He's watching as Beckett deftly closes the metal of her handcuffs around Castle's wrist. The binoculars let him focus, allow him to absorb the parts of her he hasn't noticed before – the fluid movement of her long fingers, pianists fingers, as they thread the metal through the top of the headboard; the arc of her eyelashes, the dark, stark way they frame the intent light in her irises, the opaque arousal pooling in her pupils. Castle's body, covered in only a thin pair of black silk boxers, arches off the bed toward her, and the binoculars trip over the flex of his biceps, the rapid rise and fall of his chest, the strain of his abdominal muscles, before focusing back on her, on the molten motion of her thigh over his, the easy lift and roll of her hips as she straddles his stomach, the shift and sway of her red nightgown over her upper thighs.
She pulls the silk up slowly, tantalizingly, exposing inch after inch of skin to the soft lamplight of the room. The binoculars stutter over the shadowed edge of her hip, follow the line of her pelvis into the flat plane of her abdomen, pause for a beat on the quiver of her stomach muscles, track the trail of red silk up the center of her torso as she lifts the nightgown over her body. They stop at the center of her sternum, the plane between the curves of her breasts, the dark circle of a scar, before drifting up to the sharp edge of her collarbone. The view dips down to the slope of her breast as her body starts rolling, then trails back down her stomach, over the shadow of her navel, the flexing, clenching muscles of her obliques, and then down, down to –
"It's okay, you're okay," he hears, a quiet murmur in his ear, the light pressure of her index finger against his lips.
He's pushing away, propelling his body up and off the bed before his mind can catch up, stumbling several steps and yanking the door open and tripping out of the suffocating air of the RV. The stars wheel above him and the dirt pitches below; he feels his knees start to buckle, his body lurch, his chest tighten with the spinning, nauseating inability to stick his feet to solid ground.
A loud, disjointed yell permeates the dull roar in his head; he jerks straighter, whirls around, trying to get his bearings, but it's pitch black save the spinning stars and the stark outline of flames in the distance, a tangled nightmare of darkness and flashes of light and staccatos of shouting that are no better than the collapsing sides of the RV.
He jerks back, nearly falling to his knees, when something brushes against his shoulders, but then there's a firm hand at his waist and the soft brush of lips against his jaw. "Come on," she's saying against his skin, "We're okay."
The wash of her breath against his cheek straightens out the stars, steadies the ground beneath his feet, brings the cold snap of November air, the crisp scent of autumn into sharp relief. The flames solidify into small bonfires; the shouting into groups of midnight revelers engaging in boisterous, drunken discussions. The harsh clang of their voices still grate against him, make his muscles tense in an uncomfortable, involuntary spasm.
He sucks in a deep breath, and before he can release it her fingers are gently wrapping a blanket around his shoulders and the ball of her foot is tapping his calf up and forward so that he's stepping into his battered pair of Nikes. He glances at her, takes in as much as he can of her in the starlight, his oversized hoodie enveloping her torso, her feet hastily shoved into a pair of sneakers, her hand clutching a mason jar of –
"What is that?" His voice sounds rough, unused.
"Moonshine," she says, wrapping the fingers of her free hand around his and tugging him forward, starting across the open field, away from the noise and the bonfires.
He huffs a strangled laugh. "Detective Beckett. I never pegged you for a possessor of illegal substances."
She kicks her toe along his calf. "Al gave it to me before we left. Wouldn't take no for an answer. You were busy alternately badgering Bryan about the best kind of tree with which to build a trebuchet and harassing Paul about the finer points of turtle care."
"I really just think they have a good thing going," he says, managing to sound almost normal.
"You already have a full-time hobby," she chastises.
"Writing does suck up a lot of my time."
She lifts her foot again, gets him in the anklebone as they walk through the field. "I meant stalking me, you idiot," she gruffs, the careful, gentle clasp of her fingers around his belying her words.
"More than a hobby," he counters, because they've at least established that by now. He can come back from everything surrounding Tyson, everything except her pushing him away for his own good.
She dips her head, quirks her lips briefly in acknowledgement. "More than just a stalker, too," she murmurs, nudging her shoulder gently into his.
He dredges it up, the banter only a little affected. "If anything, the scenario's reversed. Are you leading me out here to put me out of my misery?"
"You got me. I secretly arranged this whole weekend to set up the perfect crime." She beams at him, a bright smile that flashes through the darkness.
He cocks his head. "I feel like you would be the very first suspect."
"Exactly. It would be too obvious. I'm a homicide detective. Everyone'd be sure I could cover my tracks better than that."
He gives an exaggerated sigh. "And here I thought things were going so well."
Her fingers close hard around his in acknowledgement, an assenting hum in the back of her throat as she leads him on in darkness and silence, on until the shouts of the partiers are just background murmurs, until the flames of the small bonfires are only flickers in the distance.
They stop near the edge of a copse of trees. Barely visible in the darkness, half a mile away, he can see the stark outlines of some of the bigger air cannons, blocking out thin strips of stars that twinkle with a ferocious kind of brightness.
"Come on," she says, maneuvering herself under his arm so that the blanket drapes over them both, then tugging him gently down onto the ground, sitting pressed so closely that her hip digs harshly into his thigh. She twists the lid off the moonshine, takes a long swallow. "If you'd told me six months ago I'd be here…" she starts, lets it trail off as she passes the jar to him.
He wraps his fingers around the cold glass, rests the ridged edge against his lips, swallows. It burns clear and bright though his mouth, his throat, a flickering fire that echoes the starlight. "Drinking moonshine with me in Delaware in a dark field lined with catapults?"
She chuffs, a short, airy breath, tilts her head and brushes her lips along the line of his jaw. "Yes."
He tips the jar, takes a longer, deeper swig. "Me too," he husks, his voice rough from the drink, from her, from all of it. He slides his hand under her the hem of sweatshirt, rubs his fingers slowly over the smooth heat of her skin.
She tilts back until she's leaning on her elbows, then snags the jar from him, taking a long, slow swallow. "Stars like this were always the best things to make me feel better on a bad day. A night like tonight, you can let it swallow you up. Drift along on the current of your own insignificance."
He holds desperately still, traps his breath on an inhale, feels his lungs strain up against his sternum, his fingers halt against her skin.
"It kept me alive, that summer. Lying on the ground outside that cabin, staring up into the sky and knowing that my body could leach molecule by molecule into the dirt and the stars would keep on shining."
Words spin uselessly in his head. He snags the jar from her and drinks again, longer, wanting to make it cloudier, wanting to dull the pulsing pain of her words. "Not for me," he finally says.
She continues like she hasn't heard him. "It's not like that in the city. The humanity's too omnipresent. You can't get any perspective, can't lose yourself in the stars. It starts to close in on you, tighter and tighter, until there's not even enough room for your lungs to expand so you can breathe."
"You should be the writer," he says, passing the jar to her.
She tilts her head and stares up at him, waiting, waiting.
"The thought that you –" he breaks off, shaking his head, his mind reeling away from the idea before he can even fully form it.
"That I'm not safe," she says, matter of fact, too direct.
"Whether or not Tyson's dead," he adds, the words leaving him in a rush.
He watches her eyes slowly close at the veiled reference. When she opens them again there's a darkness in them that has nothing to do with the moonless night. "Nothing for it," she finally says, her voice low and bleak and angry. "Nothing for it with that or with Tyson."
This is the part of her she doesn't let him see in New York. The part that's rubbed raw from living with a deal that makes her sick. The part that insists that Tyson's dead. The part that follows him to Delaware for a weekend instead of trying everything possible to sneak back into the precinct. He told her once that what made her so extraordinary was that she wouldn't back down, that she pushed through every wall that got in her way. But now she's stopped, at least with this one wall, and he can't decide if he's more worried that she'll cease pushing altogether or that she'll fling herself headfirst back into it all.
He leans back next to her, swigs the moonshine, lets it burn away the tangle of thoughts as he stares up at the sky, loses himself in the thousands of flickering far-away suns. "Do you know we're seeing stars that are twenty quintillion miles away right now?"
"No," she murmurs, her voice still too low. He hears her suck in a long breath of air, trying for him. "It's – freeing. All that endless distance."
He nudges his nose against her cheek, tilts his head slightly to watch the sky once more. "It makes me feel tired. I don't…" He lets it go, again, lets the words unravel into the dark air. He knows what she's saying; he's felt it, too, the limitless possibilities of a star-studded night, but now it's just pressing up against his bone-deep weariness.
"I could count myself the king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams," she murmurs at him, the words vibrating huskily in the back of her throat as she passes him the moonshine and cards her fingers through his hair, setting up a steady, easy rhythm that has his eyes sliding slowly shut.
He can't help the smile that rolls over his lips, can't help the way his body cants into hers as his muscles loosen under her touch. He forces his eyes back open, traces the shadowed arc of her cheekbone with his gaze. "It's oddly arousing to hear you express my feelings with a Shakespeare quote."
"Blame the baby turtle." He gets as far as opening his mouth before she cuts him off. "And do not even suggest an Ophelia the Third."
"But she made you so poetic." He swigs the moonshine again; the stars spin overhead, but a lazy, peaceful sway as the pleasant liquid burn of the moonshine heats his blood. In the distance, one of the fires flickers into darkness.
The rhythm of her hand in his hair drags him down, unweaves the tension of his muscles so that he's sinking into the ground, melting into the blanket near the sharp edge of her shoulder, the angle of her hip, drifting into a half-consciousness, anchored to reality only by the heat of her body. A warmth over his lips drags him back, her tongue lazily tracing his lower lip. "Don't succumb to hypothermia, Castle," she murmurs against him when she finally pulls away.
She sits, and his body automatically follows hers until he's back up beside her. "Only because I can picture Gates' face when she reads the headline."
"'Popular Mystery Writer and Muse Found Frozen to Death in Delaware Punkin Chunkin Field.'"
"You didn't mention the moonshine." He finds he doesn't have to work so hard to dredge up a hopeful leer as he runs the tips of his fingers beneath the waistband of her leggings, feels her stomach clench under his touch. "Or the fact that we weren't wearing any pants." His chest tightens even as he says it, but there's something about the dark vastness of the field, the edge of the horizon where the trees run up into the stars, the sleepy, solid heat of the woman next to him, that sets him more at ease, that starts to uncoil the knots wound deep inside him.
"Absolutely not," she murmurs huskily into his ear.
It's the ability to live with it, he thinks, that's the hardest thing. The reconciliation of the danger and injustice of it all. The realization that they have no ability to fix it. The acceptance that, no matter what, the stars will wheel onward and that they'll spend their time beneath them doing what they can.
"Tell me?" she questions, low and careful, after they've sat in silence for far too long. She nudges the glass jar against his knuckles.
"Won't get me drunk enough to spill, Beckett," he says. "Same old, anyway." It's not, and he knows she knows it, but there are some nightmares she doesn't need to shoulder with him. Some burdens, at least, that he can spare her.
"I know what will get you to spill."
He chokes on the moonshine he's swallowing, presses his forehead into her temple as he catches his breath, doesn't respond.
She slants her body further into his, and he can feel her torso rise and fall in a slow sigh. "Wanna go back?"
"No. Not yet." He turns his head against hers, rests his lips lightly against the corner of her mouth.
"You really do want us to freeze to death," she murmurs, but he can feel the affectionate smile that quirks her lips.
"I know how to stay warm," he says, and then she's twisting her body over and resting her mouth against his again, the shared heat of their breaths colliding in the space between them before he closes the gap, lets his lips brush over hers, leans back as she tilts forward, as her hands curl against his stomach and the moonshine lurches sideways out of his suddenly unfeeling fingers and his awareness channels to only the press of her tongue into his mouth. She tastes like the sharp burn of moonshine, like the cold edge of autumn air.
Time stretches and collapses in the darkness, so that he'll never be sure of how long they sit there, tangled against each other, of how long it is before he feels less tired, suddenly, at the thought of the dark and infinite stretch to the stars. "You ready?" she finally murmurs after a weighted eternity.
He pushes himself off the cold ground, wraps his hand around hers to pull her up, revels in her slow, unblinking smile. "Let's go."