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

A/N: Back from the Hamptons at last! More below.

"Ready for your triumphant return?" Fitz asks as she joins him at a table in the coffee shop around the corner from the precinct, crowded with bleary-eyed workers starting the work week. He's dressed for battle in a grey pinstripe power suit and shoes that reflect the slightest glimmer of light. The only sartorial hint of his usual humor is his tie, which she's sure was picked because it perfectly matches the bruising around his nose and eyes.

"Don't get my hopes up, Fitz," Beckett says as she gently lowers herself onto her chair, careful of her weary muscles. "There's no guarantee that I'll get my badge back today."

"I'm confident," Fitz says happily. "Trust me, I've been looking forward to meeting Victoria Gates. I think I've got a good measure of her. We'll at least get you back to desk duty, if not returned in full."

Fitz looks so confident sitting there that Beckett doesn't have the heart to disagree. She's looking forward to getting back to the precinct, but she's also got to admit that an impromptu vacation also sounds very appealing now that she and Castle are together and on the same page.

"She's not bad, Fitz, just by-the-book," Beckett cautions. "I don't want to alienate her, I just want things to go back to normal."

"That's the plan. First step: your coffee, Detective," Fitz says. It's clear from his words and intonation that Fitz's behavior has been influenced by a certain writer. One sip of her regular order confirms the conspiracy and she shoots him a raised brow to let him know that she sees right through this setup.

"Rick might have suggested that some caffeine wouldn't go amiss," Fitz chuckles, not at all abashed at having been found out.

"Don't get me wrong, Fitz," Beckett says soothingly after blowing across the top of her coffee to cool it down, "I wish he could be here for our meeting. But with me still on administrative leave and Gates not among his biggest fans, it's safest to tread lightly right now."

"I'm glad you said that," Fitz says, "because I'd like to talk about how to proceed with your captain. I've got some ideas, if you'd like to hear them?"

"Captain Gates, I'd like you to meet William Fitzpatrick, my attorney," Beckett says after entering Gates' office half-an-hour later.

As Gates and Fitz exchange pleasantries, Beckett takes note of Fitz's change in demeanor. Gone is the ebullient counselor doling out kind advice with gentle humor. This is Fitz's litigator persona as described during their strategy discussion.

"Thank you for coming in so promptly, Mr. Fitzpatrick," Gates says as she ushers Beckett and Fitz to seats in front of her desk. As Beckett takes moves to sit, she can see Ryan and Esposito lingering at their desks, failing miserably at hiding their efforts to watch the proceedings. At least Ryan's kind enough to flash her a thumbs-up gesture.

"Before we get started," Gates says to kick off the meeting, "I should provide you with an update. Detective Beckett, you missed a very eventful weekend," she says with a lilt in her voice. "In the broadest strokes, your ex-husband," Gates speaks with obvious disdain, "exposed a widespread fraud and racketeering operation."

"This must involve the group that followed Rogan to Castle's loft?" Beckett surmises.

"Exactly. It seems that in his desire to collect Medicaid benefits for his spouse, Mr. O'Leary needed the assistance of others to simulate physician and facility approvals. That brought him to the attention of an organized crime ring, which co-opted his scam into a greater fraudulent enterprise," Gates explains. "I believe you'll recall, Mr. Fitzpatrick, that Mr. O'Leary claimed to have information he'd exchange in consideration for reducing the sentencing recommendations pertaining to some of his charges?"

"That's correct, Captain," Fitz says, again surprising Beckett with his formality. "He was discussing the possibility of a plea arrangement before he made his escape last Thursday."

"One of the sheriff's deputies was involved in the criminal operation – when Mr. O'Leary recognized him at the station during your meeting with him, he knew his time was limited and made his escape," Gates explains. "That deputy is one of twelve arrests made over the weekend, in addition to the four here. And based on the statements and evidence gathered so far, it looks like this ring was involved in a number of other illegal activities. The investigation will likely last for weeks, if not months."

"And Rogan?" Beckett feels compelled to ask.

"Mr. O'Leary is in a dire situation," Gates says while casting Beckett a sympathetic look. "As you know, just his activities from Thursday and Friday of last week will result in years of jail time. He assaulted three people," she says with a gesture toward Fitz, "two of whom were police officers. He imprisoned Officer Sachs in the trunk of a car. He held four of you hostage, impersonated an officer, and engaged in multiple firearms violations."

Heartened to see that Beckett is nodding along rather than fighting or protesting O'Leary's innocence, Gates continues. "But the biggest concern for him is that any leverage he had for a plea bargain is gone – we have his conspirators well in hand. It's unlikely that he'll have anything to offer the DA. But, if not sentencing recommendations, I suspect we could see to it that he serves his time in a different New York penitentiary than the others," Gates says with an effort to be kind.

Beckett recognizes this olive branch for what it is – a nod toward Rogan's connection to Beckett, but one that's ultimately worthless. If an organized crime ring goes down because of Rogan, he's unlikely to last long in captivity whether he's dispatched directly by those he betrayed or indirectly by their agents. As much as he deserves everything that's about to fall on him and as much as she hates him for the turmoil he's caused, Beckett doesn't want Rogan to die. She can't deny her sorrow as she contemplates his bleak future.

"Perhaps," Fitz says, breaking into the conversation and surprising both Gates and Beckett.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Fitzpatrick," Gates says in response, "but there's not much ambiguity here. Mr. O'Leary's days of freedom are at an end."

"Certainly," Fitz says as if Gates had just agreed with him. "Of course, with racketeering and the FCA as federal crimes, sentencing recommendations and potential incarceration locations aren't limited to New York State. It might be the case that Mr. O'Leary finds himself serving time in a distant facility, one more insulated and isolated from those of his criminal compatriots."

Taken aback, Gates levels an assessing stare at Fitz. "That depends, of course, on the decisions of those prosecuting Mr. O'Leary. It'll be days, if not weeks, before the interested parties make those decisions."

"Perhaps. I'm confident the priorities and charges will be specified soon," Fitz says self-assuredly with a small chuckle, "and that Mr. O'Leary will find himself addressed separately from others involved."

There are so many things going on in this meeting already that Beckett takes a mental step back to appreciate the drama. Clearly, Fitz (probably with Castle's prompting or participation) already thought about what would happen to Rogan and has a plan to increase his chances of survival. It's also apparent that Gates didn't anticipate Fitz would be aware of the situation, much less in a position to intervene. Regardless of her other personality traits, Gates is a careful tactician – she's had to be to reach her level of success as a black woman in the NYPD. She's on edge now, wondering at the leverage Fitz seems to have and what it might mean for the rest of today's discussion.

"Perhaps you're right," Gates concedes with a careful nod, probably anxious to get them moving onto the real reason for this meeting. "Why don't we get to business. I'd asked Detective Beckett for this meeting so that we could document when she learned of her particular circumstances and what she did once in possession of that information."

With a nod, Fitz turns to his side and opens the briefcase-style document case he carried in to the office. From the case he extracts one fat and two thin three-ring binders. Standing, he's about to take a step when he pauses. "Permission to approach?" he asks with a playful gleam in his eye.

"Permission granted," Gates says with a laugh. Beckett has to stop herself from letting her jaw drop – Iron Gates just laughed. She almost giggled. And all for some silly joke casting her as a judge rather than a police captain. Maybe Fitz really does have her pegged. He must be hell-on-wheels in a courtroom, Beckett marvels.

Handing one thin binder to Gates, Fitz gives the other to Beckett before retaking his seat. "Captain," he says formally but kindly, "I'm happy to follow your lead as we discuss Detective Beckett's situation. If you'd prefer, I've prepared an agenda for our discussion that might help us move things along."

With a raised brow, Gates gives Fitz another look. She's impressed, Beckett realizes, but trying not to show it. Looking forward to some good theater, Beckett decides she's going to sit back and watch these two navigate around each other.

"Please," Gates invites. "You have the floor, counselor," she intones, still acting as if she's a judge.

"Thank you, Captain. In your binders," Fitz begins, nodding at the binder that each woman holds before her, "you'll find the documentation for the first of our three discussion topics for this morning."

Beckett's embarrassed and annoyed to realize that her raised brow and pointed look exactly match the look on Gates' face – even worse, Gates realized it, too. Both of them are wondering why they have documentation for only part of the discussion and what else they're going to talk about. Beckett knows one of the remaining topics, but the other must be what Fitz meant when he suggested that she "extend him some trust in protecting her affairs" during their strategy meeting.

Ignoring their reactions, Fitz continues speaking while opening his own fat binder. True to form, Fitz's materials are well organized – she can see the dividers that separate the other two sections in his binder, while the thin versions both have flags and highlighting throughout.

"The materials in your hands, which I'm happy to supply in electronic form, contain the chronology of the thirteen days, including today, that Detective Beckett has been aware of her marital situation. Beginning with receipt of the County Clerk's records of her marriage the Wednesday before last," he says while tapping the first page, "through the apprehension, detention, escape, and recapture of her ex-husband and his criminal compatriots," he says, tapping on the last page of their binders, which is only the last page of his first section.

Again, Beckett smiles inside. The last several pages are arrest reports and judicial filings that demonstrate that not only did Fitz already know everything that Gates told them at the outset of today's meeting, but he'd had the time and resources to secure the information, process it, and package it nicely for this discussion. Looks like Debbie enjoyed some overtime this weekend.

Fitz recalls their attention by flipping back to the start of the binder. "After the County Clerk's records, you'll see a summarized day-by-day accounting of activities that led to the prompt resolution of Detective Beckett's situation. Behind that is a precise accounting of Detective Beckett's activities during that time, followed by the timesheet entries and descriptions for myself and the members of the team who participated in this engagement."

Rather than focus on the material that sits in her lap, Beckett chooses to watch Gates. The Captain is flipping through the binder, reviewing the information with a level of attention usually reserved for case reports. She suspects that Gates is looking for errors or omissions, simultaneously impressed and annoyed at the completeness of Fitz's report.

"Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick. This looks comprehensive, well documented, and intuitively organized," Gates compliments. "I just have a few questions."

"Please," Fitz replies, "I'm here to help."

"First, I'm curious as to how Detective Beckett's situation initially came to light," Gates asks, not unreasonably.

"As he's my client, I'd ordinarily defer on such a question, but Mr. Castle has already authorized me to provide an explanation," Fitz says smoothly. "As disclosed in the affidavit behind tab 5, Mr. Castle requested that I obtain Ms. Beckett's records in relation to a family law issue."

Trying to hide her interest, Beckett's curious about this answer herself – obviously Castle wouldn't lead with his snooping that initially identified her marital status, so Fitz must be describing the way that Castle obtained the corroborating evidence.

"Family law issue?" Gates follows up.

"As you know," Fitz continues smoothly as if Gates' question was part of a script, "the NYPD holds a global liability release and waiver for Mr. Castle pertaining to any injuries sustained in his role as a consultant," Fitz says while Gates nods along.

"Two years ago, during a case, Mr. Castle asked Ms. Beckett if she would care for his daughter in the event of his death," Fitz explains while Beckett's thrown back to recollections of curses and exploding coffee machines. "At the time, the arrangement was relatively informal. Since then, Mr. Castle has grown concerned that with his mother's advancing age and downturns in employment opportunities for Alexis' mother, the disposition of custody in the event of his demise would become unduly fraught or contentious. Obtaining Ms. Beckett's files was a part of my remit to establish the intent and framework for Alexis' adoption, if necessary."

Oh, Castle. While she knows that this was a convenient way to justify a search into her records, Beckett knows Castle well enough to know that the adoption framework is probably in place. The irony is that in such an event, it's most likely that Alexis would be helping Beckett through the struggle with grief, rather than the reverse.

"But she's nearly eighteen, isn't she?" Gates asks with some confusion. "Why the worry about adoption?"

"Yes, Alexis is nearly eighteen," Fitz confirms, perhaps not realizing that by dropping her surname he's confirming that he knows Castle's daughter very well. "But Mr. Castle's concerns remain, for three reasons. First, there are a number of trusts to which Alexis will not gain access until she's twenty-one. Second, recent overtures by Alexis' mother have heightened Mr. Castle's concerns about custody. Third, Mr. Castle takes great care to protect the people in his life from risks, often without regard for the likelihood of occurrence. As you should know."

Gates had been nodding along with Fitz's explanation, until the last line. "What do you mean – as I should know?"

"Collins," is Fitz's only reply, but it's apparently a spectacular one. Whatever it means has caused the blood to drain from Gates' face, leaving her more off-balance than Beckett can ever recall seeing her.

"That was you?" Gates asks, momentarily forgetting Beckett's presence. Fitz nods in reply, remaining silent.

"But that was right after I arrived, right after I kicked him out," Gates says, trying to make sense of the situation.

"A situation with which he was not happy," Fitz says with a slightly disapproving tone, "but he thought it was critical for the 12th to have strong leadership and no distractions following Captain Montgomery's passing."

As Gates sits in silence, Beckett wonders what transpired back then. While she was healing at her father's cabin, Gates must've been in a situation where Fitz could lend assistance. That he did so at Castle's request and without her knowledge must really be twisting Gates right now. Thinking back to last week's talk with Fitz, Beckett has an idea that Castle's watch-list extends at least as far as Captain Gates.

"This doesn't change anything," Gates says, concerned about being compromised or indebted by Castle's invisible protection.

"Of course not," Fitz agrees. "In fact, I wasn't authorized to mention that to you, so I ask that you hold this part of our discussion in confidence. And I ask you, Detective," Fitz says as he turns to Beckett, "to forget anything you've heard on this topic and to not risk unraveling any of our work by digging into it yourself."

Refusing to speak until he's secured a hesitant nod from each woman, Fitz restarts the conversation with his own confirming nod and a turn back to Gates. "Captain, you had another question?"

"Yes," she confirms, "though I'm almost afraid to ask," she mumbles good-naturedly. After Beckett's stress-relieving huff and Fitz's gentle smile, Gates continues. "Your accounting for the time spent by you and your team on this matter is well-documented in hours but not costs. I'm sure that if we're held to account for Detective Beckett's efforts, we'll be asked about the financial ramifications and whether any department resources were used in this effort."

"I included only the hours expended because our effort on this matter was covered under Mr. Castle's retainer arrangement," Fitz replies. "To help ballpark it for you, my standard hourly rate is $680, inclusive of expenses, Ms. Delmonico's is $385 plus expenses, and any others bill out at $250."

Gulping as she converts the hourly total to what would've been billed in the absence of Castle's retainer, Gates mumbles something about having chosen the wrong career. Beckett, meanwhile considers the value of a luxury car to be a fair trade to escape the situation she created. Of course, she didn't pay, which is something she's going to have to take up with Castle.

While Gates is scribbling notes and calculations on her pages, Fitz catches Beckett's eye with a smile and a wink. Oh, he's enjoying himself, Beckett sees. He can hide it under his professional demeanor, but the attorney she's come to like so much is still lurking under the courtroom veneer.

"Did you have any more questions?" Fitz asks as Gates seems to pause in her review.

"Not for now," Gates replies. "May I contact you again if any come to mind?"

"Certainly," Fitz replies amiably, letting a little of his true personality shine through. "My contact information is in the front pocket of your binder. I'd be happy to answer any questions about this material or anything else that might trouble you," he says kindly, perhaps alluding to his earlier discussion.

"Thank you," Gates replies in what Beckett thinks is a sincere tone. "Now," Gates says as she closes her binder, "you mentioned two other topics?"

"Yes, indeed," Fitz says with a smile. "You'll appreciate that as a counselor, it's my job to protect my clients. Some clients, like Mr. Castle, seem to be a lightning rod for activity that requires legal intervention," he says as he laughs. Surprisingly, Gates chuckles too, adding her own, "Yes, I can imagine."

"But it's also my job to anticipate potential trouble, to address and resolve situations before they arise," Fitz says, growing a little more serious. "This part of the job isn't much fun – I've got to think the worst of people and prepare for situations we hope never to see. That brings us to the second topic for today," he says as he flips to the next section in his binder.

"As I've discussed with Detective Beckett, once we knew about her marital situation, there are a stunning number of sources that should have revealed this secret long ago," Fitz explains, reminding Beckett of their earlier discussions. "She told me that you were very kind to think of the potential ramifications to her career. It's my fervent hope that the binder on your desk contains sufficient information to address any issues raised by the NYPD regarding Ms. Beckett's personal history."

At this point Fitz pauses to make sure that he has the full attention of both women before proceeding. His build-up has Beckett slightly on edge, despite her comments in their strategy session where she turned herself over to his care.

"If it is not, however, we are prepared to affirmatively protect and defend Ms. Beckett's career position and trajectory," Fitz says while rapping a knuckle on the open folder on his lap. Surprised by Fitz's strong tone, Beckett still pauses to appreciate that he worked in the police mantra of 'protect and defend' into his presentation. Taking in Gates' wry look, she can tell that she's not alone in her admiration.

"And what, exactly, does that mean?" Gates asks pointedly.

"Simply that Ms. Beckett did nothing wrong," Fitz says in a more reassuring tone, "and that it would be hypocritical and prejudicial for the NYPD to consider any overt disciplinary measures or clandestine constraints on her career progression."

"How so?" Gates asks the obvious follow-up, at this point knowing that she's directly leading Fitz's planned discussion.

"I'm glad you asked," Fitz says, clapping his hands together. "Not to give away the store, but I think we can let you peek behind the curtain, considering how fair you've been under the circumstances," Fitz replies. Remarkably, he sounds genuine and it seems that Gates took his comments in this way. Perhaps because he's demonstrated that he doesn't need her support, Gates seems more willing to extend a little trust.

"First, obviously, is the raft of anti-discrimination laws that pertain to marital relations, spousal privilege, and personal liability," Fitz says. "Any attempted prosecution that assumes one spouse is responsible for the bad acts of the other, due to nothing beyond the fact of their marriage, fails on its face, both as a matter of common sense as well as established precedent. Can you imagine," Fitz says with some glee, "what would happen if we could dismiss anyone who had a misbehaving spouse? Good lord, New York alone would grind to a halt overnight, suddenly incapable of performing basic functions much less run the judiciary, constabulary, or financial sector," he says as he chortles. Despite her efforts, Gates can't help but crack a smile.

"Second, let's bring it a little closer to home. Ms. Beckett and I fully appreciate how bad it looks that she didn't realize she was married," Fitz says while Beckett can't help but nod. "However, should the NYPD choose to take that tack, they'd best ensure that their own house is in order."

With this, Fitz turns to the next tab in his binder, pinching the sheets in that section and holding them up in profile, so that both women can see the half-inch thick section of documents. "Over the course of her career, the NYPD itself or the other law enforcement agencies with which it interacted conducted dozens of background checks on Detective Beckett. None of those we've identified thus far discovered her marriage."

"It's not typically an employer's job to tell its employees whether they're married or not," Gates says sardonically.

"True," Fitz admits with a laugh, "though that's another fun scenario to contemplate – makes me glad I'm my own boss. But, my point is simply that it will be more difficult for anyone to challenge Ms. Beckett's situation when they share the surprise, despite having invested funds and labor hours to conduct an investigation that should've revealed the story. I don't think anyone," Fitz says with his own raised brow, "would want to explain how basic a detail like marital status could've been repeatedly missed by the agencies created to protect our security and civil welfare."

"True," Gates concedes in turn. "Given how this conversation has progressed, I can guess the next section of your binder. If I'm right, I'm not going to be happy, am I?" Gates asks with a tone moving from amused to almost angry. But, as Beckett anticipates the next section, Gates' is a fair response.

"No, you'll not be happy," Fitz says with regret. "In my defense, I'll say only this: I categorically refused to consider anyone in the 12th. I didn't look and I instructed my staff not to look. But, I know that this defense is confrontational and intrusive," Fitz agrees.

"How bad is it?" Gates asks with a wince.

"I stopped at ten examples," Fitz says gently. "For all our peace of mind, I'm not going to share them. But, should it ever become necessary to compare Ms. Beckett's situation – or, more on point, her link to a spouse or partner engaged in criminal activity – to that of others in the NYPD, hers doesn't even register on the scale of what's been allowed and ignored by others."

Rubbing her forehead, Gates absorbs this information while probably thinking about the same thing as Beckett: how many of their colleagues or superiors have gotten into worse situations than hers? From the way Fitz talks, it wasn't difficult to find ten examples, all of which are more egregious that her unknown marriage to a soon-to-be felon.

"I was never a big Ronald Reagan fan," Gates finally says, making a reference that Beckett doesn't quite follow.

"Some of his movies weren't bad," Fitz says with some return of his humor. "But the notion of 'mutually assured destruction' didn't seem like a stable way to conduct foreign policy. Then again, we're still here to talk about it, so things could be worse," he says with a laugh. "I don't like adopting the same approach for Ms. Beckett's situation and I very much hope that today's discussion is all we'll ever need on this topic. Nobody wins, except maybe criminals, if we have to push things to the point where this information would need to come out."

"Mr. Fitzpatrick," Gates says after another pause, "you've obviously known all about me from the day I stepped into this precinct, if not before," she says with a slightly irritated look. "So, you know that I came from Internal Affairs. I find that you've put me in a difficult position. So far this morning I've learned that you acted on my behalf in the past and that you possess information damaging to that NYPD that you could use in a labor dispute with one of my direct reports. While our conversation has been cordial, I'm growing concerned about how this looks on paper, the implications that could be construed from what we've discussed."

To his credit, Fitz looks unsurprised by Gates' concerns and addresses them much more like the attorney she met at his office rather than the one who's been operating so effectively in this meeting.

"I understand your concerns, Captain Gates," Fitz says earnestly, "and I won't dismiss them or try to paper over them. But perhaps I can resolve some of your anxiety. First," he says, looking directly at Gates to drive this point home, "as to the matter of working on your behalf – prove it," he says, suddenly impish.

Caught off guard, Gates blinks and asks, "What do you mean?"

"What I mean," Fitz explains gently, "is that there is no record of anything I may or may not have done on your behalf. More to the point, Mr. Castle instructed me to keep any of my activities on behalf of his non-relations confidential – I broke that trust to build some goodwill between us. If you want to inform Mr. Castle of my transgression or file an ethics complaint with the state bar association, I won't shirk the consequences of my decision." To Beckett's relief, Gates is shaking her head, apparently uninterested in pursuing this matter. "And, again with Ms. Beckett's agreement, I'll promise you this: I have no intention of sharing this part of our discussion with Mr. Castle. He trusts me to protect him, and as far as I'm concerned, not knowing about this part of our conversation is in his best interest."

"Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick," Gates replies. "I would appreciate your discretion."

"I believe you were also concerned about the nature of my materials being construed as a threat or some sort of public relations blackmail. The only thing I can do in this regard is to ask you to have some faith in me," Fitz says simply. "I'd like to think that what you've learned today provides you with some confidence in how I prefer to do things. Everything I have here," he says with another rap on the binder, "is in the public domain, so there really is no unique threat. Nonetheless, I plan to take it back to my office and bury it. I don't ever want to be in the situation of using it."

Gates is nodding and about to speak when Fitz lifts a finger and ventures one last thought. "Despite how you might view my main client and his day-to-day antics," Fitz says with an indulgent smile, "he's been very careful to do nothing to undermine the effectiveness or reputation of the NYPD. As much trust as you can extend to me, I'd like you to know that even if I were forced into a situation where I thought an aggressive approach was warranted, he'd likely hold me back or redirect my efforts."

Ordinarily, Beckett would have thought that bringing Castle up in this conversation with Gates would be a terrible idea. But from the look on her face, it seems like Gates is thinking more about whether she needs to revise any opinions than she is about letting her impression of Castle undermine this portion of their meeting.

"I was warned," Gates says slowly, "when I couldn't keep Mr. Castle out of the precinct, that in addition to his friendship with the mayor, he was represented by formidable legal counsel. Despite the warning, I think I've underestimated you," Gates says with a gracious nod. "Not in skills, but in temperament. I'd like to hope that we could build a little trust between us, and I appreciate how forthright you've been today."

"Good," Fitz says happily, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. "Here's hoping that our next topic doesn't undermine all of that effort."

"That sounds ominous," Gates replies, and Beckett agrees. Still not quite believing that she gave Fitz the go-ahead for this final discussion topic, Beckett crosses her fingers and hopes for the best.

"Let me start with a story that'll help explain this last topic, and probably some of what we've already discussed," Fitz says to set the stage. "I'm a sole practitioner these days, but that wasn't always the case. Before hanging out my own shingle, I directed the Labor & Employment practice at Palmer Pittman LLP."

At this news, Gates' eyebrows shoot up. Fitz doesn't miss her reaction.

"Surprised?" he asks. When Gates seems uncomfortable in replying, Fitz lets her off the hook. "It's okay, Captain, I know what you're thinking. I helped build PP's fierce reputation, part of which was earned at the expense of the city in general and the NYPD in particular. But, as you might've noticed from my behavior here today, there were aspects of my personality that didn't match well with a cutthroat corporate law giant."

"The first time I met Rick Castle," Fitz continues, "I thought he was a braying jackass. A friend of mine brought me to a poker night at Rick's place. In less than three hours, that bastard figured out tells I didn't even know I had while speculating openly about my reasons for lingering at PP when it was obvious to him that I shouldn't be there. Stumbling home drunk and temporarily impoverished, I realized that I didn't have a good answer for him. A few months and an unusual friendship later, he helped me break off from PP and get my own shop off the ground."

Beckett casts Fitz a soft smile, happy to hear the note of satisfaction in his voice. Having seen him in his element, she knows how content he is in his current situation. And even knowing where this discussion is going, she didn't know how Fitz planned to introduce the topic, so she's happy to learn this little bit about the past shared by Castle and Fitz.

"I've never been happier. I'd never realized how much of the stress and tension from PP was bleeding into my home life. My wife and kids commented on the change immediately. Even now, they talk about how much better things are in my 'second act,'" he says with affection.

"So, I have a deep obligation to Rick. I've looked for ways to repay my debt to him. Not monetary, because he's fine there. And not professional, because that doesn't reflect the peace he's helped me find in my personal life," Fitz says softly. "The answer finally hit me after he started coming in to the precinct. Since then, I've been working on a side project. He doesn't know about it. It started as a lark, a hope I had for my friend. But I'll share it with you now."

Slowing tugging the tab in the binder, Fitz moves to the last section of his binder.

"The irony, of course, is that this draws on skills obtained during my 'first act,' before I knew Rick," he says with a chuckle. "There are many laws that protect employees from undue restrictions and impingements upon their personal lives," Fitz says. "Sometimes, the nature of the employers affects these laws or creates exclusions or exemptions. Other times, employers simply act as if they have or should enjoy exemptions. The NYPD falls into both categories."

"What do you mean?" Gates asks, finally breaking into Fitz's monologue.

"What I mean is that while the NYPD enjoys a very narrow privilege to interfere in the personal relationships of its employees, it has occasionally claimed or threatened a wider purview for that interference," Fitz explains. "Of course," he says while rapping again on the folder in his lap, "asserting something doesn't make it true. In fact, there are established limits and precedents that prohibit the NYPD and other employers from overstepping."

"I hate to tell you this," Gates interjects with a look that says she doesn't mind breaking into Fitz's presentation at all, "but I think I know where you're going with this and I fear you're wasting your time here, counselor."

Feeling her stomach clench, Beckett turns to Fitz. He's looking at Gates quizzically, trying to understand the nature of her objection. "Forgive me, Captain, but would you please explain? I want to make sure we're on the same page," he asks.

"What I mean, Mr. Fitzpatrick, is that if I wanted to interfere with the personal relationship between Detective Beckett and Mr. Castle, I would've done so by now. There's no need to talk about labor laws or personal protections," Gates concludes with a sly look.

"What relationship?" Beckett and Fitz ask at the same time. Blushing furiously, Beckett looks from Fitz to Gates, trying to figure out what's going on, if she could really be hearing Gates correctly.

"Your relationship with Mr. Castle," Gates says with an eye roll that threatens to make her fall further into her chair.

"But I don't, I haven't…," Beckett stumbles, trying to figure out what's going on. "Do you mean that'd be okay?"

"As your counselor points out," Gates replies with some of her own humor, "there's not much I could do to prevent it, especially if we'd all like to avoid a messy fight. But are you saying that you really haven't…, Gates trails off, a slight blush spilling into her cheeks.

"It would be okay if I did?" Beckett says rather than answer Gates' question, unwilling to disclose that things have only just recently changed for them.

"You'd have to keep it out of the precinct, obviously, and definitely out of my sight," Gates says flatly. "Otherwise, don't let us stand in the way. If you're so inclined, and I'll deny saying this until my dying day, you'd be crazy not to wrap that boy up."

Gaping like a fish, it's all Beckett can do to turn to Fitz. This time it's Fitz casting the Captain an admiring glance. "Captain," he says warmly, "I must admit that I've looked forward to meeting you for a long while. Even after all that time, I've still underestimated you," he says with a grin and a nod. "You have my thanks, and my respect."

"Let's wrap this up," Gates says again brusquely, though Beckett notices the slight flush on her Captain's face. Gates reaches into a drawer and withdraws the envelope that Beckett gave her last Thursday, containing her badge and weapon.

"I had planned," Gates says slowly, "to have you return to desk duty today, and regular duty after this week, barring any surprises. But perhaps a slight adjustment would be warranted." Turning to Fitz, Gates asks, "Counselor, it's my assumption that increasing her current administrative leave slightly wouldn't mar Detective Beckett's personnel record?"

"The fact of the administrative leave is already present," Fitz says with what looks like a knowing smile. "The impact of that event will not change if the duration of the leave changes by a small increment."

Nodding, Gates stands and extends the envelope to Beckett. As she rises, Fitz does, too. While he packs away his binder and prepares to leave, Beckett reaches out for the envelope.

"Detective, I expect to see you back at your desk Wednesday morning," Gates says sternly. "Whether you choose to return before then or to use the additional time to … ensure that any potentially distracting matters outside of the precinct are addressed, is up to you." Though she's trying to keep a straight face, Beckett can't miss the upturned corner of Gates' mouth or the glimmer in her eye.

"Thank you, sir," Beckett replies, hardly believing that Gates just gave her time to "address" her situation with Castle. Incredulous or not, she'll take the time. "I'll see you Wednesday morning."

"Good," Gates replies with a nod. "As you'll be on desk duty, perhaps you can leave your shadow at home until next week?"

"Yes, sir," Beckett replies. It's still more than a fair trade, and having Gates observe Castle's early-relationship strut is probably too much to ask. Beckett decides that she'll just have to make sure that any exuberance on Castle's part is 'exercised' out of him before his return to the precinct.

Moving to accompany Fitz out of Gates' office, she notices a knowing look on her attorneys face. Before she can ask, he leans over and whispers "You and Rick might be better at noticing tells, but I'm not too bad myself." And with a little eyebrow waggle, Beckett realizes that he knew exactly what she was thinking about. Blushing furiously, she's about to walk out with Fitz before a last thought occurs to her. Turning before opening the door to Gates' office, she turns back to her Captain.

"Sir?" she asks, causing Gates to look up from her renewed review of Fitz' binder. "Thank you," Beckett says earnestly. At Gates' nod, Beckett continues. "What we discussed, including any … relationship developments … is in confidence, correct?"

"Yes, Detective," Gates replies. "I think we'd all prefer it that way. Did you have any concerns?"

"No concerns," Beckett replies, looking out of the office at Ryan and Esposito, who are again trying to pretend like they're not watching the proceedings. "Thanks again, Captain."

"I'd say 'just don't do it again,'" Gates replies cheekily, "but we'll go with 'if you do it again, you'd better remember it and invite me to the event,'" she smirks.

"Yes, sir," Beckett replies with an embarrassed smile before turning and opening the door. Slipping an arm through Fitz's, she walks with him to the elevator, unabashedly using him as an excuse to avoid Ryan and Esposito right now.

She's got some planning to do. While she certainly knows how she'll spend some of her newfound time with Castle, they now have a new project. Since Gates knows about them before the boys or Lanie, there are certain scenarios they can explore, certain pools that can be messed with or pranks that can be repaid with interest. And, topping it all, she can look forward to Castle's return to the precinct next week – back to normal, but better. Anxious to embrace these opportunities, she nearly drags Fitz into the elevator in her haste to get started.

A/N2: This is the end of Coming Clean, which I'll mark as complete for now. I need to step away for a bit and I have plans for other stories when I return, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come back to this story yet again to explore the big reveal to Lanie and the boys. Or Martha – she's missed everything due to her trip to LA, so that could pose a fun opportunity, too. At any rate, for those of you who soldiered through what I thought would be a one or two chapter addition to a one-shot, many thanks! Thanks, too, for the reviews, PMs, and kind words – they are greatly appreciated.