The fabric of her dress whispers against her legs as she skirts the edge of the ballroom floor, silently seeking her husband, the trio that she knows accompanies him – two cradled to his chest, the other bouncing on his heels in her party dress. A friend of her mother's, a female clerk from the firm Johanna had once worked for, who had known Kate since she was a little girl staying late with her mom after work, had caught sight of her twenty minutes ago, engaged her in an enthusiastic conversation. Castle had smeared a kiss to her temple, murmured something in her ear about taking Lily to dance.

It's nearing nine o'clock on a Saturday night now and she knows they'll need to depart soon, leave the responsibilities of the benefit honoring her mother in the trustworthy hands of her father while she and Castle put their kids to bed.

The golden sparkle of Lily's dress that she had chosen in hopes to match Kate, the flared tulle skirt that resembled a tutu, dazzles beneath the low light of the ballroom, snagging Kate's eyes. She grins at the sight of her daughter, the toes of her glittering Mary Janes balanced on the tops of Castle's shoes, her small hands gripping his large fingers, a brilliant smile illuminating her face. It matches her husband's, beaming down at his little girl, stepping side to side with her, ensuring she has her grip before he spins them.

Lily's laughter bubbles up from the dance floor, through the ballroom, and mingles with the music floating through the air, and her heart swells, presses against her ribs in a painfully pleasant way.

Her mother would have loved this. Every second of it.

"Detective Katherine Beckett." She turns at the quiet declaration of her name, the smooth unfurling of it in a British accent that vaguely registers as somewhat familiar in her head, and when she turns, she sees why. "Actually, Captain, correct?"

"Eric Vaughn," she greets as the other man approaches her, still looking exactly as he had over eight years ago, still wearing that charming smile and suave expression on his face. "Surprised to see you here."

His eyes sparkle, the flash of his smile illuminating the rich browns of his irises, and her gaze drifts to his left hand. No ring.

"Well, I'd heard of the scholarship fundraisers in honor of your mother multiple times over the years, but I was always away on business, never had the chance to stop in and participate until this year," he explains, his gaze roaming the interior of the room, approval splayed across his lips. "It truly is all the papers have praised it to be. I look forward to making a hefty contribution."

"Thank you," Kate murmurs, glancing back towards the dance floor in search of her little family. She can see her boys, Jake and Reece divided between Lanie and Esposito at one of the tables, her friends cradling her nine month old twins, but Castle and Lily seemed to have disappeared.

"I must say, Kate, you look utterly exquisite tonight," Vaughn compliments her, reeling her attention back to him, and she attempts to make a show of displaying her wedding ring as she reaches up to tuck the curls of her hair behind her ear, but the billionaire entrepreneur doesn't seem to notice. Or simply doesn't want to. Eric steps in closer to her. "Tell me, are you-"

"Kate." Finally. She turns her head just as Rick takes his place at her side, slips an arm around her waist that she knows all too well as a show of possession that he doesn't need, but tonight, she allows it, draping her hand atop the fingers curled at her hip. "You promised me a dance."

"Yeah, Mommy. It's your turn," Lily quips, releasing Castle's opposite hand to skip over to her and wrap her arms around Kate's thighs, oblivious to the man standing before the three of them, watching in barely suppressed surprise, disappointment. "And then Daddy said we can go home."

"Patience, Peanut," Rick chuckles under his breath, but Lily simply huffs at him, drops her cheek to her mother's waist.

Eric clears his throat and Kate glances back to him, senses Castle's gaze follow.

"Oh, how rude of me," he chides himself and she holds back the roll of her eyes, can hear the insincerity in his tone loud and clear. Richard Castle is making a statement to the man who had once tried to seduce her while she'd served as his temporary bodyguard during a case that was nearly a decade old, showing Vaughn who she's here with, how serious their relationship had become since their last encounter. "Mr. Vaughn, so good to see you again."

"Mr. Castle," Vaughn returns, offering his hand to her husband, but not before Lily's head is jerking towards the man, her brown eyes blown wide.

Kate cups her free hand to the back of her daughter's head, earns the upwards tilt of her chin. Her five year old looks shocked, as if she's just encountered a ghost.

"It's the Vaughnster," Lily whispers, hardly a whisper at all, and Eric's brow arches high, withdrawing his hand before Castle can accept the handshake.

"Excuse me?"

Lily's head turns back towards the man with her lips twisted into a displeased frown that actually causes Eric to shift uncomfortably in front of her.

"You're one of the bad guys in my daddy's stories," she accuses, the glare that she pins Vaughn with almost comical, and Kate would laugh if her cheeks weren't on the verge of catching fire.

Of course her husband had told their daughter stories that involved turning a man who had hit on her into a bad guy. Of course.

"Uh, Lily." Castle releases Beckett to bend at his knees, scoop their daughter into his arms, and murmurs something in her ear that has her giggling, squirming in his grasp before she's on her feet again, scurrying off towards a flash of red hair and a sky blue gown that she knows belongs to Alexis. "Sorry about that."

"I see your imagination is no less… active," Vaughn comments with a smile, but the curve of his lips is forced, the polite stature strained, and Kate curls her fingers through Rick's elbow, nudges his hip with hers towards the dance floor.

"And I see your attraction to my wife has failed to fade," Castle returns with a matching grin, the muscles of his arm bunched beneath her hand, and she's going to kill him.

"Castle-"

"Still a rather extraordinary woman from what I can see," Vaughn appraises, not the least bit thrown off by Castle's blunt statement. "A thriving career, an apparently successful marriage, a child-"

"Three children," Castle corrects, nodding towards their dozing little boys on the other side of the room, but still conveniently visible from where they stand. "You've met Lily. Our twins are a little less lively tonight."

Vaughn nods, his lips pursed, and she's had enough. But before she can intervene, tug Castle away towards the dance floor until they're shielded from the sidelines they currently stand on with Vaughn by the cluster of bodies moving to the music, he's talking again.

"But you're absolutely right," Rick concurs to his previous comment, his eyes tearing away from Vaughn, losing the ridiculous gleam of superiority and challenge once they settle on her, bleeding with a tender form of pride instead. "She's an extraordinary woman. And I've known it, always known it."

Her heart flutters, a familiar sensation of adoration for him, the man she loves, and she wants to use the advantage of her heels, dust a grateful kiss to his mouth, but not in front of Vaughn, not in a show of staking claim or flaunting her family in another man's face.

Kate squeezes Castle's arm and returns her attention to their uncomfortable guest, offers him a pursed lip smile, and begins to draw her husband away with her.

"It was nice to see you again, Eric. Thank you for coming," she murmurs, already guiding Castle out onto the floor, leaning into the splay of his warm palm at the small of her back.

"The pleasure is all mine, Kate." Vaughn flashes her one last winning smile before he's drifting off towards a waiter and a tray of bubbling champagne glasses, and Castle grunts in disapproval, in offense when her hands stray beneath his suit jacket and her fingers pinch him. Hard.

"Kate," he whines, swatting her hand from his side. He's lucky she isn't twisting his ear to the point of actual pain right now. "Ow, why-"

"You told our daughter stories that turned Vaughn into a villain?" she hisses, falling into a sway with him in a less populated corner of the ballroom floor.

"A Vaughnster," he corrects, jerking away from her when she pinches his waist again, but she has her arms hooked around his sides and he isn't going anywhere. "Okay, listen, I can explain-"

"Oh, I look forward to hearing this," she mutters, releasing him to lace her arms around his neck instead.

Castle's lips curl into a smirk as his hands frame her waist, his palms warm and suffusing heat through the shimmering gold fabric of her dress, and her body cants into him without her permission.

"Remember the triple homicide the boys worked and you oversaw a couple of months ago, had you staying late at the office?" he prompts and Kate nods, teases her fingers through the soft hair at the base of his skull. "Well, you know how Lily worries when you don't make it home before bedtime, so after I put the boys down, I would sit with her for a while, tell her stories."

"Yeah," she sighs, already familiar with the common occurrence of how her daughter copes when she's not back at the loft on time each night, the fear that one day Kate may not come home like she knows her Grandma Johanna never did sometimes leaking into Lily's head.

Castle brushes his knuckles up and down her spine, soothes her guilt without even speaking, and she strokes her thumb along the side of his neck in silent appreciation.

"One of the stories I made up involved you saving a village from an evil warlock-"

"Castle," she groans quietly, dropping her head to his shoulder as he chuckles low in her ear. "Seriously? And why Vaughn? We didn't even-"

"He'd been in the paper that week, another article praising him on his lifetime of accomplishments, and I never stopped hating his guts, so it seemed fitting at the time," Rick muses, the hint of bitterness in his voice surprising her. "And I never expected to actually run into him again after so many years, let alone for our daughter to meet him. Thought, I gotta admit, it was pretty fun to watch the guy squirm-"

"Rick," she scolds on a sigh, lifting her head to press her amusement to his cheek before it can slip free.

"But I do want to know how he still looks the same as the last time we saw him. I mean, is it not enough that he's a genius and a billionaire and one of the most interesting people on the planet? Literally-"

"Castle," she murmurs, pulling back just enough to see his face, to hold his gaze and ensure that he's listening to her. "He still isn't you. Doesn't even come close to you. Not in my eyes."

Their dancing has slowed to a simple swaying, his eyes rippling a brilliant blue in the gentle light of the chandeliers overhead, the affectionate shade of cerulean spreading through his features, eradicating doubts she can't believe he can still possesses.

"He's just always been impressive and when you had to work with him during that case… reminds me that you had a lot of options."

Her brow creases as her hand slips from his nape, descends downwards to rest atop his chest, above his heart to feel the nervous beat.

"There are no other options," she argues, her fingers curling in the lapel of his suit, her head shaking with the words. "There never were. I have you, Lily, Jake, and Reece, and I wouldn't trade that for the world. The life we have together, how I love you…" Kate releases a breath, drops her forehead against his and closes her eyes. "It's everything. You know that."

"I do," he murmurs, covering the hand on his chest with the cradle of his own. "And it's mutual, I just - never want to take it for granted, you."

She bites her bottom lip when it quirks, nuzzles her nose to his and feels his hand squeeze hers. They've known each other for thirteen years, been married for nearly seven of them, and it isn't the first time he's inadvertently allowed his unexpected insecurities to run free. He knows she loves him, that she's committed to him, that she's in this for the long haul, for always, but she doesn't mind reassuring him of it, reminding him.

"I never wondered, Castle," she whispers, brushing her lips to his cheek, his jaw, the corner of his mouth. "I got scared sometimes in the beginning, but I always knew. Nothing changed that, no one."

Castle's thumb strokes her knuckles when she kisses him, a soft caress of her lips, a seal of promise that he answers with one of his own.

"I never have to wonder, not with you."


A/N: Prompt: "What would happen if Castle and Beckett along with their 3 kids ran into Eric Vaughn."

Prompted by tshlw (tshlw dot tumblr dot com) and filled as a gift for her generous contribution to support dot chla dot org slash pages slash goodluckstana.