"Okay, the sitter will be here in ten minutes," Kate says, rushing to pack her bag, her heels and coffee balanced in one hand as she gathers files. "Can you get to the university in time if you hang out and wait for her?"

Castle takes the mug from her hand before the liquid can spill and stain her ivory blouse. "I'm good. Class doesn't start until ten thirty so naturally, I can wander in at ten forty-five and torture a bunch of undergrads."

She shakes her head, dropping her shoes to step into them. "Was that fun for you when you were in school?"

"Nope. But now that I'm on the other side and have all the power, it's pretty cool." He turns around just in time to see Jake using Reece as a ladder to get to the fridge. "Go, Mom. I'll handle mini you and the terrible two. Oh. Good band name there."

"You are not turning our children into a band," she insists as she slings her bag over her shoulder. "Kids, behave for Elizabeth today, okay?"

Castle manages to catch the twins as the two of them topple only to be tripped up by Lily as she runs around the breakfast bar.

"Mom! Can I come with you?" she begs, little hand holding tight to Kate's blazer. "Please!"

Kate crouches down, brushing a hand over her daughter's hair. "Gotta get dressed fast, Lil. Mom's running late."

The girl dashes off for the stairs promising to be quick.

"So," Kate says, finishing off her coffee as Castle redirects the twins' energy toward their train track looping around the living room. "I'm taking Lily which should make Elizabeth's life much easier."

"You going to be able to entertain her at work though?"

"Don't worry about the girls. Go wrangle some college students."

Lily reappears on the stairs, shoving her feet into sneakers. "Ready, ready, ready. Let's go, Mom!"

Kate leans over to kiss Castle goodbye before taking her seven year old's hand. "See you tonight, boys!"

They take the subway in, Lily sticking close to Kate even as she insists on standing by the pole herself, her body long used to the sway and bump of the trains through the underground tunnels. Once Kate opens the door to the precinct, Lily turns on her charm, chatting with the desk sergeant after going through the metal detectors and keeping the attention of one of the detectives from Vice in the elevator.

As Kate settles into her office with her paperwork and case reviews, Lily plops onto the couch with a coloring book and crayons that Kate will be finding between the cushions much like the couch at home.

By the time lunch rolls around, Lily is close to bouncing off the walls, acting more like her brothers than herself.

"Lil?" Kate asks, stopping her daughter from spinning in one of her detectives' chairs. "Want to go upstairs?"

"Yes, yes! Upstairs!"

Lily races up the flight of stairs across the precinct, headed straight to the locker room. By the time Kate turns the corner, Lily is halfway changed into a pair of leggings and t-shirt Kate keeps in the locker room for her, bouncing up and down as Kate changes into her own workout clothes.

Forty-five minutes later, Lily has mastered the eye gouge and has a nasty right hook started by the time Kate calls it quits for lunch.

"Remember," Kate says over a meal of peanut butter and jelly with potato chips from the vending machine. "No using hand-to-hand-"

"On my brothers," Lily sighs. "I promise."

"Mom, can I borrow your lipstick?" Lily shouts from her room, still leaning forward toward her mirror to put the perfect wing on her cateye.

Kate appears in the doorway, the exact right shade of lipstick in her hand. "No need to yell," she states, passing over the tube of lipstick.

"Okay, but how do you do that?"


Lily waves toward the doorway. "You know. Just show up two seconds after I call for you?"

Kate steps in, taking a comb from the pile of hair ties and brushes on the countertop. "I'm a mom. We've got a spidey sense about our kids."

"You sound like Dad," Lily scoffs, touching up the freshly applied lipstick as Kate plays with her daughter's hair, twisting it up into a low ponytail, a strand wrapped at the base to hide the hair tie and pinned into place with Kate's deft hand.

Her mother's chin comes to rest on Lily's shoulder and when she looks in the mirror, Lily swears she's seeing double. "You look beautiful, Lil."

Lily lets her head fall against Kate's, smiling at her reflection. "Had good genes to pull from with you and Dad," she deflects.

"No. You're beautiful all by yourself," Kate insists, pressing a light kiss to Lily's cheek. "But your dad will kill us if we make him late for his big night."

They both laugh as Lily grabs her clutch from the end of her bed. "We both know Dad takes way longer getting pretty than we do," Lily reminds her mother.

Both Reece and Jake are waiting on the couch, noses stuck in their phones until Kate taps them both on the head. "Boys, time to go."

"Papa est même pas encore prête," Reece mumbles as he gets to his feet.

Lily watches as her mother scolds her brother about using English at home as they all gather by the front door to wait for Kate to fetch their father.

She knows the saying, that the first love of daughters will always be their father and when Rick Castle comes out of her parents' bedroom, her mother's fingers caught in his hand, Lily gets it. Her dad aged well, his hair long gone grey but still as carefully styled as it was when she was little, and the glasses he finally caved to make him look distinguished in his tux.

"Everyone ready?" he asks, looping an arm around Kate's waist and tugging her close to his side. "Because the boys look handsome and my girls, well, they're drop-dead gorgeous."

The lot of them pile into the elevator before jostling for a seat in the back of the towncar waiting for them along the curb for the drive uptown to the Hayden Planetarium. The event feels like one of the hundreds she has attended for both of her parents. Pretty dresses and flutes of champagne being passed around and too much small talk. This time, she spends the evening talking about starting college and her latest win at a Krav Maga competition and she doesn't mind it too much, especially since her mother snuck her a glass of white wine during her second walk around the room.

After her father accepts his Pulitzer, Lily ducks away from the crowd to wander through the halls. She only has another month before she has to pack up everything from her room, her life and move to Washington DC for four years, not just a puddle-jump for her mother to attend a vote. It's terrifying and exciting and-


She turns, waiting against the wall for Nick to catch up with her. The man has all of the good-boy looks from his father with his mother's waving blond hair and ever since she was little, she's found Nicholas Ryan attractive. His natural charm is only enhanced by the navy suit he's wearing, the grey striped tie that hangs loose around his neck.

"I saw you leave," he greets, stepping in close to her. "Everything okay?"

Lily likes to think that she inherited her father's silver tongue but damn if Nick doesn't keep her tongue-tied. "Uh, yeah. Just needed a break."

They stand together down the side hallway, projected stars sparkling overhead and music leaking out of the huge party.

"Excited for Georgetown?" he asks after a couple of minutes.

Lily nods, shifting to face Nick. "Yeah. Dad's already going a little overboard on getting family time in before I move out."

"I remember that," Nick laughs. "It doesn't get better. Every fall, Mom and Dad were coddling me as if I were never coming back."

"At least Dad can just tag along with Mom when Congress is in session and visit. Bit harder to come up with an excuse for your parents to appear in Boston."

Nick shrugs, moving so the side of his polished shoe nudges at the toe of her heels. "I'm gonna miss you, Lil."

She doesn't have a chance to think before Nick cups her cheek, tilts her head up, and touches his mouth to hers. For a moment, she doesn't do anything until Nick steps forward, backing her against the wall.

And then she panics.

She punches him, her foot hooked around his calf so that the momentum carries him to his ass on the floor.

"Lily, what…?" he gasps, rubbing at his left cheek where her knuckles caught him.

"I… Nick, I'm so sorry," she stutters. "Are you okay?"

He sits up, still looking shellshocked. "I'm fine but Lil, why did you…?"

She steps back, holding out a hand to help him to his feet. "I don't know. I just… freaked."

"And that may have been a little out-of-the-blue," he admits, refusing to let go over her hand. "But you've gotta know that I like you, okay? Just, you know, before you move to DC."

Lily swallows the rising panic instead of socking him again. "All right. And I like you too but I'm leaving, Nick, and that's not the right time to start anything."

Nick leans in and Lily doesn't pull away as he kisses her cheek. "I'll wait around for you."

And somehow that scares her more than the idea of admitting that she might be falling in love for the first time and it's nothing like she expected.

She struggles for the first year. She thought she was going to be so good at this, able to walk through the Northwest Gate and own the place. She spends almost one night a week on the phone, sobbing and ranting to her mother about how bad she is at this job until Kate reminds her that she wouldn't have been chosen for the position if they didn't think she could excel.

(A month after she gets reamed out in front of her fellow teammates, she gets a note in the mail with her mother's beautiful handwriting across it. Life never delivers anything that we can't handle. She gets it framed and hangs it over her bed as a reminder to herself.)

But after that first year, she gets her feet under her and gets damn good. Even the older Secret Service agents look to her for input during some of the situations they plan for and finally, Lily feels like her mother might be right.

"Rook, you got eyes on Bluebird?" she hears through her earpiece.

It makes her growl, keeping pace with the First Lady as she makes the rounds at the fundraiser, staying close but not so close that Rachel Hanson feels crowded. "Told you not to call me that," Lily reminds her coworker even while smiling at one of the state representatives as they wander by.

Her gaze sweeps back over the guests, her eyes catching on a jumpy man skirting around the tables toward Rachel.

"Vanderhausen, you see him?" she asks, quickening her steps to get closer to the woman she vowed to protect.

The next half dozen seconds happens in slow motion.

Rachel is mid-laugh when the twitchy man shoves through the last crowd of people in his way. Lily hears the other agents shouting instructions in her ear but it fades into white noise as her training kicks in. Her gun is in her hand before she can consciously think to draw it but it's someone else's job to catch the guy. She pushes off on the ball of her foot and hits Rachel just as she hears the boom of a gun firing off, their bodies hitting the ground in a tumble.

"Got him," she hears as if through thick water as she lifts up off the First Lady.

"You okay, Mrs. Hanson?" Lily questions, crouching back onto her heels to give Rachel room.

Rachel grimaces, rubbing at her elbow where it must have smashed into the floor. "Yeah but I don't think you are, Lily."

It's only then once the danger has been neutralized that she feels the burn through her abdomen and her questing fingers come away sticky and red.

She hears Rachel calling for help a moment before hands cover the wound and press down hard, a strangled whimper escaping even as she passes out.

Oh god, it hurts is her first thought when she wakes up.

A pained groan vibrates through her throat, her brow furrowing as she squeezes her eyes shut as if it could block out the pain.

"Lily?" someone asks from her side and the bed dips as the person leans onto the mattress. "You awake, sweetie?"

"Mom?" she mumbles, her head turning to the right on the overstuffed pillow. "Feel sick."

Her mother's cool fingers brush across her forehead. "Yeah, that's the anesthesia. Gonna be like that for a little bit."

"Got shot," Lily whispers, her voice weak. "Mrs. Hanson okay?"

"Did your job, Lil. She's fine."

"Mmm… good." And then she fades back out.

The next time she wakes up, both of her parents are asleep on the tiny loveseat across from the bed and the curtains are closed to the moonlight outside.

Her stomach feels thick and heavy. She curls her fingers up to investigate the feeling and winces when she presses down on the bandage.

"Hey, hey. Don't poke at it," a familiar voice murmurs, catching her hand and lowering it gently to the bed.

Just his voice has her sucking in a shuddering breath and unable to stop the tears from falling over her cheeks. "Nick, what're you doing here?" she chokes out.

Nick leans back, grabs a tissue, and wipes at her face. "My best girl got shot. Nothing was going to keep me from you."

"Your job…"

He laughs, scooting the uncomfortable visitor's chair closer. "I think the NYPD can operate one detective short for a couple of days."

"'m cold," Lily sighs and Nick's hand disappears to grab another blanket, carefully tucking it up to her chest.

"Better?" he asks.

When she opens her eyes to answer, he's right there. "Yep," she says a moment before he kisses her so lightly she swears she imagined it. "Let's go on a date. A real one."

"You're a little laid up, baby," he responds.

Lily wants to smack him the way her mother smacks her father's head when he's being an idiot. "After. Wanna be able to do things to you. And I'm not your baby."

Nick's head whips around, making sure her parents are still asleep. "Lil, shush."

She can feel the dopey grin on her face but can't stop it, the drugs already pulling her back into sleep but she fumbles for his hand, clutching at it once she finds him. "Nick. Nick, I love you."

Lily's phone rings in the middle of the night and she rolls over to grab it, the scar on her stomach pulling as she answers.

"This is Castle," she mumbles, struggling to wake up.

"Lily, it's Dad. Something's happened."

She's up before he's done talking, the phone on speaker as she runs for the closet for clothes. "Is it Mom? Dad, is Mom okay?"

"Mom's fine," her father reassures her as she hops on one foot trying to get into her jeans. "And your brothers are fine too."

"Okay," Lily sighs in relief, standing in the middle of her bedroom, dressed and ready. "Then what?"

Her father hesitates on the other end of the phone and Lily is a second away from yelling at him like she did when she was a teenage when he finally speaks. "Nick was shot. Critical condition at Presbyterian."

"I'm coming home," she says, already fumbling for her duffel bag, checking the clothes and essentials that live in her go-bag.

"You've got a seat on the next flight out of Reagan," he promises. "Reece is going to pick up up at LaGuardia and get you to Pres."

As soon as she hangs up the phone, Lily slides on the leather jacket her mother bought her for graduation, grabs her bag, and starts jogging down her block for the Metro.

The waiting room is crowded with their family, bodies in every chair with a few people on the floor playing with the babies, but they all look up when she stumbles through the elevator doors.

"Where is he?" she manages, her tears returned after she thought she had them tamed on the car ride over, Reece pointedly ignore his sister's quiet sobbing. When no one speaks, Lily forces herself to swallow down the need to scream. "Please. Where's Nick?"

Sarah's the first one to talk, stepping forward to wrap Lily in a hard hug. "He just got a room, moved there after they finished operating. He's holding on."

"Can I… Can I see him?"

Her boyfriend's sister takes her hand, tugging her down the hall a couple of steps away from the eyes in the waiting room. "Lil, he's going to look bad. Really, really bad. But the doctors think he has a good chance with recovery so just keep that in mind, all right?"

Lily follows in a haze as Sarah brings her to a room, a glimpse of the end of a bed visible through the slim window in the closed door. She murmurs her thanks to Sarah before stepping inside.

Uncle Kevin and Aunt Jenny are huddled in a too-small armchair at the bedside and both of them startle when the door clicks shut.

"Lily," Jenny sighs, clambering off her husband's lap to pull Lily in for a hug. "You came."

She can't look away from her boyfriend there in the bed.

This is what he had to have felt like last year when he drove four hours to see her in the hospital.

It makes her sick.

"Of course I came," she finally responds. "What happened? Dad didn't tell me."

It's Kevin who goes through the events, the details cut and dry. A police report about a Robbery take-down gone south, the guilty man panicking when the cops rushed his apartment and started shooting. That one of Nick's fellow detectives went down in the line of fire and he refused to leave his man out in the open and went after him.

His bulletproof vest didn't protect against the shot to his shoulder or the two deep grazes on his legs.

"Can I stay?" she asks, reaching for the plastic folding chair propped against the wall. "I need to… I just want to see him."

She collapses into the chair, brushing her fingers along Nick's arm, careful of the IV taped down at his elbow. His left shoulder is thick with bandages and she can see the lumps of gauze on his legs under the thin hospital blanket, his face pale with blood-loss.

Lily drops her head onto the bed, her hair tumbling over his hand and her lips at his knuckles. "You have to be okay, Nicholas Ryan, you hear me?"

"Lily? What're you doin' here?"

His quiet voice pulls her out of the first bit of sleep she has gotten in two days, curled up on the armchair with a blanket her mother tucked up to her chin. But when he calls her name again, she stumbles out of the chair toward the hospital bed.

"You're awake," she breathes, her hands shaking when she drags her fingers through his hair. "Scared the shit of out me, Nick."

He laughs, wincing when it pulls something. "Turnabout," he groans. "You came up here? For me?"

She wants to smack him. "I love you, you idiot. Didn't you do the same thing for me just last year?"

"Mmm, yeah, I did." His grin is loose and lopsided when he looks up at her, his right hand snagging the ends of her hair. "Gonna kiss me, baby?"

Lily tries a glare but the expression that had her brothers cowering when they were little just makes him smile wider. "Not your baby, Nicholas," she mutters in reminder as she leans down to press a rough, punishing kiss to his expectant mouth.

She pulls away when one of the nurses comes in, checking his blood pressure and pain levels before leaving them alone once more.

When she sits back in the folding chair, Lily swallows down the remaining fear and takes Nick's right hand between both of hers. "Nick, will you marry me?"

"Got a ring for me?" he jokes but it falls flat when she reaches into her back pocket and holds out his father's wedding ring.

"Yeah, I do."

He watches her and she hopes he sees how absolutely serious she is about this. And she is. This isn't a knee-jerk reaction to his getting shot, though she did only ask Uncle Kevin about using his ring yesterday and got both of his parents' blessing to ask him.

Finally, he turns his hand over and tickles the cup of her palm, scratching along the smooth silver of the wedding band. "Yes. Of course I'll marry you, Lily Castle."

"Good," she laughs, surging up onto her palms to kiss him, his hand clutching at her hip.

"Not just because I got injured, right?" he asks after she slides Kevin's ring onto the fourth finger of his right hand, the left still swollen from the trauma.

Lily hasn't moved, leaning over him so he's forced to look at her. "I have loved you since I was eighteen and you kissed me at the planetarium-"

"And then you punched me," he reminds, interrupting her with a soft smile.

"So no," she promises. "This isn't just because you decided to be a hero. It's because I can't imagine my life without you in it."

He pushes up and she ignores the wince of pain as he kisses her. "No more hospital beds for a while, though."

"We'll do our best, okay?"

Nick hums as he starts to fall back asleep. "Love you, Mrs. Ryan."

"Love you too, Mr. Castle," Lily whispers as she kisses his cheek gently.