A/N: Summary says it all, methinks. That, and I really don't think that Kate would do anything that would jeopardize an already precarious situation with Castle right now.

EDIT 6.11.12: Wow! This is a total honor, but this fic has been nominated for Best Non-Romance/General fanfic at the Castle Fan Awards! Head on over here...

castlefans(dot)org(slash)vote-fanfic/1892

...to see the full list of incredible fics that have been nominated for all categories. If you think this fic has what it takes to win, please vote for under the A1 category. Voting ends July 2, I think. Thanks!


Spoilers: Post "The Limey" (4x20)


Disclaimer: The last time I checked, my bank account is dangerously nearing zero, so no, I don't make any profit from writing this piece of fiction except for personal satisfaction. Thank Andrew Marlowe and his team and the folks at ABC Studios for giving us four years thus far of delicious, frustrating, but undeniably entertaining television.


A DISCOURSE ON DUCKS


"Colin, you're a guy."

He smirked and waggled his eyebrows. "That I am. But I was under the impression that you already knew that."

They'd both imbibed enough at this point to giggle like immature teenagers at the reminder of how they'd met.

Beckett recalled with a fond smile how Castle had tried to shield both their eyes from the unceremonious unveiling of one of Scotland Yard's finest. In all senses of the word. Her amusement dimmed when she remembered that was one of few times in the past couple of weeks when Castle had seemed more like himself with her.

"Touché," she said, and she raised her glass to clink against his when her laughter subsided. "I just wanted to ask your opinion, as a very obvious man and all that."

"Fire away."

"You said that men like Biggie Slim don't ever change. Do you really think that's true? "

Hunt did her the courtesy of not giving her a too-quick answer. Instead, he studied her with the steady, intent gaze of a man used to looking for tells, and she was glad that she'd had several shots of lots of different drinks to numb her from the unsettling notion that he was seeing right through her. She didn't like feeling transparent or vulnerable, but between Castle acting so differently these days and her own conflicted thoughts, she felt victim to both quite distinctly.

He took another sip of his glass (Beckett reminded herself to never challenge the man to a drinking contest because damn could these fine Brits hold their liquor). When he finally replied, it was with slow deliberation. "I do believe it's true."

She hoped that the alcohol shed consumed hadn't impaired her ability to keep her mask of casual curiosity over her sinking stomach. "I see."

"But I think that sometimes the better question is which persona is the true man behind the mask. Some blokes are like Biggie Slim. He looks like a duck, he quacks like a duck, and he really is a duck. Others however are different. They still look like ducks and they quack like ducks too, but underneath the vibrato is actually a swan in disguise. You don't know why he pretends to be a duck when he is a beautiful creature in his own right, but he does it anyway. Or maybe he's just waiting for another swan to show him the way to embrace his true nature."

He paused before continuing. "Of course, it's also highly possible that I'm completely wasted because I'm pretty sure I didn't just spend the last five minutes expounding the merits of ducks versus swans when I have such a beautiful woman sitting next to me."

She smiled for him because even though the words were flirty, it was obvious that Hunt hadn't put any real effort behind it.

The Detective Inspector was exactly the kind of man that would have caught her attention before Castle. Aside from his obvious physical assets, his dedication to his job and loyalty to his friends made him one of the most attractive men she knew. He was willing to bend the rules for the sake of justice, no matter what the personal cost. And, he was married to his career so he wouldn't have been too upset that she was married to hers as well.

(And the accent? Can anyone say delicious?)

As Castle would say, he was the male version of her.

And in the past, that's exactly what she would have thought she wanted. (A conversation about yin and yang and pandas named Yin-yin came to mind, but she dismissed it on account of the alcohol.)

Despite all that, she knew that tonight, they were here as coworkers, friends even, and she knew that Hunt knew this as well. He'd invited her in hopes of something more, she's aware, but the moment she'd shown up at the bar after her call, he'd seen something in her (maybe despair, but she hoped she hid it better than that) that made him take a step back. He was a cop, albeit one half the world away, and he dealt with emotionally distraught cops the same way they all did: dark humor.

Their conversation for much of the night had revolved mostly around the shit he was likely going to face upon his return, and the shit she got from Gates every day.

He'd said that he couldn't imagine that the lovely Captain Gates could be such a terror.

She'd responded that he better not let Gates hear him say that. Sometimes it felt like the former IAB detective thrived off her terrifying reputation. Beckett had to concede however, that most of the shit she received from the Captain was because of Castle.

Her amusement had faded just at the thought of her partner, and she'd motioned the bartender to refill her glass.

Hunt had noticed her sudden shift in mood, but was polite enough not to mention it.

There went another point to his favor. Too bad Beckett still wanted Castle.

From what she'd seen, Hunt was the old-fashioned honorable type who refused to take emotional advantage of a woman, and she appreciated it because tonight, she had needed another cop to talk to. However much Ryan and Esposito were her brothers, the fact that they were her brothers made it near impossible to talk to them about all the question marks flying around in her mind.

Maybe that was why she felt so comfortable asking him and telling him things that she might have balked at discussing with even Lanie. That, and the fact that he was going to be hopping on a plane back to London in few hours might have something to do with it too. Oh, and the alcohol might be a minor factor also, but really, who's keeping track?

She drained her new drink and started talking before she could second guess herself.

"So...hypothetically speaking, if there is a man who wriggles his way into shadowing a homicide detective, who absolutely detests him in the beginning, on her cases, and somehow in the next four years he goes from being annoying pest to amusing pet to trusted partner to best friend. And in these four years, no matter what's been thrown at him, he keeps coming back. No matter how many times this detective has kicked him out or how many apartments blow up or how many times people shoot at us—them—or all the personal issues that get between them, he perseveres—persevered. He said always."

She paused to choke back the sob that wanted to burst from her lips. How is it that they've been through so much and gotten so close and yet they're still so far apart?

Speaking slower now to ensure that every word was measured and wouldn't betray the depth of pain she felt even just thinking about Castle and this whole messed up situation, she continued, "But all of a sudden, without any warning at all, he goes cold and decides to stop waiting. Would you say he's a duck or a swan in disguise?"

"Bloody hell, I think you and your writer need to take out a better insurance policy."

"Colin!" she reprimanded but she was also thankful. His quip broke her out of the darkness of her thoughts, and she was glad that she'd made the choice to ask his opinion. She'd needed dark humor, not sympathy.

"Oh, right, sorry. Hypothetical writer."

"Colin…"

"Alright alright." He chuckled, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Then his expression sobered. "From what you've told me, it sounds like something happened to trigger this sudden about-face in attitude. The key to knowing whether he's a duck or a swan—God, that's bloody lame. How the hell did you let me use an analogy like that?"

"Hunt. The key?" she prodded, this time adding a bit more authority. She never would have pegged the British Detective Inspector as being the overly loquacious and smartass type when a bit into his cups, but there you had it.

"Right. The key to knowing whether he's a duck or a swan is to figure out what that trigger was. If he's a duck, then there'd be really no good reason for the transformation other than the fact that he got tired of waiting and acting. If he's a swan though, well then love, you might not want to know the reason because it could be something devastating."

He fell silent, maybe afraid that he'd said too much, or maybe afraid that he'd revealed too much.

The question came out before she could think about it. "Did you ever doubt Naomi? About whether she'd been a swan or a duck?"

He jerked a little and she was sorry she'd asked the question, but then the furrow of his brows smoothed out quickly. Maybe a little too quickly.

"I'd be lying if I said no, but I think little Naomi had always been a swan in my mind, and so I was devastated that not only had I failed to protect her, but also that she seemed to have been involved in all these shady dealings. But I think, if we hadn't solved the case as quickly as we did—cheers to that, by the way," they clinked glasses, "given a couple of days to cool down and think things through, I like to believe that I would have persevered in seeing her as the swan that she was."

She smiled faintly at that, and they both fell silent as they contemplated the last couple of days.

Eventually, it was Colin who began the end of the night. "Well, it's been lovely, but I should get going if I want to catch my flight."

She nodded, and they split the bill (she refused to let him be a gentleman, and he grumbled about American women) before grabbing their coats and leaving.

As they waited outside for taxis to drive by, Kate turned to him and gave him one of the first genuine smiles she'd felt in a while.

"Thank you Colin. Really, thank you."

"It's been my pleasure." He hesitated a little before saying, "Look, Kate, I hope I'm not overstepping, but you also have to know that Naomi had always been like a little sister to me."

She cocked her head in question at him. "Oookay?"

He sighed and explained, "We were never lovers. And I don't know how much of our situation could be superimposed on yours—excuse me, yourhypothetical situation."

"Ah," she said as her eyebrows went up in understanding. She didn't bother to explain that she and Castle had never been lovers either. Besides, they were still talking in hypotheticals, weren't they?

"The point is, I do genuinely hope that things work out well for you, but I also want you to make very certain whether that hypothetical writer of yours is a duck or a swan. I would hate to hear that you got hurt and have to fly across the Atlantic to defend your honor."

She laughed and he grinned. "Thank you, but I think I can defend my own honor. Besides, I have a feeling that I already know what he is."

"Alright then. It's been lovely meeting you, Detective, and if you're ever in London be sure to look me up."

"I will."

A cab came by just moments later, and after an awkward handshake-hug (he'd gone for the hand and she for his neck), they parted ways.

Detective Inspector Colin Hunt lingered on the sidewalk for a little while longer after his companion's taxi disappeared into the night.

He was tempted to think "what if" but he'd never really been a false scenario kind of guy.

He sighed and shook his head, then waved down the next taxi to come his way.

Just his luck that the most intriguing woman he'd ever met would be unavailable. That writer of hers better wise up soon, else Colin imagined that he would only be one in a long line of suitors who would love to take his place in her heart.

He flipped up his collar and readied himself for a long flight home.