A/N: Happy Independence Day to all who celebrate!

The crack and pop of the fireworks overhead has her shoulders instinctively tensing before she forces the bones to relax, inhaling a deep breath through her nose, and continuing her way past the festivities consuming their backyard. Kate steps through the twin french doors they left open, allowing the summer's cool night air to flood through the house, with relief spreading through her chest, ridiculous and unnecessary, but welcome as she enters the refuge of their Hamptons home.

Castle is in the kitchen, preparing another batch of drinks, red, white, and blue Independence Day themed cocktails, sparkling juices for the kids and her father.

"Hey," he grins, pausing in his creative concoctions of beverages to drape his palm at her waist when she joins him in front of the island.

"Hey lover," she murmurs, smirking at the spread of approval that elicits in his gaze.

He looks good tonight, especially good, their time in the Hamptons already showing on his skin, his hair, even his eyes. They always shined brighter after a couple of days in the sunlight, mimicking the cerulean shade of the ocean, the ethereal glow of the moon and glitter of stars amidst the blanket of the midnight sky.

Kate arches on her toes to stain a kiss to his mouth, languid and soft, but she doesn't protest when her husband cradles her cheek in his palm, tends to the surface of her mouth with the caress of his lips, the stroke of his tongue.

He sighs, breaking away to nudge his nose into the bone of her cheek. "We still have at least two more hours of entertaining, are you purposely trying to torture me?"

"Always," she chuckles, scratching her nails along the stubble decorating his jaw before descending back to the soles of her feet, pressing her thumb to the dip of his chin as his eyes open and his lashes lift to tangle with hers. "I actually came inside to go find Jake. Despite having Uncle Javi to distract him, Reece is worried."

"Ah, the twin senses are on high alert tonight," Castle murmurs, but Kate merely rolls her eyes.

"Or he just knows his brother is petrified of fireworks."

"You may have a point," Castle concedes, smudging one more kiss to the corner of her mouth before turning back towards the tray of drinks. "I'm surprised Lily hasn't come searching. She's usually the one to drag him out of hiding."

"Nicholas has been consuming the majority of her attention all of evening," Kate informs him with a small grin, glancing over her shoulder to see her daughter sandwiched between the two Ryan children, all three perched on the lawn beneath the sky of exploding lights overhead.

Castle huffs. "Eight year old boys are supposed to believe in cooties, not courting."

A laugh slips from her lips and Kate shakes her head, steps up behind him to touch a kiss to his nape. "It's Ryan's son, did you really expect any different? Besides, it's just a friendly little crush, Rick. At least wait until she's a teenager to worry."

"God, I am so afraid of a mini Rebel Becks."

"You never even knew the original," she scoffs, flicking his shoulder as she returns on her course towards the stairs.

"The only reason I would ever travel back in time," he sighs, wistful and dopey, making her heart swell with butterflies all over again, as if she hasn't already been married to the man for nearly a decade.

"Castle, we've already roleplayed that fantasy," she points out, but he simply shrugs in response.

"Wouldn't hurt to do it again."

"When we get home," she tosses over her shoulder, grinning at the spark of delight her promise ignites in his eyes, like the explosion of colors that burst through the sky in that moment, their accompanying boom of noise forcing her body still for a split second.

"Kate," he murmurs, pausing with the tray in his hands, ready to drop it for her, but she waves him off, throws him a reassuring smile just as she reaches the stairs.

Fireworks spooked her, they had for years prior and likely would for years to come, and it was an occasional hazard she had learned to live with, despite sometimes dreading the welcoming of a new year, the arrival of summer.

"I'm fine." And she was. Three gunshot wounds had taught her body to fear the eruption of noise, the blast of sound so familiar to that of a firing gun, but it wasn't so bad. Not anymore.

The first time they had celebrated the Fourth of July here in the Hamptons with his family, the unexpected show of fireworks the town put on every year had sent her escaping to the nearest windowless space, fighting off a panic attack in the guest bedroom's en suite.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Castle had whispered into her hair as he'd dropped to the tile floor in front of her, the cove of his body a welcome embrace, sanctuary from the insanity that had been her mind. "I didn't even think - I should have warned you-"

"It's okay," she had promised him, her face buried in his neck and her lips brushing the hollow of his throat as her heart had slammed against her chest, his too, shook them both. "Fourth of July equals fireworks, should have known that."

"We could have gone somewhere else, somewhere quiet," he had murmured, but Kate had shaken her head, refused to let past trauma ruin their holiday weekend.

"No, I like it here," she had breathed, her grip on his body bruising as another dull thunder of explosions had broken through the air, huffing at herself for the reaction, but Castle hadn't said a word, hadn't pointed out the contradiction between her statement and her actions. He had only held her tighter, stroked his fingers through her hair, and touched his lips to her ear until the noise had stopped.

"Castle, I'm fine," she promises again when his eyes fail to leave her, his feet still planted to the hardwood floor of the kitchen, hesitating. "But our boy is not, so you go serve the drinks while I check on him."

Rick's lips twitch and he nods at her, pride he tries to subdue shimmering in his gaze. "You call if you need me, either of you."

"Of course, babe," she replies, returning the gentle quirk of his lips before climbing the stairs to the second floor, listening to Castle's footsteps disappear outside while she ventures down the hall, towards the boys' room.

She knows Jake's hiding spot without having to search for it, catching sight of her little boy huddled in the corner between his bed and the wall, his knees to his chest, his arms folded atop, and his face down.

"Jake," she calls softly, watching his head lift, his dark eyes seeking her through the dim lighting of the room as she drifts towards one of the two twin beds. "Hey bud, what are you doing in here?" she murmurs, crouching down to Jake's level on the carpeted floor and holding out one of her hands.

Jake crawls towards her on his knees, rising up to wrap his arms around her neck, bury his face in the waves of her hair.

"Don't like the 'splosions, Mommy," he whispers, crowding against her chest, and Kate tightens her arms around her boy, lets him burrow until he feels safe and protected. "They're pretty, but they too loud. Scary."

"I know, baby," she hums, sympathizes, hopes her children never feel the same form of fear towards loud noises that she has. "They scare me too sometimes."

"You?" Jake breathes, squirming within the loose circle of her arms to stare up at her with wide eyes. "But you fight dragons."

Kate feels the corners of her mouth curl. Rick had been telling their kids stories about how she's fought dragons for years now. Lily had grown to understand that for the most part, monsters could just as easily be people, but Jake and Reece were still convinced their mother had slain a medieval beast.

"Maybe, but everyone's still afraid of something," Kate murmurs, combing back the mop of Jake's hair, flopping over his forehead just like his father's so often did. "And it's okay to have fears, but we can't let them control us."

Jake's brow creases into a deep furrow. "How not?"

"We have to face them," she informs him, retracting one of her hands from Jake's back to slip her fingers into the pocket of her white capris, presenting two pairs of neon colored earplugs in her palm. "Whenever I would get scared of the fireworks, your daddy would give me these. They don't make the noise stop, but they make it sound a little quieter so it isn't so scary."

Jake's brown eyes light up, a vibrant amber in the soft lighting of the bedroom, and he plucks the two green earplugs from her hand, examines the malleable material in his fingers.

"They're squishy," he laughs and Kate chuckles, takes one from Jake's fingers and eases it into the small opening of his ear.

"It's so they can fit in your ear, see?" she says, instructing him on how to put in the other on his own, adjust the silicone until it sits comfortably within his ear. "Better?"

Jake stands up, listening intently for the pop of a firework outside, gasping at the crackle of noise through the room.

"They're quiet!" Jake bounces on the toes of his sneakers. "I can barely hear them, Momma!"

"Does that mean you want to go watch them with me?" she asks, relishing in the illumination of joy that spreads across her son's face, the lifted burden from his shoulders as he throws his arms around her neck once more.

"Yes, let's - wait, you have to put yours in, Mommy," he reminds her, glancing down to the hand that still holds an extra set of bright pink earplugs, and normally, she wouldn't accept the crutch, not after so long, but to appease her son…

Kate slides each earplug into place, waits for Jake's nod of approval before banding her arm around his waist and standing from the carpeted floor to carry him down the stairs.

The show of fireworks is well under way, probably nearing its conclusion, the grand finale, but she strides out of the house with Jake in her arms, trotting towards their family, their friends, and setting her son down in the grass to join his siblings and the Ryans. But Jake pauses before taking off, beaming up at her in the moonlit darkness, the shower of lights shining down on them.

"Thank you, Mommy," he shouts to be heard, wrapping his arms around her knees before turning to race towards Reece, barreling into his brother, causing an explosion of giggles between the two, before plopping down onto the grass beside him.

She senses Castle approaching before she sees him, catches him pressing a kiss to the top of Alexis's head and squeezing his mother's shoulder while he makes his way to her. He must notice the pop of color in her ear, his eyes softening with a tender look that leaks down to his lips, tugs them into a smile that latches onto her heart, forces her mouth to mimic his.

She eases one of the earplugs out just as he reaches her.

"Worked for Jake too?"

"Perfectly," she nods, snaking her arm around his waist and admiring the rain of gold against the backdrop of the night sky surrounding him, framing his smiling face.

Castle had untangled from her embrace in the bathroom that night exactly a ten years ago, after his body had jolted with an idea, murmuring into her ear that he would be right back before racing out of the bathroom, causing a ruckus in the kitchen, but managing to return to her before the next firework could be shot into the air.

"Here," he had breathed with a smile, presenting her with the packaged set of earplugs he had kept in their kitchen's junk drawer for years. "Alexis used to be afraid of fireworks, so I bought her earplugs because I still wanted her to be able to see them. I can't believe I didn't think of this until now."

Kate had accepted the earplugs with her heart in her throat, her eyes stinging against her will.

"We could still catch the grand finale, if you want," he had suggested as she'd placed each plug into her ears, muting the world to a dull thrum, but she could still hear him, the welcome tenor of his voice caressing her senses. "Only if you want to, Kate. If not, I am more than happy to stay here-"

Beckett had cupped his cheeks in her hands, smeared a kiss to his mouth that overflowed with gratitude she'd hoped he could taste, and rested her forehead to his as she'd nodded.

"Let's go watch the fireworks, Castle."

She presses her smile to his again now before leading him towards their group of friends and family - Alexis and her fiancé curled up on a lounge chair together with Martha and her father a few feet away chatting near the grill still flaming with the remains of their barbecue dinner, Kevin and Jenny stretched out in the grass with Sarah Grace sitting beside her mother, holding her new cellphone out of reach when Jenny attempts to stop her from her texting. Lily has drifted onto her Aunt Lanie's chair, curled up into her side, while Jake and Reece marvel over the sky lit up in shades of reds, whites, blues, and golds, Esposito sitting behind them, pointing to each new explosion and sharing the twins' awe.

Castle drags her down into a lounge chair with him amidst the cluster of their family, her back against the broad wall of his chest and his long arms winding around her stomach. Kate sighs and splays her hands atop his, drags her nails through the golden hairs dusting his forearms.

"This may be our best Fourth of July party yet," he murmurs, resting his chin to the juncture between her neck and her shoulder.

She hums her agreement, takes in the sight of everyone they care about, the entirety of their family, all in once place beneath a sky full of shattering stars.

"Hey," she murmurs, turning her head to brush her lips to the edge of his eyebrow.

Castle tightens his arms around her. "Hmm?"

"Thank you." His brow furrows beneath her lips, but she doesn't give him the chance to question it. "Just for everything, Castle. Then and now."

He doesn't require an explanation, seems to understand her gratitude without doubt or hesitation, and he sighs out in contentment against her bare shoulder.

"Anytime, Kate. Every time."

She threads her fingers through his atop her abdomen and relaxes within the haven of his body at her back, indulges the sensation of sparklers fizzing through her bloodstream.

"And Castle," she states before she can give her full attention to the show of lights overhead, savor the last few minutes of the magic, and bites her bottom lip at the arch of his brow against her mouth. "I look forward to creating our own fireworks later tonight."