Title: Coming Clean

Rating: T

Timeline: Mid Season 4.

Summary: Castle realizes that he needs to come clean about prying into Beckett's life again after he discovers something he can't justify keeping from her. One-shot.

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the characters used in this story.

A/N: Smart people warned me that this would happen. I know I should be working on my other story, but something about being in the middle of a multi-chapter story makes all these one-shot ideas keep popping into my head. I couldn't shake this one loose, so I'm indulging a brief diversion.


"Castle! Will you please sit still?!" Beckett growls in exasperation. "Seriously, what is your problem today? We don't even have a case. Maybe you should leave. I'll call you if anything happens."

"Sorry, Beckett, sorry," Castle mumbles as he clasps his hands in his lap again. He's trying desperately to look contrite, but his frayed nerves shine through instead. Within 30 seconds, his hands are roaming again, one messing with his phone with the other taps out an arrhythmic beat on his knee.

"Castle…," Beckett moans in exasperation while pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Okay. Yeah, you're right. I should go. Just … can we talk? Tonight? There's something I need to talk to you about. Can I stop by … uh … tonight?" Castle asks.

This is the author, the talkative wordsmith? He's actually babbling, Beckett realizes, not just running on as usual.

"Castle, is everything alright?" Becket asks, feeling a little guilty that she might have missed some actual distress that's been causing his restlessness.

"No," Castle replies in a low tone before releasing a bone-weary sigh, rolling his head back, and closing his eyes.

"What's wrong?" Beckett asks. When Castle doesn't answer, she reaches out and places a hand on his knee.

The effect is immediate. Castle's head snaps forward and he looks on in alarm as he kicks off and shoves the chair two feet back. The legs on the ancient chair create a piercing screech on the tile floor, causing chalkboard-scratching shivers and irate looks from around the bullpen. After a pregnant pause during which many glares find Castle, people slowly return to work.

Beckett, meanwhile, is trying to figure out if she should be concerned about whatever's bothering Castle or offended at his reaction to her touch.

"Not here," Castle says, looking cornered. "Eight o'clock. I'll stop by then. Is that okay? Eight o'clock."

Still confused by his uncharacteristically awkward speech and obvious discomfort, Beckett just nods.

Castle slowly rises and jumps sideways when his efforts to return the chair to its place causes another attention-grabbing shriek. Ignoring the raised eyebrows and sour looks from around the bullpen, he sidles over to Ryan and Esposito who both watch him with wary concern.

"See you around, fellas," Castle says while offering a first bump to each of the boys.

His farewell accomplished, Castle takes a long look around, then heads for the stairs without another word.

"What the hell was that about?" Esposito asks while Ryan looks on in confusion.

"I have no idea," Beckett, still looking toward the stairwell even though Castle's already long gone.

It's two minutes before 8:00 when she hears a knock on the door of her apartment. Beckett's changed into casual clothes – a ratty old NYPD sweatshirt and leggings – in an effort to relax. But it hasn't worked. She was no more able to concentrate on work after Castle's bizarre exit than she had while he was there fidgeting. In fact, the more time that passed, the more concerned she became about whatever it is that turned him into such an inarticulate mess.

So, with both trepidation and curiosity, she opens the door to find Castle standing there, looking much as he did when he left the precinct, save for the satchel that he picked up somewhere.

"Hey Castle, come on in," she offers, drawing the door wide and trying to prompt some reaction from him that will let her know where his head is at after this afternoon.

"Hi Beckett," he returns, sounding much more like his normal self.

Smiling in relief, Beckett offers a drink and Castle gladly accepts a water. And then two more.

"Sorry, guess I didn't realize how thirsty I was," Castle said. "Been wandering around for a while, trying to get my thoughts in order."

"Castle, did you walk all the way here from your place?" Beckett asks in surprise.

"Uh, yeah, I did, I guess. But I did it slowly, just meandered over after leaving the precinct and picking something up at home," Castle says with a shrug.

"Castle, that was five hours ago!" Beckett says, her concern about whatever's going on ramping up again. He's told her that he likes to take long walks (but not runs) to turn over ideas for his writing, that moving around and seeing people helps him come up with new character ideas and potential plot points. But, it doesn't sound like this afternoon's ramble had anything to do with his writing endeavors.

"Your feet must be killing you," she says, looking at his expensive dress shoes. "Why not sit down and relax for a bit?"

"Improper footwear still beats a hair shirt," Castle confesses as he lowers himself gently into the chair in Beckett's living room, placing himself as far as possible from where she's positioned herself on the couch, and on the other side of the coffee table. It doesn't require her detective skills to see that Castle is distancing himself from her, putting barriers between them. Nor does she miss that he's barely sitting, resting on the edge of the cushion and coiled like a spring to shoot up at a moment's notice.

"Castle, you're starting to freak me out a bit here," Beckett confesses, lacing her words with compassion in an attempt to draw Castle out, invite his confidence. "What's going on – what's got you so worked up?"

Castle stares at the floor for a moment, apparently getting his thoughts in order. Then, following a short sigh, he looks her straight in eye and says "we lie to each other, right?"

Oh, no, thinks Beckett. Is that what this is about – her feigned ignorance about his confession of love? A sick feeling starts to radiate from deep in her chest, inches behind her new scar.

"To protect each other, I mean. To shield each other," Castle continues, not explaining himself very well but apparently unaware that his message isn't getting through.

"I'm not sure what you mean, Castle," Beckett stalls, hoping that he'll explain himself and save her the need to dwell on the lie that's most on her mind.

"Like … I don't know. Like … Kitty Canary – you figured out the counterfeiting before I did, but you pretended otherwise because it gave us a way to come back together," he explains while his looking down at the floor.

"Or maybe when people ask you what it's like to have me underfoot – you are kinder than you should be, to protect my feelings," he continues. "Or maybe like when I say I was just passing by your favorite coffee shop, as if we don't both know that it's nowhere near on the way to the precinct from my loft."

The last example is light enough to prompt a smile, and Beckett hopes that they're turning a corner, moving towards something less fraught and dangerous.

"There are bigger secrets, bigger lies," Castle continues, dashing Beckett's hopes. "And that's okay. We're private people, we have lives outside the precinct. We also know each other well, know what the other is capable of, their hopes and fears. I trust you, Beckett, to protect me, to act in my interest even if you do so silently."

Beckett nods warily, still not sure what's going on or what Castle is talking about, but glad that he's not pushing for disclosure. He seems to understand that there are things that she's not ready to talk about. She appreciates his restraint, and his trust.

"Thank you, Castle," she replies. "I trust you, too."

"Maybe you shouldn't," Castle says, running his hand through his hair. It's apparent that he's done this often this afternoon, as his hair is getting spiky and unruly, something that would usually annoy him.

"Castle?" Beckett prompts again, "Tell me what's going on."

"You made it abundantly clear in our first year together," he starts, "that I shouldn't poke around in your private life. But I did it again. I … Well, what I was doing will become painfully obvious when you see it."

He reaches for his satchel on the floor beside him and moves it to his lap. He doesn't open the bag, though. It seems like there's more he wants to say before taking that step.

"I found something that you'll want to see, something I'm pretty sure you don't know about. I found it late last week, but I wanted corroboration before I did anything. That came in yesterday. So, for the last day I've been trying to figure out what to do," he says with a sigh. "But I know what I need to do, I've known it since the beginning. This isn't something to hold back, not something that I can lie about to you, even by omission."

Beckett's bursting with questions, but now she's reticent to interrupt Castle's flow, since he finally seems to be providing some explanation. She's also increasingly concerned about what he's been doing. Their first explosion went back to him poking into her mother's case – is that what this is all about?

Her thoughts are disrupted by Castle's actions as he flips the satchel's cover over and unzips the bag. He reaches in an extracts a thin manila file folder, but still seems reluctant to hand it over.

"I know you're a private person, Kate," Castle says, and his use of her first name heightens her already focused attention. "I think you'll prefer that I not be here when you review this file. In fact, you might prefer that I not be here, or at the precinct, ever again after you read this. I'll, uh, I'll call you next week to see if it's okay to come back."

Beckett has sailed right past alarmed and is now near panic. What the hell is in this file that Castle's so convinced she'll not want to see him again after reading it? What did he do?

"Just … just know that my motives were pure in looking into this, even though it might not seem like it. And I want you to know, too, that I'll do anything I can to help you finish this," he says, waving the file. "Anything at all, no expectations or strings attached."

Then, taking a deep breath, Castle rises slowly to his feet while slinging the satchel strap over his shoulder. That accomplished, he steps towards Beckett and uses his free hand to help her rise from the couch. They're facing each other, him a little taller than usual as she stands barefooted. As he did at the precinct, Castle takes the opportunity, maybe his last, to take a look around her apartment and commit it to memory.

"Thank you, Kate," he says, focusing all of his attention on her. "Try not to think too poorly of me, and remember that I'd like to help."

Castle leans in and drops a gentle kiss on her left cheek. Beckett does nothing to reciprocate, just stands still and breathes him in as he approaches and then withdraws.

Castle reaches for her hand, into which he pushes the edge of the file folder. Then, with one last rueful smile, he tips his head and sees himself out.

Now that Castle's gone and she has the file in hand, Beckett finds herself reluctant to open the folder. For as many things that have gone wrong in the last year – hell, the last 14 years – she's actually started to feel pretty good about her life. Sure, there are challenges ahead, but her hard work has started to pay off both physically and emotionally. She's got an odd feeling that opening that folder might put that all at risk.

Ultimately, though, Beckett is an investigator. And innately curious – at least as much as Castle, probably more. So she beats back any misgivings as she strides to her kitchen, pulls out a chair, and places the file on the table before her. Then, with a deep breath, she opens the folder.

It may be a thin file, but the very first page leaves her shocked and slack-jawed. After several moments, it's the repeating mantra of "no, no, no" ringing through her mind that brings her back into focus. This can't be right, she thinks, quickly rifling through the remaining papers in the file.

But as each additional sheet confirms the unbelievable facts from the first page, Beckett feels her anger build. It's a two-pronged rage that she feels. At her core, she's beside herself about the contents of the file. But, her fury starts to spill over as she thinks about how this information was gathered. "Motives were pure" my ass, she thinks, wondering how Castle would try to justify the work that unearthed this file, this secret.

And yet, Mount Saint Beckett doesn't erupt. As quickly as her rage has built, she feels the anger draining from her, leaving her feeling empty. If only they had spoken more plainly during their time at the swings, she thinks. No, that's not right. If only she had been more thorough in her own research. If only – and Beckett knows that this is the real issue – if only she had behaved better all those many years ago…

But it doesn't matter, she realizes. None of it matters, none of the "if only"s are relevant now. One of the chief goals in her life is gone, hasn't been possible for years. How did she not realize this? What is she going to do about it? What is she going to tell her father? What is she going to do about Castle, and his offer to help? Her mind still teeming with questions, she cries out the only thing she can think of: "Rogan O'Leary, I'm going to kill you!"

A/N2: I thought it would be fun to work with something where Castle, Beckett, and the reader were on different pages without realizing it. Here we've got Castle talking about Beckett's marriage and Beckett thinking about her lie about forgetting Montgomery's funeral, while we're thinking about Castle's lie of omission about his agreement with Smith. Of course, if things went this way, Castle would certainly have some additional explaining to do about Smith later, even though he tried to lay the groundwork for his rationale in this conversation. Anyway, it was a fun lark, hope you enjoyed it.