Some more finale speculation from me. It is likely? Eh, probably not. How I envision it might fade to black.

They decide to meet at the swings. She wants to take it as a hopeful sign that he'd agreed; it's a place where their relationship has always moved forward. Eventually anyway.

She puts the car in park and looks toward the arranged meeting place. He's here already. Shoulders slumped and head hanging as he twists and sways in the breeze. He looks defeated. She feels nauseous.

It had all snowballed so fast, and it had begun with her confession of love. He'd made a rapid retreat since then. What in the hell had happened? How could they have gone from that… to this? But maybe it hadn't been so fast after all.

Small things, piling up over time. Adding to a mental list that she wasn't even cognizant she had been tallying until she had gotten the call.

Shoved in a closet when she had stood tall and been willing to greet his mother wearing nothing but an open shirt, a pillow and a smile. That had stung. But she'd been too overcome by the lingering sensation of his kisses, the remnant and fulfilling burn between her legs, to bring it up. Later, his look of utter adoration and pleading for forgiveness when he'd come over, tail between his legs to apologize, had closed the door on that discussion.

A kiss with a floozy, that hadn't ended with him pushing her away but instead with him lying back on the couch, straddled and covered in lipstick. Yeah, that still chaps her ass. She had managed to push away a two hundred pound man; he couldn't have resisted the hundred pound strumpet? Especially considering his reaction to recent events, that really burns.

Of course, her situation was different, her guilty conscience reminds her. They were different by the time Vaughn had shown up and she probably deserves a lot of the sideways glances she's been on the receiving end of lately. Nothing's been the same since Vaughn.

Then there was his unwillingness to stand up to his ex-wife despite multiple opportunities. The words the redhead had spoken as she breezed back out the door had stayed with her since; goading her every time he had avoided a serious discussion. Words that she never would have had to hear if he'd for a moment thought to put her first.

And finally, what has hit her the hardest, and what keeps sending her into fits of uncertainty about where they are headed, is his failure to allow her in when he needed the help most. When Alexis had gone missing, and he'd run off after her. She understands that need, but he hadn't even thought to call. She would have gone in a heartbeat. When he'd broken out of prison and she'd been more than ready to help, had a similar plan of her own and a willingness to risk it all if it meant he wouldn't fall prey to Tyson. If it meant he would live.

If only he'd asked. If only they'd talked.

A pattern had formed while she hadn't been paying attention and it had taken an alluring billionaire, a lucrative job offer, and the utter embarrassment of being passed over for a video game, for a remote controlled tank, because of a ridiculous curse, to open her eyes.

Once, even the slightest prospect of her being naked in the near future would have had him scurrying to silence phones and lock doors, whisk her away to the nearest flat surface.

It had been a slow spiral down into complacency. Until they lay next to each other every morning, hands linked and mouths melded; lovers joined, but blissfully unaware of the gaping chasm forming between their minds.

And now? She has options. And decisions to make.

She wasn't aware that she had any, or even that she desired them. Being a cop was her life. Not until it was all laid out before her like some beckoning siren in an endless and deep blue sea. In the end it came down to two choices. Head… or heart?

She wasn't stupid enough to think that she could have both. She'd crossed that idea off the list immediately. He'd never leave New York, and she'd never ask him to. His home was here, his family.

And hers.

Agreeing to the interview had been easy though. It was just an interview, a chance to feel things out. Telling Castle had been harder. So hard that in the end she hadn't let on at all. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she already knew what her choice would be. She assuaged her guilt by telling herself that it was nothing, that she was just testing the waters.

Still, she had wanted to know that she was capable. Validation was a heady feeling. One she hadn't felt so much recently. Not from Castle anyway. Vaughn had showered her with flattery and Agent Stack had called her exceptional, calling into question everything that she thought she knew. Everything that she thought she wanted. Opening her eyes to the possibility of more, of different and fresh. Not stale. Like she feared her and Castle had become.

Like she feared they would stay if he kept avoiding 'the talk'.

So she'd taken the now rare opportunity of an evening apart and slunk out of town like a thief in the night. She'd just wanted to know. She'd never be able to live without at least knowing what her peers thought she was capable of.

She'd hopped back on a morning express jet and been back in time for a late breakfast. None of this would have happened had she just emptied out her pockets when she arrived back at JFK. When she took off her coat, or when she got home. Perhaps a small part of her wanted him to find out. He's not the only one afraid to start a conversation.

Guilt rumbles in her belly, and she takes a sip of the now lukewarm soda sitting in the cup holder; it's not her preferred coffee, but it eases the gnawing queasiness and gives her the strength to get up out of the car and go to him. At the very least he deserves an explanation for her recent behavior.

He catches sight of her as she's halfway across the park and she gives a small wave in greeting, tries to muster up a smile. He gives her the same look he had when he had found the boarding pass. Confusion, anger, and a glimmer of hope; his look pleads for an easy explanation, a stress-free way out of this mess.

There's not. They've tried and failed at easy. They need to talk. Really talk.

"Castle, I… Hey."

She smiles, tries to catch his eye and sits heavily into the swing next to him when he doesn't even bother to raise his head. Facing the opposite direction so she can at least look at him and gauge his reactions while they talk, she begins. "Thanks for coming."

"Yeah," he mutters, his voice insolent and laced with sarcasm. "You call, I follow. Right?"

She takes a deep breath and runs a hand through her hair. She deserved that and she won't take the bait. They've fought enough.

"I'm sorry."

It's a start. It's well overdue. And she is.

He grunts in reply, drags his feet through the dirt below the swing.

"This job… Rick, this job is a fantastic opportunity and I… I want it but there's something else I want too..."

"No, you're right," he replies, ice dripping in his words. "It is a great opportunity. You should go. Take it."

Lead settles in her stomach, heavy and unyielding. Her fingers shake around the metal rings of the chain and she wonders how the swing manages to hold her up; how it's not collapsing under the weight of her burdens. Every contradicting thought, every word of wisdom she'd listened to over the past few days had only cemented her decision.

To stay.

Because despite all of their agreements that this was a once in a lifetime job offer, that she was right to want it, the one thing she took away from each conversation had been the urge to throw up and run into his arms. And now… now the final piece of the puzzle, the person who matters the most, is telling her the same thing. She doesn't know what to think. Where is the man who said that the heart wants what the heart wants? The man who told her that they just had to find their way.

But there's something he doesn't seem to know. Something that the man who spends an inordinate amount of time observing her should know. And it's the one thing that she wants most of all. Above all else.

The biggest opportunity of her life.

"Look, Castle, I want to take the job, I'm not gonna lie."

He chuffs out a derisive laugh and she grips the chains harder. The metal clangs under the pressure and the platform rocks under her bottom. She sways, and the nausea is back.

She deserved that too. It's not the first time she has lied to him to try and preserve his feelings or to avoid talking about an issue. But it makes her mad anyway, because she's trying and feels sick over it and though he agreed to meet her here, it seems like for him it was more of a formality than a chance to repair what they've broken. It makes her mad because he knows what these swings mean to her; he knows that this is where she chose him above all else.

"Damn it, Rick! Will you just listen to what I am trying to tell you for a moment? I want us to work… long-term. And I want to know where we are going because it's important, and for weeks, months even, I have been trying to subtly get that message across because that's what we do; subtext and hiding behind metaphors. But Castle, I'm late and everything has changed now and I need to know before..."

Ugh! She didn't mean to spit it all out like that. She had meant to gently ease him into the idea. Smooth things over before going for broke.

"Beckett, save it," he cuts her off. "Long-distance isn't going to work and we both know it. I love you Kate, but I should go now. Why prolong this agony? There's nothing left to say."

He stands, and lays a gentle to kiss to her forehead. He's saying goodbye and a single tear breaks free and slips down her cheek.

"You don't want to keep the Attorney General waiting," he murmurs as his lips leave her crown and his thumb brushes down her jaw. "I'll miss you."

This isn't at all what she wants.

What is he doing? She needs to say something. He needs to stop. This is important. The most important thing ever.

But her mouth won't move. The words are clogged up in the back of her throat. She doesn't want to tell him like this.

With a final, sorrowful look, he stalks off across the park.

"Castle, wait!" she finally calls, panicking at the sight of his retreating back.

He doesn't turn around.

"That wasn't the kind of late I meant," she whispers into the breeze as her hands travel to her midsection and her fingers trail a gentle path across the possibility of forever.

This might turn into my hiatus fic. Depending on how Monday goes and whether I want to rejoice, or drown my sorrows in pints of ice cream and fifths of scotch. And possibly depending on how much love I get for this idea.

No beta on this one. Send all scornful emails to me and me alone. Or you could gently nudge me to fix any you find. That would be kinder.