A/N: What's this? A post "The Limey" fic that's actually somewhat humorous? Eh, I tried anyway. ;)

I know I should be working on the next chapter of Relapse, which I am, but this one wouldn't leave me alone.

This is a direct sequel to A Discourse on Ducks so if you haven't read that one already, I suggest you do. (I promise you it's still Caskett-flavored even though it's Beckett and Hunt getting a drink.) Otherwise, Beckett will just seem a little obsessed with water fowl.

Thanks for reading!

(Oh, and best birthday wishes for Stana Katic today!)


Disclaimer: Nope, still don't possess any legal rights over Castle. Though if Andrew Marlowe and ABC Studios wanted to hand it over... ;)


A CONFESSION IN CUFFS


"I had a conversation with Colin tonight about ducks," declared Kate Beckett the moment she brushed past him to stand in the middle of his loft.

Castle blinked at her and tried to remember why he'd even let her through the doors.

Oh, right. Because he was a pushover who still hadn't figured out how to say no to a woman who was obviously too cowardly to say no to his face.

Whoa, damn. Maybe they were more similar than he thought.

He narrowed his eyes. "And I'm supposed to care about this why?"

She either didn't hear the bite in his tone or chose to ignore it. Given that she seemed a shade tipsier than normal, he put his money on the prior. Her cheeks were flush with color, and he didn't think it was from exertion. It looked more like she'd had more than a couple of drinks.

With Detective Inspector Colin Hunt apparently. Whom Beckett easily called Colin. Also apparently.

And no, that wasn't jealousy clawing at his stomach. He didn't love her anymore. He'd turned that switch off weeks ago.

One of these days, he'll believe it when he lies to himself.

She cocked her head to the side and studied him before nodding decisively.

"I need to know whether you're a duck or a swan."

He stared at her incredulously and wondered if he'd misjudged the level of her intoxication. "What the hell are you smoking? If this is some kind of joke—"

He never got to finish his sentence because the next he knew, Beckett had handcuffed them together, her left to his right.

"We're going to talk, Castle, and now neither of us can run away from the other."

It had sounded like such a brilliant plan in her head while she was sitting in a cab on her way to Castle's loft.

After all, Kate needed to talk to Castle badly, and considering the allergic reaction he seemed to have developed to the word "talk" recently, she also needed to come up with a way to make sure he didn't try to escape. For that matter, she needed to come up with a way where she wouldn't be tempted to take the easy way out.

Therefore, handcuffs.

Handcuffs would force them to be together and if they couldn't get away from each other, then they'd have no other recourse than to talk, right?

Brilliant.

In theory, that is, but not so much in practice.

Kate had never been afraid of Castle before. Afraid that he could break her heart and crush her soul, sure, but she'd never been afraid-afraid of him before.

Castle tended to split his time coming off as a metrosexual and a nine-year-old on a sugar rush and because of that, she often forgot how very intimidating he could be physically. But now that all that stood between them was a very scant few inches of space (by her own design—brilliant, Katie, just friggin' brilliant), Kate found herself noticeably trembling.

Because that expression on his face? That thunderously dark, storm rolling in expression? She'd never seen that on him before, and it's scary. (And just a little bit arousing, but she'll pretend it's mostly fear that had her shaking.)

His whole body jerked as if he were going to take one step closer and she held her breath in anticipation (or anxiety—she's not sure which, or maybe it's both), but instead of crowding her back into the door, he took one giant step back. Which was kind of pointless because the tug of the cuff around her wrist dragged her with him.

He pinned her with a look she would have sworn was one of hers.

"Talk," he stated in a disbelieving voice. "You cuffed us together because you want to talk."

"Yes?" she replied tentatively.

When had they reversed roles so that she was the one with the ridiculous idea and he was the one staring at her like she was being an idiot?

She shook herself and straightened her spine. She wasn't about to let Richard Castle intimidate her into not having this conversation. She'd faced the demons of her shooting and the rabbit hole of her mother's case. She was not going to back down because some mysterious event happened in the last weeks to ram a stick up his backside.

"Yes," she repeated, this time with far more confidence. "Talk, because you've been avoiding me and saying everything is 'never better' when it's not. Everything is shot to hell and I want to know why."

"You want to—" he cut himself off and lifted his hand to run his fingers through his hair.

Unfortunately, that happened to be the hand attached to hers and the sudden movement jerked her wrist painfully up. She bit back the yelp of pain, but she couldn't help the grimace from furrowing her brows.

He froze, and then dropped his hand back down with a muttered, "Sorry."

Well, that was something. At least he didn't hate her enough to want to detach a hand from her body. (Then again, he'd already suggested she cut off her hand once. Seeing the dark expression on him now, she didn't think her chances were great if he thought that that was still a good idea.)

He sighed, and this time it sounded more defeated than angry. She wasn't sure whether she should be relieved.

"Beckett, there's nothing going on. Everything's fine."

That made her see red. She advanced on him, jabbing a finger into his chest every now and then to accent her frustration. "Like hell it is! You're turning into a duck again, and I don't understand why. I keep thinking and despairing that maybe you've been a duck all along and I'd just been fooling myself into thinking that you're a swan, but I know you, and I know that you're not really a duck. You're a swan, but I don't understand why you're acting like a duck!"

A part of him really couldn't help but want to laugh.

The Kate Beckett who'd barged into his loft without a bit of reserve, then proceeded to handcuff them together and rant about ducks was not a Kate Beckett that he was familiar with. This was a bit of reckless Kate combined with heedlessly stubborn Kate with a dash of slightly intoxicated Kate and she was endearingly adorable.

(Where's that damned switch?)

The other part of him though, the part that had been seething in a turbulent cauldron of anger and pain and embarrassment and frustration, just wanted her to shut up and leave him alone.

That was the part of him that won out.

"Beckett, you've obviously had a bit too much to drink. Why don't you give me the keys to unlock these cuffs. I'll call my car service and have them send you home."

"No."

He knew that stubborn set of her jaw, and when she had her objective in sight like this, it was near impossible to divert her.

"What if I have a date?" he threw out. He didn't, but he needed something, anything to make her leave. He couldn't handle having her here in his space. Not if he wanted to maintain his equilibrium.

(Who was he kidding? He'd been thrown off balance the moment she showed up at his doorstep, and then she proceeded to knock him on his ass with a wrecking ball when she cuffed him—cuffed him—to her.)

Her shoulders dropped just a fraction of an inch, but he saw it.

"With Jacinda," she stated flatly, and the careful blanking of emotions almost made him regret bringing up the flight attendant. It was like her whole face crumpled without her expression ever changing.

He told himself she didn't really care about him that way, so it shouldn't have mattered that he was seeing someone else, but those flashes of hurt he glimpsed every time he mentioned Jacinda these past couple of days made him wonder.

It was the eyes, he decided. Damn beautiful eyes that condemned him for something she had no right to since she didn't love him; tragic eyes that bled with fear for something he couldn't understand.

She stared at him with those eyes, and he couldn't do it.

"I don't have a date," he mumbled, and he cursed his weak heart for not being able to stand the haunted darkness in her expression.

She gave him a small, almost grateful smile, and his stubborn, stupid heart kick-started in response.

"Look Castle, I'm not trying to annoy you. You do enough of that for the both of us," she joked weakly. She chewed her bottom lip, as if worried that this wasn't the time to make those kinds of quips. She watched him like she was afraid he was going to suddenly disappear. "Please, just tell me what's wrong."

"I told you. Everything is fine. Nothing's wrong."

"I'm not an idiot, Castle. There is something going on, and I want—I need to know what."

"No, there isn't."

"Yes, there is!"

"No, there isn't!"

"Yes, there is!"

"No, there—" he broke off. "This is ridiculous."

She nodded in agreement. "Yes, it is. But we can get over this if you'd just tell me what the hell the problem is. I don't know how—I can't fix something when I don't know what's broken."

"Nothing can be broken because there wasn't anything there in the first place!"

...

Her breath hitched. "Wasn't anything...there?"

This was a bad idea. This was a goddamn stupid idea. Why did she think that this would be good for them? Apparently, in his eyes, there hadn't ever been even a possibility of them.

No. She couldn't believe that. She refused to believe that. If this had happened even just a few months ago, she might have believed it, but not now. They've been through too much together, and she'd learned too much about herself to believe that she'd misread everything.

She forced herself to take a deep breath and think.

Colin had mentioned that if Castle was truly a swan, then there must have been a trigger to make him act like a duck.

What she had to do was create a timeline. Deductive reasoning. She could do this. This is what she excelled in.

She didn't know why she spoke out loud, but she did. Maybe her subconscious was hoping that Castle would get caught up in the theory-building like they always did and maybe it would be a step forward.

She took a deep breath. "Okay, you've been acting different for days. When did this start? The closest approximation is the bombing case. So that's our kill zone."

"Kill zone, Beckett? Really?" He scoffed. "Nobody's dead."

"Yes, there is. The Rick Castle who was my partner, my best friend, died. I need to know how he was killed."

"Best friend? Partner?" His eyes darkened ominously and once again, she wondered what kind of idiot she was for coming up with a plan this absurd.

"Yes. That's what he was to me. I need to find him. Because he has a partner who went missing once too, but he didn't give up on her, and when she came back, he said that she owes him about a hundred coffees. She wants to tell him that she wants…she wants to start on those coffees now."

That made more sense in her head, and she hoped that he understood what she was trying to say. That was their thing, wasn't it? Knowing what each other meant without spelling it out? Of course, they weren't doing so well with the non-verbal thing lately…

"Maybe he realized that he was fooling himself into thinking that that meant anything to you—to her."

Okay, so obviously their ability to transmit paragraphs of meaning via silent communication hadn't made a miraculous recovery.

She bit her lip. She wanted to rail at him, demanding to know why and how he could think that he meant nothing to her, but she wouldn't.

She was being logical here. She had to keep a firm lid on her emotions.

"So you're saying that something happened to make you think that. Okay. It must have been something I said myself because you wouldn't do this to me if you heard it from a third party. So what had I said over the course of that case that made you think that I didn't care?"

...

Castle was confused. At first he'd been angry, angry that she would dare come into his haven and force this ridiculous confrontation when they both knew that she didn't really want him around anyway. His rage spiked when she dared to say that she wanted her partner and best friend back.

She didn't want a partner. She wanted a pet, a puppet to pull back and forth with her strings and her games.

He regretted the bitter thought even as it crossed his mind. Beckett wasn't cruel. Not purposefully anyway. But she was a coward. And the results of that cowardice were unfortunately not too different from true malice.

But as he kept thinking more and more about this whole situation (this whole very strange and surreal situation) with Beckett coming in and cuffing herself to him, he realized that this wasn't something Beckett would do unless she really wanted to understand what was wrong with them. She wanted them to be okay bad enough that she was willing to make a fool of herself. Kate Beckett, detective extraordinaire with pride stacked high enough to rival the Himalayas and a wall thick enough to withstand the attack of the Huns, had exposed herself to this level of vulnerability.

A part of him couldn't help but soften toward her.

She did care, and he started to realize that the problem had never been that she didn't care for him. The problem was that she cared for him in the wrong way. And that, he thought, was almost harder to swallow than thinking that she didn't want him around at all.

"I remember that our last real conversation was when we were talking about how the victims all had plans of their own and how in a single instant, everything they thought they knew was lost. And I told you that it made me think about all the things in my own life that I didn't want to put off anymore. I thought...you'd understood what I was talking about." She paused and a troubled expression crossed her face. "Unless... You didn't want to hear what I wanted to say. Is that it? Did you never really want me and my messed up life and this was your way of telling me you're done with me? Because if that's it, you sure picked a hell of a way to put me down 'gently.'"

"Kate, for such a smart detective, you can really be a dense woman sometimes."

She frowned at him, but whatever irritation she might have felt for his calling her dense was buried beneath a mountain of uncertainty. "If you think I'm so dense, then why can't you just tell me and relieve me of my misery? God, Castle, it's like I don't know you anymore and I don't know how to make it better. I don't know how to make it like it was."

"You can't fix everything, Beckett."

She wondered whether he was saying what she thought he was saying. He wondered if he knew that this was her secret fear, that she would never be able to fix herself. That she would never be able to be complete enough to be good for him.

"I know that, Castle. I think I know that better than anyone. Is that what this is then? You're done…done waiting for me to fix…everything? Or is it that you've decided that what comes out of it might not be what you've been hoping for?"

He stared at her for a long time, and she felt unnerved and a pervading sense of foreboding seep through her bones.

"Sometimes it's not what you do that's the problem. Sometimes it's what you don't do."

So that's it then? That's what this had come to? That she'd really just taken too long, and he couldn't take it anymore?

She wanted to beg him to not give up on her, that she was just right there. But what right did she have to ask that of him? What right did she have to keep asking him to give of himself and to take from him without giving him anything in return? What right did she have to have him wait for seven months (ten, if she included the summer she disappeared) while she tried to screw her head on straight?

She focused her eyes resolutely on a point beyond his shoulder and willed herself not to let the tears fall. That's why she'd wanted space, wasn't it? So that she could learn to stand on her own, to heal without depending on anyone? This was what she'd needed.

This was so not what she needed.

Her walls didn't stand a chance against the sweeping tsunami of devastation that razes all her defenses to the ground.

"Why am I always too late?" she whispered, and she didn't know if she was asking him or herself.

Too late in seeing how no one could replace Castle in her life, not Tom, not Josh, not anyone. Too late in opening her mouth to tell him how much he meant to her. Twice. Too late in realizing how selfish she was being for wanting to keep him close but too scared to jump in.

She took so long deliberating the pros and cons, in weighing the what if's against the if only's that in the end, she was left with no choice at all.

Well, she could make a choice now. She could let go. She could do it graciously. She could back down and let him go if it meant that he would be happy. Even if it broke her apart all over again, she could do what was best for him. She could.

Except…

Except he wasn't happy.

He wasn't happy with his impromptu jaunts to Vegas, and he wasn't happy zipping around town in his Ferrari and taking his flight attendant out to fancy restaurants.

He wasn't happy trying to be happy.

In fact, he hadn't been truly happy—the kind that used to come from the very core of him and shone brightly like a beacon leading her home—for several weeks now. Since the bombing case.

Since whatever happened that caused him to make an about face. Since their forward motion lurched to a screeching stop and then was thrown into a sharp reverse.

Since…

Her eyes widened as it all fell in place. How could she have been so blind?

This was the trigger. This is what she didn't do. She hadn't told him the truth. And now he knew that she'd lied to his face for months.

Her stomach twisted and her face paled.

Another choice she'd spent so long making that she no longer had it.

She must have been looking terribly sick because suddenly Castle's hands were on her shoulders and leading her to sit on the couch.

"Beckett?" The concern in his voice was a balm over a wound she hadn't even realized existed.

He cared. He still cared. She hadn't realized how much she needed him to just care.

It's not too late. She could still make a choice. She could still come clean. They might not be able to go back to what they were before, what they could have been, but this much she could do. She could give him the truth.

"I remember everything about the shooting. Everything," she rasped, and she didn't bother hiding the raw emotions pulsing through her every vein.

He froze next to her, but she continued. She'd made a choice. And she was going to see it through to the end. "I remember you telling me that you loved me. And it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. It made me want to smile."

She heard him breathe deeply through his nose, trying to steady his voice and his emotions. He started once, nothing came out, so he cleared his throat and tried again. "Then why? Why did you lie about it? Why would you leave me hanging for so many months? Months, Kate. Not days or even weeks, but months."

"I don't know. I wish I knew. All the reasons that made it seem like a good idea at the time sound so stupid now."

No, that wasn't enough. That was too ambiguous, too easy of an out. She needed…she needed to get this out of her, this poison she was only just now realizing had existed for as long as she could remember. She would never become more if she never took the jump.

She shook her head and didn't bother to contain the growl of frustration that rumbled out of her mouth.

"No, that's not completely true. You know why I didn't say anything before this? Because, Castle, I'm so freaking screwed up that it took me handcuffing myself to you so that I wouldn't run off before telling you the truth of what I felt! And I still haven't even told you how stupidly head over heels in love with you I am! What kind of woman does that? What kind of normal, complete person does that? And sometimes…when you say that I'm extraordinary and heap all these praises on me, yes, it makes part of me flutter with happiness, but most of me is so scared, so very scared that I'm going to disappoint you when you see who I really am. I'm going to end up being just another Damian Westlake or Sophia Turner in your life, and that scares me so much. I could never betray you like they did, but I think that I have the capacity to hurt you even worse, and God, I don't want to hurt you, but I feel like I won't be able to not hurt you. And I'm so screwed up, Rick. How can I not mess this up, mess you up, when I'm still so messed up?"

She moved to dig her hands into her hair, but jerked to a stop when she remembered that one of her wrists was still attached to his. She dropped them to her lap instead and fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. "And in the end, it was all for naught because I did hurt you, and I did disappoint you."

He felt like he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

He prided himself on his ability to read people and to read situations, but he couldn't believe how wrongly he'd read her. If this had happened to anyone else, he would probably be amused by the comedy of errors that got them to this point (that or want to rewrite the script so that the leads weren't such boneheads).

But this was them, and he couldn't really focus on too much other than the fact that she loves him. Stupidly, head-over-heels in love. And she'd thrown it in with the rest of her confession like it was a foregone conclusion, like she hadn't even had to think twice about it.

He didn't know whether he should be elated or devastated by that.

Then he heard the rest of what she was saying, and it was all just so wrong.

She'd lied because she'd been afraid to hurt him, to disappoint him? The very idea of it seemed ludicrous to him. She thought that he would think that she wasn't good enough?

It was ridiculous! Completely, totally, utterly ridiculous that she could even think that she was anything less than exactly what he wanted, just the way she was. How could she think that she could ever disappoint him by being her? How many times had he told her that he thought she was extraordinary? He'd even put it in a dedication for her! It's not like he expected—

Oh.

Oh.

This was what she meant. This unintentional glorification that put undue pressure on her to be better than she was because she thought that the image he had of her was beyond her ability to live up to. Because she thought she couldn't be the person he adored in his mind. Because she thought he'd built up a pedestal and placed a waxen image of her upon it.

And hadn't he? Hadn't he expected her to do everything right? Hadn't he given up on her at the first mistake? The thought put an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Her fear that he loved nothing but this mirage of her—was it really that far off?

Yes, yes it was. Because even though he adored her and loved her to the point of pain, he knew her. He knew she had flaws, that she was still broken up inside. What he loved about Kate wasn't just her strengths, but her weaknesses also.

It wasn't the same as with Damian or Sophia. He didn't know them, didn't truly know the depths of their soul the way he knew her. He could be greatly saddened and disappointed because of them, but never devastated, not in the way that Kate could tear him up completely.

And that, he realized, was the problem. He loved every broken piece of her, but he forgot to let her be human. He forgot that humans made mistakes, that every hero has a fatal flaw. He frightened her away with the depth of his devotion because she knew before he did that she could break him totally, and she was afraid to have that kind of influence over him.

Her mistake though—and his—was thinking that there was anything either of them could possibly do to change it.

She already had that power over him, no matter that she was afraid to have it, and he marveled over the possibility that he possessed that same sway over her.

He'd let all the hurt and pain and anger that had built up from the summer—dark emotions that he hadn't allowed to heal—and without his knowing it, they'd festered until they were this madly boiling cauldron of resentment. And all that darkness that he'd ignored surged up at the earliest opportunity and blinded him with their ferocity. Blinded him to the truth.

There is no love without risk; one could even say that there is no love without pain. The question lies in whether one is willing to risk one's own heart for the sake of protecting the other's.

He felt like he was taking his first breath of fresh air in months—his first breath of cleansing, life-giving fresh air since that terrible day when she was shot and even before that, when Montgomery made his last stand and commanded Castle to take away Kate's chance to stand with him.

It felt strangely like absolution.

"Kate, I'm not going to lie. I was disappointed and I was hurt. More than I've ever been hurt in my life."

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Anything I could say sounds so inadequate," her breath expelled in frustration, her brows scowling, and her expression torn between tears and self-recrimination.

The agony reflected on her face told him louder than words how much she regretted her decision. He was still angry about it, but it was a muted kind of anger, the kind that came accompanied by forgiveness.

He could forgive her for this because he loved her. Sometimes it was as simple as that.

He placed a hand over her still-fidgeting fingers, and she glanced down at their intertwined hands in a comic expression of surprise.

"Kate, it hurt. And, it will take me some time to get over it. But I'm not disappointed in you so much as I'm disappointed in the choice that you made."

"What's the difference?" she asked in a small voice, and closer to sniffling than he'd ever seen her. He'd seen her cry devastated tears, yes, but this was different. This felt...more intimate, like he was getting a glimpse of an inner Kate, one that was vulnerable and scared and needed assurance.

"We all make mistakes with our choices, but those are external to who we are. They don't define us. So yes, I'm disappointed that you chose the easy way out. I'm disappointed that you chose to avoid the issue when we could have spent that time working through it together. But I could never be disappointed by you."

"But you were," she insisted. "You moved on."

"I didn't."

"But Jacinda—"

"—was a ruse. I'm not proud of how I tried to use her to distance myself from you, but there was nothing between us other than a couple of superficial dates. Kate, you have to understand, there is no moving on for me. You can't ever tell my mother I said this because she'll crow over it for forever and a day, but she was right when she told me that love isn't a switch I can flip on or off. There is no 'off' switch when it comes to you. My love for you, it's a part of me."

"I think that scared—scares—me almost more than the thought of your giving up on me," she confessed softly. "Rick, I don't tell you this enough, but you're such a good man. Your capacity for love and forgiveness and loyalty is beyond my imagination, and it scares me so much because I don't know how to handle the responsibility of protecting your heart. And so I lied to your face, I made you go through so much hell because I was too much of a coward. But…but you started to pull away, and then all that cowardice turned into panic because I realized that as afraid as I was to handle your heart, you already had mine so fully in your possession that I'm done without you. It doesn't matter that we're not together, you're already it for me, and that terrifies me because if you give up on me, then I'm done. Game over. Thanks for playing."

He locked gazes with her and he was both heartbroken and so completely freed by the sheen of desperate tears in her eyes.

"One and done," he whispered, and she nodded.

"One and done," she echoed. "I was done the moment I met you; I just didn't know it yet."

"Me, too. Kate. I'm done." Then he grinned, bright and wide and so Castle-like that she almost wept. "And look—" he raised their cuffed hands "—we're already hitched!"

She scoffed and shoved him lightly, but she was smiling, radiantly smiling like she didn't know how else to be. Because even though it was a joke, it was also true. For better or worse, they were already hitched.

She should be terrified by the thought, but instead, all she felt was immense joy.

He brushed away a stray tear that had escaped her eyelids, and then leaned in to use his lips instead. She held still, so very still, as his mouth made a slow, meandering journey across her cheeks and over the bridge of her nose, teasing her with barely there touches until she just couldn't take it anymore.

She did an excellent impression of a tigress' growl and pounced.

His laughter—completely free of the sadness and anger and hurt that permeated their interactions this past year—rang out briefly before it was muffled by her lips and her tongue and oh God she knew some amazing tricks with her mouth.

Any remnants of bitterness were cleansed by the uncontrollable conflagration that burst between them as lips melded and hands wandered and bare skin met bare skin.

Passion burned the brightest and the purest, but joy and laughter flamed playfully in the background. But beneath it all, the steady burn of love heated the very depths of their souls and welded them together more firmly than any physical manifestation could possibly imitate.

...

It wasn't until late the next morning (very late) that Castle remembered the other question he'd been wanting to ask her all night.

"What's the deal with the ducks and the swans?"