Disclaimer and Introduction: The characters and some of the dialogue aren't mine, and I claim no rights or interest in them. For those parts of what follows that are original to me, they're mine.
My first fanfic, or any fic for that matter. What follows is an AU reimagining of the swing set scene from the Season 5 finale, that's part story and part critique of the series. It's premised on Still occurring before The Squab and the Quail, as they were intended to be aired.
For those looking only for a happy conclusion to Watershed, I wouldn't recommend what follows.
Thanks to my beta and gamma readers for their valuable time and feedback. Their names have been withheld to protect the innocent. All errors are mine.
"Dad, are you OK?"
"You seem sad."
"No, I'm fine."
"It's only Costa Rica. I'll be back before you know it."
"Ah, that's sweet, but no, it's not about that. It's, ah, something your grandmother told me. Comes a point in our lives when we have to stop fooling ourselves into thinking life's going to be the way we want it to be. Start seeing things for how they really are."
Beckett touched his phone number, and maybe for the first time she couldn't guess what kind of reception she'd get.
"Castle." He stopped with that. No quip, no pun, not even an acknowledgement that he knew who he was talking to. Just silence.
"It's me." That Beckett started by identifying herself conveyed how uncertain and awkward she felt. "We need to talk."
"Yeah, we do."
Without the need for discussion, they both knew the talk couldn't be done over the phone. After arranging a place and time to meet and dropping the connection, Beckett brow was furrowed. They hadn't spoken in the few days since he walked out of her apartment. Beckett had instead talked with Lanie and her father, seeking their advice, discussing and considering what was in front of her with the job offer and the effect on Castle. But Castle's tone and clipped sentences left Beckett with a distinct impression that she wasn't the only one who had spent the time making decisions.
Castle reached their playground a few minutes before the appointed time. He was relieved that the swing set was vacant, and that the park was emptying out as families hurried out, headed home for dinner, baths, and story time. Castle flashbacked to those evenings when he had walked home from a different park with a young Alexis swinging from his arms, laughing, teasing, and sharing stories all the way home.
The memories only added to the weight Castle already felt as he sat down on a swing, so tired that he didn't turn to switch positions after discovering he was facing the sun. It had already been a long day, and it didn't help that he'd only been sleeping little and fitfully. The sleeplessness had started after an equally long day, the night he'd stormed out on Kate as they were preparing a rare home-cooked dinner. As a bachelor, Castle's culinary repertoire had been limited, but necessity being the father of invention (at least in his case), he now took no small amount of pride in the skills and creativity he'd developed in the kitchen since Alexis could eat solid foods. He especially loved cooking with Beckett because of physical closeness and intimacy of those rare events. So the transition had been particularly jarring when he left her apartment angry after he found her D.C. boarding pass.
That night Castle's anger and adrenaline had fueled him, kept him moving around his loft. From his office desk, to his couch, to the dining room table, to a counter stool, and then randomly back again, he couldn't make himself stop as he tried to make sense of it all. He re-ran what had happened, what he knew, what he didn't know, what he thought might be happening, analyzing the situation, minimizing how he felt, his writer's imagination coming up with "best case" and "worst case" scenarios, holding a debate with the 'Beckett' in his head and then holding another debate with himself, sometimes voicing his arguments aloud.
When he finally thought he could fall asleep, he crawled into bed in the loft's guest room. He knew his bed – their bed – would smell of Beckett. He needed sleep but wanted the clear-headedness that came from sleep, and not the distraction or possible comfort that her scent would have brought. But his brain had still refused to shut down. Castle got in and out of bed at least three times that first night, until he was physically too exhausted for his thoughts to keep him awake any longer.
Between leaving Beckett's apartment and when she called, Castle had reached some conclusions of his own. As Castle sat waiting, he mentally re-examined his thinking, much like a student who finishes a final test early and spends the remaining time checking his work before turning in his answers.
Castle didn't change any of his answers as he sat and waited, mentally rehearsing the lines he expected to use shortly.
When Beckett walked up, Castle wasn't surprised that he felt her presence before he heard her. She had that kind of effect on him almost since they first met. He glanced her way as she approached, and again as she sat in the swing next to him, facing the opposite direction, looking toward their lengthening shadows.
Beckett turned toward Castle, and spoke first.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kept secrets."
"It's who you are. You don't let people in. I've had to scratch and claw for every inch."
"Please let me finish.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking about us, about our relationship. What we have. Where we're headed."
Castle gathered himself, and continued, his weariness reflected in his tone. "You've been the most important thing in my life, you know. I don't really know when that happened. Don't think I even knew it until you were standing on that bomb. The idea of leaving you to die, and me living, wasn't something I could accept. I decided you were more important than my mother, even more important than Alexis. So I choose to stay and become your Bomb Buddy, to face our fate together. I was willing to leave Alexis fatherless, let my mother bury me - or what was left of me - rather than leave you."
Though facing in the opposite direction, Beckett's head was turned and focused on Castle. She saw pain flicker across Castle's face, but it was replaced with a focused expression as Castle took a few deep breathes.
"A year ago, you told me that finding your mother's killer was the most important thing in your life, but then you showed up dripping wet, told me that none of that mattered anymore, and that I was all you could think of, all you wanted. . . I thought that meant that I was the most important thing in your life . . ." Castle's voice had begun to crack and trail off into almost a whisper, but he swallowed, kept his eyes front and down, and continued full voiced. "The other day it became clear that I'm not. I stand somewhere behind 'your life' and your career, and I don't even have a seat at the table when you're faced with decisions that could end what we have. Didn't see that coming."
"Castle, I already apologized for that."
"No, no, you haven't."
"But when I sat down . . ." Kate sounded puzzled, but Castle cut her off.
"You don't get it, do you?" There was no exasperation behind Castle's words, only tired resignation. "You apologized for lying, for hiding the job interview from me. But you haven't apologized for leaving me out of the discussion over the job, or that you were going to make that decision without my input or my thoughts on what your decision might mean to our relationship or even just your career. I thought we were partners."
He paused and, with a furrowed brow and a perplexed look on his face, continued speaking, as if rhetorically. "I'm still can't figure out how and what you planned to tell me when you got the job . . . 'Hey, remember when I quit my job and didn't know what I'd do next? Funny thing is that even after getting my old job back, I went to DC last week to interview for a job there, and guess what?' . . ."?
A small part of Beckett couldn't help but register that no matter how hurt Castle was, it didn't shake his belief in her, or his conviction that if she took the interview, the job would be hers.
"It's not the first time I've faced the question of whether I wanted you badly enough to get over being hurt. If that's all this was, me getting over being hurt, I think I know what the answer would have been. But that's not the question now. When I spoke to my mother about this, about us, she said that you are what you are. Clichéd, I know, but she's an actress, not a writer. She's right though. The question I've had to ask myself was, is that enough? Will that 'enough' make this relationship, us, make sense?"
Kate had been listening to Castle, trying to find an opening so that she could engage Castle in a real conversation, and saw an opening. "You mean, can our story make sense?"
"Exactly. I've been trying to understand the chain of events that makes our story and where we are, make sense."
Kate's all-but-whispered question revealed her apprehension. "And . . . ?"