Author's note: A huge chapter to get started with. I keep coming back to the theme of Beckett's latent guilt about all those years of hiding from her own feelings, knowing full well how her denial was affecting Castle. The only way the show stretched credibility for me was in his superhuman forgiveness, and ability to not personalise how she reacted to his romantic overtures.

I think she's got a lot of grovelling to do, and he's got a lot of hurt to heal. In an alternate universe, taking place sometime during season 4, this is what happens instead.

Reviews are love.

Beckett tapped her foot nervously as the elevator slowly descended.

She had been on edge for days, despite a light case load. It had finally got to the point where she was seeking her friend's counsel in the middle of the day, without even calling ahead first.

Not like there was much I could say over the phone from the precinct, she thought, feeling a twist of panic that had become more and more familiar over the last week or two.

She exited the elevator and walked along the corridor to the ME's examination room, pushing the door open without bothering to knock.

Lanie glanced up from her desk at one side of the room, still holding a voice recorder in her hand, and raised a finger to indicate she'd be just a moment. Beckett nodded, crossing to a nearby chair and sitting down silently.

Lanie finished her dictation, ended the recording, and then put the device on top of the open pathology report she was working on. She pushed her chair back from the desk and stood up, stretching her back gratefully.

"So what brings you to my lair today?" she asked, but Beckett didn't reply.

"Kate?" Lanie asked, then took a step towards her friend.

Beckett was sitting motionless, looking at a blank patch of the floor a few feet in front of her chair. When she spoke, her voice was thin and full of tension.

"He's going to leave."

Lanie was badly startled by the sound of her voice. She quickly closed the distance between them and crouched in front of Beckett's chair, and the other woman just looked right through her, her eyes still unfocussed.

"Who is?" Lanie asked, and Beckett's gaze flicked briefly up to meet hers.

Oh, Lanie thought. Well… damn it.

"You mean… Castle?" she asked, and Beckett just nodded once, very slowly.

"Oh honey," Lanie said, putting a hand on the other woman's knee. "Where is he going?"

Beckett blinked twice and then raised her head to properly look at her friend, and a confused expression briefly passed over her face.

"Where?" she asked, and Lanie nodded.

"I don't know," Beckett continued. "I mean… he hasn't actually said he's leaving. But he's going to. I know he is."

Lanie frowned. "So how do you know he's gonna leave?"

"Because he's pulling away!" Beckett replied, and the rise in both the volume and pitch of her voice was shocking.

Lanie's brow creased with concern, and she patted her friend's knee in what she hoped was a reassuring gesture.

"Why don't you start from the beginning?" she asked, giving what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

Beckett sighed deeply, then began to talk.

Two weeks earlier

Castle had been unusually quiet on the ride back to the precinct.

They had been questioning the neighbours of the victim's girlfriend, a couple in their late sixties. They hadn't learned anything useful, and Castle had been distracted during the interview. Beckett sat in an armchair, asking the couple questions, while Castle hovered around the edges of the large living room.

His curiosity and restlessness was usually useful, because it tended to make the interviewees uneasy. They would constantly be looking around to see where he was and what he was doing, making it harder for them to concentrate on spinning a lie. Often, he would seem to be preoccupied with some object or painting, then would suddenly turn to ask a key question at a critical moment.

Beckett could tell, though, that this time he hadn't even been paying attention. There was a large mantelpiece along the side wall of the living room, lined with photos. From where she had sitting, it looked like most of them were of the couple, with several of what were presumably other family members. Castle picked them up, one by one, and stared at them for long moments. Eventually, Beckett was focusing more on his odd behaviour than on the questions she was asking.

She pulled her Crown Vic smoothly in to the curb at the precinct, and shut off the engine. Castle was still staring blankly ahead, and didn't make any move to get out of the car.

"What were you doing back there?" she asked, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.

"Hmm?" he asked, blinking as he came out of his reverie and turned to look at her.

"Back at the house," she said. "You were somewhere else, Castle. You weren't paying attention."

He frowned slightly, but he didn't deny it. "Sorry," he said at last, turning again to look out of the windshield.

She studied him for several seconds. This isn't like you, she thought, feeling the first stirring of unease.

"Is everything OK?"

"Fine," he replied automatically. "Never better."

She frowned. "And everything's alright with Alexis and Martha?"

He nodded twice, again without meeting her eyes. His posture was relaxed and there was no sign that he was lying, but there was definitely something on his mind.

"Well… maybe you should take the rest of the day off," she said cautiously. "Get some rest, and come back tomorrow when you're more focused."

There were a few seconds of silence, then Castle opened his mouth to speak.

"You know, I think I will," he said. His voice was flat, and quiet.

Without another word, he opened the door, stepped out, and closed it behind him.

Beckett quickly got out of the car too, but by the time she turned and spotted his navy blue blazer, he was already twenty feet away, hands in his pockets, disappearing into the crowd. He didn't look back.

"Hmm," Lanie said. "That doesn't sound like him. What did he say when he came in the next day?"

Lanie was now in her desk chair, which she'd wheeled over to where Beckett was sitting.

Beckett glanced down at her own hands, which were clasped tightly in her lap.

"He didn't come in until two days later," she said. "He said he'd been writing."

"So maybe he was just thinking about the book, and needed some time to get it all down."

"It wasn't that," Beckett said, standing up suddenly and starting to pace. "I've seen him a hundred times when he's thinking about his writing. He was… I don't know. Distant."

She paused for a long moment, her eyes widening slightly as she relived the memory.

"He was unhappy. His Castleness was just… gone."

Lanie laughed, then the smile immediately left her face as she saw her friend's pained expression.

"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "So when he did come in, did you ask him about it?"

"Of course I did."

Twelve days earlier

Beckett glanced up as the elevator dinged, for at least the tenth time this morning.

She hadn't heard from Castle the day before, and had decided not to contact him, instead giving him some time to sort out whatever had been bothering him.

She was uneasy, though. She had asked herself dozens of times exactly why she felt that way, and the answer was difficult to pin down. It was just a feeling.

But something's wrong, she knew. Her intuition told her so.

Is that cop's intuition, or women's? her mind whispered, and she frowned.

Her heart rate suddenly skipped up a notch as she saw him come into view along the corridor, walking towards the bullpen. A sense of relief flooded through her, then a moment later it was replaced by an even stronger feeling of unease.

His hands were in his pockets again, and his shoulders were slightly slumped.

No coffee, she thought. She tried to think of the last time he'd shown up at the precinct in the morning without bringing her coffee, and she found that she couldn't remember even a single occasion.

She watched him carefully as he approached, then blinked as he detoured to the murder board without even coming to say hello. She stood up after a moment, and walked over to stand by his side.

"Morning, Castle," she said carefully.

"Beckett," he replied, and she almost winced. He had that same flat, lifeless tone. She risked a glance up at his face and saw dark circles under his eyes.

He looks thinner, she thought, then she dismissed the notion, frowning as she studied him. There was something different in his face, though. Something obvious, but also hard to see. Then it hit her.

He's not smiling.

Castle always smiled when he was studying the board in the morning. In fact, Castle smiled almost all the time – not necessarily with his lips, but always with his eyes. They crinkled at the corners, and they sparkled with mirth and enthusiasm and mischief.

But that's gone, she thought. A small shiver ran up her spine. What's happened to you?

"How are you feeling?" she asked quietly, so as not to attract the attention of Ryan or Esposito.

"Fine," he said, still not meeting her eyes. "So what's going on with the case?"

She sighed inwardly, and turned fully towards him. "We're pretty much there. Financials turned out to be a slam dunk. Uniforms are bringing in the guy's boss now."

Castle nodded. "So just the interrogation. I guess I'll stick around for that."

She frowned. And then what?

"Do you want some coffee?" she asked, and he finally looked at her.

"I'm good. Had some at home before I came in."

There was no message in his tone, just a simple statement. She felt a pang of hurt, and pushed it aside, instead searching his face.

He wore a carefully blank expression, but his eyes weren't quite as guarded. She saw him look around her own face, then a blur of emotions passed through his eyes. His jaw tightened almost imperceptibly, and while she was sure he didn't move at all, his shoulders seemed to stiffen for a moment before he returned his attention to the board.

"I'll be in the observation room for the interrogation," he said. He gave her a brief glance with a smile that didn't go anywhere near his eyes, then he walked off.

"He was gone when I came out of the interview room," Beckett said quietly, and Lanie frowned again.

Beckett saw her friend's troubled expression. "What?"

"You sure you didn't say anything to him before he started acting strange? What happened before you went to see the girl's neighbours that day?"

"Nothing," Beckett replied. "Nothing that explains it, anyway. We were just working on the case."

"And he seemed fine then? He brought you your coffee that morning, and he was his usual… Castle kind of way?"

She thought for a long moment, and shrugged. "Yeah, I think so."

Lanie thought for a moment. "What exactly were you doing before you went to see the neighbours?"

Beckett closed her eyes briefly. "We talked to the vic's girlfriend, at the hospital. She was really taking it hard. Like you'd expect, but she was in pieces. Her father kept trying to calm her down, and her mother was white as a sheet."

Lanie nodded sympathetically.

"Castle was quiet, but just like anybody would be. We couldn't get anything out of her. She just kept going on and on about how she couldn't believe the guy was gone, and how they hadn't had enough time together, and she was talking about all the things they'd wanted to do. She was hyperventilating. They had to sedate her."

"Poor girl," Lanie sighed, and Beckett nodded. "And how was Castle when you left the hospital?"

Beckett thought for a long moment, and tilted her head. "I guess he was a little withdrawn then, but anybody would be."

"True," Lanie said, reluctantly.

"He did say something when we got into the car," Beckett said, frowning. "But I figured he was just taking it hard, seeing what the girl was going through."

Lanie waited patiently for her friend to continue.

"He said you really never know how much time you have left."

"It's not like him to be morbid," Lanie replied, and Beckett shook her head. "And you're sure there's nothing wrong with him? Like… illness, or whatever?"

"I asked him," she said. "He said he's fine. And he seems fine, physically."

"Hmm," Lanie replied, pondering Castle's behaviour quietly for a few moments before shrugging. "So when did you see him next?"

Beckett sighed. "I was… curious about what was bothering him."

"Worried, you mean."

"Maybe. So I went to the loft that night."

Twelve days earlier

"Back already–? Oh, it's you, Detective," Martha said as she opened the door of the loft to Beckett's knock.

Beckett smiled at the woman and she was ushered inside.

"Now, to what do we owe the pleasure?" the older woman said, giving her a small smile.

"I just wanted to talk to Castle about something," she replied, and an apologetic look passed over Martha's face.

"I'm afraid you just missed him, dear. He had to leave to take care of something at that bar of his. He left barely twenty minutes ago."

"Oh," Beckett replied, her heart sinking. "Well, I guess I can just catch him tomorrow at the precinct."

Martha looked confused for a moment. "I… think he said he'd be here writing all day tomorrow. Perhaps I misheard."

Beckett felt a flush rise in her cheeks, and forced herself to smile. "I'm sure you didn't. We didn't get a chance to talk before he left today, that's all."

Martha nodded carefully, but Beckett could see that she was puzzled at how little Castle seemed to have shared about his schedule. They were usually always texting each other.

"Well, I should go, and let you get back to your evening," Beckett said hurriedly, giving Martha another smile and walking towards the door.

"Always lovely to see you, Katherine," the older woman called to her, and she turned back briefly to smile in acknowledgement, before stepping out into the hallway with relief.

She made it to her car before the anger hit her, and she pulled out into traffic aggressively, heading in the direction of the Old Haunt.

Ten minutes later she was sitting parked across the road and slightly farther down the block, looking at the building. Patrons occasionally arrived or left, but it was obviously a quiet night.

What the hell is going on with you? she wondered.

She had been embarrassed in front of Martha. She wasn't even sure what she was going to say to him if she'd found him at the loft, but now she was spoiling for a fight. She knew very well that a large part of her anger was actually tension and concern, but she pushed that realisation aside for the moment.

"Screw it," she said, then quickly got out of the car and walked towards the bar.

The bartender nodded and smiled in recognition, and she declined his offer of a drink on the house. She asked if Castle was in his office, and the young man simply nodded and gestured in the direction of the stairway down to the basement.

She decended carefully, hearing music drifting up the stairs, almost muffled by the noise of the bar above. It was something instrumental, and melancholy sounding. Maybe some acoustic blues. Not his usual style either.

She reached the bottom of the stairs, and approached the door that was slightly ajar. Peering round it, she saw him immediately, standing at the opposite end of the room. His blazer was draped over a chair, his shirt sleeves were rolled up, and he was facing away from her. He held a glass of his expensive whiskey in one hand (she could see the bottle sitting on his desk), and his iPhone in the other. He was swiping his thumb across the screen horizontally, flicking through what looked like photos.

The anger in her evaporated when she recognised her own face on the device's screen. Every photo he pulled onto the screen was of her. Some of them she recognised as being from various nights out with the team – several from this bar – but some were unfamiliar.

He stopped on an image where her face filled the screen. It was a candid shot, probably taken in the precinct, and she was looking off-camera and smiling. The rest of the details were indistinct from this distance, but he had paused on it for several seconds now.

He moved his thumb slowly through the air just above the glass surface, and she realised that he was tracing the outline of her face. Her breath caught in her throat.

He sighed suddenly and she flinched, but all he did was push the power button on top of the phone to switch its screen off, then pocketed the device. He leaned his now free hand against the wall, swirling the amber liquid in the glass he still held, then took a large swallow.

Beckett stood frozen in the entranceway.

She had known for quite some time that Castle had strong feelings for her. She often caught him looking at her in idle moments, and his eyes and smile always conveyed that he thought of her as more than a partner, or even a friend.

Then there was the Summer before. She automatically raised a hand to her chest, pressing her finger through her blouse to feel the scar left behind after the bullet hole had healed.

I love you, Kate.

She felt the familiar barbs of guilt curl around her heart. She had fully recovered from her near-fatal injury, and had made enormous emotional progress with Dr. Burke's help. It had been a long time since she genuinely believed she wasn't ready to hear those words from him.

But it had also been a long time since he'd said them. A long time since she'd told him she couldn't remember anything that happened on that day at the funeral. Too much time, and he would have too many difficult questions. She knew better than to suddenly pretend to remember one day; he would know immediately that she was lying.

He probably knows already, she thought, and again her own guilt made her stomach twist.

There was never a right time. More than that, she was absolutely terrified of what would happen if she was to acknowledge his feelings for her, or if he told her again. She had no idea how the change would affect their relationship. She also often told herself that she was no longer sure that he still felt the same way, but in moments like this, that argument was revealed to be the very weak excuse she already knew it to be.

Beckett waited a few moments, watching his motionless form across the room, then took a deep breath and knocked lightly on the doorframe.

"Come in, Tommy," Castle called, not looking around. She knew that Tommy was the bartender on duty upstairs, and Castle's right-hand man at the Old Haunt.

"You've never called me that before," she said, and he spun around, looking at her like he'd seen a ghost.

Think of me and I appear, she thought, keeping her expression neutral.

They looked at each other for a long moment, and she smiled tentatively at him. He didn't return the smile. The wall-mounted electric imitation oil lamps flickered, and she could see the light reflecting in his eyes.

"What do you want, Beckett?" he asked, his voice low and quiet and somehow distant.

She felt another stab of hurt at how he very clearly didn't want to see her right now. She took a tentative step into the room, looking around to give herself a moment to collect her thoughts.

"I went to the loft, and Martha said you were here," she said at last.

"I had some business to take care of," he said.

"So I see," she replied, her eyes flicking briefly to the whiskey glass in his hand.

He shrugged, and took another sip of the liquid. "Got another case?"

"Kind of. I'm investigating what's been going on with you lately. You've been different."

His eyes darkened, then looked down at the glass in his hand, swirling the whiskey around several times.

"I'm fine," he said at last, and she sighed in frustration, leaning back against the doorframe. She knew better than to march right up to him. He would just clam up completely.

"You're not fine," she said. "Something's happened."

"Nothing's happened," he said evenly, still looking at his glass. "You've got nothing to worry about. That's the truth."

She could see that he believed what he was saying, and it both puzzled and worried her. Even more worrying was the discomfort that had been radiating from him ever since she made her presence known.

"You know that you can talk to me, right?" she asked, and then he did look up at her, with an expression that made her shiver. He wore a look of wry, wretched, bitter amusement, just for a fraction of a second, then he carefully schooled his features again into a blank expression.

"Sure," he said. She had no idea if he was being sarcastic.

"Damn it, Castle," she said, pushing away from the wall, but the stopped when his free arm moved. It only lifted a few centimetres, his hand still hovering around his waist, but with the palm facing slightly towards her. It was the universal symbol for stay where you are.

"I really do have some stuff to finish," he said, indicating his desk and the various piles of paperwork sitting on top of it.

Beckett blinked. You're… asking me to leave?

He simply watched her from his position at the far wall. His face was partly in shadow, but somehow the whiskey glass was shining in a beam of light, along as if it was on fire.

She was surprised to find that she was near tears, and she viciously bit back her emotions.

"Will I see you at the precinct tomorrow?" she asked, trying very hard to keep her voice even, and she was surprised when he broke eye contact.

"I've got some writing to catch up on," he said, his voice making the lie clear. He probably did, but it was an excuse. "I'll see how things are next week."

The nodded mutely, unable to trust her voice. She looked across at him with wide eyes, willing him to meet her gaze. He didn't.

After almost ten seconds, she took a ragged breath, then turned and quietly left.

"Oh god, Kate!" Lanie said, reaching out to squeeze her friend's hand. "That son of a–"

"No," she interrupted, shaking her head. "Don't just blame him. There's something wrong, and it's something to do with me. He wouldn't just decide to be cruel."

Lanie frowned, examining her friend's face carefully. It's not like you to blame yourself.

Beckett looked away, knowing very well what her friend was wondering about. She hadn't told Lanie about what Castle had said at the funeral when she was lying bleeding on the grass. Everyone except Dr. Burke believed she had no memories of that day, and she knew Lanie would be hurt too if she suddenly confessed.

"So he didn't come in for the rest of the week?" Lanie asked, interrupting Beckett's train of thought.

"Huh? Oh, no. He only came in one other time since then. Four days ago, and just because Esposito called him. It was about that case we had a few days back. You remember?

"The dentist," Lanie said, grimacing at the memory of it. "Javi said that Castle's insight was really valuable on that one."

"It was," she sighed. "As usual. He was in the bullpen for maybe three hours. By lunchtime we had a suspect, and it all panned out."

"Well he's a smart man when he chooses to be," Lanie said carefully, and Beckett nodded slowly.

"Then Ryan asked if he was almost finished with the writing he'd been catching up on. Castle said it was going to take a while, and they should probably count him out for the time being. He just left after that, without saying goodbye," Beckett said. "I haven't seen him since."

Lanie's heart went out to her friend, but she also inwardly tutted in annoyance. It can never just be easy, can it?

"And he hasn't… called or anything, I guess," Lanie said. It wasn't a question, and she wasn't surprised when her friend shook her head.

"I texted him last night, asking if he wanted to go to Remy's for some dinner." A slight flush rose in her cheeks, and Lanie had to use all her restraint to not roll her eyes.


"And he just said 'already eaten'. That was it."

Her face looked like it might crumple for a moment, and Lanie felt a burst of anger towards the man who had caused it.

She reined in her feelings and stood up, beginning to walk slowly around the long, narrow room. After several seconds, she spoke.

"It was always gonna go this way," she said quietly, and Beckett looked up, startled.

Lanie stopped pacing and looked directly at her friend. "I think you know what this is about. You might not know what set him off now, but you know what's going on here. You said it yourself when you walked in."

"He's pulling away," Beckett said, in a small voice, and Lanie nodded with a deep sigh.

"Honey, you know very well how that man feels about you."

She stared hard at Beckett until the other woman looked down at her own hands. A couple of seconds later, she looked up again, only to see Lanie's raised eyebrow.

"He's… in love with me," she said, in a small voice.

"You're damned right he is."

"Only now he's not," she replied, almost inaudibly.

Lanie thought hard. Things had obviously come to head for some reason, and it was time for some tough love.

"About time too," she said, and Beckett's eyebrows shot up, the shock clearly written on her face.

"Think about it," Lanie said kindly. "Now he's gonna quit bugging you all the time. I've seen how you roll your eyes whenever he flirts with you – which is all the time – and I've personally heard you turn down about a hundred invitations to dinner, parties, galas, and whatever the heck else it is that rich people do. You finally lucked out."

Beckett's mouth opened, then closed, then opened again, but Lanie had continued speaking before she could utter a word.

"I know you don't want him to be upset, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth. This is the easiest way out for you! You just give him his space and let him get over you–"

Beckett's eyes widened, and she felt her heart stutter.

"–then you can either get your partner back, without the pressure of anything else, or you can finally get rid of the hassle of having a civilian with you. You can just be a cop among cops again."

Lanie smiled widely at her friend, watching with satisfaction as Beckett's brows knitted together ominously. She braced herself and plowed onwards.

"You don't even need to worry about how to let him down gently when he finally tells you how he feels, because it doesn't look like he's gonna be doing that anymore. He'll be back with some blonde thing on his arm before you know it, and you're home free."

Beckett's nostrils flared and colour rose quickly in her cheeks. Lanie kept her face carefully enthusiastic, wincing internally in anticipation of the explosion of anger that was sure to come. A long moment passed.

Then Beckett burst into tears.

"Oh shit," Lanie said flatly, immediately putting her arms around her friend.

All the tension and worry of the last two weeks finally broke through, and Beckett sobbed wretchedly.

Lanie rocked her, glancing towards the door and hoping that no-one would happen along for the next few minutes. "Hush, honey. Hush now, Kate."

Eventually Beckett's sobs died down, and she pulled away. Lanie handed her a wad of tissues from a box on the desk, and Beckett dabbed her eyes then blew her nose.

"God," she said, her voice still wavering and high-pitched. "I'm sorry. I have no idea where that came from."

"Don't you dare say that now," Lanie said, her voice gentle but firm. "And don't you think for a minute that I meant what I was saying."

Beckett looked up at her and then screwed her eyes shut, her face crumpling again. "You tricked me," she said, and Lanie tilted her head in acknowledgement.

"Big, tough Detective Beckett, outwitted by little old me? Wait til the boys hear about this." Her tone was kind, and she reached up to lift a loose piece of hair away from Beckett's face.

Lanie's voice dropped to a whisper. "So why don't you just tell the damned truth, for once? Just between you and me?"

Beckett gave an enormous, watery sigh, and then nodded.

"He's… he was… in love with me," she said.

"You already said that," Lanie replied kindly.

"And I'm…"

The other woman was silent, giving just a small nod of encouragement as she held her breath.

"I'm… in love with him."

Lanie closed her eyes. Hallelujah, she thought. Now if you'd just realised that six months ago. Or six weeks.

"And now my life is completely screwed," Beckett finished, fresh tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

Lanie pulled another tissue from the box and handed it to her, putting her knee.

"I'm not gonna lie to you, girl – you've messed this up. You kept him waiting a long time."

Beckett looked up through her eyelashes, her large, dark eyes now lined with red. "And now he's given up," she said.

Lanie nodded sadly. "Maybe for now, but that man is about as stubborn as they come. And he is still in love with you. I've seen him give you a hundred looks that woke me up in the middle of the night."

Beckett laughed, then the laugh became a sob.

"Love doesn't just go away in a couple of weeks, Kate."

"But it does go away," she replied, in a whisper.

"So don't let it! Go get him. Get him back. Show him."

Beckett sighed again, her breath hitching. "He won't even talk to me. What if it's too late?"

"I don't believe that, and neither do you," Lanie replied, folding her arms resolutely. "But either way, you gotta know."

Beckett looked down at her own hands again, considering her friend's words. Several moments of silence passed before Lanie spoke again, in a quiet and tender voice.

"He's been chasing you for years. That'd make anybody tired. He's lonely, and he's lost hope."

"He's shutting me out, Lanie," she said, her voice almost pleading.

"To protect himself. You've done the same thing."

Beckett was startled by the remark, but she knew it was true.

"So what do I do? I can't just walk up to him and…"

"Tell him how you feel? No, probably not. I'm not sure there's a quick fix."

"So what do I do?"

More tears slid down her cheeks, and she swiped them away angrily.

"Oh, honey," Lanie said, embracing her stubborn friend and stroking her hair. "I think it's your turn to chase him."