Title: Far From the Tree

Disclaimer: And no ownership was won, stolen, or sold. Just borrowed.

Author's Note: A co-authored story by Chezchuckles and FanficwriterGHC.

"What if he's fat?" Ryan chuckled.

"Yeah, or bald. Oh, man, what if that's in your future, Castle?" Esposito exclaimed, bumping his fist with his partner's. "What if those silky locks are just itching to start falling out?"

"Ha ha," Castle grumbled playfully, though Kate heard something off in his voice as she approached the three of them, standing around the table in the break room, drinking victory coffee without her. "Very funny."

"Would you still find him attractive without hair, Beckett?" Ryan asked with a grin as Castle handed her a cup of coffee, shuffling over so that she had room to stand next to him.

Kate took a sip and shot Castle a small smile—perfect, as always. He smiled back, but the little spark in his eyes had fallen out. "Why are we talking about Castle's hair, or the possible lack-there-of?" she volleyed back, feeling the side of his foot press against hers in response.

"Well, Castle's meeting his Dad," Esposito shrugged with a small grin. "And I mean, if he's bald, well, doesn't that just bode well for our little media darling?"

Kate glanced over at Castle, watching as he put on a false smile, narrowing his eyes at Esposito. "At least I still have some."

"Hey, I can grow it back," Espo argued, puffing out his chest.

Kate shook her head. "Good close," she cut in, stopping their little machismo fest. Castle was being, well, Castle about it all, but there was just something to the tightness of his eyes while he joked around that made Kate want to stop the teasing. And she was usually such a fan of picking on him.

"Very," Ryan grinned. "Two days, four leads, and wham."

They clinked mugs and Kate let herself relax. It was good to feel that sense of closure. The case had been quick, but a bit brutal, with one throat slit and two women beaten. Their culprit, George Drathem, hadn't been the smartest of abusive guys, and had fled to a brother's house in New Jersey, pretty close to the bridge. Finding him had been easy, and getting the confession only took half an hour; he had been eager to take anything they would give him, once he realized that he wasn't going to get away.

Through it all, Castle had been in high spirits. But there was an underlying tension, a sort of fluttering that settled there under the surface. She didn't really blame him; meeting your long-lost father certainly deserved a certain amount of anxiety. He'd yet to say anything about it though, and more often than not, the meet-up had been the butt of jokes and jibes, rather than anything substantial. She watched him sit there, trying to figure him out. And he called her a mystery.

"Drinks tonight?" Esposito asked a few minutes later, when everyone had slumped, leaning against the counter or sagging into the rickety chairs around their sorry little table.

"I've got the…meet up," Castle said quietly. For the first time all day, Esposito and Ryan seemed to tune in. "But," he continued, turning a disarming smile on them that had the boys bouncing back to, well, boyish, instantly. "You guys feel free to take over the Haunt. In fact, play a few rounds of pool for me while you're at it."

Kate watched as he joked around with the guys for a few minutes, quietly sipping her coffee until his ring tone broke up the fun. With a quick, "excuse me," Castle was up and out of the room, talking hastily into his phone. She looked over at the guys, who seemed caught between curiosity and boisterous spirits.

"You gonna come with us, Beckett?" Ryan asked, readjusting his tie. "Have at least one half at the Haunt?"

"You saying I'm not a complete person without Castle, Ryan?" she said, giving him a steely look but exchanging glances with Esposito, who was trying not to laugh.

"No, not at all. I…oh, hey, look, gotta check in with Jenny!" he said hurriedly, checking his watch after making his statement, and then jetting out of the room.

"You'd think your glare wouldn't work on him after all this time," Esposito observed, stretching before standing to plop his cup into the sink. They never did their dishes, and yet, they were always clean the next day. Kate wondered if one of the night on-calls had a penchant for scrubbing.

"Are you saying that you've outgrown the fear, Esposito?"

He narrowed his eyes, puffed out his chest, and promptly spun around to leave the room. Kate laughed quietly and dumped her now-empty mug into the sink full of dishes, running some water over them for whoever washed them. She'd have to take a turn someday. It was only fair. But now she had more important things to do, like finding her partner. He wasn't sitting in his chair, but his jacket was still flung lazily across the back.

Ryan and Espo were closing up shop for the night, so she gave them a nod and wandered down the hall toward the bathrooms. She couldn't really explain it, but she didn't think Castle had picked up a normal call, and he'd completely lost his grin by the time he'd cleared the doorway. And though not usually one for hovering, this time, something just felt off.

She rounded the corner past the bathrooms and came to a halt. There, slumped down on the floor, knees pulled up, cell tossed haphazardly next to him, head back against the wall, was Richard Castle, looking more haggard than she could ever remember him being. Alright, maybe only second to that day he'd come to her bedside to bring her flowers, and she'd turned him away.

Castle rotated his head back and forth on his neck, tried not to feel her eyes on him. He wanted nothing more than to hole up in his study for five hours and write, escape a little, but he had this...meeting...tonight, and still, he was loath to leave Kate here alone.

Not that she needed him for paperwork. Not that she needed him at all. Not that anyone needed him lately-


He dropped his head and turned to look at her, that softness around her eyes that he'd come to love. He saw it even this far down the hallway, in the way she crossed her arms over her chest and paused there, the way her hip jutted out as if she was leaning his way.

Only tonight, he didn't want to see it there; he wanted it to be like it usually was between them. If he could just have everyone be normal-

"Castle. Your...father."

He hated having conversations halfway down the hall, but he didn't move. The phone call from his mother, and then-

That animal in his chest started gnawing away at his ribs again; Castle dropped his eyes, studied the lines of tile in the floor. After a long moment, he heard her walking his way, and then she slumped down on the floor beside him, her shoulder against his.

He gave her what he hoped was a smile and lifted his hand from the floor, waved her away. "Can we not...talk about that?"

When he lifted his eyes to finally look at her, her face had moved from tender to shocked. He wondered...oh, well, he rarely withheld from her, did he? She was surprised by it now. She shouldn't be, he thought bitterly. Only so much a man could confess, only so many ways he could bare his soul before he started catching on that it wasn't wanted.

"Oh-okay." Her shoulder shifted against his, away, and he felt the chill of the floor rise up into his bones.

Castle put his hands to the floor, prepared to stand. "Actually, I'm going to head home, if that's okay with you-"

"No," she said, into the cold space he felt around him. His eyes flickered over to hers. "No, it's not okay."

"What?" He fell back to his haunches on the floor, staring at her.

She caught his sleeve with her fingers. Her eyes were tight. "It's not okay. Give me ten minutes, and I can come with you. Get some dinner before?"

Something stirred in him, a different beast, and he had to avert his eyes. He studied the floor between his clasped hands, tried to detect the pattern of flecks in the tile, tried to calm the need that rose up in him, stronger than the rest of it—the need for her.

"Okay," he said finally, giving in. He had a few hours to kill anyway.

He heard her breathe out, a long sigh, and when he lifted his eyes, he saw the shade of insecurity cast over her face. Like she thought he might not say yes.

She should know by now. He could never refuse her.

She switched off her computer with twitching fingers, unnerved by Castle's behavior. He sat quietly in his chair, hands still, phone in his pocket, eyes fixed somewhere on the back wall through the metal mesh. He'd asked her to drop it, and she'd refused. For all the times he'd pushed her into opening up, how could he expect less? She'd hoped that they'd been making progress—that he was starting to understand that she was trying—but maybe they'd made less than she'd hoped.

"You ready?" she asked as she slipped into her jacket. Tonight didn't seem like the night to offer him the opportunity to help.

He nodded and followed her as she led them out of the bullpen and over to the elevator, pushing the button. Maybe if she got him out of the precinct, plied him with some good wine, and got him his favorite dinner, he'd loosen up. It occurred to her, as they silently rode the elevator to the floor, that a sullen, anxious Castle was a beast she didn't know how to tame. She could reign in his childish wonder, could channel his energy, could help him make the best of everything he had to offer, but this—this was different. And he was so damn good at helping her get out of a funk.

"So," she said tentatively when they hit the street, the cold air assaulting them, personifying the bubble he'd created, a few feet away from her, hands in his pockets. "Mr. Chow?"

He looked over at her, finally, and she fought the urge to turn away and start walking. He was staring at her like he was divining secrets from her pink cheeks and tired eyes, and any information he gleaned tonight could be dangerous. He was throwing her off, making it harder to keep herself in check.

"Chow sounds good," he offered. She waited until he'd taken a few steps to meet her before turning around, guiding them up the street.

She regretted the decision to walk two blocks into the five block hike. It was cold, freezing, and the silence between them wasn't helping. But she could fix that as well as he could.

"How's Alexis?" she asked, deciding to start with neutral family-related topics before diving in. The least she could do was to get him some food before she forced him to discuss a painful topic. He generally did the same for her, after all.

He shot her a glance and she caught the faintest trace of a smile at the corner of his mouth. "She's good. Waiting very impatiently for those decision letters."

Kate felt her own sympathetic smile creeping across her face. "I remember that. It's not fun."

"No," Castle chuckled, the sound warming her down to her toes, like he'd handed her coffee. Oh my, she was in a sorry state tonight, wasn't she? "It's not fun for anyone involved."

"It'll be over soon," she consoled him, reaching out to pat his arm.

They both stiffened, and she wondered if it was just tonight, or if they still hadn't passed this little barrier. Hell, at the wedding, they'd spent half the night wrapped around each other, and that had been a little over three weeks ago. She wouldn't retract her hand, not tonight, not when he needed support. And they'd damn well just have to get over themselves.

Withholding an aggravated sigh—at her, at him, at them, at the wall, at the case, at the cold—she settled her hand into the crook of his elbow and guided him around the corner on the last block. "Almost there," she mumbled, her breath rising in a white puff in front of them.

"Steely Detective Beckett ultimately falls victim to the 30 degree weather," he teased, watching her out of the corner of his eye. She'd hit him, but she was just glad that he was in there somewhere, beneath the anxiety and sullen demeanor.

"As I recall, we've both weathered worse than this," she fired back, a little unsure of her response, but proud of it all the same.

The shudder that coursed through his body at the thought made her rethink her statement. But then he turned his head and met her eyes. "Feel free to cuddle up at dinner, Detective. I hear I'm pretty good at staving off frostbite."

She pursed her lips to keep from smiling and gave his elbow a squeeze as they reached the doors. She let her hand fall and then beat him to the handle, holding the door open for her partner. To his credit, Castle took it well, giving her a playful smile before entering and holding open the next door for her. She hoped it was a sign (though, of course, she didn't believe in those). She opened one door, he the other. Equal.

"This your kind of place, Beckett?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows at the woman across from him, then reading the menu aloud to her. "Gold Leaf Sieu Mai garnished with 24 carat gold and shark's fin. Really?"

When he looked back at her, she was smirking. "Maybe. Who knows. A little 24 carat gold with my dinner-"

"I somehow doubt it," he laughed, feeling for the first time that strange release of tension in his chest, flowing out as he looked at her.

She smiled at him, so brilliant it dazzled, teeth and a wide mouth, thinning lips. Her tongue came to the back of her teeth; he could just see the pink tip at her canine.

That helped too, and he realized with a measure of bewilderment that his smile had been her goal. He let his lids lower as he looked back down at the menu. "Ooh, this sounds good, Beckett. Gamblers Duck—a contrast of tender and crispy served with pancakes & plum sauce."

"You're all about pancakes, aren't you, Castle?"

And that did it too, made it easier, the whole thing. Just that teasing note to her voice and the way she kept looking over at him, as if to gauge his reaction.

The waiter came over to place glasses of water on the table in front of them, and Castle took the opportunity to gesture towards him. "I've got the check-"


He held the waiter's eyes long enough for the man to nod, to see his absolute seriousness, and then the man turned to Beckett and offered humble apologies, asking if they wanted any appetizers.

Beckett frowned over the table at him, but this place was expensive, and while it had been her suggestion, he wanted...wanted to do something good. Before he had to face the bar, the drink with a man he didn't know. Didn't want to know.

She must have seen it his eyes because she sent the waiter away by asking for more time. "Castle. This was my suggestion-"

"Because you're trying to make me feel better. I know. I get it. And if you're gonna go to all this trouble, then the least I can do is pay."

"Castle-" She shook her head slowly, lifted her fingers to her bottom lip, her mouth pressed tightly together. He loved that line down her forehead, the tendon of tension or concentration that knit her eyebrows together and always seemed to precede a breakthrough in a case. Or a talking to.

"Let me have this one," he said quietly, and he let her see it in his eyes. The need and the flicker of anguish that had taken up in his guts the moment his mother told him.

"Castle," she murmured, and he really hoped that wasn't pity.

He glanced down to the menu, tried to ignore the sick slide of his guts every time he thought about later tonight.

"Okay, two ways to go here, Castle."

He looked up, startled by the factual, no-nonsense tone of her voice.

"We can talk about how you're going to meet your father tonight. Or we can ignore it for the rest of dinner, pretend like it's not going to happen. Which are you going to choose?"

Put like that, it made him sound a little cowardly, to hide behind polite conversation and banal small talk. He sighed and traced the rim of his water glass with a finger, debating.

Who else could he talk to but her? This woman who wanted to take him to Mr. Chow's to nudge him out of his funk, this woman with the smiles that made his whole being feel lighter, this woman who had her own issues to deal with but had let him near enough to her heart to make a place for him.

"We can talk about it," he said finally.

"And what will you be having?" their waiter asked, watching as both Kate and Castle quickly glanced at their menus.

She hadn't expected him to pay, and therefore hadn't been planning on ordering anything elaborate. Now that he was picking up the check, nothing changed. "I'll have the Mr. Chow Noodles, please," she said, handing the server her menu.

She watched as Castle gave the menu a last fleeting glance, his face solemn. She almost felt bad about pushing the issue—almost. If he wasn't talking to her about it, she could probably safely assume that he wasn't talking to anyone about it. She doubted that he'd be talking to Martha about his father, especially since what she'd gleaned in the little he'd told her gave her the feeling that Martha had been withholding the information for a long time. And he'd never burden Alexis with something like that.

"I'll have the Shanghai Little Dragon," Castle decided, handing his list over. The waiter nodded and disappeared, leaving them alone in the little booth, in the dark restaurant. It was the perfect setting for a romantic dinner, but it wasn't, and they weren't, and she had more important things to think about.

Castle fiddled with his napkin for a minute while Kate tried to bolster up the courage for a final push. He looked up and she stopped racking her brain for a solution. He'd talk all on his own. Though, if the reluctance on his face was anything to go by, he might finally understand what it was like to be on her side of the line. The thought didn't seem like such a victory, staring at his tired face.

"He's an actor," he said quietly, hand still toying with his napkin. "Charlie Sykes." Kate almost wished the name were familiar, but there was something comforting as well with knowing that she'd never heard of the man. He hadn't had enough success to be a huge star, with money and means to support a family. "He's a wash-up now, but he was pretty big then. They met in some Shakespeare production…I honestly didn't pay too much attention."

Kate watched him sigh and fought the urge to reach over and still his hand on the table. He sounded resigned, a little angry, and there was a tremor of well suppressed hurt beneath it all—hurt he'd buried under a staunch belief that it didn't matter. She wondered how much of that was for show, and how much he believed.

"He was about four years older than her, and she was still naive—her words not mine. But she loved him, that night, she says."

Kate unglued her mouth, wanting to ask a question, direct, pointed, to help him through it. "Did he know?"

Castle shook his head. "Mother never told him."

Kate watched as he began to ball the napkin up on the table. Her own hand shot out to still his, in a move it was obvious neither was expecting. They both twitched, her smaller hand over his large one, fingers digging into the small swatch of palm she could reach. But then his eyes met hers and the gratitude there spurred her into motion.

Her fingers smoothed over his palm and she watched in a kind of fascination as his hand turned over and held onto hers. She raised her eyes to meet his and found him relaxed across from her, mouth caught somewhere between tension and a grateful smile. All she'd done was touch his hand—now hold his hand. She was momentarily stunned by how much the gesture meant to him.

"And you're…how do you…are you okay?" she stumbled out. Eloquent.

He gave a rueful laugh. "Before she told me he'd figured it out and contacted her? I couldn't have cared less. Never had one, never needed one, and I was actually okay with that, you know?"

She didn't, but she wasn't about to take that away from him too. It made sense, but knowing what it was like to live with a gaping hole in her life, she couldn't imagine being perfectly fine with not having a father. Then again, it wasn't as though his had been ripped from him. Rather, now, his was being thrust on him. She wondered if it vaguely resembled the same feeling—that the world had shifted, perhaps without the grief, but tilted and unstable all the same. She squeezed his hand and he shot her a tired smile.

"And now, I just—how can I not go meet him? He wants to know me. And I want…" he trailed off and she studied his face. She knew that glint in his eyes that was so dull tonight, but still there, burning behind the apprehension and confusion.

"The story," she said quietly.

Of course he did. And it killed him.

The story.

"What I really want to do is go home and not deal with it. How's that for healthy?"

She made a movement with her hand, still curled around his, but it was a jerk of her arm that made her palm slip away, her fingers slide through his and hit the table. Castle looked down, a lick of breathless arousal shocking through him at the way their fingers intertwined, the feel of her thin digits between his, intimate in a way he'd never imagined hand-holding could be.

Well, they weren't exactly holding hands, not with just their fingers meshed together, but-

And then his brain cleared somewhat and he realized what he'd said, and to whom he had said it.

"Yeah," she murmured then, and her fingers twitched in his but didn't withdraw. "Running away and hiding sounds more like me, Castle. Not you."

He lifted his eyes to hers, ready to apologize, but he saw a lingering amusement in her gaze. She let him see it, then she was pressing her lips together in that barely suppressed smile, shifting back in the booth.

She still didn't move her hand away. In fact, her fingers had curled somewhat so that her grip on his was tighter.

In a fit of perverse and stubborn pride, Castle rotated his wrist, spreading his fingers wide enough to flip his hand around so that their palms pressed together, then he relaced their fingers. Because he wanted to. Because he had to go meet his long-lost father in a couple of hours and he really just wanted to hold Kate Beckett's hand.

She gave him a long look, deadly still, and he set his jaw against it, prepared to fight for this. He'd been patient; he'd been waiting for her, for whatever this was, and if he couldn't get a little sympathy hand-hold, then what the hell-

"All right," she drawled and lifted an eyebrow at him. "So. You want the story. Do you think that will help?"

"No," he sighed. "It will only make things worse."

"Worse?" Her one-word question held a trace of worry in it, curiosity yes, but a tinge of latent anxiety. Over him?

"Knowing the real story means...means he's not an astronaut. Not a spy for MI-6. Not an expert in Krav Maga. Not a tax attorney moonlighting as a tattoo artist. Not-"

"Okay, Castle," she said softly, her fingers squeezing his, their palms meeting with a kiss of warm skin to warm skin. "I get it."

He glanced out into the restaurant, watched the waiters circling, the slowly-filling tables, the patrons talking and eating. When he was six or so, he used to look for a father in every public place, pick one out of the crowd, imagine the life that particular man was leading based on his coat, his briefcase, his subway stop, his car, his dandruff, his glasses-

"I played a game." Castle paused, found his eyes inexorably pulled back to the woman sitting attentively across from him. "I told myself stories. Those stories led to this, where I am now. So I don't like...it doesn't feel right to invalidate all the stories I told myself with-" He shrugged, unable to continue.

"With the truth?"

Castle dropped his eyes to their hands, realized with some dawning horror that he'd been stroking the ridge of her thumb, the side of her palm, for who knew how long now. Over and over. Her skin was soft, softer than he expected for a woman who was combat-trained and carried a gun.

"You're the one who always wants the better story, Castle. Who shuffles around the facts to fit your crazy theories-"

"One of these days, Beckett, it really will be CIA assassins. I swear to you."

"I hope we're both around to see that."

"Even if we're old folks sitting in our rockers on our front porch-"

"You first," she interjected, lifting an eyebrow.

Now she was making old man jokes? And still holding his hand. Her palm was a furnace against his; their skin kept glancing off each other's, the friction of fingers adjusting, curling, squeezing.

"So long as you get there eventually," he remarked, softer and more pointed than he meant it to be. But true nonetheless.

He dropped his eyes to the table to keep from having to look at her, see whatever gentle rebuff might be in that closed mouth, that calm gaze.

"You won't have to wait long."

Castle's eyes darted up, met the blazing conviction in her look. He echoed the squeezing of his heart with the tight curl of his fingers against her hand, holding on to her.

Holding on to that promise.

Her eyes, which had migrated away from his face and to the waiter who appeared with their food, silent and unassuming, snapped back to his as Castle thanked the younger gentleman. They accepted their food and then sat, glances darting from plates, to forks, to fingers, seemingly on the same wavelength. Kate was fine to eat with her right hand, and as soon as she picked up her fork, he did as well. She watched him feed himself rather admirably, both content to sit in silence for a few minutes.

When his palm started sweating against hers, she decided that there were more questions to ask—questions that could help, rather than hurt. "Do you know what you want to say?" she asked, watching as he paused to take a sip of water, fingers loosening around hers, as if he were bracing himself, retracting just a hair.

"Beyond, 'Hi, I'm Richard Castle, your son. Nice to meet you?'" He gave her a small smile for that one. "I guess I'll let him lead, ask about his life, whether or not I have...siblings." The smile fell and this time she tightened her grip around his fingers, bringing their warm, slightly sticky palms back together.

"Did you want a younger sibling like I did for a while?" she asked, smiling as he stared at her, half delighted, half surprised. She'd been sharing much more of herself recently, but she knew that he still marveled at every new kernel of information.

"Sometimes," he admitted, lifting a shoulder. "Not once I got old enough to make friends at the schools I was at. Not after Damien," he trailed off again and she gave a mental sigh. There was no winning tonight. Though, as his thumb brushed the back of her palm, she had to amend that thought.

"But now?" she prompted, bringing his eyes back from their hands.

He sighed quietly. "Now I'm not sure if I want them, or who they'd be, or what they'd want from me. Figuring out who wants what is hard enough when they're not suddenly related to you."

She couldn't remember ever hearing him so candid, so honest, so raw. Only that day in the cemetery could possibly compete, his face hazy and eyes glistening against the pain in her chest and the struggle to breathe. "Castle," she said, the name all she could give him.

He bobbed his head and then shook it, lips pursed, thinking. "There's every likelihood that he just needs money, you know?"

Oh, Castle. "He might just want to get to know you," she said gently. They looked at each other and his hand squeezed hers. It was a role reversal, to sit here and be the optimist against his realist—a realism that could very well be exactly what he'd face later in the evening.

"I hope so." The words were soft, almost under his breath, and his eyes migrated back down to his plate. He hadn't eaten much, though neither had she. And the dim, dark lighting, the deep red curtains, the soft music—it became oppressive. It fed into this mood, these thoughts she wished she could take from him.

"If it is about...money," he continued, closing his eyes against whatever scenario he had built up in his head. "Then it'll go back to normal. He'll be some guy who needed something, and the whole thing won't mean anything after tonight."

Oh jeez, Castle. "I..." she began, but his look silenced her attempt.

"I have the family I need," he said, forcing a smile, his eyes boring into hers. "Working on some final pieces, but he isn't one of them."

Her heartbeat quickened and a rush of what were definitely butterflies erupted in her stomach. But there was pain for him too, with the knowledge that he expected this to go poorly, expected to write his father a check and then write him out of his life. It was strange, to see a man so confident, so cocky, so full of life and exuberance, reduced to this—to the child who grew up without something he probably never knew he wanted, who turned into a man who expected it to disappoint, like so many other things and people had.

His fingers twitched between hers and conviction surged through her. She could not be one of those disappointments, not if she was a last piece to the strange puzzle of his family.

He'd probably said too much. That was how things were going for him lately. Too much and not enough, too late and too soon.

His timing was way off, he thought with a self-deprecating laugh. She raised her head, looking at him funny for that, but he shrugged her off, felt his hand tug in hers.

Oh, well. She still had a hold on him. So it couldn't be that bad.

"What if he doesn't want money?" she said suddenly, leaning in towards him across the table.

Her eyes were so intense, so dark in the close confines of the poorly-lit restaurant. Although, he supposed poorly-lit was meant to be romantic, but he was having trouble reconciling romanticism with his current state of affairs.

Or should that be lack of affairs?

God, he was morose tonight. Not fit company for anyone.


His eyes had strayed from hers, he realized, as he shifted his gaze back to her. Just the line of gentle inquiry in her mouth, the patience in those brown depths—it helped. It did something to him, almost like her look was a physical touch.

"If he doesn't want money," Castle said slowly. He stalled because he had no idea. What did you do with a man who hadn't ever bothered?

"Are you...interested in knowing him?"


But he shrugged, figuring he should temper his response with some caution, or perhaps some compassion at the very least. But he'd long ago-

"No?" she queried, as if she could read his mind, as if she saw every thought at the back of his eyes.

And she just might. She was spooky good at this stuff—the interrogation stuff. She was a master at it. Hadn't Captain Montgomery told him that once?

Oh. Oh, damn. That's what this was. A persuasive technique. A way to get him to talk. She cared, of course she cared, or otherwise she wouldn't be pushing him to answer her questions, but she didn't...the hand-holding, the tenderness, the shimmer in her eyes—those weren't true. Those were props to help move him along.

That made more sense. A lot more sense than the idea that Beckett was somehow revealing something of herself to him, lifting the veil, letting him creep into the holy of holies.

There was still a wall.

Castle squeezed her fingers once, in understanding, and slid his hand away from hers, his heart sinking as he did, but realizing it was for the best.

He heard her startled breath, but didn't look at her. He wasn't sure he could keep it hidden any longer, not tonight, and the disappointment of it-

"Castle," she said, some urgency in her voice.

He studied his plate, but couldn't bring himself to lift his fork and pretend he was at all hungry.

"Castle, you're not eating; I'm not eating. Let's get out of here."

He startled, glancing at her, saw the way her eyebrows knitted together, the thin veneer in her eyes that whitewashed whatever was back there. "What?"

"Let's get out of here. Do something fun. We won't think about it, won't talk about it. Okay?"

He opened his mouth but couldn't find anything to say. He stared at her.

"Castle. Pay the check."

Yes. Okay. The check.