinct. She only dropped his hand when they were in sight of the precinct, and even then they occasionally knocked shoulders as they walked back.

"OK, so we are back to square one. Why would Naomi have left those numbers on the back of the photo of Wyndham if he wasn't involved somehow?" Beckett was at a loss, and frustration was leaking out of every word.

"I think the key must be those numbers, but what do they mean? It's a weird combination I have never seen before. What do the techs say?" Castle was back, fully involved in the case again, helping Beckett brainstorm.

"If I knew that, we wouldn't be here. The techs have no idea."

"OK, well, what options do we have? Is it a safe combination? Is it a passcode for a voicemail? Is it an invoice number for a delivery? Is it a secret bank account number?" Castle kept throwing out increasingly weird ideas, but one option had caught Beckett's interest.

"Invoice number for a delivery? How would we even have access to that? How would Naomi get access to that, without being in the consulate offices, which we have not found any record of. How does a consulate get its deliveries? Could this be about some sort of illegal shipment? Smuggling?"

All four men were looking at her weirdly, because they could all see she had caught on something, as she walked closer to the whiteboard again, examining each of the entries closely. Suddenly, the tense silence was broken by Castle, who leapt up from his chair, phone already in hand. He gazed at Beckett for a moment, then decided this call would best be made out of earshot. He left them there, already discussing what sorts of deliveries a consulate would receive legitimately.

He returned just a few minutes later, the familiar smirk in place on his face, and walked right up to the white board, taking the marker out of Beckett's hand.

"This combination of numbers is a shipping reference for a diplomatic pouch, carried by Royal Eastern Airlines." Beckett looked at him, a question in her eyes, and he nodded slightly then looked ashamed for a moment, until she reached out and squeezed his arm for a second, reassuring him she was grateful for the help, regardless of where it came from.

Once the diplomatic pouch was identified, matters moved quickly, and although Hunt almost got himself arrested at JFK's secure baggage area, they were able to identify the killer and the reason for Naomi's investigation and her murder. Then it was all just a matter of paperwork, during which Castle sat in his customary seat, keeping Beckett supplied with her caffeine fix.

She ticked the final box and signed her name on the final form, and let out a sigh of relief, raising an eyebrow at Castle when he chuckled at her. She smiled back, and after putting the case file into Gate's inbox, turned off her PC and grabbed her bag. Castle was at her back, already holding her coat, and she took a moment to enjoy the familiar feeling, recognising how much she had missed it in the last week. They walked to the elevator and then out of the precinct in silence, and as it was a clear night decided to walk for a while. Kate offered Thai for dinner, to which Castle readily agreed, offering his arm for their walk. Kate didn't even hesitate before looping her arm through his, and stepping into his side as they wandered down the sidewalk.

They still had a lot to talk about, both about the past and their hopefully shared future, but for now they were content to again be in each other's company, and back in sync.

The End.

A/N: So, this didn't end up anything like what I envisioned it to be when I thought up the initial prompt, or even like what my husband wanted it to be like when I tried to explain my idea to him. I hope you like where this story went, please share feedback and constructive criticism in your review.