Summary: "In the distance, the elevator kept mocking her, dinging its litany of why-s with each arrival that wasn't him." A tale of what-ifs that wanted to be written against my better judgment. Pre-finale season 4 timeline.

Disclaimer : The Castle writers know why they write angst.

As dawn lights up another day

Visions I once had fade away

All of those words unspoken

My wildest dreams all broken

It wasn't supposed to be that way.

Fredericks, Goldman, Jones, Nuit


She waited, Kate Beckett, for her partner to come in, but of all the people the elevator of the 12th Precinct kept disgorging, it was consistent in its failure to deliver the person she needed to see the most.

She willed her mind back onto the paperwork, forced her tired eyes to make out the lines, the boxes to tick through unshed tears; but her mind was a blank and she could barely remember the details of the case she was supposed to file. She grasped at meaning that eluded her, teased her mercilessly, but for the life of her she couldn't–

It didn't–

It just didn't make sense.

Kate let her pen fall from her hand – oh, who was she kidding? – she threw the pen across her desk and it flew right into the biggest elephant parading next to the computer screen, the animal tipping over onto its right flank.

She closed her eyes against the sight of the fallen pachyderm and pressed the heels of her hands against her eyelids until she felt blinding white pain, tried to not read its fall as a symbol, to not infuse the little incident with meaning it didn't hold.

Her mind was playing tricks on her, that was all, the result of the last eight nights, long and dark hours spent in semi-consciousness between the agony of her thoughts and the haunting visions of her nightmares.

No, her head wasn't a good place to dwell in these last few nights, these last few days. The last eight days Castle had failed to appear at the precinct, failed to call her back, failed to text her.

Failed her.

"Partners. Friends. Is that what we are?"

"I'm not gonna be able to have the kind of relationship that I want until that wall comes down."

She thought–

She thought they had an understanding. She thought they had a deal.

She remembered how it had been before he suddenly switched off the light on her – his presence grounding her in the here and now, his words reaching out to her in her darkest hours, the smiles that warmed the very essence of her being. The soft, light touches of their hands like promises of always.

Kate pushed aside the delicious memories, wrenched them from her mind – poisonous thoughts – like he had snatched them from her life, leaving her a mess of incomprehension and bleeding heart, shipwrecked and incoherent with sadness.

The empty chair on the side of her desk – his chair – caught her eyes although she had tried not to give in to its lure and Kate allowed herself to stare it down like a suspect, tried to intimidate it into giving her the answers she so desperately needed, because, no, ignorance was not bliss. Idiotic fallacy. But for a chair that had held and witnessed its fair share of noise and ramblings, it remained unforgivingly silent. She had never, in fact, heard silence quite so loud.

She sighed, willed her attention back on the paperwork; she had a job to do, families to bring closure to and more immediately, gates to placate. Gates.

Castle had made his point abundantly clear, after all. He had deprived her of his attention, of his tenderness and replaced the warmth with gratuitous cruelty.

He wanted fun. He wanted uncomplicated. He wanted–

Not her.

Oh, that man sure knew how to use his words. Lethal daggers. He knew how to stab.

And in the distance, the elevator kept mocking her, dinging its litany of why-s with each arrival that wasn't him.

Kate breathed in the stale atmosphere of the precinct, let the mixed scents of overworked humanity, suspicion, grief and guilt pervade her senses through the layer of cotton wool that seemed to surround her body, cushioning her from reality.

She felt oddly aloof, remote from her colleagues, from the case they had picked up mid-morning and were now working. Caucasian male, mid-40s, had his head bashed in with an unidentified blunt object. Died instantaneously of major brain hemorrhage. No known enemies. Talked to wife, brother, neighbors.

It was something new, she noted, examining herself with surgical precision, the way she could establish a timeline, interrogate a suspect and well, do her job, sounding every bit like herself to the world and yet not let any of it penetrate her heart.

She kept getting this weird image of herself morphing into an alien person, sporting an exoskeleton around her body holding her together and fending off human emotions. Like what happened in that British sci-fi series Castle had been raving about and convinced her to watch with him one night at his loft. A doctor with two hearts. Oh, she could use the help of the Doctor right now. And a second heart to take over from the poor battle-scarred, limp thing drumming sporadically in her chest.

Failing that, she could possibly function this way, shoving off the stuff that hurt – feelings. Focus on the tangible, dispassionate aspects of her environment. Feel safe. Take in breath after breath – because that's what people did, breathe – and smell the remnants of pizza in the air, late lunch and concerned looks provided by Ryan and Esposito.

They'd gotten lunch from that pizza place they didn't even particular like round the corner from the precinct, not from Remy's.

They seemed to have decided Remy's was out-of-bounds. Dangerous. Reminiscent of crazy theories, inappropriate comments, tight-lipped smiles and translucent hearts.

Esposito said something about the victim's brother and Kate was in the middle of answering that no, the brother had alibied out when she was interrupted by a yawn she didn't feel coming and didn't have the time or energy to smother. Ryan's eyes flicked to the break room, to the state of the art coffee machine it held, then immediately cut to Esposito's accusing how-can-you-be-so-insensitive glare. The Irish man looked away, guilt etched across his face.

"I need coffee," Kate croaked, fleeing the room, needing the invigorating drink as much as she needed to get away from her well-meaning but transparent friends.

It hurt too, the pained looks they kept directing at her, the unveiled concern in their eyes and the ache and incomprehension they seemed to be sharing in empathy.

So maybe she wasn't doing such a great job at boxing feelings in and shoving them away, but well, she was working on it, getting there. She owed it to the guys to go through the motions without the hindering encumbrance of her broken self. She owed them the appearance of normalcy.

Making herself her own coffee, however, felt anything but normal. She watched, entranced, as the machine spluttered its foamy, enticing liquid, added milk in an attempt to relieve its darkness and drank it fast, her system needing the caffeine.

She let it burn her tongue, her throat, her buds. She let it light an angry blaze on its course. She'd thought coffee was an act of love. She never wanted to taste it again.

Kate drifted towards the little sink, empty mug in hand and started to wash it thoroughly, buying herself time from Ryan and Esposito and their knowing glances. She also scrubbed a couple plates clean, the coffee-stained spoons accumulating at the bottom of the sink, left behind by busy officers. She washed-

She washed his coffee mug. Castle's mug. Only, it had been used by other people, officers or detectives who had a job on their hands and little time for washing-up, so they'd used this spare mug because the person who usually drank from it wasn't in. Was likely not coming back. Circle of life.

It was a little chipped, this mug, a little worse for the wear, a little complicated to drink from. Kate wondered why he had abided it, why he had favored it over the gazillion mugs his fortune could have bought him.

Kate shrugged the irrelevant thought off and put the mug down onto the side table a little forcefully, as if making a point.

A little too forcefully, she realized, letting out a gasp at the sight of a crack appearing along the length of the piece of crockery from its chipped bit at the top right to its bottom. Kate watched transfixed as the crack widened and irremediably splintered the mug open, rendering it unfit for use, broken and superfluous.

As it turned out, the victim's brother was guilty. Confronted with the proof of a fabricated alibi and the numerous discrepancies between his account of the night before and the evidence they had collected, he confessed to killing his brother in a fit of rage because he wouldn't talk to him, wouldn't acknowledge his presence in a room and wouldn't even explain why he was shutting him off.

Easy case. Sad case.

How could people be so lacking in basic communication skills as to bring on that kind of tragedy?

By six o'clock, he had been processed through lock-up and the detectives were free to go.

Only a few weeks before, Kate would have stayed on, insisting they completed the paperwork before heading home and half-hearted grumbling from the boys would have been heard, along with mumbled complaints sounding vaguely like "safe driver".

Castle would have been encouraged home to Alexis but he would have brushed off Kate's attempts at sending him away with an easy smile. He would have sat in his chair next to her desk, close to her, and would have stared at her all evening in-

In what exactly?

She'd thought she knew, that the feelings he had expressed when she was shot were true and shining through his eyes and she was just inches of saying them back, waiting for Ryan and Esposito to Just Stop Interrupting.

Obviously it had all been a mirage.

And that was precisely where the problem lay.

His ghost was everywhere – in the chair, in the elevator, in the break room making coffee, next to her as she glared the murder board into submission, in the car as he re-invented the world (for her?). In the Nikki Heat books where he whispered words of love, so much so that she started to believe them. To believe in them. She had been such a fool.

Castle was nowhere and that's why he was everywhere.

Kate Beckett came home to an empty apartment. She flicked on the light and pushed the door closed, then turned the key in the lock and slid the bolts home, reveling in the clicks and snaps that effectively barricaded her into her own space and shut her from human scrutiny.

She toed off her heels, shrugged off her jacket, didn't bother to pick them up from where they fell unattended in the middle of the hall; she headed straight to the bathroom where she splashed her face with cold water in an attempt to remove the burning sting from her eyes, the tension of the day.

She reached for the Tylenol in the cabinet but stopped her movement mid-air in hesitation as she weighed the need to relieve her mounting headache against the advantages of leaving the painful throbs drown out the subdued why-s thudding in time with each of her heartbeats and echoing into nothingness.

The unforgiving mirror overlooking the washstand stared at her in the face and witnessed her decision to leave the Tylenol untouched, to let the physical discomfort keep the emotional pain from ravaging her injured heart.

Instead, she let the familiar numbness wash over her and welcomed it like an old deceitful friend as she traipsed back to the living area, stopped to stand in front of a blind wall and fished her phone from the right pocket of her pants.

She had a call to make, a therapy appointment to cancel.

There was a little dust, she noticed, in the crevices of the long untouched wood. She blew at it and the cloud of mystery long left untouched billowed in the air all around her.

They creaked, harsh and dissonant, on revolving around the hinges; they stridulated in disapproval after such a long period of disuse. But she was undaunted, all resolve and determination.

They creaked and she didn't even blink at the first glimpse of the board, the wounds of her dead mother.

They creaked as Detective Beckett opened them.

The shutters.

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Song by Fredericks, Goldman and Jones (remove spaces) :

http:/ www. youtube. com/watch?v=z-QLEnykc_g&list=PL0FCD620B6BC4D5B4