Happy birthday, Laura!

Thanks to Marlowe et al. for the characters and to (yeah, I'll say it, I'm not embarrassed) B.o.B. and Lil Wayne for the title and the summary.


The roll of paper is thin and warm between her fingers. She sucks the smoke into her lungs, holds her breath, feels the rush that courses through her veins as she exhales and passes the joint to Castle. She doesn't glance over at him, but she can still picture him, the heat of his gaze, the incredulity that he won't quite let rise to the surface.

The flood of cool air back down her throat makes her want to choke, but she's a professional, a professional who's damn well not going to give herself away just because it's been a few years. She hears Castle's exaggerated inhale next to her, but she fixes her eyes on Navari, watching him as she manages somehow to keep from smiling at the entity that is Castle undercover.

"You're not fucking around," she finally murmurs, pulling her knees up to her chest. The pot has the dark, smooth taste of quality, quality that sends a buzz fizzing brightly through her blood.

Navari grins at her, passes her another, fatter roll of paper. "No need to share here," he says.

She slides her teeth slowly over her lower lip, takes another long, deep drag into her chest. It's already building on top of the Lagavulin they'd been sipping earlier, layers of inebriation that she wades through with the expertise of two years of barreling through undercover ops in vice. "Generous," she husks.

"I know a good thing when I see it," Navari says, letting his eyes linger on her chest.

Castle's hand, heavy and warm and utterly possessive, is suddenly on her neck, his thumb moving in tense, tight circles over her vertebra. The heat from his fingers licks around to her sternum, trails over her chest, up her throat. "Just a business arrangement, though," Castle says, and she's got to hand it to him, he's got the even, disinterested pitch of his voice down. She can hear the pause in his breathing as he takes another hit.

"Not gonna steal your girl," Navari leers. "Unless, of course, she feels like getting stolen."

Castle's hand tenses on her neck, the pad of his index finger pressing down with an uncomfortable pressure. "Like you don't get plenty already with the little setup you've got going here," she murmurs, leaning back into Castle's forearm, taking another drag. There's a hole in the knee of her jeans, and she pulls lazily at a loose thread, lets her gaze drift slowly over to Castle. He's watching her darkly, a mix of anger and arousal an inebriation in his eyes that makes her want to drag him into the bathroom and unbuckle his pants.

Navari nods, seems to accept her oblique rejection. He pauses for a negligible heartbeat, regarding the easy, steady way she sucks on the joint, before he blinks decisively. "Columbia's got a new spot up. Pretty, trustworthy grad student like yourself could make a lot of money up there."

"How much?" she murmurs, dragging in another inhale. Her skin is starting to shimmer with it, her head swimming up into a warm and rollicking ocean. She swallows, licks her lips, leans back into the firm pressure of Castle's palm that still rests warmly at the back of her neck. The rough pads of his fingers have set up a light, steady rhythm that simultaneously grounds and untethers her.

"Like you said. I'm generous."

She tilts forward slightly, narrows her eyes, lets him think she's sizing him up. Vice wants him for the drugs, but she wants him more, wants him because she's damn sure he knows who ordered a hit on Alyssa Campari and if they book him on the drug trafficking they'll cut some kind of deal that will make him talk, talk like he wouldn't to Ryan and Esposito during their fruitless four-hour interrogation. "I like numbers," she finally murmurs, feels the throatiness of her voice from the joint and almost-faded liquor.

She smokes as she waits for him, can sense Castle doing the same beside her as she leans back, lazy, calculated, like she's got all the time in the world. "Start you off with ten eighths on Thursday. See how you do. Three percent cut."

She curbs her smile with a puff on the joint as she waits for the Poller and his team to storm in, feels the satisfaction buoying her up, making her weightless, effervescent. "Three percent," Castle mutters, doing an excellent job of pitching his tone as a hybrid of bored and offended. It shivers along her spine, makes her want to pin him down and get him to scream.

Navari smokes and hums low in his throat, waits for a beat, his eyes roaming slowly over them. "There would be certain - opportunities - for bonuses."

Beckett puffs on the joint, watches him skeptically as she slowly rolls her shoulders back, leans her neck harder into Castle's fingers, lets the smoke and the silence waft lazily through the air.

She can feel Castle jump beside her when the crack of the basement door reverberates through the room. Navari is suddenly on his feet shouting obscenities, and then Poller is forcing him onto the ground and snapping the cuffs over his wrists and gruffing his rights at him, and the other three from vice are already milling around the place with a drug-sniffing dog.

She watches, sucking a final drag from her joint, as Navari is led out of the room.

Castle makes a pained sound in the back of his throat. She turns slowly to face him. "Shit, that's hot," he says. She doesn't even try to stop the smile she can feel scrawl across her face at the sight of him, slightly hazy, slightly loving, utterly aroused.

"You be good and you can watch me suck on something else later," she murmurs, glancing away as the dog sets up a racket in a dark corner.

The door swings open again and Esposito and Ryan appear, both wearing grins that are a little too smug. Esposito drags his eyes appraisingly over Castle, then her, then proclaims, "You are blazed." Ryan appears to be vacillating between thrilled and utterly appalled, his expression flickering back and forth between the two so quickly that Beckett can't quite tamp down on a tiny laugh.

Well, fuck.

All three men stare at her, but Castle's the only one brave enough to speak. "Did you just giggle?"

She turns away from him with a huff. She is working. She is a professional. "Tomorrow at eight to interrogate him?"

"You sure you don't want to make that nine?" Esposito asks, still with that damn stupid smile on his face.

"Next time we need to deal with vice, you're the one putting on a slinky tank top and getting high with drug dealers," Beckett snarls at him. Well, she wanted to snarl. It might have come out more like a contented murmur, and fuck all of this, anyway, Castle staring at her like he is about to eat her and Ryan still gawping and Esposito looking like he has blackmail material for the next five centuries.

"I'm going home," she announces. "Tomorrow. Eight." Short sentences are good, she thinks, as she walks purposefully toward the door, trying not to get distracted by the presence, the heat of Castle suddenly at her back.

"Need a lift?" Ryan calls after her.

Like hell she's getting in a car with them. "We have feet. We'll manage."

It's not that he's nervous. It's only just after midnight. The Meatpacking district is perfectly safe. There are streetlights that are fairly bright. Art galleries. Probably only three or four drug dealers or murderers waiting to jump out of the shadows at two vulnerable, high-off-their-asses idiots.

Well, he's high off his ass, at least. And Beckett was giggling.

But he's not nervous.

"Hey, you know what sounds like fun?"

"If you say a taxi again, we're going to have a problem," Beckett says.

"A limo. What about a limo? We could have sex in the backseat. There aren't any murderers in the back of limos."

"I am armed, Castle."

"Armed and blitzed," he mutters, not quite quietly enough. She levels her eyes at him and appears to be trying to glare, but it's utterly ineffective with her arms and collarbones exposed in that slinky black tank top, with her pupils larger and darker and deeper than he's ever seen them, except maybe when he's dragged her pants slowly down her legs and pushed her onto his bed and wrapped his fingers around her wrists and…


He jerks, only just aware that he's slowly come to a halt and is now gazing vacantly into space. "Oh," he says, staring down at his legs.

"Find something else to fantasize about and move your feet," she says. He really thinks she might be trying to growl or possibly sound vaguely threatening, but everything she says is in this husky, lilting murmur that makes the hair on his arms stand straight up.

"Like I could ever," he retorts. Well. Sometimes he fantasizes about buying a dog. A big, bounding Golden Retriever. And coming home to it, and Beckett, who is so fucking hot as a cop that it makes him die a little every time he thinks about it, but maybe this is her day off and she's wearing a dress and baking cupcakes, and Beckett and cupcakes and icing and a big bounding dog and maybe crawling on the floor next to the dog is a chubby toddler with brown hair and intense blue eyes and -

He feels her fingers wrapping firmly around his wrist, then a hard tug, and he realizes he's ground to a halt again. "How are you this utterly inept at life?" she grouses at him as she drags him forward.

He tries to start to explain, but the words are all tangled in his brain, a snarled mess of kids and a dog and cupcakes and a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree, for the love, even though it is the middle of August, so in the end all he can possibly get out is, "Cupcake!"

"If you're trying out a new nickname for me, that one's not gonna work," she threatens, and she is armed and she is stoned, and possibly he did not need to look as far as a darkened ally to find mortal danger; really, his biggest threat is the lithe lines and tousled hair and dilated pupils currently dragging him forward by his wrist.

"I want one," he grumbles, and now that he's said it he realizes he does, an intense, almost painful yearning, somewhere deeper than his stomach, somewhere far within his soul. "I need one," he amends.

She shakes her head but hauls him sharply left onto Hudson, her fingers still wrapped tight around his wrist, dragging him forward through the night.

"You're short when you're in Converse," he observes, trotting onward double time to pull up beside her.

She glances at him again with what he's beginning to think of as her signature high look, her eyes full of something that tries to be anger but succeeds only in being a little bit love and a lot sex. "You've seen me naked, Castle. Numerous times."

Oh, yes, so many times. Like that time last night, when he'd walked through her front door and she'd been stepping out of th –

"So help me if you stop walking again. It really is like you want to get yourself shot tonight."

He twitches, watching her warily. "Just around the house," he defends. "This is different. It is business. Work. Professionalism."

"You're just saying random words now," she rumbles at him, and he's cobbling together a response, he really is, but then he sees the bright window of Magnolia just half a block ahead and he finds a reserve of energy somewhere deep within himself and puts on a burst of speed, because he's somehow suddenly only just realized that it is late and this is a cupcake store and they could close at any minute, any minute at all.

He can hear Beckett cursing at him as he trots toward the store, but he's become painfully certain that if his mouth isn't soon full of creamy, buttery, chocolaty frosting he will actually physically die, a death just as real and as painful as a rage-fueled shooting courtesy of Beckett.

He bursts through the door and into the shop dramatically, his chest heaving. The lone teenager behind the counter doesn't even blink. Castle can feel Beckett coming up beside him, but he's too busy turning sharply left to stare down at the clear plastic cases. "My babies," he hears, a reverent whisper, and it takes him a moment to recognize that it's his voice.

"For the love of fuck," Beckett mutters, but when she picks up a box it's for a whole dozen cupcakes.

He tries to wipe the triumphant expression off his face. "So, what kind do you want?" he asks, so carefully neutral. He is amazing at this. He is loving and supportive and really, his sudden craving for cupcakes was probably just his innate understanding of Beckett's every primal need.

His chest aches, a sharply radiating pain that he suddenly realizes is caused by her finger jabbing into his sternum. "Keep looking so damn smug and we're leaving without anything at all."

He quickly starts selecting an assortment of cupcakes – she couldn't make him put them back, right? - chocolate chocolate and caramel and oh, oh, maybe a pistachio. In his frenetic haste somehow the frosting, smooth and cool, winds up brushing against his knuckles, and he has to stop to suck vigorously on his index finger and the world suddenly stills, funnels down to a vibrant, suspended, pulsing kind of consciousness. This, the chilled, rich velvet rolling luxuriantly onto his tongue, is absolutely exactly what he needs right now.

When he shifts the box to his other hand – have to be hygienic, he reminds himself, can't take cupcakes with the same hand he was just sucking on – and glances at Beckett, she's watching him with a look on her face that makes him freeze instantly, feel a responsive surge in his stomach and a tightening in his jeans.

"I, uh," he starts, but its hopeless, utterly hopeless, his throat feels thick and tight and if this damn bakery had a bathroom he'd be dragging her into it right now. Her eyes, the way she's watching him, it's just not fair - she was the one looking like she was about to jump on him in the first place, so how is he reduced to a stuttering moron?

"Will you stop sucking on yourself and grab the damn cupcakes already, Castle?" she growls.

"I like that you're talking dirty to me," he murmurs, yanking out three devil's food and a couple of peanut butter and jellies, "but not in front of the cupcakes."

He hears a low snort, then a soft noise that's edging over the line toward a giggle. When he glances over from lustily stroking his finger along the edge of a particularly scrumptious-looking red velvet that he's just plopped into the box, the annoyance has completely melted off her face, and she's slouched back against the wall, her eyes hazily fixed on his hands, her lips bowed into a soft, wide smile.

"I love you more than cupcakes," he tells her, shutting the lid on the box, because if you can't say what's on your mind when you're high at Magnolia then there is nothing good left in the world.

She doesn't like the way the kid behind the counter is looking at them, doesn't like the stupid, meaningful half-smile on his face as he surveys them. If she thought it would help her case she'd flash her badge, but she has just enough awareness to know that really the best thing they'll be able to do is get out as quickly as possible.

"She's a police officer," Castle chirrups helpfully, clearly trying to dredge up his best nothing to see here tone and failing miserably.

"Will you shut up?" she growls at him. He is not helpful. None of this is helpful.

"Judgment-free zone, here," the kid says, passing them the cupcakes and then holding up his hands in what she's having trouble seeing as anything other than a mocking surrender.

"A police officer with a gun," she snaps.

The kid leaves his hands up but looks slightly less patronizing, which Beckett decides to take as a win. She feels Castle tapping the toe of his shoe against her anklebone, hears him whispering urgently, "We've got the cupcakes, let's make a break for it."

She ducks her shoulder into his chest as they step outside into the still-sticky night air. "I don't think it counts as making a break for it when you've paid already, Castle," she murmurs, staying close as they start walking down the tree-lined sidewalk, close enough that her body bumps up against his with every step.

He huffs, tilts his torso into hers, overcorrects and winds up stumbling several steps sideways. "You are a dream destroyer," he says, adjusting himself in his place back at her side and walking on as though nothing had happened.

"Your dream is to shoplift a dozen cupcakes?"

"See? That. Dream destroyer," he says resolutely, his thigh brushing lightly against hers, and she can't help the way his nearness prickles at her, the fizzing awareness from the constant feel of his body nudging against hers and the memory of the look in his eyes as he sucked the icing off his fingers.

She decides to be charitable, and not only because she can't wait to get back to his building and pin him in the far left corner of his elevator, the place Castle has decided after numerous "scientific experiments" that the security cam doesn't quite capture. "You want to soothe your wounded dreams in the back of a taxi?"

He tilts his head. Somehow, there's chocolate frosting smeared on his jaw. She starts to lean in to lick it off but checks herself when she almost topples into him, just barely managing to swallow down the ridiculous laughter that starts to bubble in her throat. He somehow continues to move obliviously onward. "I actually kind of like walking. We're one with nature, Beckett."

She blinks up at him. "If I point out that we're in Manhattan –"

"The definition of nature is fluid, and yes, you would be solidifying your status as a Dream Destroyer."

But I want to fuck you is on the tip of her tongue, but there's some remaining shred of dignity that melts into the stillness of West Village, the long and quiet shadows from the streetlights, the distant whine of sirens and the close whisper of trees, the magic of the cooler breezes that sift through the settled heat, the solid stumbling presence of the man at her side and the constant searing nudge of his fingers against her hip. "Lucky we need to work off some of our dozen cupcakes," she murmurs, her tongue too thick in her mouth to give voice to the sudden bubble of serenity that's carrying her, floating her along beside him.

He glances down suddenly at the bag dangling from his right hand, fixating so intently that she has to prod him around a tree. "Maybe we should…" he starts, trailing off in concentration as he attempts to walk and pry the cupcake box open within the bag.

She lets her shoulder bump a little harder into him. "Don't be feral." He stares at her, his eyes wide and heartbroken, and she has to clamp down on an answering pang in her chest. It's for his own good. If he tries to get one out now he'll drop the whole thing and the other eleven cupcakes will splatter onto the sidewalk and he'll wind up kneeling over the mess of smeared icing and crumbled cake, sobbing about his babies, and on top of all of that she won't even get to eat one.

"It's two miles, Beckett. We could die before we get home."

The wave of indignation is strong enough to jolt her to a sudden standstill, which is just as well, because she's concentrating every molecule of her energy to summon what she hopes is a fearsome glare. "I'm sorry, who wanted to walk?"

He spins, the cupcake bag swinging around precariously in his hand, then beams blindingly, thrillingly at her. She can't help it; the indignation floats away, carried on the same effervescent cloud of contentment that hasn't left her the fuck alone ever since Navari got dragged out of the basement in cuffs. Before she registers what she's doing, she's stepping forward into Castle's smile, wrapping her hands behind his neck to pull his mouth down to hers, dragging her lips over his in a slow, sticky kiss. Somehow it's almost no time at all before his hands have crept under her tank top, his calloused palms sliding over the sweat-smooth skin of her lower back, and then he's pulling her body flush against his and her nails are scratching along the nape of his neck as the flat of his tongue slicks intricate patterns over the edge of hers. "Taxi," he pants against her mouth when they finally break apart for air. "It is time to take a taxi."

Somewhere deep within herself she finds the strength to shift back, step away, hook two fingers through his belt loop and drag him forward down the sidewalk. "Come on, Castle. We're one with nature."

"I want to be one with something else," he mumbles petulantly. He lets her pull him a little too easily to be actually upset about it, though, and there's something about the quiet magic of the dark night that she thinks they're both not quite ready to let go.

The air inside the loft is still and close. Beckett's standing in the middle of the kitchen, staring hazily at the fridge, and there's something about the walls that are tilting at odd angles and the harsh lights of the apartment that are too much, far too much compared to the soft, companionable duskiness that ensconced them on their walk home.

"I want to go to the roof," he says.

She turns abruptly toward him, her head at an angle that indicates that she's either slightly confused or really stoned. "The roof?"

"The roof," he retorts decisively.

She stares at him.

"There's chairs and plants and everything up there."

She blinks. "I know. I've been to your roof, Castle." She steps a little closer, her gaze flicking lazily over him. "You sure do like it outside tonight."

"I am the opposite of agoraphobic," he says, puffing out his chest and charitably deciding not to mention that she was the one who wanted to walk the whole way home. He's still clutching the bag of cupcakes, which he's sure desperately want to taste the free air one last time before they're viciously consumed.

"Claustrophobic?" Beckett murmurs, her voice a little too mocking.

He wrinkles his nose. "No." He pauses, considering his options. "Agorophilic."

She huffs and whirls to the wine rack, overwhelmed, he's sure, by his endless linguistic capacity, but even her less-than-enthusiastic attitude cannot dampen his boundless agorophilia.

"We'll stargaze," he encourages. "It'll be romantic."

He sees her shoulders rise and fall in an overly-dramatic sigh. "Don't make me say it," she says, leaning over and rotating a couple of the bottles.

"Don't say a word," he says, then beams at her as she spins around with a Sine Qua Non clutched in her hands. "Beckett, are you seriously suggesting that we drink a four hundred dollar bottle of Grenache in the middle of the night when we're high?"

She pauses, blinks down at the bottle, starts to put it back on the rack before he can't hold it in anymore. The laughter bubbles up from his chest, suddenly vibrating his whole body so hard that he has to reach up and briefly press the heel of his hand against the bridge of his nose so that he doesn't fall over and crush their hard-won dessert.

"Oh my God, you believed me," he gasps out as he works to catch his breath. She huffs, blows a lock of hair off her nose as she watches him indignantly. "Get a corkscrew; this is going to pair absolutely excellently with our cupcakes."

And so they wind up on the roof, eschewing the padded lounge chairs in favor of sprawling on the cooler concrete, getting frosting all over their fingers as they snag cupcakes out of the box and swig wine straight from the bottle.

"You make a pretty convincing grad student," Castle says out of absolutely nowhere, his mouth full of red velvet.

"Believe me, I've done worse than get blazed in a pair of Converse for an undercover op."

His already-dark eyes roam over her, sparking with a mixture of curiosity and arousal and possessiveness that sends heat sweeping up her spine. "Got any pictures?" he finally roughs out.

"I tried to stay as far away from cameras as possible," she murmurs, unable to stop the smile from that she can feel swirling up her torso before finally manifesting in a twitch of her lips.

"You ever think about it?"

She swigs the wine, drags the back of her hand across her lips to catch a stray droplet. The faint taste of rich earth and cedar and vanilla flows smooth over her tongue and down her throat. It's utterly wasted on her palate, wrecked as it is from smoke and icing, but she can't quite find it in herself to care. She drinks again, lets the alcohol buoy her higher, higher than the roof, higher than the sparkling Manhattan skyline. "What? Putting on a four-inch skirt and five-inch heels and going for another run in Vice?"

He chokes. "Grad school," he finally rasps, "Not that the other option doesn't deserve a reprise in a certain context."

"The context of your bedroom?" she asks, drinking and then reaching over to pass the bottle back to him.

"Yesss," he hisses, collapsing from his slumped sitting position to lean back onto one elbow. "God, yes."

She's laughing again somehow, the sound rippling through her without her permission, a wave of inexplicable joy washing her up and up and up.

His eyes are fixed intently on her. "Is it story time now?" he asks once she's finally settled back down, the tremors of happiness quieted again.

Her mind spins through those years, fractured images of dark and smoke-filled rooms with pulsing lights, of leather that clung to her slick skin, of sweaty hands that brushed against her thighs with too much intention, of murmured promises of trysts and drugs and favors owed and the heady pounding rush of too-fast takedowns, but it's all so far away, breaking apart when she tries to grab ahold of it. "Maybe later," is finally all she murmurs.

He doesn't respond with words, just keeps watching her like he's waiting for the secrets of the world to pour from her lips.

She sinks her teeth into her cupcake, holds the icing on her tongue for a moment before chewing slowly, luxuriously. "I don't second guess a lot," she says. Sometimes, maybe, last year in the dark of night, her secrets and regrets swelled up in her like a choking, inevitable tide. But not in the clear light of day, and not ever with the solid bulk of Castle's presence sprawled out beside her. The ebb and flow of the dark and the light and the intensely curious way he's watching her pull at her suddenly, awkwardly. "You see me as anything other than a cop?" she murmurs into space, not really expecting an answer, content to let the buzz from the high and the alcohol wash over them in the still-hot night, content to revel in the sweetness of the cupcakes and the earthiness of the wine and the warm and steady reassurance of his body next to hers.

"I see you as everything," he blurts after they've passed the wine bottle between them yet again in the shadowed, companionable silence. He hears the echo of his words in the air, reconsiders. "That sounded more blatantly pathetic than I thought it would."

She's smiling again, a brilliant kind of silliness to the curve of her lips that he's never seen before. "Pretty blatantly pathetic for a lot of reasons."

He huffs indignantly, because it's surely some kind of horrible karma that the woman he will spend the rest of his life desperately loving won't let him get away with anything, not even when it's the middle of the night and by all rights she should riding an incoherent cloud of marijuana and Grenache and cupcake. He sinks further onto his elbow, lets his eyes slide shut to catch the limitless threads of possibilities that spin off from her comment. "I see you as – anything, then," he murmurs, figuring it's as good a step away from everything as he can take.

His eyes fly open of their own accord when he hears her laughter, the low and joyful sound vibrating through the air, and he thinks he's going to have to start a hydroponic pot farm in the creepy basement of his building if it means he'll gets to hear her laugh half this often. "I give up," she finally breathes.

He pushes up a little further, takes a huge bite of cupcake to focus his mind, because it's suddenly entirely too important that she understand him. "I mean – like Marie Curie," he says, which is a horrible start. "If you were a scientist."

She blinks at him. "Eventually causing my own death from radiation exposure?"

He shakes his head a little too vehemently, feels the sky spin violently above him. "No. Just that same kind of relentless drive. Or - Gertrude Bell, if you were an archeologist. Going on a couple trips around the world and then eventually you're a spy spending your life founding regimes in no-go zones."

Slowly unfurling her fingers, she reaches out to him, trails the side of her pinky feather-light along his forearm. "I can't tell if you're trying to flatter me or trying to call me unstably obsessive."

He swallows hard, feels the warmth from her finger fizzle up his arm and through his chest. "Both?" he chances, going for funny, but somehow it's suddenly a little too close to home, somehow suddenly the only thing he's aware of when he blinks are the pictures of dead bodies taped to her living room window and the vicious growl in her voice when she vowed to bring them a war. It doesn't match the night, doesn't match the buoyant feeling of joy that was just ballooning in his chest, and when he looks over and sees her shuttered, distant eyes, he can tell she feels the same.

She falls off her elbow, sinking down to lie on her back so that she's staring up at the sky. "A little cloudy for watching stars," she says. He can hear the rasp at the edge of her voice.

He wriggles over to her, flops down so that the back of his head rests on her hip. There's a few stray clouds floating overhead, low to the ground. Above them the night is the same as ever in New York City, that pale orange-black, aglow with ambient light. He feels her sigh, the soul-deep resignation that is more than just this one night, feels a responsive, irrational tightness in his chest.

Shifting to reach into his pocket, he wraps his fingers around his phone, taps open an app and holds it above them, pointing it up at the sky. "What's that?" she husks, her voice still a little quiet, a little thick.

"You can," he starts, and then the program kicks to life and hundreds of stars wheel into view on the screen above them – "You can see the stars."

"Hey," she says, quietly, "look at that." He feels her obliques contract beneath his skull as she shifts, senses the vibrating tension of her muscles from where she's curled in, hears the slow sip she takes from the bottle of wine.

"Stargazing in Manhattan's not quite so hopeless after all," he murmurs. There's a whirl of constellations before them now. He zooms in on Pegasus, the pale purple lines of the constellation and the white points of distant suns, Alpheratz and Enif and Algenig growing larger on the screen, until they're more than stars, until they're burning pinpricks of possibility. "Do you ever think about the stars?" he asks.

Her stomach contracts again underneath him, shivering and rippling with laughter, and damn if it's not the sexiest thing he's felt in a long time. Well, since last night, at least, when she'd pinned him in the corner of the kitchen after he'd gotten home and practically torn his shirt off his body. Or, okay, maybe since an hour ago, when she'd lunged at him mouth-first on the walk home and somehow her shirt had ridden up to let his hands sneak underneath and the feeling of her skin –

He shakes his head abruptly. "You're not laughing at me," he says.

"You just sound so high right now."

And now he's laughing too, laughing and burning with a deep need for more of her. He reaches up with the hand not holding the phone, twists his arm at an awkward angle to reach under her shirt, stroking absent patterns over the soft skin at the bottom of her stomach. She freezes on an intake of air, shudders again with something more than laughter.

"You're soft," he says, which he immediately realizes doesn't help his case at all, but she is, so gorgeously pliant and boneless and giving underneath him.

"Mmf sfifl ffigh," she says. He twists his head so that his cheek is pressed against her stomach, stares up at the working underside of her chin. There's a streak of chocolate icing at her jaw, a whorl along the ridge of her collarbone, a smear down a tendon of her neck.

"You're a mess," he tells her, dropping his phone and rolling onto his stomach, slithering up her body with sudden, smoldering intention. She is a messand usually she is so put together and there is abruptly nothing in the universe that is as important as making sure that she is immaculately clean and presentable as soon as humanly possible. "Don't worry," he says, pushing himself an extra inch forward so that his lips are hovering right above her jawbone, "I'll save you."

"You'll wha—" she starts, a threatening edge to her voice that trails off into a breathy inhale when his lips meets her jaw.

He runs his mouth along her skin, tastes the sticky sweetness of the icing, the salt of her sweat, the sharp tang of smoke, feels the low vibration of a moan beneath his lips, and he closes his eyes and opens his mouth a little wider and lets himself get lost in the feel of her body thrumming vibrantly under his.

The heat of the night air, the soft rush of cars far below, the glow of the streetlights, all of it fades further and further into the background with every flick of his tongue against her skin. His lips coast off her jaw, skid down her neck as his body vibrates over hers with a singular kind of intensity.

He's lacking every bit of the calculated artistry that he always manages even in their most desperate moments, but damn if every sloppy, reverent glide of his mouth along the curve of her neck doesn't do it for her anyway. He slides lower, laps along the edge of her collarbone for far longer than it should take to get the icing off, but she still can't help the disappointed huff of air that rushes from of her chest when he shifts back away from her.

"You finish saving me?" she husks, still drowning in the phantom suction of his lips on her skin, the heat of his body still hovering just over hers.

"No," he growls, and then he's back over her, wrapping a hand at the hem of her tank top and dragging it up, rumpling the slinky fabric at her chest. She gasps at the sudden, sticky coolness of the icing streaking a diagonal line down her torso, trailing from the middle of her ribcage to just above the jut of her hipbone.

"What the hell?" she asks, trying so, so hard to sound indignant and failing with every breathy, desperate syllable.

"You have more icing on you," Castle informs her, and she manages to lift her chin just enough to see him hovering over her, a dark and hungry look in his eyes.

"My hero," she mutters, still a little too breathy to be sardonic, but that's okay because he's abruptly dropping his head and laving his tongue over the arc of one of her ribs in a move that she knows would usually have her spasming with ticklish laughter but for some reason now just makes her gasp as her body arcs desperately toward his mouth.

His responsive hum echoes into her upper abdomen, sending a harder shudder of desire through her as he drags his mouth along trail of icing, down her stomach. She reaches for him, rakes her fingernails over his scalp, tugs hard on his hair when he halts just above the waistband of her jeans and scrapes his teeth along her obliques.

She feels his lips curve in a smile against her skin, realizes that she's been rocking her pelvis steadily up toward his mouth. He pushes back from her again, leans on one elbow to trail his fingers over her hipbone, then inward to stroke lightly over the button of her pants.

"All clean," he says, his voice a tantalizing mix of self-satisfaction and ragged arousal.

"You sure," she starts, and then she has to clear her throat, swallow through the jagged drag of desire that threatens to pull her down, "you sure you don't need to do any more research?"

"Oh, Beckett," he sighs, fingers working at the button of her jeans until he slides it free, slowly dragging the zipper down, "you do know how much I adore my research."

"Don't – ah," she cuts off as his fingers slide beneath the edge of her underwear, burning lazy, teasing, stumbling lines into her skin, "don't want to deny you that hands-on experience."

"You are so very good to me," he says, shifting back onto his knees and grabbing the waistband of her jeans with both hands, hooking his fingers around her underwear and working to drag the fabric over her hips. She lifts her pelvis, wriggles to help and just winds up hindering his fumbling fingers as she tries to pull her legs close enough together to make it easy on him. The jeans are at her mid-thighs when she decides she can't hold herself up anymore, drops her body back down onto the too-abrasive concrete with a sigh and a wince.

He pauses from his work on her pants, grins brilliantly up at her, his pupils so wide that his eyes seem entirely black. "Chivalry's not dead yet, Beckett," he tells her, dragging his t-shirt over his head, tapping her hips up and then shoving the fabric underneath her. She sighs at the feel of the warm shirt underneath the sensitive flesh of her upper thighs, at the sight of the bulge of his biceps, the sharp plane of his chest, but when she tries to reach for him he shakes his head, slides back down her legs to work at her shoes.

She can't help but laugh at him when his fingers manage only to fumble with the knots. "What's the matter, Castle? Defeated by a pair of Converse?"

"Are these boating knots?" he huffs, yanking pathetically on the laces and then on the shoes as she tries not to let her body thrash too uncontrollably in a combination of laughter and arousal. "I miss your heels."

"Castle," she tries to reproach, except her voice trails off into a whine when he reaches up, runs his palm roughly along the outside of her thigh.

"Nothing for it. We're doomed," he murmurs happily as he yanks her jeans down to her ankles, letting the denim bunch around the tops of the shoes.

She feels him hovering back above her hips, then another cool streak running up the inside of her thigh. Some distant, sane part of her brain recognizes that this should bother her, that she is letting him turn her into a sticky disaster in a way she might usually find at least somewhat unappealing, but then his lips are following the icing, his stubble scraping roughly over her skin, and she vows she is going to buy cupcakes every single day for the rest of her life.

She reaches for him, fingers thick and clumsy with desire, when he breathes hotly over her, and he finds her hand with his, threads his fingers through hers and squeezes tightly. She can't stop her hand from almost crushing his when he finally, finally, finally lowers his mouth.

It's the least graceful he's ever been with her, a hurried mess of lips and teeth and tongue, but damn if she's not so wound up that she's arched and moaning seconds after he starts. He drags their threaded fingers down to rest on her hipbone and she feels him shift, feels his weight roll onto that side of him and the angle of his mouth change and his breath stutter and she knows, she knows that he's reached his arm down and shoved his hand inside his own jeans.

She tries to use their laced fingers to drag him up her body, but he doesn't budge, and she can't quite find it in herself to insist, not when he's begun to suck hard enough that she's vibrating in a mixture of pleasure and pain, her hips bucking sharply under him.

"You could – couldn't wait?" she gasps.

She growls when he stops to smile against her. "Go ahead," he says, and she can tell from the movement of his torso against her leg that he hasn't stopped touching himself, the selfish bastard, "mock how much you turn me on."

He leaves his mouth just above her, the top of his bicep brushing against her calf with every pump, before he finally presses a closed-mouth kiss to her, so, so much less than she needs right now. She can't even lift an ankle to kick him, her legs utterly trapped by her jeans, and what starts as a well-constructed threat turns into an incoherent string of murmurs when his long, low groan reverberates into her skin. "No more mocking," she finally grits out.

"Apology accepted," he grunts, and she can tell from the rasp of his words and the sudden, desperate way his mouth closes over her just how close he is.

She moans a series of inchoate curses, her hips jerking as she struggles against the jeans that still pin her ankles together, the flicks of Castle's tongue growing ever faster and his fingers squeezing ever tighter around hers until her world condenses to a constantly-rising tension, a coiled rigidity that starts in low in her stomach and spindles out to every muscle and every nerve ending, freezing her entire body in a spasmed arc. He's suddenly groaning against her, his torso jerking and his mouth clamping hard as he comes, and it's enough to push her over, bright pinpricks bursting through her vision as her hips pump into the air and her body clenches and releases in time to her throbbing heartbeat.

"Well," she sighs after she's somewhat aware again, aware of the finally-cooling air on her bare thighs, of the solid weight of Castle's body collapsed down against her, of the open press of his mouth at the center of ribcage, "that's another way to see stars in Manhattan."

She feels his sleepy laugh vibrate down through her body. "Oh my God, Beckett, you must still be so high."

She tilts her head, lets the words tumble lazily, sleepily through her mind. "That really was a level of corny that usually only you manage to achieve."

"I rubbing off on you?" he slurs, his consonants dripping with sleep.

She laughs weakly, but she can feel it too, her eyelids drifting shut, her arms growing heavier. "Already managed that," she murmurs, dragging her hand slowly through his hair, her body melting into the ever-cooling concrete, her head spiraling up and up and up into the stars.