hello again , i feel like a few of you have already seen this in my fic journal but i thought i would post it here anyway, it being the first thing i've written that is not a script or a storyline in the last four months! hope you like it.

It starts with the promise of a drink. They have known a lot of promises – three years ago it was the promise of a challenge, four little words that she didn't know would be so accurate, then the promise of a partnership and the little twists of trust and doubt – but tonight, this is simply the promise of a drink (she thinks).

"Meet you at eight?"

He nods, crinkled eyes, hands in his pockets as he turns to leave. He's been quieter – maybe not in a way that Ryan or Esposito would pick up because he still spins and theorises with the vigour they're used to; but he spends more time in the deeper moments lately, and that's new.

She knows why, of course, he probably still hears the thunder of C4 detonating feet from him, feels the coating of dust on his tongue as he realised his heart was still beating. Her own heart beats a little out of time at the thought, fingers trapping her folder a little tighter. She hates that she knows so well what close calls are like with him.

She doesn't tell him they have to meet at eight because she's going to therapy. He knows she's been before, it was mandatory to her reinstatement after all, but he doesn't know that it's less about the shooting and more about what he's doing to her every time she sees him.

"Kate, may I make an observation?" her therapist asks, his voice almost unsettlingly calm.


"You spend so much time saying you're not ready for this relationship, yet every time you talk about your feelings for Castle it seems to me that you are more and more certain you know exactly how ready you actually are."

Beckett is momentarily caught off guard, hands twisted in the ends of her jumper.

"So my question is: why are you still stalling?"

She's afraid of everything she's going to have to tell him. The longer she says nothing the longer the list gets, and as she walks down the steps of the Old Haunt she's beginning to rethink the obviously flawed logic in seeing Castle half an hour after a therapy session his name frequents more than any other topic.

He greets her with pinot noir and a smile, and they head to the booth in the back where usually there's at least several more members to their party.

"Castle, you know the further we go the further away we are from the booze, right?"

His eyebrows tip up, his smile growing. "I didn't know it was one of those nights, Beckett. Do elaborate."

Catching up to him, she sips her wine and wonders how to phrase her words. After a moment she settles simply on "It's been a while."

Castle looks at her for a moment, makes her feel like she's being studied like a book, then taps his nose and sets his glass down on the table. Spinning on his heel he heads back to the bar and after a moment of chat to the bartender, returns with a bottle of rum and two glasses. She refrains from rolling her eyes, and sits down.

To her surprise and mild concern, he takes the same side of the booth as she does without explanation, and she feels his knee come to rest against hers. They don't speak, and while this is usually okay, she suddenly feels awkward, out of place, like they've never done this before even though they're here on almost a weekly basis.

"How was Alexis?" she asks to fill the silence.

"The same as she has been all week: almost catatonic. I don't know about her, Beckett, do you think she's going to try too hard on the rebound from Ashley? Drink up a storm and attempt to get into clubs to pick up drug dealers?"

Beckett snorts. "I'm sorry, who are you talking about?"

"I'm serious! She won't tell me anything, she won't go out with her friends; I don't know what to do."

She realises he must have been dying to get this out for a while, and feels bad that she's forgotten to think about how he must be coping. "Castle, Alexis isn't that girl. And besides, it's only been a week, I'm sure she's still got a little more moping in pajamas with comfort food time left before the rebounding starts. Ashley was the first boy she fell in love with, it doesn't take five minutes to get over that."

Castle sighs dramatically, and then nods. "As usual, you're probably right."

"Probably? Nice try, Castle." She gives him a wry grin that she immediately regrets because of the look that comes over his face – that lovestruck, terrifying look that conjures up thoughts of declarations and what ifs and everything she's trying not to think about.

She takes another drink to push it all down, and lets him tell her about Martha's latest project instead.

After rum number two she starts getting cagey, all the places her and Castle have come to touch on fire and her heart rate zooming at the low timbre of his voice.

"You okay, Beckett?" His voice hums into the shell of her ear, making goosebumps form on the back of her neck. She looks to him – big mistake – and his eyes are dark. Usually she sees right into clear blue but this is more like a colour you'd find at the bottom of a cold ocean, and she almost shivers. It takes her back to an alleyway in the dark, a ticking clock, but back then she'd put it down to bad lighting and adrenaline – now she's going to say it's some cocktail of liquor and pent-up frustration, even if that's only half true.

"I'm fine." She says it quieter than she meant to, and he picks it up (of course).

"You know you can actually talk to me about your problems, right? I feel like that's something we've already established but if not I can say it again."

She smiles, sucks in a breath. "Do you feel... I don't know, kind of like we're just... running in circles?"

He pauses, and she thinks he's just going to deflect with a stupid joke about how they're sitting still, or even just laugh it off and tell her they're fine the way they are, but instead his gaze bores into her and makes her stomach drop a mile. There's an edge of inevitability creeping over her, like they're slowly crawling closer and closer to a moment where they can't turn back. It steals into her chest, her heart rate speeding up in its attempt to break out of her ribs, all her extremities feeling hot and tingling.

Castle clears his throat. "Actually most of the time it just feels like we toe the same line and then step back until the next time, you know? Not taking the leap."

The ghosts of words she'd uttered earlier in the year – that ibefore/i time, that time where it was so much easier to hide in pretending, letting the maybe moments trail off while they picked up the joking or the teasing, things that were less threatening, less teetering on the edge of something than she feels now – come back to her. She watches his hand idly turn his glass on the tabletop.

"I'm sorry, Castle."

"For what?"

"I feel like it's my fault, I know I'm the one with all the problems, and I wanted—" she almost says it, but no – that's crossing one too many bridges, "I wanted to thank you for putting up with it. For... everything." It's not what she wants to say, exactly, she wants to mention bombs and three-word sentences and hotel rooms in L.A. but judging by the look on his face? For now, it'll do.

For a second she thinks it might still go the other way, back to safer ground, he might choose now to put this moment in a pocket; a keepsake for later. Then he slides the tips of his fingers along the line of her jaw, lets them splay below her ear.

When he kisses her she knows he's holding back, still waiting, still leaving the ball in her court even though his lips are on hers and every fibre of him that she can feel touching her is vibrating with need. He pulls back, brow furrowed, thinking he's done something wrong. She knows they've come too far for this to mean nothing, for them to sweep it out of sight – there's no undercover this, we have to for the case that – but she's running out of fingers to count the number of times they've almost died in the last year and decides that maybe it's been long enough.

Grabbing a fistful of his shirt she hauls his mouth back to hers, all pretence gone. He exhales through his nose, then his hands are everywhere and anywhere on her body, his tongue searching into her mouth. They could keep going – head for the couch in the basement office, she wants to let him map her skin with his hands and his mouth, trace the scar he is probably curious about because he is curious about all manner of things when it comes to her, slide his fingers into her heat and make her fall apart. She could even let him take her home, spread her across billion thread-count sheets and ravage her all night, it's not like either of them are itching to do it with anyone else. His hand palms her thigh and across her hip, up under her shirt to the skin of her back and leaving a trail of fire in its wake. She inhales sharply when he brushes the underside of her breast, then boldly cups it, dragging a thumb across her nipple and making her bite at his lip.

She pulls back, panting. "I don't know if this should go any further. Not right now."

His eyes are even darker than before, if that's possible, and he drops his gaze to her mouth before looking back at her again, studying, cataloguing. "Okay."

They're silent for a moment, hands still on each other, feeling the heave of breaths beneath their hands.

"How hard was that for you to say?" she asks, not being able to help the question.

"About as hard as it's going to be to stop touching you. And probably to get up from this table."

She laughs a tiny laugh, runs a hand through her hair. "I'm sorry."

He steals another kiss from her, chaste and sweet, just the tips of his fingers resting under her chin. "Don't say that again."

She feels such a rush of affection for him, his hair mussed from her hands running through it, his face flushed, that she just wants to give up and let him do whatever he wants to her forever. But she stops herself – she'll probably even regret this in the morning because there's still a litany of things been left unsaid, things that need to come out before they debate who sleeps on which side of the bed.

"What are you thinking about?"

She feels his voice even through his hand still resting at her hip, and decides that maybe they've had enough of this for one night. She smiles softly. "That it's late and we should go home."

Castle checks his watch and sighs. "Midnight already? Your car's probably turned into a pumpkin, Cinderella."

Holding back a retort about how he'd look as a fairy godmother, Beckett nudges him to get up and he obliges, holding out a hand to help her out of the booth after him. She finds it hard to let go when she's standing in front of him, her fingers warm in his. He makes no move to do anything either, his thumb rubbing over her knuckles. "Beckett, about—"

She stops him by planting a kiss on the corner of his mouth. "Let's not do anymore of that tonight, okay?" It sounds horrible even though she says it as gently as she can, and she can tell he's not entirely happy about whatever it is he wanted to say (her first guess is that it starts with I and ends with love you), but he concedes defeat.

"See you Monday?"

With one last squeeze he drops her hand. "Monday. Goodnight, Beckett."

She turns away before she can change her mind, and doesn't notice the lingering concern present on Castle's face as she heads for the door.