There's none of the playfulness that marked the last time. Nor is it like the first time—raw, desperate need tinged still with anger and a deep hurt. This time is purposeful, deliberate.


He doesn't push her against a wall. She doesn't lead him by the fingertips to her bedroom.

She doesn't ask him to stay. He doesn't offer to leave.

He just stands next to her at the sink as she brushes her teeth, his thumbs tapping rapidly against the screen of his phone. She doesn't ask who he's texting. She spits, rinses, and wipes her mouth, leaves him in the unforgiving light of the bathroom where he looks older tonight than he did when she brought him coffee this morning in the golden dawn.

She's down to her bra and panties by the time his hands slide warm across her stomach, his arms encircling her as she stares out the window at the glowing lights of the city that never sleeps.

He turns her carefully, his hands rising to the clasp at her back. She starts on his buttons, stilling her movements when he slides both straps down her arms at the same time, baring her to him.

She watches his eyes, stormcloud gray and shadowed, watches as they fall shut and he leans forward to press his forehead to hers. She breathes with him, his large hands spreading over her ribs.

By unspoken agreement, they straighten after a moment, her fingers nimbly opening his last shirt button and dropping to his belt buckle as his palms coast down her sides and come to rest on her hips for a brief second before he hooks his thumbs under the edges of her panties and leans over to drag them down her legs, a long slide that leaves her breathless with the heat of his touch.

She returns the favor, her deft fingers finally tugging his belt free, sliding down his zipper, and pulling the fabric away from his skin to draw both pants and boxers down until they pool around his ankles.

Stepping back, she waits as he untangles himself from his clothes, pulling off his socks and dropping them to the floor, his shirt following suit as she seeks connection again, pushes the fabric off his shoulders.

Her small hands curl around his wrists, and she tugs him forward until they meet, front to front in silent stillness. His chin bumps against her temple, his skin rough with end of the day stubble, the muscles of his jaw twitching as if he wants to speak but doesn't quite know how.

His arms twist out of her grip and then he's surrounding her, his broad frame all she can feel, the tightness of his embrace an anchor amid her swirling thoughts and the pounding wave of her worries.

He walks her back until her thighs hit the bed.

And then he lays her down.

His body covers hers, an inch or two between their skins as he holds himself above her on knees and elbows, his warmth radiating down into her muscles, calming her racing heart, soothing the ache of questions and fear.

He kisses her then, gentle and firm all at once, taking what he needs and giving her everything he has in return. Twining her arms around his neck, she keeps him close when he tries to pull back. He stays, kisses her again. And again. And again.

Finally, she nuzzles into his cheek, buries her nose in the short hair over his ear and breathes in the scent of him, feels his hot exhales against her neck.

The moisture on her cheeks catches her off guard, but when he lifts up, his eyes register no surprise. He says nothing, doesn't try to ask her what's wrong, doesn't try to comfort her. She wonders if it's simply that there is nothing to be said.

Castle presses a kiss to her forehead, his lips soft, tender, and she clutches at his shoulders, her fingers flexing against his straining muscles. She closes her eyes, feels his lips descend upon her eyelids With his mouth he follows the trail of her tears to her cheek, to her nose, to her hairline.

When her face is dry once more, he shifts down, his skin brushing hers as his chin scrapes along the top of her breast and the wetness of his mouth heats her clavicle. She arches beneath him, and his right hand moves from its place next to her head to land on her side. He's holding her down, keeping her where he wants her, and a rush of arousal spreads through her veins.

She jerks against his hold as his mouth engulfs a peaked nipple, his tongue swiping at the puckered skin. Her slight whimper seems to drive him on and he switches to the other breast, floods her body with heat and want.

When she's completely breathless, he slides his mouth down the middle of her torso, lips and tongue gentle over her sternum, over the scar at the center of her chest. He nips at the curve of her belly button and her hips buck against his stomach, her body no longer under her control.

A string of kisses along the crease of her thigh leaves her panting, one hand twisting in the sheets, the other in his hair.

But then he slows, stops—short bursts of air bathe the heat of her as his thumbs press hard against her quads, holding her open to him. She feels him take a deep breath, props herself up on one elbow, her abs clenching with the strain. His eyes are shut, his cheek pressed to her thigh and his nose just barely brushing her dark curls.

The hand in his hair releases its tight grip, and she traces the shell of his ear until he opens his eyes, his blue, blue eyes.

He wants to take her someplace safe.

She can't let him.

She opens her mouth, but no words come out, none of the things she wants to say—confessions, regrets, declarations, hopes.

And then his mouth is on her, hot and devastating.

Pressing her into the mattress with his arms, he snakes one hand up to cover hers where it claws against the sheets, tangles their fingers as he works his lips over her, his tongue dipping into her, sliding against her, taking from her.

She'll gladly give him anything.

He is himself in his pursuit of her pleasure, so very Castle even in this. He throws himself headlong into the task, creative and easily distracted in one moment, flitting from place to place so quickly that she can't keep up. But in the next moment her whole body shudders, his dogged determination and single-mindedness surprising her.

When she's so close, so close, she cries out a wordless plea, and he complies.

Every sensation narrows to a single point, to the twist of his tongue, to the way he suckles at her. And then to the light behind her eyelids, white and blinding and nearly unbearable.

When she can breathe again, she opens her eyes to find him hovering over her, one hand still stroking between her legs, his eyes bright and fixed on her face. She smiles.

He kisses her.

She can feel the readiness of him against her stomach, can sense the restraint in his muscles and in the way he's working his lips gently against hers, waiting for her, putting her first.

Pulling her hand from the back of his neck, she throws her arm toward the nightstand, can't quite reach. But he gets the message, lifts himself away from her for a moment, and then returns before she has a chance to get cold.

She takes the packet from him, tears it open, and he straightens, kneeling between her spread legs. Sitting up, she takes him in hand, reveling in the breathy hiss and the low whine that break the silence as she touches him, strokes him, sheaths him.

And then she falls back to her elbows, all of her exposed to him, waiting for him. He doesn't move, just watches her, his eyes drifting over every vulnerable inch of her, his gaze so serious in the almost dark.

"Please," she murmurs when she can't take it any longer.

Bracing himself over her, he studies her face, and she wishes, she wishes she could read his mind. But then he drives into her, twin gasps escaping their throats at the hot slide, and everything else goes blank.

He moves deliberately, with long, slow strokes that she knows are designed to drive her insane, to ratchet up the pressure until neither of them can survive without release.

She reaches up with both hands, banding her arms around him and pressing her palms against this shoulder blades, forcing him closer until the only parts of them that separate when he moves are their hips.

Her mouth opens against his neck, and when she takes his earlobe between her teeth, she feels his reaction through every inch of her body, the length of him driving deeper, his pelvis rocking hard against hers as she keens.

He's methodical now, and she knows his brilliant mind is working just as hard in this moment as it does in front of a murder board or his laptop. Harder, perhaps, because she thinks that maybe, just maybe, she matters more to him.

She saw last night the way he catalogued her responses, filing them away for the future, for now—how she whimpers when he twists his hips this way, how her breathing changes when he slides one hand to her hip and changes their angles, how she sighs when he presses his lips against that spot below her ear.

He knows her.

Nudging her cheek with his nose, he feathers his lips over her skin until she drops her head back to the pillow to stare at him.

Oh, he loves her.

It bleeds out of him, dark and rich and utterly unmistakeable as his heart beats in counterpoint to hers, his thumb keeping rhythm at the core of her, the slap of his skin against hers joining the chorus of labored breathing and soft cries.

She tries to keep her eyes open, tries to keep her gaze fixed on his, but it's too much, too much, too much, and her eyelids fall shut, snap open, fall shut again as she breaks, as she shatters completely beneath him, around him, surrounded by him.

A guttural groan echoes in the silence as their hips meet again and he pulses inside of her, hot and thick, his body shuddering and drawing out the quivers of her own frame.

His forehead drops to the crook of her neck as he comes down from the high, his skin hot and slick with sweat. Lifting her hand from his back, she hooks her arm up over his shoulder, runs her fingers through his damp hair, cups the back of his head to hold him close.

He breathes heavy against her, the barrel of his chest pushing against hers, not allowing her skin to cool, keeping her warm and there with him. She feels his lips moving against her neck, silent promises and assurances—all the things he's already said out loud.

She wants him to stay, wants to keep this bubble of them intact. But he lifts up, slipping out of her, and rolls away, glancing back with a tender smile as he stands. She watches as he saunters toward her bathroom, something like grief churning in her stomach.

Closing her eyes, she tries to steady herself. And then he's back, his now cotton covered chest brushing against her arm as he slides into the bed beside her, his body curving around hers, his hand grasping at her fingers.

He presses his lips to her bare shoulder and nestles into the pillow next to her, all of him soft and solid and comforting and everything.

He's everything.

She waits until his breathing evens, his body still and warm in her bed. Carefully, she untangles their fingers and slips out from beneath the sheets, pulling the blanket back over his chest, making sure he's asleep and safe.

Quietly she tugs on dark clothes in the dark room, straps on her shoulder holster and picks up the ring. Her mother's face catches her eye, and she pauses, caught up. She stares at the pictures and then she stares at him. For a moment she stands at the foot of the bed, watching him sleep, completely unaware of what she's about to do.

Taking a deep breath, she walks away, but as she turns the doorknob, she looks back.

She doesn't want to go.

But she has to—

because she's not the only one who will never be safe.

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