He finds her, like always, at the ocean.
During their first week here, they'd tried to convince her to stay closer to the house. Harwood, the head of their security team, had insisted upon it, had told her, in no uncertain terms, that she was not to go near the water, that that perimeter couldn't be fully secured. But the guards on the night shift wouldn't stand up to her like that, and she'd wound up slipping away in the moonlight, wading up to her waist in the ocean, until, half an hour later, Greene had finally come in and shook him awake. She'd let Castle take her back inside, let him towel her off without a word, let him curl his torso over her shaking body and press some warmth back into her skin.
They'd relented after that night, set up an extra two guards to trail her down to the water when she went. She'll sometimes spend long hours on the rocky shoals, the tips of her toes dipped into the frigid water – as the daylight starts dwindling and summer twines to a close, the ocean that laps against their shore in northern Maine shores stays cool.
She's up to her thighs today. Didn't bother rolling up her jeans, just let them soak in the sea. Her hair is down, impractically, the ocean breeze catching and tangling it. She's trailing the tips of her fingers lightly through the sun-splashed water. Her left hand moves awkwardly, her wrist still in a light splint.
He wades into the sea, lets his legs adjust to the cold and brutal sting of the water, then slowly, so slowly, brushes his fingers along the sweep of her shoulder.
Early on, one of the first days, he'd made the mistake of reaching out, wrapping his hand around her wrist. He'd wound up on his back with the wind knocked out of him, Beckett, hovering above him, her eyes dark with panic but apologies already spilling from her mouth.
Her trauma has a certain kind of brittle elegance to it, the way she holds herself apart, now, from the guards, from the doctor, sometimes even from him. The way she breathes deeply and steadies herself before letting anyone touch her. He'd wanted to bring a therapist in, for her, for them both, but already Harwood was barely comfortable with the doctor who sporadically travels in to check her fingers.
"Thought you were napping," she murmurs. He'd written well into the night, hadn't stumbled into bed until the sky was threaded through with dawn light.
She turns, faces him, her eyes flicking searchingly over his face. "Another one?" she breathes, stepping into him.
His trauma is far less graceful than hers. It's dragged out of him when he sleeps, in jagged, raw nightmares that twist him awake. She's right to be surprised – he'd already woken them this morning when, barely after he'd gotten to sleep, he shot upright with a hoarse shout. Usually he'll get a brief respite, two nights, sometimes even three or four, between the dreams.
He shrugs. "Was it the same one?" she asks, her voice low, careful, her hand coming up to brush along the line of his jaw.
I'm capable of doing things you've never even dreamed of, Maddox had said back in the barn, just after cracking the bones of Beckett's ring finger. Except now, Castle does dream of them, his overactive mind endlessly struggling to paint ever more horrifying pictures until he wakes up screaming, the terror of it tearing through his throat.
Beckett steps forward, wraps her arms around him. It was worse, those first few weeks, when she was so tentative about being touched and when touching was the only thing that would dissipate the swirling, unmoored panic that raced through his veins. They're better at steadying each other, now; they've found a faltering balance, a push and pull of comfort.
"My feet are going to fall off," he says after a long moment. He never knows how she stands it, wading into the freezing ocean and standing there for so long. At first he thought it was a way for her to ice away the pain, numb the lingering shock of that morning in the barn, but she's still doing it, week after week.
"Baby," she accuses, like always.
He tightens his arms around her and tugs backwards, urging her toward the shore. "You'll feel stupid when you have to push me around in a wheelchair for the rest of my life after they're forced to amputate."
She reaches up, brushes her lips along the underside of his jaw, then turns and loops her elbow through his, leading him back towards land (even now, even with her right hand, she'll hesitate before reaching out and wrapping her fingers around him). "What makes you think I'd stay with you, Castle?"
He bumps into her side, makes himself breathe through the brief tension in her muscles before she relaxes, nudging back against him. "Just my feet, Beckett. We all know those aren't the reason you stay with me."
He tries to guide them back up to the house, but she makes a steady beeline for a flat, sun-warmed rock, her favorite place to sit. She drags them down onto it, letting him sit closer than she'll sometimes allow, his hip bumping up against hers, their shoulders brushing. "I guess it would take more than a double foot amputation," she says, her voice playful, but it still makes his heart stutter in his chest.
The better nightmares, the ones that don't drag him screaming out of sleep, are the ones in which she walks away, disappears into the hazy night, and he spends his lifetime walking moonlit Midwest woods, searching, always searching.
There's a look in her eyes he can't quite place. She draws her legs up, wraps her right arm around her shins, rests her chin on her knees as she stares out at the rolling sea.
"You're going to miss it," he says, the realization sparking suddenly through him.
She shrugs, humming noncommittally in the back of her throat. "I'm happy to be going back."
"Just happy?" They, Harwood, and a skeleton security team start the drive back to Manhattan at midnight. They'll get there in time to pick up Martha and Alexis from their red-eye into JFK. His heart thuds hard in anticipation when he thinks of seeing his family, seeing his home after so long, but his mind has twisted a sense of danger into Manhattan, and he can't help the slight panic that fizzles through him at the thought of going back there with Beckett.
"I'm ready," she says, which doesn't quite answer his question.
They'll still have protection in the city. Long's ties were numerous and difficult to trace, but the FBI and CIA have been chipping steadily away at them, until, last week, they determined that enough had been done. Enough to let them return, provided they keep some protection. Provided they're careful.
(There's a part of him that knows that there's only so careful they can be. There's a part of him that wants them to never go back.)
He needs to be closer to her.
He shifts, scooting behind her, drawing his knees up and around so that his legs bracket her, the insides of his thighs slanting against the curve of her sides, up to the thin bones of her ribcage. She holds her inhale in her lungs, her body going utterly still for several heartbeats before she melts back against him with a sigh. Tilting forward, he drops his open mouth to the juncture of her shoulder and neck, wraps his arms around her loosely, mindful of how much she hates to feel restrained. He waits, motionless, until she drops her head back onto his shoulder, her eyes closed, her face slanted up toward the sun.
The first time he'd found her on this rock, it was a week after they'd arrived. Her face had been at a similar angle, tracing the slow path of the four am moon through the cold night sky. "I thought it would feel more victorious," he'd told her as he'd sat beside her. "Killing Maddox. Taking down the Dragon."
She'd kept her face angled at the moon. "There are no victories," she'd said, her hoarse whisper barely carrying across the edge of the breeze, and he hadn't known what to say to that, couldn't do more than rest a tentative hand at her shoulder and try to will some warmth into her cold skin.
He's grateful, now, for the small things. The steady ease of her breathing against his chest. The way she's angled toward the sun, instead of toward the night sky.
"Gates said I could have my job back," she breathes, so quietly that he's sure, at first, that he's misheard.
He coughs, tries not to let his muscles tense around her. "When was this?" he asks, raising his lips off her neck.
"She called last week when you were in the shower. The day after they told us we would be able to go home."
Five days ago. He tries not to let it sting. "Just like that?"
"Pending psych and physical evals and a two-month probationary period."
She turns her face into his neck, her forehead pressing against his tendons, the heat of her breath dancing over his Adam's apple. "What are you going to do?" His voice comes out a little rougher than he'd intended.
She flinches. "I should have told you she called."
It comforts him, somehow, that she knows what's bothering him – not the possibility of her going back to the 12th, but the reality of her hiding that possibility from him. "Yeah," he breathes. He's had more than enough secrets.
"She told me to take all the time I needed. To think it over."
"So that's what you've been doing?"
She lifts her head slightly, nudging her nose into his neck. "No. I wasn't purposefully trying to keep it from you, Castle. I just - I can't get any perspective up here."
"You can't," he pushes, a little flatly.
"Or – too much perspective, maybe."
And that, that he does understand – the pushes and pulls of normal life are quiet here, less intense and desperate, the rhythms of Manhattan too many worlds away.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner." She presses her nose more firmly into his neck, as if the strength of the connection could make him trust her apology.
If only it worked like that. If only it could be that easy.
It does manage to distract him, though - the softness of her skin, the sweet smell of her hair mingled with the salty scent of the ocean. He breathes her in, brushes his lips along the slope of her nose, the curve of her cheek.
She shivers in his arms, and he wants to believe it's him, not the cooling air, not the light breeze coming in from the ocean, not some vague and haunting memory. Only him.
He twists his neck so he can get at her mouth, press his lips against hers. She tastes like the sea, tastes like loneliness, and she answers his kiss almost too delicately, with a gentleness that isn't her at all.
"Let's go back inside," he murmurs, his heart hammering in his chest. He doesn't want her alone out here, doesn't want her alone, period. Never again.
"Okay," she sighs into his mouth.
"Weird, isn't it?" he asks, folding a shirt and lowering it onto a pair of jeans. Even months later, it feels wrong to be putting their clothes into the two duffle bags that Harwood secured for them.
She pauses, blinks at him. "Packing again?"
Oh. And seeing his family. And going back to Manhattan. "The, ah –" he gestures at their separate bags, feeling like an idiot – "the two duffles." Probably the least unsettling part of this entire situation.
"Your boxers lonely without my underwear, Castle?" she asks, her lips quirking up into a small smile.
"That's not fair. They were fine before you gave them a taste of what it was like."
He pushes a handful of socks into the side compartment before he realizes that she's too still, just standing there, frozen above her duffle bag, her fingers fisted tightly into a cotton shirt.
"What are you trying to say?" she asks.
They speak too much in subtext, so of course she's read into his statement something that he didn't quite intend. Only – after so long together, the thought of going home without her, the thought of waking up and reaching out and not finding the warm reassurance of her skin – even now, even when she's standing right in front of him, his throat constricts in panic.
She's still watching him warily, like at any moment he'll fling himself to one knee and propose. (It doesn't sound like as a bad an idea as it should. She only spent eleven days with those bands wrapped around her ring finger, but sometimes even now he'll catch himself glancing at her hand, searching for a glint of metal.)
He can control himself. No asking her to move in. No desperate attempts at an engagement. "Stay with me tomorrow?" he asks.
She smiles at him, her shoulders loosening. "You can't miss me already."
He pouts at her. "Who'll protect me from my nightmares?" He says it lightly, teasing, but even before the last syllable is out of his mouth he knows it was a mistake.
Her eyes darken and she freezes entirely, all traces of her smile falling from her face. "It's not funny, Castle," she whispers.
He knows she can't stand that he dreams about it. Knows that she blames herself for that, too, that it's one more burden she needlessly carries. He bobs his head, agreeing. "Tasteless." It doesn't exactly make it less true, though, and from the pained look in her eyes, she knows it.
He checks his watch. They still have an hour, and they're both nearly all the way packed. He walks around the bed, stopping in front of her, running his hands up her sides. She breathes out slowly, letting her forehead fall onto his clavicle. "It's not funny at all," she husks into his skin.
He reaches down, tilts her chin up so that he can brush his lips over hers in apology. "Let me make it up to you," he murmurs against her mouth.
"Castle," she breathes, pleading or warning or castigating or some combination of the three. He pulls back, tries to get a read on her, but the room is dark and he can only see the slight flush to her cheeks, the fathomless darkness in her eyes.
She meets his gaze, quirks her lips in a small, slightly-forced smile before nudging her hip into him, gently pushing him onto the too-firm mattress and then slowly lowering herself over him, her pelvis jostling into his and already, already making him gasp.
She's wearing a soft cotton button down, too thin for the night air. He finds that she's been doing that lately, wading into the cold ocean without thinking, dressing for weather twenty degrees warmer than the actual temperature. In New York, her closet was full of innumerable coats, and even in the light fall air she was always more than prepared for the weather, but here, even when she hasn't been wading into the sea, her skin is always slightly chilled.
Reaching up, he fumbles the top three buttons open as she watches him silently. He props himself up on his elbows, kissing the skin between her clavicles, running his lips down her sternum, over her smooth and pale skin, over the circle of her scar. She exhales sharply when he lowers himself back, gently wraps his hand around her left wrist, his fingers light over the cold plastic of the brace, and draws the hand up to his mouth, kissing the knuckle of her index finger before pulling her palm down to his chest, where she can surely feel the hectic thumping of his heart.
His gentleness undoes her, like always; he can see the moment when her eyes darken and her breath quickens and her careful containment unspools. She reaches down to the hem of his shirt and tugs it up, accomplished now at manipulating his clothing with one hand, then stills for a moment as he undoes the remainder of her buttons, pulling her top down off her shoulders. It catches on her elbows because she won't move her hands off his chest, won't stop raking her nails over his biceps and then down, down over his stomach, holding herself over him in a way that has to be hard to maintain. He pulls her down against him, his body jerking when the rough lace of her bra meets his chest, when the cool skin of her abdomen skids over his. The intimacy of the contact catches in his throat, making his hips roll up hard against her, the denim of their jeans suddenly unbearably frustrating.
She laughs into his mouth. "Easy, stud," she says with a smile that's finally free, but no, oh no, she's laughing at him and really that won't do at all.
He nudges one hand down between their bodies, flicks open the button of her jeans and drags his knuckles over her already-damp underwear, making her growl against his mouth. "What was that, Beckett?" he murmurs against her lips as he sets a slow, rolling rhythm with his hand.
She scrapes her teeth along his jaw, rocking down against his fingers as he nudges her underwear aside. "Don't get cocky, Castle."
He slips a finger inside her, moves carefully for a moment before adding another, twists his hand so that he's brushing over her with his thumb. The muscles of his forearm twist and strain with the awkward positioning, so much of her weight on him and her jeans forcing his arm at an unpleasant angle, but there's absolutely no way he can stop now when she's rocking her hips down against him, her breath coming in jagged, moaning gasps. "You don't want me to get co–"
"What – what did I tell you about puns while you're inside me?" she gasps into his jaw, sounding, he's fairly certain, far less threatening than she means to.
He stills briefly, blinking up at her. They've been over this. "That was one time and I was quoting Shakespeare."
She growls at him, thrusting hard into his hand. "That's still not a word you –" she must have found a good angle, her eyes slam shut briefly and she loses her sentence. "Christ, come on."
He smirks, fluttering his fingers briefly. "Well, don't let me stop you."
Glaring balefully at him, she pushes her right hand down, palms him through his jeans, putting pressure at the exactly the right place on his zipper, and, shit, his hand is moving again without his even noticing, pumping back and forth in rhythm that echoes the roll of his hips. Apparently that's all she needs, because she's leaning forward and biting into his shoulder and coming around his fingers with a low moan.
She drags herself up onto her knees abruptly, pulling her jeans off before reaching up to undo her bra one-handed. He lies back, his muscles a fascinating combination of electrified and liquefied, his eyes half closed, transfixed by the lithe, smooth lines of her body.
"Well?" she asks, flicking her gaze down at his still-buttoned jeans.
"You're just so efficient," he murmurs appreciatively.
"And you're so enervated."
"Ohhh, Beckett, a three dollar vocabulary word and alliteration."
"Three? Really?" she grumbles, disgruntled, but not quite enough that she's decided against taking matters into her own hands. She's already reaching down to work at the button of his pants.
"I mean," he says, lifting his hips for her and reaching a hand down to help her drag the jeans and boxers over his pelvis. "Somnolent. Phlegmatic. Dilatory. Lackadaisical. You just have so many good opt—"
And then he can't talk because somehow she's gotten his jeans around his ankles and her tongue is in his mouth and her hand is wrapped around him and his hips have started rocking into her palm without his permission at all.
She pulls her head back abruptly, stills her hand, and it's not okay, how easily she can undo him; her turnabout is not fair play at all. "Beckett," he whines, his hips thrusting up but reaching only air.
"No. By all means. Continue, my torpid thesaurus."
"Best superhero name ever," he says, propping himself up on his elbows to chase her mouth.
She laughs, briefly, breathily, leaning in to kiss him, reaching again for him with her hand as she lowers her body back over his, the slick heat of her hovering just above where he wants her.
She pauses for a moment, leans her head to the side, skims her mouth along the raised scar of his bicep. It's become a ritual for them that is somehow less than maudlin, taking a moment, any moment, to run their lips along each other's scars. They don't talk about it, but every time he feels the heat of her mouth over the white ridge of skin on his arm he imagines he can feel the apology and promise both, the tacit current of her love, her unspoken commitment to never leave him.
And then she's taking her hand away and sliding slowly onto him, raising her head back up so that their foreheads meet, noses bump, breaths mingle as they lie there still and silent. Sometimes still it catches in his throat – everything they've been through and they're still here, still alive, not quite whole, but just damaged enough to appreciate every second, every heartbeat of time that sparks between them.
She moves slowly, languorously over him, capturing his mouth with hers, running her hand over his hair, along the plane of his chest. He reaches down between their bodies, runs his fingers lightly just above where they're joined, revels in the low moan that tumbles from her lips.
She quickens, her hips rolling down harder against him. He lets her draw him into her rhythm, but God if she's going to do that she better be damn ready to –
"Beckett," he growls – groans, really – in warning. He keeps one hand pressed against her, grabs her hip with his other to change the angle slightly, and there it is, her teeth sinking into her lower lip, her eyes pressed together tightly, and then her jagged growl as her body tenses and tenses and tenses and finally pulses around him.
That's all it takes; he's a handful of uneven thrusts behind her before his own orgasm flashes through him, his eyes slamming shut as his muscles contract and his world funnels to only the feel of her.
When his breathing's steadier and he can open his eyes, she's smiling down at him, her hand running lightly over his hair. "And we still just have enough time to shower if we hurry."
Castle puffs his chest out. "Captain Torpid Thesaurus knows how to get the job done."
She shakes her head, but she doesn't quite quash the smile that flits across her lips before she leans down to kiss him briefly. Pulling away and sitting, she carefully stretches up and off the bed and starts to walk toward the bathroom. His mind flashes inanely back to the night in his loft, to the moment after he showed her the text when she stood up, shoved away, tried to leave him lying alone in his bed. It's over, he tries to tell himself, but he knows it's not, not really, knows that parts of this journey will be threaded through them for the rest of their lives.
She stops at the door to the bathroom, turns, her eyes slowly mapping him. "You coming, Castle?"
"Always am," he says, trying to keep his voice light, but from the depth of her gaze he thinks she hears it all.
He hoists a bag onto his shoulder, can't help how it echoes that night a lifetime ago in his loft, the start of a different sprawling nighttime journey.
He sees the memory of it in her eyes, too, in the quiet, serious way she suddenly regards him.
It's not as different as he wishes it were. Even now, they are walking into darkness. Even now, the Dragon captured, those who supported him slowly falling, even now she is not entirely safe.
She steps into him, starts to nudge him with her shoulder, then twists her body at the last instant, brushing her lips over his.
"You distracted me," he murmurs at her lips.
"When I asked you to stay." He reaches up, loops his arms around her, rests his palms on her lower back. "You never answered. You used your feminine wiles."
He feels the sharp sting of her boot into his shin. "Who did what to who, Castle?"
"Well I certainly didn't use my womanly charms."
She huffs a laugh at him, rolls her eyes. "You sure about that?"
He works at a pout, but there's a heaviness, a pall over him that he can't quite shake.
She smiles at him briefly, a flash of amusement and love, before she's too serious. "We haven't even had one night together without…" she trails off, shaking her head. "Running. Hiding. Don't you want to just – be normal?"
Normal for her, in New York, isn't staying with him. But it could be. He cants his body into hers, taking the risk, holding her a little tighter. "Be normal with me."
She huffs a brief laugh against his throat.
He can't help but smile. "Well – you know - closer to, anyway. Tomorrow, Beckett. Stay with me tomorrow."
She draws back just enough to glance around the room that's been theirs for the past two months. He catches it, the flicker of hesitation and sadness in her eyes – as much as she's hated it, holing up, hiding away, they've come together in this, though this. He feels her slow sigh against his hands, the rise and fall of her back into his palms. "Tomorrow, then," she says, and it doesn't sound as much like a concession as it does a promise, the vague, limitless unfurling of a world of possibilities, an endless string of tomorrows.
He reaches down, lifts her wrist so that he can see the face of her watch, follows the steady flick of the silver minute hand as it carries them over to a new day. "You ready?" he asks, his mouth brushing over her forehead.
She tilts her face up, sweeps her lips over his. "Let's go."