Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters who appear in this story. Any other names, for characters or businesses, are fictional or uncompensated.

Friday, Just After Midnight

Beckett knocks lightly on the door of room 1115 at the St. Regis Hotel, which opens immediately. There stands Castle, suit jacket and tie abandoned, sleeves rolled up nearly to his elbows. But the most prominent part of his looks is his obvious gratitude that Beckett's here.

Stepping past him and into the luxurious hotel suite, Beckett waits for Castle to lead her deeper inside. He takes her hand silently escorting her to the doorway of the bedroom, through which she can see Carly, in her little black dress, passed out on top of the bed.

"What did you do to her?" Beckett can't help but ask when she sees her friend utterly out of it.

"What did I do?" Castle asks incredulously. "I was perfectly well behaved. Which frustrated her to no end."

"So, she preferred a nap?" Beckett replies sarcastically.

"No, she preferred vodka," he answers with a rueful smile. "Lots and lots of vodka. And trust me, having her asleep is the best option, Beckett. Your friend is a mean drunk."

Walking over to the bed, Beckett lightly taps her friend's cheek. She's breathing heavily, but there's no reaction to the taps. "She's never dealt well with frustration," she offers as explanation, not apology.

"Neither have I," Castle admits before realizing that his eyes are lingering on Beckett. Looking away, he accentuates the difference. "But you don't see me pounding drinks to get over it."

"What am I doing here, Castle?" Beckett asks quietly, mostly to remind herself and to shift the conversation onto safer territory, leading them back towards the lounge for this conversation.

"I'm sorry I interrupted your plans with Josh and I know this is a terrible favor to ask," Castle prefaces with a grimace, "but I'm worried about her. Someone should stay with her and I couldn't think of anyone else to call."

"Why would you call someone else?" Beckett asks, puzzled. "She's my friend."

"I'm sure," Castle answers slowly and carefully, "that you've had more nights helping someone deal with the after-effects of alcohol than you'd care to remember. I almost didn't call," he admits, rubbing the back of his neck and looking down.

"I'm glad you did," Beckett answers, appreciating his dilemma and his decision to reach out, as well as his consideration about past experiences with her father. "You didn't interrupt anything, and this is more important anyway."

Castle nods, relieved that he's not overstepped. Or is he relieved that she wasn't with Josh when he called?

"And I'm glad you're okay," Beckett adds softly, recalling her earlier panic to reach him. "I tried to warn you before she took your phone, but…"

"She drugged me?" Castle interrupts with a smile. "It's hardly my first time, Beckett," he says with a smile that graduates to a chuckle at her shocked look. "I've had the Gold-digger's Delight before, but she gets bonus points for trying the milkshake form – it was a delicious innovation!"

Looking at her partner as if he's grown an extra head, Beckett can't contain her question, or her volume. "You knew what it was and you still drank it?!"

"Free milkshake, Beckett," Castle answers with a sly smile and a small shrug. "Plus, I figured I'd need a little energy and focus to get through the evening."

"What do you mean?" Beckett asks, surprised by a comment that suggests he hasn't been completely invested in the serial outings with Carly. "I thought you were interested in her."

"She's an interesting woman and I've enjoyed talking to her," Castle admits, "but she was a little lonely so I tried to be a good friend to your good friend. She told me you kept ditching her for Josh, but I'm starting to suspect that wasn't the case."

"You could be a detective, Castle," Beckett answers, annoyed at herself for missing this obvious maneuver by Carly. "Carly's the one who's been bailing out. She met Josh once and they didn't exactly get along."

"You mean Jonah?" Castle asks with a smile.

"Yeah, him," Beckett answers with Carly's usual reply, unable to stop a grin. It drops slowly from her face, though, as she recognizes that Castle's joke was a diversion, a way for him to deal with the topic of Josh. It reminds Beckett that there were other aspects of Carly's plan, and cocktail, that haven't been addressed. And since they've already breached the topic (well, nearly), and since it's very late (or, rather, very early), she decides to ask.

"I can see energy and focus being useful for an outing with Carly," she leads in, looking into the bedroom to see her snoring friend, "but what about the…," she trails off, losing courage.

"We're swimming in dangerous waters here, Beckett," Castle answers with a cocked eyebrow. "I'll only say that I hardly need the assistance," he brags, puffing his chest out, "and enduring inopportunely timed or prolonged reactions is hardly new territory for me," he ends by giving her a knowing look.

She really should let things drop there. He wasn't kidding about dangerous waters, and Castle's looking at her like he's a hungry shark. But, still…

"But why?" Beckett presses, catching Castle off guard. "Carly's beautiful, sexy, and fun. Her interest in you was obvious, and you even share background and tastes," she rambles, unable to stop herself, even though she didn't want Carly anywhere near Castle. "Given your reputation, I don't get it. And neither did she."

Any worries that she pushed too far are immediately allayed by his playful look. But they're soon replaced by worries that she might regret his response.

"You should know by now that my reputation isn't terribly accurate," he chides with a smile. "But, there's a simple answer to your question. Succumbing to your friend's advances would've been an obvious Man-code violation."

"Man-code violation?" Beckett parrots back, wondering if there were other drugs in that cocktail or if Carly spiked him again at the restaurant. "You mean like 'go home to her place so she doesn't know where you live?'"

"I said Man-code, Beckett," he replies indignantly, shaking his head in mock dismay, "not Bro-code."

"So, is the first rule of Man-code not to talk about Man-code?" she asks facetiously.

"Don't be ridiculous," Castle dismisses again. "Article 4, Section 2, says don't talk about Man-Code. Section 3 says talk about anything that would otherwise jeopardize your relationship."

"Really?" Beckett asks, stifling a laugh. "Man-code says to give it all up when pressed?"

"Beckett," he replies in exasperation, "the Man-code is thousands of years old. We might act otherwise, but we all know that if it comes down to keeping the code secret or making a woman happy, we'll sell out the code in a heartbeat."

"That's interesting," she admits, enjoying this ridiculous conversation and Castle's obvious gift for improvisation, which she decides to test. "So, what's Article 1 of the code?"

"'If you have a child,'" Castle intones seriously, "'then you're not a man unless you're a father.' Simple."

Of course, Beckett nods to herself. Maybe it's not improvisation after all, since this is obviously a core tenet of Castle's belief system, even if he hides it in the fiction of the 'Man-code.' Maybe she should be a little more careful about poking around, she thinks. Or maybe she should be a little more direct.

"I'm getting a little lost here, Castle," she admits. "Which Man-code rule would you violate by letting Carly land the White Whale?"

Smirking at the nickname, Castle answers immediately. "Article 2, Section 3."

"Which is…?" she asks in exasperation, annoyed that he's drawing this out.

"'Never engage in relations with someone who would affect your partner's invite list for your wedding.'"

"What?!" Beckett practically shouts, head spinning quickly to the side to see if she's woken Carly. "Wedding? Castle, we're not even dating!"

"Beckett, we've been inevitable since the beginning," he says with maddeningly calm certainty, as if stating the obvious. "Tisdale was a gimme. But after you let me come back for that second case, we might as well have printed up the invitations."

"Your ego is unbelievable," Beckett marvels, keeping her tone low while she starts to pace. "It's even bigger than your chemically-enhanced…"

"Now, now," Castle interrupts, clearly trying to contain his smile. And failing. "There's no reason to get testy," he admonishes, staying on-theme.

"Castle, I'm seeing someone else right now!" she tries to remind him. "Jonah! I mean Josh!" she yells, blushing immediately at getting his name wrong. Damn Carly.

But rather than tease her about misspeaking, Castle draws closer and bends his head, creating an aura of hushed confidentiality. "Let me tell you something, Beckett," he whispers. "Everyone thinks they know me – the press, my readers, my family, even you. But, you want to know a secret?" he entices with his voice, his eyes, his very presence.

"Yes," Beckett whispers back, hating herself for having been lured in but unable to stop.

"I'm not a virgin," he whispers, ridiculously, causing Beckett to recoil and shake her head again. "Alexis might be close to divine, but I was involved," he declares proudly. "And I've been with a few other women, too. It'd be pretty churlish of me to begrudge your past relationships, wouldn't it?"

"This isn't a past relationship!" Beckett answers in exasperation, knocked off balance by Castle's uncharacteristically direct declaration.

"Yes, it is," he disagrees. "Neither of you know it right now," he asserts, assessing her, "or admit it. But it's obviously not going to work out. Josh might be a nice guy, but there's a fundamental reason you'd never be able to stay with him."

"Oh, really," Beckett ripostes, letting her anger help her find a way out of this conversation. "Tell me, oh wise master of successful relationships, Josh's fatal flaw."

"I didn't say it was a flaw," Castle answers evenly. "Some people might find it a virtue, but not you.

"Castle…," she growls while leaning toward him, threatening him to get to the point.

"He's boring," he declares clearly. "Boring, Beckett. The only change in his routine is whether he goes to bed early here or at his clinic. You can do almost anything, Beckett, and do it extraordinarily well. But you can't embrace a dull routine. You don't want to."

"There's a lot to be said for acting like an adult, Castle," she replies, trying to shift the focus to him in order to avoid considering his observation.

"Sure, but why act like a geriatric automaton?" he asks honestly. "You crave challenges like you crave caffeine. Challenges like… like crashing charity dances or inappropriate wagers or masquerading as Svetlana while hitting the tables or pretending you don't believe in vampires."

"You're describing work, Castle," Beckett grumps, thinking about the cases he's mentioned.

"No, Beckett," he replies, showing just a hint of exasperation that she's not seeing his point. "I'm describing what makes work fun. You pointed out my less-than-successful romantic history, right?" he asks rhetorically, referring back to her jibe. "Well, here's what I learned, what was missing in those relationships – fun. Life is serious enough. A marriage needs to include a sense of fun or it just becomes a different kind of job."

"So, I'm just supposed to throw Josh aside in the name of fun?" she asks. "That hardly sounds reasonable. Or mature."

"No," Castle replies. "I'm your partner, remember? It took you a long time to admit you were having fun with me underfoot in the precinct," he says with a proud, playful look, "and it'll take some time for you to accept that it might appeal outside of the precinct, too."

"So, you're just sitting around waiting?" she asks with some heat. "That sounds pretty pathetic, Castle."

Smiling broadly in the face of her challenge, he leans in again. "Here's my other secret, Beckett: I'm just a little bit older than you," he says, holding up a hand with his thumb and index finger showing only a tiny amount of space between them. "I've made my mistakes – plenty of 'em. You're still making yours. But I think you're learning faster than I did."

Shaking her head anew at his confidence, Beckett can't help but challenge his characterization. "So, all our past troubles – Demming, Gina, Natalie – those were just mistakes? Diversions?"

"Nobody likes to read a simple story, Beckett," Castle answers calmly. "We had our challenges, and we'll have more. But, we'll survive them. It's how the story… well, it's not how the story ends, but it's how the story changes because the protagonists unite."

"You've got an answer for everything, don't you?" she charges to buy herself some space and time to think.

"I'm not sure how to answer that," he admits. "It's true that I've spent a long time – years – wondering about what the future holds for us. But it's also true that I knew after the nanny case that we'd find our way to each other."

"We are never gonna happen, Castle," Beckett replies, deciding that she needs to end this discussion and regroup before testing these waters again.

But if she thought a direct refutation was going to put him off, she was apparently mistaken, based on the way he's sizing her up. "Then you're good for a wager, right?" he replies with a look of challenge.

"A bet?" she asks, warily intrigued though she knows she should ignore this suggestion entirely. "You want to bet on whether we'll be married?"

"Why not?" he asks with a shrug. "You seem confident and I know you're wrong. Perfect conditions for a bet," he says while rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Noticing her growing anger, Castle plows forward. "You win if either of us is at the altar with a different person. Name your prize."

"Your departure from the precinct," she answers immediately with eyebrow perched, testing his resolve.

"That would happen anyway," he dismisses with a wave of his hand. "Your husband would never abide your repeated close proximity to my rugged handsomeness," he asserts, driving home his point that he's not the one whose decisions would lead to this scenario.

Beckett, meanwhile, wants to refute his characterization, but Josh's behavior suggests that Castle's comment might be accurate.

"Come on, Beckett, this is never gonna happen anyway, so pick something fun," he says to emphasize his earlier point.

"Your Ferrari," she challenges, expecting him to balk.

"Done," he answers immediately, shocking her. "Surprised? I'm gonna lose that to you anyway when we get together, so nothing changes."

"And if you win?" she asks, anxious to move this discussion along but also sensing a trap. "What do you want?"

"When I win," he replies confidently, "I'll already have everything I want," he confesses, his eyes boring into hers to show his sincerity. Recognizing her discomfort, he averts his gaze before continuing. "But," he adds impishly, "just to make things interesting, I get naming rights."

"Naming rights to what?"

"Our first born, obviously," he replies while rolling his eyes. "Keep up, Beckett."

"I would never agree to a bet like that," Beckett vows, head already spinning with the possible names Castle might concoct just to tease her.

"What's the problem?" he asks as if honestly confused. "It's just for our first child. I probably wouldn't even interfere much with naming the others."

"The others?!" she replies, forgetting again to keep her voice down. "You're insane."

"Certifiable," he agrees with a nod. "But not crazy enough to violate Section 3 of Article 2," he offers, bringing them back to where they started.

Beckett's incredulous laughter is interrupted by a low moan from the bed, as their racket, or a short burst of sobriety, causes Carly to stir.

"I'd better see to Carly," Beckett says, whispering again. "And if she's waking up, it might be best if you weren't here."

"Agreed," he replies with a nod, surprising Beckett with his consideration in letting their conversation drop so suddenly. "Thank you for caring for her. Things might not've gone how she wanted, but I still enjoyed talking to her. You wouldn't believe the dirt I've collected on young Katie Beckett. Plus, her views on religion made for some interesting discussions!"

"I'll bet," Beckett replies. "About the interesting discussions, not your wager!" she clarifies quickly, quashing Castle's look of delight and smiling in spite of herself. "Go," she urges him with shooing motions, trying to clear her head. "I'll take it from here. Until tomorrow, Rick."

Quirking his head at her farewell, Castle offers a nod and a secret smile. "Until tomorrow, Kate."

Friday, Early Morning

Beckett awakens in an awkward position on the lounge's sofa, Carly's snores from the bedroom loud enough to shake the walls between them. Spinning slowly into a sitting position, Beckett rubs her neck before slowly stretching all of her extremities in turn. She's nursing a powerful headache, so she avails herself of some of the Tylenol she forced on her friend a few hours ago. After gulping a few glasses of water and splashing her face, Beckett finally faces reality and fumbles for her cell phone, cursing when she sees the time. There're also two text messages, but those will have to wait.

Her hopes to leave Captain Montgomery a voicemail are dashed when he answers on the first ring. Figuring honesty is the best option, she begs off work for the morning, explaining that she's nursing along a sick friend. Montgomery grumbles but assents. In insisting that she show up after lunch, he lets slip that she's lucky he's in a good mood – Friday morning and coffee and donuts courtesy of Castle seem to have him in high spirits. Appropriately grateful, Beckett rings off and wonders if Castle's breakfast delivery was made with the hope of easing her way.

Those thoughts remind her to check those text messages. Sure enough, the first is from him, sent about an hour after he left the St. Regis:

Thanks for helping with Carly. Please don't worry about what we discussed – I've waited this long and can keep on. But make no mistake, Kate: I am waiting.

It's not clear whether this was his intent, but sending that text was a very shrewd move on Castle's part. Things were odd last night, almost surreal. It would've been easy to dismiss their conversation as an aberration or an outgrowth of Castle's pharmaceutical mystery tour. But the text is a landmark, a flag on the moon: it's proof that they went there, that they had the conversation. He's willing to let the topic drop, but he's not willing to let them forget.

The second text, sent a few hours after Castle's, is from Josh:

Where are you? Stopped by with coffee this morning but you weren't there.

That's odd. Josh never stops by in the morning. He's got to get up early to be at the hospital in time for surgery, and if she's not working she's desperately grabbing whatever sleep she can. And then there's the coffee – that's new, too, and seemingly at odds with his derisive comments about Castle's usefulness at the precinct. Is he trying to find new ways to connect, or is this about marking his territory? Or, she wonders more darkly, was the coffee a pretext for him to see if she was in her apartment this morning?

Beckett's pondering both texts as she exits the bathroom and hears fumbling from the bedroom. Heading that way, she sees that Carly's awake, pitifully hungover, and in a black mood. The few words she manages to grunt indicate that she still intends to catch her flight, though it'll be an uphill battle to make that happen and Carly hardly seems like she'll be ready to start a yoga retreat later today.

Still, as Castle pointed out very carefully, Beckett's an old hand at this chore, unfortunately. In less time than she feared, she's got Carly washed, dressed, and packed. They've just entered the elevator, after entrusting the luggage to a porter, when Carly finally breaks her silence.

"You should've told me he was in love with you," she grumbles as the elevator descends, reaching out to brace herself against the wall of their car.

"Yes," she admits, both to her friend and to herself. "I should've. But I don't think I realized how genuine he is. Besides," she adds, shifting gears as she articulates a theory that chrystalized this morning, "you knew. That's why you tried so hard. You've always been competitive."

"And you've always been confusing," Carly replies, fumbling to extract her sunglasses as they shuffle out of the elevator and head toward the waiting Town Car. "Why you're with that stiff instead of Rick I'll never understand."

"Me neither," Beckett whispers as she gives her friend a farewell hug and helps her settle into the car.

Beckett stands in place until the car pulls away from the curb, cutting a path toward the airport. It was a chaotic visit, but Beckett wishes her friend well. It's not how she thought this visit would go, but she's starting to realize that she should be thankful. Without the intrusion of her friend, Beckett thinks she'd still be laboring under a number of misimpressions and false understandings.

As if to accentuate her musings, Beckett's phone trills in her pocket. It's not quite lunchtime, so it's not Montgomery. But, she's careful to check the number this time before she answers.

"Hi, Jonah," she says as she answers, grinning to herself.

"Who's Jonah?" Josh asks in confusion.

"Sorry," Beckett offers. "Just a joke. I checked the number this time so I knew it was you."

"Where are you?" he replies, apparently not wanting to explore the joke.

"The St. Regis," she replies.

"Oh," he replies, cautiously. "With…?"

"I just saw Carly off to the airport," states, unimpressed with the implications of his questions.

"Oh, good," he answers, sounding relieved. "So, are you available for lunch?"

The sad thing, she realizes, is that she's doing exactly what she told Castle would be unreasonable and immature. But, really, how much longer does she need? What information does she need that she hasn't learned during her friend's brief but explosive visit? It's past time, she realizes, feeling suddenly light at heart, to stop wasting time.

"Yes," Beckett agrees, "we should meet for lunch. We need to talk."

For the first time she can remember, Beckett thinks as she rings off, she's used those last four, ominous words to intentionally adopt their dire overtone. And, from the audible gulp she heard in return, Josh heard enough to know that the phrase wasn't used unintentionally. Looks like she's in for another stressful lunch today, something that's become a regular occurrence this week.

But Castle will be at the precinct when she's done with lunch. Maybe he'd be up for a drink after work? She's going to take some time to think about everything that's happened this week and everything that led to it. But maybe Castle would like to hear that they're both waiting now, and perhaps not for much longer.

A/N: Just a little lark that was lurking in the back of my head while I finished my last story. Thanks to Shutterbug5269 for giving it a read to make sure it wasn't completely off the wall.