A/N: I think I really just can't let go of "47 Seconds" yet. Here's a different approach from my other fic The Fallout (thanks for all the feedback for that!). And also because I really don't see Lanie sitting around doing nothing while this all goes down.
Spoilers: "47 Seconds" (4x19), the promo and sneak pictures for "The Limey" (4x20), and some stuff from "Headhunters" (4x21) that I pulled from interviews with cast and crew.
Disclaimer: I write fanfiction. Andrew Marlowe and ABC Studios do all the real stuff. I make no profit from this. They make lots of profit, otherwise Castle wouldn't exist.
This is how...
This is how they break.
With unspoken words and cruel assumptions and the realization that they're both more screwed up than either of them could have ever imagined.
With three months of nothing and then six months of lies and the agony he'd drown in.
With truths unsaid and lies too easily spilled from lips that should have been trustworthy.
With cold silence and colder shoulders and muffled tears falling in the cover of night and with stifled questions of why why why.
With blondes in Ferraris and blondes on his arm and she on the arm of a devilishly handsome (and well-endowed) detective.
With actions that scream I'm done waiting and You're not good enough and I've had enough of your walls.
With a wall that had been painstakingly chipped away at, then suddenly reinforced with brick and mortar in automatic response to the pain he causes.
With I think I want to try shadowing someone else.
With a replied Okay because he had given up on her and it hurts too much to have him flay her with his disregard.
This is how they drift.
How was it shadowing Detective Slaughter? she asks, when she really wants to hit him, hurt him, grab him and beg him to tell her why. Why had he abandoned her just when she thought they were making strides?
Different, he replies and wishes that he could be satisfied with shadowing someone else. But he's known for a while now that it's not about the books. It's not even about them anymore; it's about justice and doing something right and good and meaningful for once in his life. And he works best with her. So he's drawn back to her despite the pain of knowing that she'd lied, of knowing that he'd spent a summer in anguish for a woman too cowardly to tell him that she'd heard him bare his soul.
She doesn't dare ask him different good or different bad; she fears the answer will break the fragile equilibrium she'd managed to finally attain after he'd left her to shadow Slaughter. Somehow, it hurts worse that he cheated on her professionally because despite whatever else went on in their lives, their partnership had always been dependable, safe and seemingly removed from all the chaos. But he took that safety net away from her too and left her floundering for an anchor. So instead she says, Did you learn a lot?
He nods, responds, Yes, but doesn't elaborate. Can't elaborate. At least not to her. (And maybe not to himself either.) He's learned that there's no way he can go back to his old ways, with fast women and fast living (he'd tried that and failed) because for better or worse, she's changed him. He's learned that he can't even break from her professionally (the weeks he spent shadowing Slaughter are some of the worst in his life, not so much because he'd missed her, but because every gray line Slaughter trampled over made him realize just how much it takes her to stay on the straight and narrow, and he can't help but respect her all the more).
There is a distance between them that neither wants but neither do they know how to close the gap.
They drift further apart instead.
This is how they learn.
It's been a month since they last saw each other and Beckett wonders whether they're doomed to never spend a summer together. Of course, considering how they left off, it's probably more appropriate to wonder whether they're doomed to never be together at all.
The thing is, they hadn't parted on bad terms. But it hadn't been great either.
And that's just the problem now, isn't it? They'd gone from being close friends—maybe even best friends—to mere acquaintances, co-workers and that was all. It was probably exacerbated by the fact that Esposito and Ryan had caught onto Castle's sudden cold shoulder, and in return, they'd frozen him out in a sweet but misplaced gesture of protectiveness for her. Part of her was thankful for these brothers-in-arms of hers (brothers in life also), but a larger part of her was sad for them. As much as Espo and Ryan were family to her, they were Castle's friends too, and she hated that her and Castle's issues would come between them all like this.
Castle left last month to spend his last summer with Alexis before she went off to Stanford (where she'd gotten in during regular admissions) and to finish off his latest novel. He didn't say whether he'd be gone all summer, but Beckett knows he will be. She thinks he might be gone for good.
She's finishing up on the paperwork for an open-and-shut case when Espo comes up to her to ask why Castle had been acting so weird lately. She shrugs, I don't know.
He gives her that look he does so well, the one that says You know I know you're lying so stop pretending.
She sighs and says that she wishes she knew. At least that way she could either try to make up for it or smack him out of his funk. Instead, every overture she'd made had been struck down with cold-hearted precision masked by geniality. She'd forgotten how good he is at hiding behind personas. (Martha always says that Castle is a terrible actor, but that's not true. He might be the best among them all.)
So she puts her head together with Esposito and Ryan, and they manage to piece together the timeline of when his behavior started changing. Months of professional detachment narrowed to weeks of amiable civility to days of rampant womanizing to hours of seething anger to minutes of underhanded snipes to seconds of broken hurt to…to this.
He'd heard her in the interrogation room say that she remembered every second of her shooting.
There was a reason after all, a good reason, that everything had suddenly gone wrong all those months ago just when she'd thought they'd take the next step.
It doesn't stop the pain.
Ryan and Esposito are shocked when the truth behind his change tumbles out of her lips unguarded. They're disappointed in her, she thinks, but she can't deal with her fall from grace in front of them either.
She needs to get out, needs to breathe, needs to just—
At first she is devastated, both for him and because of him. She'd never meant for him to find out that way, and she could only imagine the crazy scenarios he'd made up to explain why she'd lied to him. All she can think is that she needs to see him, needs to explain that it wasn't what he thought, that she only needed more time to become more than what she was (is).
She finds herself halfway to his house in the Hamptons when she just stops. She pulls over to the side of the road, tosses off her helmet, kicks her bike, and just screams.
She's angry. So angry that he hadn't asked about it, angry that he'd pulled away without any explanation, angry that he'd gone back to his womanizing ways in retaliation, angry that he'd managed to spend two months at the precinct afterwards pretending nothing was wrong, angry that he would avoid the problems in their relationship and run away with his tail tucked between his legs.
(She'll understand why he did what he did later, but only after weeks and weeks of therapy.)
She turns around and goes home instead.
The rest of the summer passes by both too quickly and too slowly, with cases eating up eighteen hours of her day. Her solve rate goes through the roof, and Beckett thinks it funny that Captain Gates is right after all: she is a better detective without the distractions.
A better detective, but not a better person.
This is how they grow.
It's Lanie who makes him see sense.
Alexis is leaving for California in about two weeks, so Lanie comes over to pick up Alexis for an internship-ending celebratory dinner. When Alexis is in her room getting ready to come down, Castle ushers Lanie over to the living room. Long time no see. How're you doing?
She slaps him. Hard enough that he thinks he'll have an imprint of her hand on his face come tomorrow morning.
What the hell, Lanie?
The ME stands at nearly a foot shorter than him, even in heels, but the woman knows how to do intimidating. She glares at him, and this is different from her usual glares because those are usually just masked amusement. This one is all deathly serious.
If you're done with Beckett, don't go back to the precinct. I think you've done enough damage to her as it is. She doesn't need you to rub salt in the wounds.
What are you talking about?
Castle, I like you. You know I do, and I know that you know about how Beckett lied to you about remembering everything about the shooting. I feel for you, and if I were in your shoes, I'd probably be pissed as hell too. But she's my best friend and I can't have you jerking her around like that. She's had enough people in her life abandon her that I think it'll break her if you do it again.
He narrows his eyes. If you know that she lied to me, then you know that she's the one who'd been jerking me around.
Is that really what you think? That she's been jerking you around? Then you're dumber than I thought you were.
No, Castle, I want you to think. Really think. You know Beckett, better than almost anyone. You know how hard it is for her to open up to anyone. And yet she was doing it for you. Do you think that was all an act, a lie?
She lied to me about hearing me tell her I loved her, not just any old lie. How can I still believe that I really know her?
Does love have to be said out loud or else it isn't felt? And really, Castle. Have you never lied to her, or to anyone else you care about? How do they know that they can still trust you?
It's not the same.
Isn't it? Tell me this. If she'd told you from the beginning that she'd remembered everything, but that she needed time to work things through so that she could be ready for a relationship with you, would you really have done anything differently from what you've been doing this year? Being her support when she needed you? Pushing her a little at time and getting her to open up to you?
He doesn't say anything in response because Lanie managed to burrow straight to the heart of the matter. There really isn't anything he would have done differently.
She sighs and her chocolate eyes soften as she studies him. I know our girl screwed up big. But Castle, one mistake should not break a relationship. Unless that relationship wasn't strong enough in the first place, and if that's true, then she isn't the only one at fault. It takes two, Rick.
Then she smirks and Castle breathes a mental sigh of relief in knowing that at least Lanie hasn't completely consigned him to the lepers' corner like the boys had. (He doesn't blame them, and he's glad actually that she will always have her loyal brothers.)
I'd apologize for slapping you, but I'm not really sorry. Not if it means my friends might finally get the happy ending that's three years late.
Lanie leaves with Alexis soon after, but he mulls over her words for a long time, thinking they sounded so familiar.
And then he remembers that he'd said something similar to Alexis when she'd been going through a difficult phase in her relationship with Ashley.
If a relationship doesn't work out, it's usually not because of the challenges. It's usually because the relationship wasn't strong enough to begin with. If two people believe in something, really believe, anything—even the impossible—is possible.
He wonders how he could have missed his own advice by such a long, long mile.
He hadn't believed, and now he can only hope that his faith is strong enough to persuade her to believe again.
This is how they mend.
It's early September the next time Castle steps foot in the 12th.
There are a couple of new faces manning the desks and he's not waved in like he used to be. Instead, he has to file the right paperwork and request a guest pass. Apparently Captain Gates wasted no time in making his return as difficult as possible.
It almost makes his smile in affection. As least some things really don't change.
The path up to the homicide division is familiar and foreign all at once, and when he spots her and her team gathered around the murder board, it's almost like he never left.
But time marks its passing in the changes in her that he can see even from a distance. Her hair is short again, just past shoulder-length, straightened and more severe. No more soft curls framing her high cheekbones. He wonders if that's to reflect something or if the long hair had become too much of a hassle for a no-nonsense homicide detective. He mourns the loss of the softness it used to bring to her. She's harder now, thinner too, even thinner than when she'd first returned from the shooting, and his heart wrenches for her.
He's pretty sure now that he did this to her.
He hadn't always been sure. At one point last spring, he'd thought that she'd be relieved to have him and his unwanted feelings gone.
No, that's not exactly true. No matter what else, he'd always known that she valued him as her partner. Everything else may be suspect, but that single fact holds true. At least it did. Who knows what she thought of him now.
She spots him first.
Whatever she'd been saying about the victim's brother goes unfinished and for the briefest moment, joy lights up within her eyes. But it's quickly flooded by a plethora of emotions (anger, pain, sorrow, disgust, despair, fear) until there's suddenly nothing. Just…nothing. A blank stare that he doesn't know how to read.
Castle. Nice of you to show up, she says, and he can't tell if that was supposed to come off as biting-sarcastic or amused-sarcastic. He has a feeling she doesn't know either.
The boys glance from her to him and back to her again in quick succession, waiting patiently to see how this will fall out before intervening. They've always followed her lead, and they will cede to her wishes this time too.
He knows he barely escapes a very physical removal from the precinct at the hands of Ryan and Esposito when she says, Look through the case files on my desk to get caught up to speed. She pauses and then adds, If you're planning on sticking around, that is.
I am, he nods and tries to convey with the weight of his words and gaze that he doesn't just mean for the case.
He doesn't think he's very successful because she just nods okay in response, and the only vibe he gets from her is strictly professional.
If she had a wall before, it's a bomb shelter now.
He has a lot of work to do.
This is how they work.
What are you doing here, Castle? she asks one day, seemingly out of the blue.
He's been back at the precinct for two weeks now, and he doesn't know if he's made any headway. Their work dynamic is still basically the same, with him throwing crazy yet strangely accurate theories at her while she does the hard work of sifting through them to take the pieces that are actually applicable. At least his relationship with the boys seemed to have been fixed, but then again, it's almost always easier with guys.
The problem is that he can't really get a good read on her anymore, and it throws him because no matter how bad their previous falling outs have been, they'd still been ridiculously in sync. Now it feels like they're hobbled, and it makes him feel like he's floundering out in space.
He apparently takes too long to answer because she continues. Aren't you tired of this?
Of working cases? he asks tentatively.
She shakes her head. Of this. She gestures between the two of them. Us. Whatever the hell we are and how we can't seem to stop hurting each other.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he's thinking that this is good. They're talking about this instead of ignoring it in favor of writing subtext that often gets misread. Maybe they've both grown a little.
He leans forward a little in his chair by her desk. He feels like they should be having this conversation somewhere else, somewhere where privacy is more than five steps away from the next desk over. But then, it's them and their life at the precinct has defined so much of who they are, both individually and as partners (in all senses of the word), that it seems oddly appropriate.
Yes, he replies at last. But I'm not tired of trying to work through it.
Why? When every single time it just seems to hurt worse?
He studies her and tries to figure out what she's really asking. Her eyes are dark with genuine curiosity and for the first time since he's come back, she's looking at him with something other than professional detachment.
Because if I don't believe in even the possibility of magic, I'll never find it.
She watches him for a while longer, and he hopes that what she finds is encouraging.
Eventually, she just nods and that's the end of their conversation.
But he notices that her smiles that day are a little less contrived and the tension in her shoulders loosened.
It's a start.
This is how they live.
Beckett thinks that the past few weeks have been a lesson in what they could have been if they'd started off in the right way.
They take things slow, there being too much remaining pain and heartache from the past months to work through, but they are steadily progressing.
Their days are much the same as they ever were, with them working cases and Castle inadvertently pissing off Gates and the boys sharing mom-and-dad-bickering-again looks. She still feels that wild rush of excitement whenever one of Castle's theories becomes their theory and together they spin out the story of their victims' murder. He still brings her coffee every day, and she still rolls her eyes at his more outrageous antics.
But every now and then he'll surprise her with a small gift on her desk, usually something ridiculous but it always touches her heart and makes it swell with gratitude and affection.
She realizes that the wall she's been blaming for her utter incapability for forming lasting relationships is really a big trick she'd played on herself. She'd built that wall to protect herself, and it did to a certain extent, but it also kept out all the true happiness and joy of living that she could have had. She thinks this is why she was so ill-equipped to handle anything that threw her off her equilibrium. Her wall made it impossible for her to combat the bad times with memories of and hope for far better ones.
It's slow going, but she's remembering how to embrace everything life throws at her, whether it be good or bad.
Castle has faithfully stood by her side every moment of the way, and she understands now that human beings are not made to be solitary creatures. People are meant to share and support, and she realizes more and more every day how very blessed she is to have these people in her life that never gave up on her and never will.
The very best relationships are the ones in which the other has seen you at your very worst, and despite that, loves you all the same.
At one point she asks Castle once why came back, why he forgave her even though she was the one at fault.
He delivers his response oh-so nonchalantly, but she thinks his words will stay with her forever.
Love isn't supposed to be tit-for-tat. It shouldn't be, 'You disappeared for three months so I should get three months too.' It shouldn't be, 'You lied to me so now I can be a jackass.' It shouldn't be, 'I give up because it's too much work.' So I decided to grow up and fight for what I really want because I believe that what we could have is worth all the pain and hard work.
He grins that charming boyish grin of his. Well, that and Lanie slapped some sense into me. Literally.
That startles a laugh out of her because of course Lanie would look out for her like that.
And then she kisses him hard and hugs him tight and thanks her mom because the only way she could possibly be lucky enough to have this man is that someone sent him to her.
Of course, it's not all fun and games.
She has amends to make with Alexis and Martha, and though things are stilted initially, she is once again blown away by the Castles' ability to forgive and accept. She doesn't deserve them, but she thinks that part of being loved is acknowledging the fact that it doesn't have to be a complicated thing.
Their biggest test comes when he finally reveals the truth that he'd been working her mother's case behind her back for almost a year, and it almost breaks them all over again.
She screams and cries and flails at him while he yells and begs and holds her tighter in response. The words they exchange are not important because they both understand the other's perspective, and really, it is concern for each other that trumps everything.
In the end they sob, entangled together in a boneless heap on his study floor.
She remembers the strength of his faith in them and finds that somewhere along the way, she's become a believer too.
She's not willing to give up the magic, so ultimately, the decision is simple.
She doesn't let him go.
This is how they love.