Disclaimer: nope, definitely don't own them.


Beckett was dreading returning to the bullpen the next day, not fully confident her newly reformed armor was strong enough to face Castle and the ME, and she knew they would track her down sooner rather than later. She needn't have worried, though, because at 5 am that morning dispatch called her with a new case, and she could use the extra protection of a murder to solve, to keep them at arm's length a while longer.

The first her team knew of her return was the click clack of her heels down the alleyway, both of them turning in scary unison to the sight of Detective Beckett in full investigative mode. She nodded briefly to Ryan, who was further away, before her usual first question to Esposito, her voice crackling with command.

"What do we got?"

At the familiar voice Lanie looked up from where she had been bending over the body and released a sigh of relief. She waited for Kate to make her way over to her, offering a small nod and smile, but the detective didn't in any way acknowledge the ME. Beckett moved around the body, taking in all the tiny details that she could slot into the puzzle of the man's death later, and deliberately ignoring the ME, even when she stood up and moved to come closer and speak with a modicum of privacy. Before Lanie could open her mouth, though, Beckett was issuing instructions to her team.

"Espo, get the unis organizing the canvas, see if they can find his wallet or phone, his pockets are obviously empty. Ryan, see what you can track down for street or security cams in this area and the surrounding 3 blocks. It's a rundown area but we may get lucky. "There was a subtle intake of breath, then "Dr Parish, please confirm TOD and cause as soon as you can." Then the sharp staccato of her heels carried her back out of the alley and into her cruiser, to begin collating the information at the precinct.

Ryan and Espo had both seen Beckett ignore Lanie, and Lanie's crestfallen expression. Being excellent detectives, they could tell there was trouble between the friends, and wondered if they should have gotten involved in helping Lanie track Beckett down two days earlier. They also avoided talking to Lanie outside of the current case, and 0nce their tasks at the scene were complete, they spent the ride back to the precinct discussing what Lanie could have done to get that reaction from her best friend. Neither of them even remotely considered the possibility that Castle was involved, as they had not seen him in the Precinct for over a week, and even then, he was acting like he didn't want to be there.

The case proceeded normally. Lanie tried to speak to Kate, with the lead-in of news from the autopsy, but was summarily shut down, and Beckett sent Esposito down to the morgue to collect the report. Unfortunately, Lanie had a couple more bodies to deal with, so she couldn't leave the Morgue and confront Kate until late the afternoon of the second day of the case, and then she was stunned to learn that Beckett had left at the end of shift, something she had never done before. Both Ryan and Esposito were also shocked, but they knew where their loyalties lay so they refused to be drawn into conversation and potentially gossip about their team leader. Lanie's frustration with all three detectives boiled over, and she flagged the first cab she could find, directing the driver to Kate's address. On the way she remembered to text Castle with an update.

Once she arrived at Kate's apartment, she could see only one light on from the outside, but she hoped that meant her friend was home. 10 minutes of fruitless knocking on her door though, and two unanswered calls to her phone, meant Lanie was still on the outside. She suddenly recalled the spare key she had used last time to check on Kate but found its hiding place sadly empty. Once again, Lanie had no option but to go home defeated.

Castle had spent the last three days caught in a quagmire of indecision. He was still angry about her lie, but he really wanted to fix the situation with Kate, talk to her and apologize – and perhaps call her to task for getting the totally wrong impression about Lanie's presence in his loft – but he couldn't see how to get to that point. He knew he was being hypocritical, because hadn't he done exactly the same thing, jumping to conclusions when he had overheard Beckett in the box with Bobby Lopez? God, they were such a mess! He knew that forcing Kate to do anything she didn't want to was a short route to disaster, so he couldn't just turn up at her apartment and confront her. But he also recognized that the longer he left the current situation to fester, the more time she would have to build her walls back up and shut him out. The latest text from Lanie just confirmed what he feared – Kate Beckett blocked anyone out of her life who hurt her. He tried to feel a little pleasure at the confirmation that Kate still had feelings for him – for if she didn't, surely, she wouldn't care if her best friend was sleeping with him – but the sheer magnitude of the disaster he now found himself in sucked whatever joy he could muster right out of him as soon as it appeared. It didn't matter if Kate Beckett had feelings for him, if she never acted on those feelings, and never allowed him close enough to tell her about his feelings, to prove her wrong about her assumptions.

Beckett had in fact gone home to her apartment, and at the first knock on her door, had regretted the error of leaving her lounge light on, and turned her phone to silent. She sat in her dark bedroom, studiously ignoring the knocking and buzzing of her phone until it eventually stopped. Only then did she have a quick shower and get into bed. Sleep was a long time coming, and her dreams were more rightly called nightmares where she imagined Lanie and Castle in all sorts of compromising positions. She woke sobbing, roughly wiping her tears away and adding another layer of lacquer to her protective shell. In her rational moments she thought she had inadvertently given Lanie permission to pursue Castle by saying she was giving up – but did the woman have to jump so quickly? These thoughts occupied her waking hours, when she wasn't fully focused on the live case, so Beckett threw herself into her work and ignored everything else. No more allowing anyone into her life or her heart – it always ended in disaster. Hour by hour and day by day, she would rebuild her walls to keep everyone out. Only in her unconscious mind did she mourn the love that could have been.

Ryan watched Beckett day by day become more brittle, more closed off, and a small part of him wept for her. She was back to how she was before Castle joined the precinct, but this time she wasn't even enjoying an occasional night out with them or even Lanie. He spoke to Jenny about his concerns, but she didn't really know Castle or Beckett really well and couldn't offer any advice. She did ask him early on what Kate's dad must think about this situation, which reminded Ryan uncomfortably of Jim Beckett's face at the hospital while they were waiting on news of Beckett. The man had been devastated that his only daughter had been shot, as even then they knew it probably had something to do with his wife's murder. Beckett was again drowning in her work, not even a year after that life altering event, and Jim may be the only person who could pull her out of this dangerous spiral. Ryan did not even consider the other candidate for helping Beckett, as he had proven himself inadequate and no longer interested in the task.

It took a bit of doing, but he managed to track down Jim's phone number and arranged to meet at a local diner. It was hard to explain over the phone what he wanted to talk about, and Jim was immediately concerned, but Ryan gave him enough reassurance that 'Katie' was OK for the man to agree to a meeting the next day. Ryan then had his own sleepless night, working out how and what to say to his boss' father.


A/N: I am sorry for the irregular posting schedule of this fic, but it is being written as I post. If that doesn't suit you, I understand you may want to unfollow and wait for it to be marked complete. At this stage I cant even predict how long this fic will be, as usual once i start writing the story gets away from me.