The premise of this story isn't lacking for travel. That's both funny and sad.

It began with me in a collection called Night People as a developing sub plot. While I was away, I met a good friend who proposed building upon its central theme in a stand-alone tale called Promises in C-Minor. I absolutely loved what he did there. Now, here, it's come back around to me again. Twice now it's been forced to linger unfinished, and for legitimate reasons both times. Terrible reasons.

As I take this through one final attempt at completion, blending both our efforts as well as adding to them, I'm dedicating the effort to John and Allie, whose friendships I sorely miss. Get it together you two! And be well until we meet again.

"Look, I know I'm not the easiest person to get to know, and I don't always let on what's on my mind." There's a minuscule twitch of Castle's lips. Beckett discerns an approximation of what he's smart enough not to say, even the amused tone in which it would surely emerge: No shit? I hadn't noticed. "But this past year working with you.." she trails off with an illustrative sweep of her gaze to encompass their surrounds. "I've had a really good time."

Even though she's caught him off guard, bemused him with their sudden seclusion from the others, the author doesn't hesitate to broadcast agreement with mirrored lifts at the corners of his mouth. "Me too."

It's like gasoline being poured over a fire, fueling her sputtering flame of courage. In fact her smile threatens to spill wide open and leave her stupefied before him. The detective manages to plow onward. "So, I'm just going to say this..."

Her pause elicits a turn of his head to look around the bullpen. His eyebrows arch with mild puzzlement as the gaze beneath them settles on her again. "Okay," he prompts, drawing the word out some in pointed fashion.

"Uh, sorry. I-I'm used to something interrupting at moments like this."

"You've noticed that too!" her companion blurts with those blue eyes wide. "I thought that was just in my head." He purses his lips into a plump line and crosses both arms at his sternum. "It's wildly annoying." He's so stern she almost laughs. But this time they've become their own interruption and they realize it at the same instant. They grin at one another. Castle rolls his wrist to coax her into continuing.

"Right. Anyway, I wanted to say: if the invitation is still open, I'd really like to join you in the Hamptons."

For a handful of moments the surprise and happiness she'd been hoping to see blooms in full on the writer's countenance. Wonder slips into the expression via a slight gape of his mouth. And then, to her immediate and intense horror, the expression is rent by a crack of some internal realization behind his gaze. It all comes tumbling down swiftly from there into a look of such obvious remorse she almost turns on the spot and flees for the stairs. The only cogent thought in her head is a grim warning to her own ego: brace yourself, bitch, this is gonna hurt.

But the author, so seldom at a loss for words, remains mute with his lips poised to shatter her.

Beckett lunges for the opportunity unwittingly provided. Maybe she can salvage some pride here after all. Her features adopt a ruefulness that's actually as honest as the afternoon sunlight pouring in the windows around them. "That's the look of someone who has already filled the vacancy. You don't have to look that horrified, Castle, jeez. It's okay. Maybe we'll try it another time." It is so not okay. Her co-workers are watching. Her besty is watching. She wants to crawl under her desk and ride out this apocalypse of embarrassment like the kids being taught to 'duck and cover' in those black and white videos from the fifties.

Her partner drifts half a step away from her, cocks an eyebrow, and allows one edge of his mouth to tighten with dim humor. "No, there's no one else. I didn't compose a list of back-up options, detective." The distancing body language and use of the generic honorific implies she's stung him with her assumption, but his mild tone attempts to conceal that fact. And he's damned right to do so. His playboy persona isn't her creation after all.

Beckett stares for the longest time while her head catches up. She hears herself foolishly reply, "Oh."

"I'd be thrilled to go together. I'm just, ah, surprised. What about Demming?"

"Thankfully his deposit is refundable. Though, frankly, I suspect that's cold comfort right about now."

The author's eyebrows lift again at the boldness of her reply. She regrets hurting Tom, but she's not even remotely sorry about the choice she's made. Castle gets that. His lips quiver and curve as if doing so against his volition. That ceases quickly, however, and he moistens them while a flawlessly serious mien overcomes him. It's rare to see, and it makes her insides quiver with renewed concern. "You said something to me yesterday that really stuck."

So did you, she thinks, easily recalling the pit that opened at her core to hear those three dreaded words: our last case. The detective shifts where she stands and cants her head slightly. "Go on."

"You said you wanted your private life to be private. I've been thinking about that a lot since then."

"Me too. I'd like you to be part of that privacy if you still want to be. I thing at a time, you know? But I want that first one thing, and I wanna see where it goes from there." His smile shone so sudden and wide it sets her heart to hammering against her ribcage. "I'll take that as agreement," she croaks.

A breath of laughter escapes him along with a pair of swift nods. "You better believe it."

She lays the heel of her palm in the center of her chest as if the flesh and bone needed the extra cushioning to contain the organ going bonkers within it. "You looked...I-I thought you were gonna say no."

"I was."

"Jeez," she hisses softly, not in admonishment exactly, but surprise and confusion. "Why?"

Castle looks to the floor between them. "Because I invited you without fully considering the matter. All that seemed important at the time was that going away together would be fun. I knew I could do that, and in a way that wouldn't ruin what you already had going." He smiles fleetingly while meeting her eyes again. "But yesterday you wanted our private lives to stay that way. I realized I couldn't bring you to Montauk. The history there is rife with details that, for me, are the very essence of private. It's funny...well, sad I suppose: it wasn't until you set our limitations that I realized how much I wanted us to be personal. There's so much I want to tell you, the way you have with me."

Beckett exhaled a slow breath. "You weren't going to stop coming to the twelfth because of Tom."

The author's brow furrowed deeply. "Kate, no." Good heavens. Her first name on his lips is the most unspeakably intimate word in the English language. "I can see why you might think so, but no. I'd be very pleased to see you happy. But I do want to see that from the inside. Whether as a friend or more is a distant second place. Your story has come to mean a great deal to me, from the past to the present day-to-day of it all. But it's not something I want to experience from an outside perspective anymore. I thought: better to let go cleanly than to stay out in the cold, so to speak."

"I didn't want that for you. I really didn't. But I thought it might be easier for both of us to have boundaries."

"Boundaries are okay. Just...not so close, please."

"Yeah, well, I've thrown down one mother of a rope ladder for you at this point, so it's kinda moot." Hopefully her face isn't so foolishly gob-smacked with joy as his right now. It probably is. Oh well.

Her partner shifts where he stands, all but quivering with anticipation. "So...we're really going?"

Beckett's expression diminishes to a wry smirk. "I'm already packed and everything." God, poor Tom.

"Oh," the author issues with a visible wince of sympathy, "that's so wrong. And yet so fortuitous."

"I'm not going home to choose new stuff. Traffic is already picking up." It's not like she packed anything that could be called one of the robbery detective's favorite items to see her wear. They hadn't been together long enough for those tastes to develop. Actually, now that she thought about it, she'd chosen plenty of the packed items based on what has caught the eye of the man she's set to depart with presently. Fortuitous indeed.

Slowly, almost cautiously, her partner offers a hand to claim. She swallows thickly at the sight of so much hope and joy staring back at her, this startling reflection of what is alive within her. "Are you sure?"

She takes it and their fingers thread together with haunting smoothness. "You bet your ass."

Twenty minutes later, as she's waiting on the sidewalk for Castle's car to emerge from a parking garage, a deeply chagrined Beckett text-messages their friends a belated goodnight, knowing damn well as she does that they'll be howling with laughter about it among themselves. Hindsight. It's a meanie. Again: oh well.