WARNING BEFORE READING: This story is rated M for themes as well as the usual reason, and references implied date rape, drug overdoses and assault. Please treat with caution if that will upset you.

Chapter 1: This can't continue

"You want to come for a drink?" Demming asks.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to." Anything, rather than another solo, boring evening staring at her unadorned walls. Lanie's busy with backed-up bodies, and has been for a week and more; and O'Leary's just plain busy.

"Great. I'll see you later.

"Okay, great." Well. Not precisely great, but certainly pleasant.

Beckett drifts away. At least someone finds her attractive. It's nice to be wanted, and if Demming wants to go for a drink that's at least one evening when she isn't staring at the walls or her desk. She's not exactly sure she wants anything more, but just undemanding company would be good. On her route, she passes Castle, obviously going hunting for a coffee. That's just how they are now: crossing routes in passing. He hasn't really spoken about anything but cases in a month: hardly any flirtation, and that only automatic and unthinking.

Halfway to her desk, she realises that she's left her notepad in the break room and returns. Before she enters the room, she stops. Demming is now talking to Castle – and it's about her. She knows she shouldn't listen: that eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves – but just maybe there'll be some words from Castle that give her a little hope. Even some idea of what went wrong.

"Castle, can I ask you something?" Demming says. He sounds uncertain. "You and Beckett – is there, uh, something going on?"

She holds her breath, hoping.

"Me and Beckett?" Castle says, sounding astonished that Demming would ask.


"No," Castle says bluntly.

Beckett only just controls her instant, stabbing agony. That's it? Just – no. She leans on the wall. The next few words are no better.

"Look, man, if I'm offsides" –

"No flag on the play."

So she's a football play? Worse, she's a mannequin to be passed from man to man, without any opinion of her own on the subject? Where does Demming get off checking that she's single with Castle, when he didn't ask her? Did he think she'd be going for drinks with him if she were in a relationship? Her searing hurt combines with searing rage.

"Great. Okay. Great."

At least someone's happy here. Well, he won't be for much longer.

She goes to the restroom before either man can move and find her listening, locks herself in a stall, and struggles to deal with what she's just heard. Not even a hesitation, just no. She should have known. She should have known from when she was forced to stay at the loft, but she hadn't wanted to believe it, and up till now Castle had at least still brought coffee and flirted.

Letting her down gently, it seems. He'd have flirted with any pretty woman, and he did. Nothing special about her. Nothing at all. She's just research.

She stays right where she is for another few moments, blows her nose twice, then repairs her eye make-up and goes back to her desk to bury herself and her fractured heart in the case.

She manages to conceal her feelings for the whole of the rest of the shift. Castle's already gone, before she'd returned to her desk, which is a relief. Even Beckett's total emotional control isn't up to sitting next to someone who really couldn't care less, when she'd hoped… Well. No point dreaming. It's not going to happen.

Hard upon that thought, Demming slithers up to her desk.

"Want to come for that drink now?" he asks.

Beckett looks up. No-one else is around. "No." She doesn't bother to soften her refusal.

"That's a bit harsh. You agreed earlier."

"I've changed my mind. I heard you."

"Heard me?"

"Heard you asking Castle if we were involved."

"Yeah?" There's a distinct aura of confusion and so what's the problem?

"Why didn't you simply ask me? Didn't my opinion count?"


"Why didn't you ask me if I was involved with Castle?"

"Uh? I didn't want to tread on any toes."

"I don't appreciate being passed around like a parcel."

"It wasn't like" –

"Or maybe you didn't think I'd give you a straight answer. Did you think if you asked me you're so attractive that I'd be up for a little casual cheating?" Her voice is glacial. "Or were you going to offer a threesome?"

"No! That wasn't" –

"I'm not interested in someone who thinks women don't have a mind of their own. Or who thinks they can't be trusted without validation from some other man." She looks full at him, face cold. "Shame you're an asshole. You can leave now. Esposito or Ryan will call you if we need anything on the case. We don't need you in Homicide."

"But Beckett… Kate" –

"Leave. This isn't your patch."

Demming goes, the set of his shoulders indicating that he still doesn't have a clue how he screwed up.

Beckett looks at the papers on her otherwise tidy desk, looks at the clock, notices without caring that it's coming up to seven p.m., and buries herself in her work. It's better than going back to her lonely apartment.

It's certainly better than thinking about how she now knows that Castle doesn't care about her. He'd been quite happy that someone else wanted to date her. Didn't express any interest on his own account. It's just the same as when she was staying in the loft, and indeed the four weeks or so and one predatory actress since. Well, now she's sure. Now she knows.

Now she knows what she only suspected, then. She thinks back.

Staying in the loft had been surprisingly, bitterly uncomfortable. The first night, she'd practically had to handcuff herself to her own – no, the guest – bed not to slip downstairs and join him in his: desperate for the comfort and security of his broad frame to keep away the nightmares and the shock; desperate to recover the feeling she'd had when he carried her out of the wreckage and flames.

But then, it had already all begun to go wrong, almost immediately she walked through the door.

Despite issuing the invitation, Castle had been tense from the moment after she was ushered in, when it had become instantly clear that he hadn't pre-warned his family. To say they were surprised would have been an understatement. Alexis had quite clearly been horrified. It had, later the same day, become apparent that, quite understandably, Alexis didn't want the loft to be blown up. If she'd merely said that out loud, it might have cleared the air. If, of course, that had been all of it. Beckett wasn't sure about that, initially, either.

The least she could have done, she'd thought, was offer to help: make dinner, or tidy up. Her help was politely – oh, so politely – turned down. Dad and I have got this, Alexis had simply said, and Castle didn't query it: simply told her she was their guest and need not help. He didn't see that she needed to.

That route to make herself useful closed, she'd thought that perhaps if she bought some groceries, and contributed that way, she'd feel better; feel less like a fifth wheel or a parasite. That had been wrong, too. Castle had been writing, lost in creative dreams, when she'd come back. The bitter memory was still sharp.

"Oh," Alexis had said, with an undercurrent of disparagement. "We always shop at Whole Foods Market. We only buy organic." As if her purchases were deficient. She'd put them in the fridge anyway, but three days later she hadn't been given the slightest chance to cook, and the groceries were still there, untouched. Beckett hadn't mentioned it to Castle, who in turn hadn't mentioned it right back. By the next day, they'd quietly disappeared.

Castle, in fact, had seemed to be avoiding her. She'd thought that they were – well, easy with each other. She'd thought – who cares what she thought? What does it matter? He'd been almost remote, under the comfortable, practiced charm. Sometimes she'd thought he was about to say something, but then there was always someone else around. On the rare occasions she might have had the chance to talk to him, Alexis had needed something, or come to tell him something, or simply been there, and Beckett was entirely unwilling to open any sort of a conversation in front of her. If it was too late for Alexis, it was Martha, with whom at least there was no undercurrent of tension, but who was equally often present.

Talking in the precinct was likewise impossible. The case was relentless, and there was never a moment when there weren't others present.

In desperation, she'd taken to staying at work as long as she could, to avoid the uncomfortable atmosphere and glances. And, of course, to avoid Castle. It had become clearer and clearer that staying at the loft had been a serious mistake. She doesn't, even now, know why he offered.

It had taken her less than a week of intensive searching, even before the case was done, to find a new apartment. She'd been damn lucky, but by that point she'd have taken a shared room in a brothel in the Bronx to get out. The collective relief on the faces of Alexis and, to a lesser extent, Martha, when she'd said that she'd be moving out in less than a further week had confirmed her view that she should never have accepted Castle's invitation in the first place. Castle hadn't said anything: neither obviously relieved nor disappointed. She hadn't asked for his help to move. She hadn't enough possessions left that any help would have been needed, and she wouldn't impose on him further. She'd been enough of an imposition.

Ever since then it had been awkward. Nothing had been said, nothing discussed. Castle had never mentioned it again, and she felt there was a distance between them. She'd thought… but it doesn't matter, now. They still worked together, and they still solved crimes. He had still brought coffee for her, so maybe it had just been a blip. (But she knew it wasn't. It was all different.) She had hoped it was just a blip: staying at the loft a step too far that he didn't know how to get out of after it spilled from his mouth. Maybe it was just the stress of his family being – quite clearly – unhappy with it. Maybe they could have gone back to where they were.

Maybe. But alone in her new apartment where nothing was quite where it should be, where so many things were missing because she hadn't replaced them yet: where she kept tripping on empty spaces and adding them to a list of things to buy, when the insurance came through, when she got her next pay cheque… late at night and alone, she knew that there was something else missing, something else which wasn't where it should be.

Maybe then she had cried, a little.

It doesn't matter now. He doesn't care, and he never cared, and it had all only been a stupid little fantasy with nothing to back it up. Well, now she knows the truth.

He never wanted her. He never will.

Castle had left right away after Demming had dropped his little bombshell. Of course he'd known that Demming was interested in Beckett. Couldn't miss it: the man was wandering around with his tongue hanging out. Whenever he was around, a mop was needed to wipe the drool from the floor. Still, he hadn't expected that Demming would ask her out already.

He hadn't expected that she would accept. Why else would Demming have checked if he was interested? The worst thing is, that he, Castle, would have liked Demming, in other circumstances. He's a decent enough guy, and Robbery sounds pretty interesting as a foil to Homicide.

He supposes he should have seen it coming. He'd provided Beckett with a place to stay, and that's where it had all started to go wrong. He'd had to push her into accepting, with Montgomery's active connivance, but she'd been grateful and happy and even a little clingy (that is to say, clingy for Beckett. What that means, is that she had left with him and shared the cab and even not twisted his ear when he'd – not quite accidentally – laid his hand over hers). He'd thought it would all give him a chance to move things forward.

Instead, he's ten steps back.

It had all started to go wrong the minute they'd got to his loft. With hindsight, perhaps he should have – not consulted, it's his loft and he decides who stays, but – warned his family that Beckett would be staying. Perhaps he should have done so before they'd seen the news. They had been shocked, and not in a good way. His mother had confined herself to Well, I suppose you couldn't do anything else, and it's Katherine, which had, if not been approval, had certainly not been disapproval. She had, of course, added a small lecture on not getting his hopes up, since he'd screwed up so badly last summer, but on balance she'd been okay about it.

Alexis had been a totally different matter. He'd never thought his daughter would be a problem. She'd been furious with him, all in whispers so that Beckett wouldn't hear it. She'd accused him of having no care for their safety. Of course he'd set Alexis straight, but it hadn't been a good start. Still, after he'd read her the riot act about Beckett being their guest, she'd reset her thinking. In fact, she'd been really considerate: making sure that Beckett didn't need to lift a finger even though she'd offered every time. He'd been proud of her behaviour.

The only slight fly in the ointment had been that he'd never seemed to get a chance to be alone with Beckett. He couldn't neglect Alexis, who'd needed his input for a number of matters: troubles at school, and his mother, as ever, had been impervious to hints. Beckett herself hadn't exactly been available: she'd been working on the case, when there was no chance to talk in private, and then when she got back to the loft, which had become some time after he did, she'd gone to her room early, in order not to interfere with Alexis's issues. He'd thought that was totally considerate, too.

Perhaps it was as well. He'd been desperate to take the look of shock and pain and terror from her eyes; to take her to his bed and simply coddle and cosset her until she was comforted and eased, but he'd thought that maybe it was too much, too soon, too suffocating; or worse, using proximity to push her a little faster or harder or further than she would really want. So he hadn't tried to force the issue when at the loft, and assumed that he'd get a chance shortly.

And then she'd come home – well. There's another problem in his thinking. It's his home, and he was and is thinking about it as their home – and announced that she'd found a new apartment, and the deal was so good she couldn't afford not to take it. She'd be moving out again in a week. Out from under your feet, she'd said, and he couldn't read her face at all. He'd been so shocked that he'd been completely unresponsive, and then she'd – naturally, not that it helped at all – been working on the cases and then in her room and Alexis had still been having massive issues at school (teen friendships, ugh: one needs to be Von Clausewitz to come out ahead in those wars; even Machiavelli would have problems) and needed more of his time than at any point since she'd started high school.

And so he'd never managed to talk about it with her, and couldn't tell her how unhappy he was that she was leaving, and how much he wanted her to stay for longer. He'd never got a minute alone with her even then. She'd moved herself out: hadn't asked for help. It's only a suitcase, Castle, she'd said, with a miserably bitter edge, everything else is gone, and of course she didn't need help with one single solitary suitcase.

And since then, he's had the very uncomfortable feeling that they're drifting apart, and he doesn't know why and hasn't asked. She's walked away, and he's not running after her. He hasn't seen her new apartment. He shouldn't be worried, because no-one's seen her new apartment, but he is. He'd have thought that she would at least invite him over for takeout and a glass of wine, but no. He hasn't mentioned it, waiting for her to start the conversation, but she hasn't started any conversations except about cases. She just does not care, and he is both hurt and seriously pissed about it.

Not that it's been helped by that damn actress. He'd been so pleased that the option to film Nikki had been taken up, but then he'd been – well, accosted – by Ellie Monroe, and he is sure that Beckett thinks he'd slept with her. He hadn't, but it hadn't been for want of her trying, in an entirely obvious and public fashion.

So currently Beckett is as barriered as she's ever been, a thin glass wall behind her eyes and blocking her from him: and because she isn't opening conversations neither is he, and he hasn't the faintest idea where to begin.

But now, of course, there is the presence of Detective Tom Demming. Tall and handsome, and apparently a nice guy. He should have said that yes, there is something going on. Should have told him to back off, Beckett was his, even if she isn't. Should have done something, anything, to stop it cold. But instead he'd said that there was no flag on the play, and walked from the gridiron, forfeiting the game.

He's distracted over dinner, and when the cleaning up is done, retreats to his office to stare at his screen and wonder why it's all gone so horribly wrong, when it should all have been going perfectly right. He'd thought that they were approaching a new milestone, and instead he's back to square one, and worse, he'll have to watch Beckett getting together with Demming, and he'll know he didn't even try to stop it.

He sits alone in his office, sips his coffee and tries not to look at the whiskey bottle, and wishes he could see inside her head. Still, he'll be there tomorrow, with her coffee. They can just be friends, and that will be just fine.

He doesn't want to be friends. He'd never wanted simply to be friends.

"Where's Demming?" Espo asks, early the next morning. "Thought he was gonna be new man on the team?"

"He's done," Beckett says, in a way that doesn't invite questions. That doesn't stop Espo.

"Yeah? Thought you wanted him on this case?"

"Nah. Wouldn't have fitted. One person too many."

Espo subsides, but thinks considerably the more. He and Ryan have noticed that Beckett's been a little off for weeks now. She's working just a little harder, a little more intensely, ever since she got blown up. They can't put their finger on what's wrong, because she banters and glares and rolls her eyes at them just as ever; Castle banters and makes or brings coffee just as ever; she dishes out orders and suggestions and solves cases just as well as ever: no hint of a problem. But something's up.

When Beckett disappears on some new criminal-catching trail, Esposito turns to Ryan.

"What's with her? I thought it was just bein' blown up, but 's still somethin'."

"Dunno. She moved outta Castle's in a few days, though. Found a good deal an' took it."

"You're kiddin' me? Moved out? I'da thought he'd've moved heaven an' earth to keep her there."

"Seems not. Anyway, who's gonna stop Beckett doin' whatever she wants when she's got a plan in mind?"

"Dunno," Espo says. "She's shoved Demming off the team, though."

Ryan's eyes widen. "Yeah? Oh boy. Thought he was gettin' around to askin' for a date."

"Me too. Guess he thought better of it."

"Or she blew him out."

"We should find out," Espo says, and adds virtuously at Ryan's look of terror, "in case he knows anythin' more. He was a good enough guy when I was back in the 54th. No reason you 'n' me need to burn any bridges."

"Okay," Ryan says, still nervously.

"I'll have coffee if you're making one," says Beckett from the break room door. "If not, we got a lead." Which the boys accurately translate as Time to get your asses in gear and do some work.

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All chapter titles are from the same source. Speculation, or knowledge, is encouraged.