A/N: Alright, here it is, the last chapter. I was entertained when people suggested that I have Lanie slap Castle upside the head verbally. I originally couldn't think of a reason for him to call her in the first place. Then I realized, although I could have worked it in somehow for his book, there was another, far more direct way to do it. I hope everyone enjoys the end.
Oh, and thanks again to my reviewers. When I started writing this I really didn't have much of it planned out just the start and the end, not so much the middle. So I've loved reading all of your comments, some of which I ended up incorporating into the finished story. So thank you.
"How's it going Detective?" the coroner asked.
"Castle knows about Demming," Kate informed her friend.
Lanie paused. "Does he?" she asked. "You told him?" she assumed.
"Yeah," Kate admitted. "Well, technically Martha then me," she admitted.
"Martha?" Lanie asked. "And how did she know?"
"I told her," Kate admitted.
"When?" Lanie asked.
"Earlier in the summer," Kate replied. "I called her after I went to her play. My breakup with Tom came up in conversation."
Lanie paused, suddenly suspicious. "Kate, what exactly did you tell Castle happened with Demming?"
"Well, I didn't give him all the gory details," Kate shot back. "I just confirmed that we broke up at the start of the summer because something wasn't quite right."
"Uh huh," Lanie said, completely unimpressed. "I don't suppose you told him why something wasn't quite right between you and Tom or even exactly when you broke up."
"Well, it's not like I could remember the exact date," Kate pointed out, deciding she may as well try the same trick that she'd used with Castle.
Of course, since Lanie already knew the rest of the story it didn't work quite as well the second time. "Kate…" she said.
"What?" her friend shot back defensively. "That's all he needs to know."
"Is it?" Lanie asked.
"Fine, that's all I want him to know," Kate clarified.
"Sweetie…" Lanie tried.
"It is," Kate isnisted. "And the good thing is, he totally understood. Said he knew what it was like when something was missing from a relationship thanks to his failed marriages. It's why he likes being a carefree man about town, far less risk in a casual one-night stand you know?" Kate added cheerfully.
Lanie felt her hands balling into fists. She'd kill him. That's all there was to it. Didn't matter that he technically had every right to make that decision. Lanie Parish was going to lure Richard Castle into a false sense of security, then, when his defences were down she'd strike. She was almost positive Esposito would give her a hand with the messy bits. "You okay?" Lanie asked tentatively.
"Sure!" Kate said in the same falsely bright tone. "Why wouldn't I be?" she asked. "After all, this is pretty much exactly what I wanted anyway. Castle and I can go back to working together the way we were before he left. He'll shadow me, I'll insult him. It's fine. And it's exactly what I expected," she replied.
Lanie couldn't help wondering if her friend had secretly been hoping that her expectations would be proven wrong in the end. But as long as Kate insisted that everything was fine, there really wasn't much that a best friend could do. "Alright," she said slowly. "But if you ever want someone to smack some sense into writer-boy you know where to find me."
"That might be too big a job for any one person," Kate said dryly. "Even you."
"Maybe," Lanie agreed. "But it could be fun to try anyway."
Kate laughed. "Yeah, well, you, Ryan and Esposito are apparently going to be fighting for the privilege. Although you probably already know that. You and Esposito are pretty chatty after all."
"We may have an agreement to share basic information," Lanie admitted. "As long as it doesn't break confidences," she added. "I take it the boys called to make sure you were alright."
"Ryan did," Kate admitted. "It was sweet."
Lanie shrugged. "We're on your side Kate."
"No need, there are no sides," Kate assured her friend. "But thanks."
"Alright, I guess I won't make Castle's life difficult," Lanie promised with a sigh.
"You're welcome to join in on our plans to haze him when he gets back if it'll make you feel better," Kate offered.
"Oh, you know I'm up for that," Lanie replied.
"Excellent," Kate replied. "Start brainstorming."
"Okay," Lanie agreed. "I'll do that."
"Okay," Kate agreed.
"And I'm sorry," Lanie said softly.
Kate paused. "Yeah," she said softly. "I can't decide if I am or not."
Lanie hung up the phone shaking her head. Personally, she was sorry for both of them.
"Oh, hello Darling. How are you?"
"I'm well," Castle told her. "I just thought I'd call and let you know that I just sent Gina the final draft of my book."
"Oh that's wonderful!" Martha said exuberantly. "You must be thrilled."
"Yeah," Castle said with a grin. "I think it's pretty good."
"Well, let's hope so," Martha said. "After all, Alexis is starting college soon. That won't be cheap."
'Thank you mother," Castle said in irritation. "Your support as always is heartening."
"It's my job," Martha replied.
"Anyway," Castle replied, deciding to just move on with the conversation, "I thought I'd let you know that I'll be heading back to the city tomorrow."
"You're not staying down there for a couple of days?" Martha asked. "To relax maybe?"
"No need," Castle explained. "Not with the book done at least. Besides, I'm on my own anyway. It'd be different if I was having a friend, or friends joining me, but since I'm not, I figured I may as well head back to the city, clean the dust off the counters and whatnot."
"I thought you had a cleaning service that did that," Martha pointed out.
"The metaphorical dust then," Castle said in exasperation.
"Whatever. Oh, speaking of friends," Martha said, "Did you talk to Detective Beckett to find out if she was upset with you?"
"I did," Castle confirmed. "She said the break-up with Demming must have slipped her mind," he told her. "And you were right; they did break up early in the summer."
"So she isn't upset?" Martha double-checked.
Castle paused. "I don't think so."
"What?" his mother asked in irritation. "I thought that was the whole point of calling her!" It sounded like her idiot son still hadn't figured out anything in the end. Well that clinched it; he was completely and utterly hopeless.
"Well, I got sidetracked," Castle said, defending himself. "She gave Alexis some really great advice and I had to thank her for that, then we started talking about the case, then we got distracted with relationships and why they sometimes don't work, and it must have slipped my mind."
"What on earth did you say about failed relationships?" Martha asked. "That must have been a cheerful topic."
"Nothing much," her son admitted. "Just that sometimes they feel off. That something's missing. Which is why I sometimes prefer something a little less serious, a little more fun. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about mother. It was practically your motto for the past year, at least up until you met Chet."
Martha let out an exasperated sigh. Hopeless wasn't a strong enough word for what her son was. "Yes, but then I did meet Chet," she explained. "Who you, with surprising wisdom I might add, told me I should give a second chance to. Where that wisdom's got to now I'll never know. It sounds to me like you're hopeless."
"Hey!" Castle replied. "I'm not hopeless. Beckett and I are getting along just fine."
"Are you?" Martha asked. "And are you okay with things being just fine?"
"I think so," he admitted.
"Well, you better make sure," Martha told him. "Because you're only going to get so many chances."
"Chances at what?" he asked. "To be friends?"
"Don't be a fool," Martha replied. "Even you can't be that dense."
"Mother…" he said pleadingly. "I see her almost every day. She's becoming important to Alexis. She's helping me with my books. She's important."
"Exactly my point," Martha replied.
"I don't know," he said softly. "Besides, she's made her opinion pretty clear."
"An opinion it sounds like you've been reinforcing," his mother pointed out.
"Look it's not that simple," Castle tried to explain.
"Of course it's not," Martha said softly. "I never thought it would be. But make sure you have all the information before you make up your mind."
"I have most of it," Castle admitted.
"Then either get the rest, or hope the assumptions you're making are correct son," Martha warned him. "After all, it's like Detective Beckett told Alexis, this isn't a decision anyone else can make for you. You're going to have to make the right one on your own."
Castle sighed, he knew that. "I know. I'll talk to you later Mother," he said after a brief pause.
"Alright Dear. I'll see you when you get back to the city," Martha promised.
Castle fiddled with his phone. He had all the information, didn't he? After all, even if Kate had broken up with Demming soon after he'd left New York City that certainly didn't mean that she'd chosen him over the other Detective. And... And besides, it was like he'd told her, serious relationships were a risk. And he had a lot to lose.
And she didn't even want one. Not with him. He wouldn't be any good for her at all.
On the other hand, it might be an idea to double check that he was right. You know, just to make sure that the two of them were on the same page and all.
Only one way left to do that. He just had to work up the courage.
"Hello Dr. Parish."
"Richard Castle. This is a pleasant surprise," Lanie said. "I was wondering if you were ever going to get around to calling me."
"So you're not mad at me then?" Castle asked, in some relief.
"Why would I be mad at you?" Lanie asked a little too innocently.
"Oh, no!" Castle objected immediately. "I'm so sick of that. I've heard that from everybody all summer. Everybody claims not to be mad, but then acts a bit like they are."
"Even Beckett?" Lanie asked. It was almost unfair really, given that she knew both sides of the story and he barely even knew one. Of course, she was going to use that to her advantage anyway. Fairness could be overrated.
"Well, Beckett eventually admitted that she's not mad," Castle acknowledged. "And in a lot of ways she's been the most normal of all of you."
"But you think she is mad, despite what she says." Lanie double checked.
"I'm not sure." Castle admitted.
"Castle, I'm her best friend," Lanie reminded him.
"I know that," he replied.
"Then you should also know that if she's told you that she's not mad, then I'm hardly going to tell you different am I?" Lanie pointed out. "If she is mad at you, she's got her reasons, and they're hers to tell." As much as Lanie would have loved to sit the writer-boy down and explain everything to him, through a megaphone, held directly up against his ear, Lanie knew that if she did that Kate would never forgive her.
"Why do women do that?" Castle asked in irritation. "They say they're not mad, when they secretly are, because they want us to guess. It's like they want us to read their minds." And though he thought he knew Kate reasonably well, he certainly couldn't read her mind. He only knew what she told him.
"Not read our minds," Lanie corrected. "No, not read our minds. And believe me, we get that guys aren't always the smartest, and sometimes the need things spelled out for them, but sometimes... well, sometimes we kind of hope that the right guy will figure it out on his own, without our help if you know what I mean," Lanie said slowly, enunciating each syllable, hoping he'd get a clue.
"Figure it out on..." Castle repeated slowly.
"You're a smart guy Castle," Lanie assured him with a small shrug. "Well, some of the time anyway. Maybe you just need to listen to her when she's trying to tell you something," Lanie said significantly.
"I do listen to her!" Castle insisted. He did. He always tried to listen to her. He didn't always do what she said, but he tried to listen all the same.
"Always?" Lanie asked. "There's never been a time when you've brushed her off when she was trying to tell you something important? When the two of you have been interrupted? And then you had to leave suddenly?"
Castle growled in frustration. He was so very sick of hearing about his supposedly sudden departure. "Okay, so I left a bit quickly in the spring I get that, but I needed a break. For the book, and Gina thought that it'd help me get started if she went with me for the first week or so. That's why we left so suddenly from the..." he stopped talking abruptly.
"Yes," Lanie said sweetly. "And how did writing the book go? I heard you're almost done. Your publisher, and your ex-wife, must be very pleased." Lanie couldn't tell him what he'd done wrong, but she could make damn well sure he realized. And she could enjoy every minute of his discomfort.
"She wanted to tell me something," Castle said softly.
"Who?" Lanie asked. "Your ex-wife? I'd have thought she'd have had ample time for that, you two all cozy up there together in the Hamptons."
"Not Gina," Castle said in irritation. "Beckett. Before I left, she, she said she wanted to tell me something."
"Did she?" Lanie asked. "That's interesting. Now that you mention it, I think I remember that."
"We got interrupted," Castle added absently.
"It happens," Lanie replied. "Bad timing."
The bottom dropped out of Castle's stomach. He had missed something. He hadn't done anything wrong, but he'd missed something. She'd wanted to tell him something, and he'd blown her off. He'd walked away. Oh God. She'd broken up with Demming at the start of the summer. What if she'd been about to tell him that they'd broken up before they left... What else had she been about to tell him? "Do you know what she was going to say?" he asked.
"I don't," Lanie denied. "She pulled you out into the hall to tell you about it, remember?"
"Right." Castle said stupidly.
"Right," Lanie repeated a little hardly, twisting the knife just a little bit.
Castle leaned up against the wall. It would explain it, why everyone was mad at him, but not mad. Why Beckett had been acting strange. Damn. "You know what she wants though?" Castle asked hopefully, even though he knew the Doc'd never tell him.
"Not exactly," Lanie replied. "I don't think she knows what she wants, not anymore," Lanie admitted. "Do you? Know what you want that is?" she asked curiously.
Castle paused. Did he? He'd been jealous, but did that mean he wanted... And if Beckett had changed her mind anyway... Was it even an issue anymore? Did he want it to be?
"Because now you've got to figure it out," Lanie told him. "It's up to you now. I don't think she's going to be pulling you out into the hallway again anytime soon."
"No," Castle had to agree.
"On the other hand, she is looking forward to working with you when you get back," Lanie told the man, feeling a wave of sympathy for the writer. "She missed you, though she may never say it. She didn't want you to be gone for good. She does want to be friends."
"And you think I don't want to be friends?" Castle asked indignantly.
"So you do know what you want then?" Lanie asked. "Well, good for you."
Castle almost growled in frustration. No, he did not know what he wanted. Why was this irritating woman being so... irritating. But then, he should have been prepared for this. This is what comes of calling a woman's best friend for information. It was like poking a lion with a stick, then walking through a field of poison ivy and rolling in a pile of fire ants. Even if you did manage to get the information you wanted, it usually came with a fair bit of punishment. "Lanie..."
He sighed. "I'm done my book," he told her. "I'll be back in the city tomorrow, and back at the precinct in a week or so."
"I'll look forward to that," Lanie told him. "We all will. Really Castle."
He smiled softly. "Thanks, me too."
"See you soon then," Lanie said.
"And try and think about what I said, if you can," Lanie added dryly, before hanging up.
"Believe me," Castle muttered to himself. "I will."
"Hey, it's me."
"Oh, hey Castle," Beckett said in surprise. "How're you?"
"Good," he admitted. "Look, I was just calling, because, well, I finished my book."
"That's great!" she said, clearly pleased for him.
"Yeah," he agreed. "I'm on my way back to the city this afternoon, well pretty much now actually."
"Wow," Kate said after a brief pause. "That was fast."
"Nothing keeping me here anymore," Castle explained absently. There was also nothing keeping him away anymore either.
"I guess not," Kate agreed in amusement.
"Anyway," Castle continued. "I just thought I should let you know, in case you needed to get a hold of me, or something. And I thought I'd get settled in the apartment, then come back to the station in about a week or so. Maybe a week Monday? If that's alright with you."
"Yeah, that's fine," she agreed. "That's great."
"Good," Castle said in relief.
"Hey you know what?" Kate asked suddenly.
"What?" he asked.
"We should do something," she said. "Celebrate your return to civilization," she added with a grin. "We could all get dinner or something. I'm sure the guys would love to see you, and Lanie too."
"That sounds nice," Castle admitted. "Why don't you figure out what day's good for all of you and then let me know."
"Okay," Kate said pleasantly. "But you'd better be free, since you're the guest of honour and all that."
"You're not going to make me wear a stupid hat or anything?" he double checked.
"Would we do that?" Kate asked innocently.
"Absolutely," Castle told her with a smile.
"You'll probably have to make a speech too," Kate told him.
"That I don't mind so much," he admitted.
"I didn't think you would," she said rolling her eyes.
"I've missed you Kate," He said softly.
Kate smiled. "I guess I've missed you too," she admitted. "Just a little."
"I'll see you soon," he promised.
"Yeah," she admitted.
"Until then," he told her.
"Until then," she repeated. "And Castle?"
"Thanks for calling."
"Anytime," he told her before hanging up the phone.
Castle grabbed his last bag and made sure to lock up the beach house. He glanced around him one more time before getting in his car. The drive back to the city would probably be long, especially if he hit traffic. But that was okay, he could use the time. After all, he had a lot to think about.
He needed to make up his mind, to decide what it was he wanted, whether he wanted to make a change, to decide if he was ready for something real. There was no escaping a decision, and only he could make it. And if he did want change, then he needed to go after it.
After all, he didn't want to miss any other opportunities.
He just had to decide if she was worth the risk.
Please nobody shoot me. This was always intended to be where it ends. My plan was to write something that would, in theory, fit in reasonably well with the actual show. And hey, look on the bright side, it's probably shippier than what we'll really get in the fall…