A/N 1: I am still amazed at the response to this story! Thank you so much for the reviews, faves and follows. It's always nice to know when your work is appreciated. Of course, now I have to keep it up, no pressure or anything, right? :) This chapter has been giving me fits the last week. I was supposed to be working on chapter 8, but added over 300 words to this one instead. (I have reached my word goal for 8, but it's still not finished.) Then re-reading this, I realized my timeline was messed up. In short – it was a mess. I switched somethings around, added a little more to clarify some things, and hopefully made it coherent.

Anything you recognize – characters and dialogue – are not mine.

I hope you enjoy!

XXXXXX

Chapter 2

"Castle...I..."

"I know, you're on a case, so not right this second, but soon."

You're on a case? Not We?

"You're not staying?" God, the plaintive tone was mortifying. Get it together, Beckett.

Castle frowned a little, the confusion showing a little more.

It's like he's surprised I want him here. Oh, Castle, if you only knew. Kate stopped short in her mind at that thought. Of course, if I'd ever tell him... Why can't I talk to him? But he does seem to want to talk...

"No, I just got off a plane and came straight here," he replied. "Five-hour flights can be brutal, first class or not."

"Five-hour flight? Where did you go? Was it a signing?"

"Vegas. And no, I mean, yes, I signed a few books in the airport for fans, but I needed to get away." He paused and eyed her. "And I needed to get out of my head for a bit."

That pause gave Kate pause.

He needed to get away from me, is what he means, she thought. Damn.

"So, you're not sticking around?" she asked. "You do look worn out."

"No, I need some sleep. I tried to on the plane, but uh... I couldn't. Too much on my mind."

"Ah."

"I probably wouldn't have stopped by, except it's important that we talk. I didn't think a phone call or a text would cut it."

Kate nodded. She had no idea where he was going with this, but she was afraid he was going to sever their partnership.

She held the tears back by sheer will.

Not here, Kate. Not on the job. Not in front of him.

"I know it's the beginning of the case," Castle went on, not noticing Kate's dilemma – or ignoring it. "So maybe call me as soon as you get a chance? I'm still processing something, so I won't be on this case."

It was all Kate could do to keep her face from crumpling.

Processing something. Probably figuring out a way to cut ties painlessly. News for you Rick, it's gonna hurt, no matter how you try to cushion it.

"That's fine," she answered, doing her best to keep her voice level. "Go get some sleep, I'll try to call tomorrow or whenever we catch a break."

"Sounds good." He smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes, and turned to his car. He looked back when he reached it, waved a little then got in and drove off.

Lanie practically jumped on Kate after the Ferrari turned the corner.

"Well? What did he say?"

"Not a whole lot, he wants to talk though."

"That's a good thing, right?"

"I think he's going to leave."

Lanie was so shocked she almost blurted out what she'd done earlier.

"Why would you think that? she asked instead, catching herself just in time.

"Just... Just the way he looked at me when he showed up," Kate replied. "And then the way he said, 'We need to talk', so seriously. He means business about something."

"Or maybe he's going to explain how nuts he is about you."

Kate gave Lanie another look.

"You are way too optimistic for a Medical Examiner, you know that?"

Lanie just smirked.

"No," Kate continued with a sigh. "He was too serious for that bit of wishful thinking. He's going."

The detective looked so devastated Lanie relented with the teasing. It was too bad these two couldn't – or wouldn't – get their acts together. They both wanted it, the precinct, the city, hell, the entire planet could tell. But not these two. Lanie hoped Kate was wrong.

"You want me to nudge him a little? Get a little info so you're prepared?"

Kate gaped at her friend, shocked.

"No!" she exclaimed, then toned it down when she saw the uniform staring at the two of them. "No, Lanie, I'm a big girl, I can deal with it. I just need to get a grip."

"Okay," the ME replied. "I'll stock up on wine and ice cream."

That made Kate smile.

"Chocolate chip… and make it a gallon."

"At least a gallon, girlfriend. At least."

XXXXXX

Rick pulled over three blocks from the crime scene and buried his face in his hands. Seeing Kate, watching her expressions, he could almost believe she didn't understand his anger. But how could she not?

He jerked up suddenly. How could she not know why he was angry? Stupid question Castle, a better question – and one he needed to ask himself – was how could she know why he was angry? Kate was already in interrogation with Bobby by the time he arrived with their coffees, and he almost but not quite stormed out after her confession. She never saw him that day.

And he'd done nothing but be an ass ever since.

That's not to say Castle wasn't still angry, far from it. Confusion about his behavior lately didn't change the fact that Kate had lied to him. Lied to him for months. It was only natural for him to believe she didn't feel the same for him as he did for her. Why wouldn't she just tell him?

Lanie's butt dial seemed to answer that question.

"Despite your little act, you're crazy about him too."

"Do you think he knows?"

No, he did not know. Sure, she had been giving him what could be described as love eyeballs for the last few months, but it was the 'I'll call you' that turned into three months with no communication that said more in his opinion.

"Do you think he knows?"

No, he did not know. Why would she hide from something like that? All he wanted to do was help. Be at her beck and call to give her her meds, do her grocery shopping, go to the pharmacy, take her to the doctor, hold her when the pain was too much to bear alone.

In short, he wanted to love her – and if he was interpreting his eavesdropping correctly – Kate wanted him as well, so why wouldn't she let him in?

An open say-what-you-mean-no-damn-subtext-just-spit-it-out conversation was way overdue.

He noticed movement through his fingers and looked up. A bulldog was lumbering his way across the street. Fortunately, the road was empty for the moment, so the way was clear for him.

"Don't fall in love, buddy," Castle said to the animal. "All the songs may make sense, but nothing else does." Rick put the car in gear and after making sure the dog was safely on the sidewalk, drove away.

XXXXXX

"Hey Beckett."

Kate turned away from Lanie as Ryan stepped up, forcibly turning her mind off Castle and back to the case.

"What have you got?" she asked.

"Found the vic's business card in the side pocket of her purse." He put the card in an evidence bag. "Looks like she works in Manhattan."

Kate took the bag and examined the card.

"Naomi Allen, Kittman Group." She thought a moment as Esposito came up and stood next to Ryan.

"Let's finish up here and head back to the precinct. Tomorrow morning Cas – " she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Um… Ryan and I will head over to this Kittman Group and see what we can find out."

To their credit, the boys didn't respond to Kate's flub, Espo only saying, "You got it, Boss," and Ryan silently following Beckett to her car.

XXXXXX

Alexis was sitting at the kitchen counter when her father walked into the loft.

"Hey Pumpkin."

The redhead jumped. "Dad! You're home early!"

"Sorry to break up your party plans," Rick smirked.

She gave him a passable Beckett 'Look'.

Damn, I need to stop thinking like that.

"Dad, you said you'd be gone at least a week." The look didn't fade. "And you're back the night after you left. What happened?"

Now the look darkened to a glare.

"And don't say Beckett."

Castle's silence said it all.

"Damn it, Dad."

"Alexis..."

"I don't know everything, Dad, but I know she's hurt you – again."

"You're right, Alexis, you don't know everything. And it's none of your business either."

"Dad, I..."

"Alexis, I'm tired. I've had two five-hour flights in the past day and a half. I couldn't win an argument with Garfield's friend Odie right now, let alone you, so I'm not going to start."

"But..."

Rick rubbed his hand over his face. Saying it made him realize just how tired he was.

"I don't know what's going on with Beckett," he said. "We're going to talk after she finishes the case she's working on. For now, I'm going to bed."

Alexis looked like she was going to say something more, but Rick held up his hand.

"It's no one's concern but mine and Beckett's. Good night." He moved to his bedroom.

Alexis had a parting shot.

"You're MY concern, Dad. When you're hurting, I'm hurting."

Rick slowed, but didn't stop. He sighed. Alexis was probably right, but Lanie's words burned.

"Despite your little act, you're crazy about him too."

And Kate's as well.

"Do you think he knows?"

For better or for worse, he did now.

XXXXXX

The next morning found Rick on the phone with Gina.

"Gina, I'm a bit jet lagged right now, I don't need..."

"Oh, come on Richard. It's just signing for a few hours. You'll have plenty of time to gamble away your advance."

Oh, that's right, she didn't know.

"I hope you haven't set anything up, Gina, I'm back in New York."

"What?"

"Something came up, and I needed to be home."

"Is Alexis all right? Martha?"

That made Rick smile. Gina did care about Alexis and although she and Martha didn't always see eye to eye, it was nice to see concern for his mother as well.

"No, it's something else. Personal, but nothing to do with my redheads."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Richard. Just tell her."

Sometimes it was a pain in the ass to have surrounded himself with astute women.

"Gina, I..."

"Never mind, it's none of my business. When am I going to get the next few chapters?"

Bless you Gina, Rick thought. He'd very nearly blurted out that he HAD told Kate and now he was dealing with her lying about hearing him. Gina was a lot of things, but she was tactful. Even when harassing him about what was due. Still, it was a good way to turn the awkwardness around.

"I have 3 chapters done, but I'm sitting on them for another day before I look through and fix any glaring mistakes. Fresh eyes and all that. I've outlined another two, but I probably won't write anything on that for at least one more day. Like I said, I'm jet lagged."

"Fair enough," Gina replied. "It sounds like you're as on top of things as you can be right now."

"Thank you, Gina."

"Catch up on sleep, take care of your personal business, and get back to writing. I want those chapters by the end of next week."

Ah, there was the Gina he knew. At least his new deadline was the end of next week and not this week, so he still had time to procrastinate.

"Of course, sooner is always better, Richard," Gina said, seemingly reading his mind as she disconnected.

Always the last word. Castle chuckled.

XXXXXX

Beckett and Ryan left the modeling agency that morning with a little more information, or at least a lead to look into.

"Okay, let's head back to the precinct. I'll look into this album launch party. Damn I wish Ms. Panchard had given more information on where it was other than 'uptown'."

"Do you think she was hiring herself out to be an escort?" asked Ryan.

"Good question," she held up the sketch of a man the maid at the motel had said she'd seen running from the scene. "See if you can find this guy in the picture database. Maybe he can give us an answer."

Ryan nodded as the two detectives got in the car and drove off.

XXXXXX

Back in the precinct, Kate was doing paperwork while waiting. She effing hated waiting. Naomi Allen deserved more than waiting.

Progress had been made, she conceded. The person of interest in the sketch turned out to be a Scotland Yard cop who was a friend of the victim. She and Ryan got an eyeful when they went to pick him up at his hotel, the man had just stepped out of the shower and his towel dropped as he raised his hands at Beckett's command. Kevin had tried to do the gentlemanly thing and covered her eyes.

Kate peeked anyway.

She had expressed concern over the cop – Colin Hunt was his name – who'd horned his way into the case to Captain Gates, but Gates had called the Yard and said he was legit. Hunt had cooperated so far, but Kate was still skeptical, not to mention surprised at Gates letting him in. Yes, Hunt was law enforcement, but he was still a stranger and infiltrator in her mind. Castle had done a lot of good for the precinct and her team in particular, but the captain refused to see it. It was something about the writer himself that Gates didn't like.

Castle...

Castle had flown across the country to Nevada, and had apparently turned around and come right back. He always told the team when he was heading out for a signing, but he hadn't said anything about it to her. Of course, Castle hadn't said anything about anything to her since the bombing case. So maybe it really wasn't a signing. She had no reason to not believe him when he said it wasn't – other than his being so weird to her. She'd ask the boys, but she wasn't in the mood for their pitying looks.

'Stop it Beckett. Once again, not the time.'

Kate firmly put her troubles with Castle aside for the moment and concentrated on the case.

Detective Inspector Hunt had a locker key that he'd found in Naomi Allen's jacket, and soon Kate would be taking the team – minus Castle plus Hunt – to check out the locker at the gym that Ryan found on his canvass. They tried to search the gym this afternoon, but the gym had been running a special 'Use the gym today for $10' promotion and the place was packed. Rather than trying to maneuver their way through the crowded locker room, they decided to wait until the gym closed. It rankled, any setback no matter how slight bothered the detective who had been on the other side of the table as it were. They decided to get a warrant, just to be on the safe side, given that they were going to search after hours. But since they had the key, and had already established that it belonged to the locker at the gym, the judge signed off with no problems.

XXXXXX

A few hours later…

One more interrogation. One more and she could head home. There was a glass… or two… or three … or hell, a whole bottle of wine and a bathtub with her name on them.

Beckett stood and gathered her notes and made a slight face.

One more interrogation and at least an hour of paperwork was more like it. Maybe she could come in early tomorrow and get it done. She needed the break, though – especially with this thing with Castle. She'd come in early a couple of days after this case and the discussion with Castle was over.

Ugh.

Kate paused outside the room where their person of interest – one Biggie Slim – sat. She glanced quickly through her notes, trying to get her head back in the game while waiting for Hunt to catch up.

"So where do you want to go with this one, Detective?" The man in question spoke, making Kate jump.

"Sorry?" she asked.

"Mr. Slim? Is that what we call him?"

That got a grin out of her.

"But seriously," Colin continued, "Do you think he knows what Naomi wanted and that's why she was 'making a move' on Nicki J's man? Or was that rapper talking out of her…"

"Ass?" Beckett finished for him. "Maybe – for both questions. One way to find out," she gestured to the door.

XXXXXX

An hour later, after Biggie Slim was escorted to the elevator, Kate was in the break room making a cup of coffee. 'Damn it!' she thought as coffee sprayed everywhere. She was never going to get the hang of Castle's stupid machine.

She was cleaning the mess when Colin came into the room.

"So, what did we learn?" he asked.

"Hmmm," Kate sighed. "He's a slimeball," she began.

"That's certain."

Kate eyed the Inspector. "That story you told Nicki J about your girlfriend cheating on you…

Hunt scoffed.

"Total pants. I just wanted her to think I sympathized and, honestly, after meeting Biggie Slim I do."

Thinking of Castle, Kate replied, "Yeah, well, maybe she's hanging on hoping that he'll change."

Colin shook his head. "Guys like him never do."

Well that wasn't what Kate wanted to hear.

'Knock it off about Castle already," she thought. 'Get your head back on the case."

"Naomi thought she was being followed," she said. "What do you think?"

"Well, something was certainly going on," Colin sighed. "I didn't get a sense he was lying, did you?"

"I don't know," Beckett answered. "I had a hard time reading him. Maybe it was my first impression and how he thinks he's God's gift." She huffed a laugh. "I guess I need sleep."

Hunt chuckled.

"At least we got the photo from the locker. Now to figure out who he is. So, bright and early tomorrow morning?" he asked.

"Early anyway," Kate smiled. Forgoing the coffee, she moved to her desk to start packing up for the night.

XXXXXX

A couple of hours later Kate stepped out of the bathroom lost in thoughts vacillating between the case and Castle. The wine in the bath hadn't helped her to forget about everything much.

What the hell was wrong with Castle? Why was he so angry with her? She'd been wracking her brain for the last week or so trying to figure him out. Why had he suddenly changed his mind about her? When did this all start? Kate thought back through the last several cases they'd worked on. The bombing at the protest, that was it. They'd been kind of sort of talking around each other, kind of sort of tentatively making plans for a real say-what-you-mean-no-damn-subtext-just-spit-it-out conversation.

And then suddenly...

She'd come out of interrogation to a cup of still-warm coffee – but no Castle. And when she did see him again, he'd changed.

Was it something that happened during that interrogation? Had he been in Observation that day? Which interrogation was it? Kate couldn't remember off hand – they all seemed to blur together after the cases were finished – but it was suddenly extremely important to her to find out. She felt like her entire relationship with Richard Castle depended on it.

Moving to her computer, Kate logged into the NYPD site. Pulling up the Boylan Plaza case she looked into the transcripts of the interviews conducted. Paperwork was a pain in the ass, but Kate conceded it was useful at times.

Ah, there it was – Robert Lopez - Interrogation 32612-47-5640 18:43. Kate skimmed the report.

Detective Katherine Beckett – Interrogator: Would you like me to refresh your memory? {A map was placed in front of the suspect} You were standing here, by the lamppost. You dropped the backpack and started running as it exploded, killing 5 people.

Robert Lopez – Suspect:
I didn't do what you're saying.

Detective Beckett:
Witnesses saw you drop your backpack, Bobby.

Robert Lopez:
It wasn't mine.

Detective Beckett:
Oh, so you admit to having it?

Robert Lopez:
No, that's – that's not what I meant.

'Okay,' Kate nodded to herself. 'I remember this guy.' She continued scanning the document. Then she froze at one particular sentence towards the end of the transcript.

Robert Lopez:
I swear I don't remember!

Detective Beckett:
The hell you don't remember. Do you want to know trauma? I was shot in the chest and I remember every second of it... And so do you.

Kate stopped and looked up from her computer, her jaw dropping in horror after reading the relevant section.

I was shot in the chest and I remember every second of it.

Is that what Castle is pissed about? Did he hear that? Oh, God. He must have heard that. How could she be so stupid?

Kate felt the progress she had been making with Dr. Burke slide down the drain. He'd told her – Dr. Burke had told her not telling Castle she remembered her shooting – and the 'I love you' would backfire on her, and apparently it had.

Spectacularly.

'Damn. Damn. Damn!'

She wanted advice. But not from the psychiatrist. Kate had another doctor in mind. She picked up her cell but stopped in the middle of bringing up Lanie's contact.

Lanie didn't know she remembered either.

Kate leaned back on the couch, grabbing her Union Jack pillow for comfort.

Shit, she'd really fucked this up, hadn't she?

Whelp, time to put on her big girl panties and suck up to Lanie. The ME's reaction to the bombshell wouldn't be fun, but necessary if Kate wanted her help. It also might give her an idea what the argument with Castle was going to be like.

She pushed the speed dial.

"Hey, Lanie. You wanna come over later?"

XXXXXX

It was time.

Why the hell was he so nervous? This was worse than both his wedding days combined. Worse than his first meeting with Black Pawn after they accepted his manuscript for In a Hail of Bullets. Worse than... Well, he didn't think he'd ever been this nervous. But why? It's just Beckett.

Just Beckett.

You're just afraid she'll confirm she doesn't care about you in the same way you care about her, Rick thought to himself.

Well, yes and no. He had no interest in hearing 'I'm sorry, Castle, but we play better as friends' out loud, but at the same time the fact that she told a suspect she remembered her shooting already amounted to confirmation in his mind.

Rick had showered, shaved and dressed in his best jeans and navy-blue button-down. He wanted to look his best to show he didn't care. If this is what she wanted, fine.

Annnddd maybe to show her what she was missing.

Was he acting like another nickname of his name? Yes. Yes, he was. But he couldn't help it. Beckett was the one who lied about something extremely important to him. The annoying cricket in his brain chirped in his ear, reminding him of his own secret he was keeping from her. (Alexis had been on a Pinocchio kick when she was three and had insisted that their consciences were crickets too. She had named his Mimny because she couldn't pronounce Jiminy, and ever since then, he pictures his conscience as the insect.)

"Shut up, it's not the same thing," Castle grumbled aloud to the damn bug in his head. "I straight out asked her if she remembered, she said no. I haven't told her about Smith and my research –" he glanced at the smart board in his study. "I haven't lied, I just haven't mentioned it."

The chirping sounded like 'lie of omission' over and over.

Sometimes he wished he could stomp on it.

Enough with his ridiculous imagination. He took a bottle of wine from his wine refrigerator – not the best bottle, not the worst – leaving it on the counter to open after Kate arrived. He was sure she'd want to come to the loft, maybe have the redheads for protection – girl power and all that.

Though come to think of it, his mother was pretty incensed – to say nothing of Alexis' distrust of the detective. Maybe he could use his redheads for his own protection.

He jumped out of his thoughts when his cell phone rang.

It was Kate.

Pausing a moment before answering, he stared at her contact picture and couldn't decide if he hoped this was another butt dial or not. He hoped she didn't want to discuss this over the phone. If she did, that was it. He'd tell her that it was over. If she couldn't talk face to face, look him in the eye, and tell him the full truth, then none of this relationship had ever meant anything.

Rick's heart split wide open at that thought.

He hit Accept and put the phone to his ear.

A/N 2: Thoughts on this one?