The Rules of Every Successful Merger

Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Rating: T

Spoiler: Approximately one year after 2.24 for Castle and 2.21 for The Mentalist.

A/N: I have thought about doing a crossover one shot for these two TV shows for a really long time, so imagine my simultaneous horror and joy when lil_smiles requested one and said she'd even love her recipient for it! After that I was convinced that I had to do it. I only hope that everyone likes it as much as it ultimately drove me crazy and made me love it. As always, thank you to Heather who betaed this monster and significantly improved it!

xxx

After working for so many years on the same floor of the CBI, napping on the same couch, and being surrounded by pretty much the same people, Jane can tell with his eyes closed everything that's going on the bullpen and surrounding hallway.

As a matter of fact, when he's bored and sleep is particularly elusive, he makes it a game of sorts, isolating footsteps and matching them to faces. He's usually almost always right.

However, once in a while there are footsteps that he doesn't recognize, and although that usually doesn't bother him, this time, the persistent male gait heading in the direction of Lisbon's office perturbs the consultant enough that he cranks open one eye, then the other, before finally sitting up on his leather sofa, gaze adjusting to the natural midday light pouring in from the open windows.

The sight that greets him is rather amusing. Van Pelt's hands still in mid-type on top of the keyboard while her gaze stays frozen on Lisbon's office where a dark haired man and their boss are talking animatedly.

At that moment, Andrea, the intern from the mailroom wheels her cart in and Van Pelt grabs her by the arm, directing her gaze to Lisbon's office as well.

"Is that who I think it is?" The younger woman whispers in disbelief and Van Pelt nods excitedly.

"I think so."

There's a moment of anticipation, before the two women look at each other, their smiles unprecedented.

"Your boss knows Richard Castle?"

The muted shrieking that ensues is positively amusing, and Jane finds himself leaping off the couch before he can register the movement. Rigsby, who just walks in at the tail of the conversation, looks confusedly at the two women, "Who's Rick Castle?" He asks rather loudly and Van Pelt spins around on her chair to shush him.

"He's only the best crime novelist ever," Andrea explains, mail cart all but forgotten.

"So?" Rigsby scratches the back of his head, not making the connection.

"So he's in Lisbon's office right now." Van Pelt adds excitedly, then surreptitiously opens her drawer to reveal a copy of Castle's latest novel.

"Oh," Rigsby's eyes light up in recognition, "The guy in Lisbon's office? He's really nice. I think he and his girl got lost looking for boss's office, so I helped them out."

"Oh my god," Andrea nearly squeals, clasping her hands together. "You actually spoke to him?"

Rigsby quirks an eyebrow at the eager 22-year-old, still not understanding the significance of the seemingly normal conversation he just had with the couple. Fortunately, Jane quickly interjects.

Despite his lack of interest in crime reading, Jane has heard the name Richard Castle before, knows who the man is. He is initially surprised to find that from the looks of it, Lisbon has been holding out on him regarding her friendships with famous authors. However, he doesn't dwell on it for long; instead finding it rather amusing to watch Van Pelt, who, despite her usual professionalism, fails to conceal her delight.

"You said he came with a woman?" Jane asks Rigsby, who nods enthusiastically.

"Yeah, I showed her where the restroom is. She mentioned something about a long drive from San Francisco. Very pretty." His eyes flicker to the hallway and he points, "There she is."

Four sets of eyes turn to the hallway, where a tall, slender redhead passes the bullpen on her way to Lisbon's office. From the first glance, Jane can tell that she's a detective, comfortable in her surroundings, and carrying herself with an air of confidence but approachability. She's also very attractive in an almost atypical way with dark auburn hair, fair skin, and a sparkle in her hazel eyes that reminds Jane of a certain senior agent.

"Oh my god, so it's true." Andrea shrieks again and this time even Van Pelt tries to calm her, though the older woman's excitement is unmistakable in the way she clutches the hardback to her chest.

"I guess it is." Van Pelt concurs, relaxing into her chair with quiet wonder.

"Uh, what's true?" Rigsby asks upon realizing that neither woman will be elaborating in the near future.

Van Pelt spins around to answer him, but Jane beats her to it.

"Uh, it's true that Rick Castle is actually dating the detective who inspired the Nikki Heat series."

Andrea and Van Pelt both look at him with similar expressions of surprise, "You read Castle's books?" The intern asks in disbelief, but Van Pelt, who has had some experience working with Jane, just shakes her head.

"No, he probably read it in the way she walked or something."

The jab earns a snicker from Rigsby and a triumphant smile from Van Pelt, but Jane remains unfettered.

"Actually, the only thing I surmised from her walk is that she's obviously in law enforcement. Everything else, I learned from the internet. I don't live under a rock you know." He glances only briefly over at Rigsby.

"Hey, I do not live under a rock!" The detective insists, affronted.

"Yeah, you kind of do." Jane shrugs, while balancing on his heels, watching the woman make her way into Lisbon's office.

"Do not!" Rigsby counters, indignant.

"Do too." Jane replies more calmly, his cool façade belying the childish retort.

"Do not." Rigsby frowns, crossing his arms.

Van Pelt and Andrea exchange annoyed looks, and before Jane can rejoin, the redhead stops them.

"Stop acting like children," she reprimands.

"He started it."

"Gee, thanks Rigsby." Jane feigns annoyance before striding out of the bullpen.

"Your fault." Rigsby mumbles begrudgingly.

"Hey, where are you going?" Van Pelt calls after Jane in a loud whisper.

"Oh well I don't know about you," he answers, a sly grin on his face. "But I find it insulting when people do not introduce me to their friends."

Turning on his heel, he leaves the group behind, his destination clear.

xxx

After the initial shock wears off, Lisbon can't help but mutely watch as the man in front of her admires her office.

It dawns on her that he's never been in here before.

"Wow, how long has it been?" She thinks out loud, catching the writer's attention. He smiles at her with nothing but adoration, stepping closer to her. "It's been way too long."

They hold each other's gazes for a moment, green on gray, reading each other like only close friends can, even after years of physical separation. Despite being on opposite coasts, they keep in regular contact with weekly phone calls and email. Lisbon would never admit it, but she has every single copy of Rick's books stashed away in her closet, as well as every review, good or bad, that he's ever received.

She's not ashamed of her friendship with the famous novelist, if anything she feels an inward sense of pride for knowing the man behind the best-selling novels. However, it's not something she wants to get out, knowing the hysteria that would ensue if any one of her friends or someone (Jane) from her unit found out about her friendship with Richard Castle.

Realizing that she's been completely silent for a suspicious amount of time, Lisbon blinks the thoughts away and gives her visitor a bright smile.

"You did not tell me you'd be making a stop here on your little impromptu vacation," she reminds him, feigning annoyance but Rick seems merely amused, fingering a chess piece as he grins at her.

"What kind of a surprise would that be? Besides, I knew if I told you, you'd take a day off and haul Kate and me somewhere clandestine and I really wanted to see where you work."

"So this was an ambush then?" Lisbon raises an eyebrow, folding her arms over her chest in question. Instead of being intimidated by it, Castle simply walks over to her and flings an arm over her shoulder.

"Oh c'mon, I just wanted to see my favorite detective in action, that's all."

"Favorite detective, eh?" Lisbon looks at him out of the corner of her eye, "I don't think Kate would appreciate that."

"Well you're my favorite best friend detective and she's my favorite girlfriend detective, there's a difference and we've discussed it, so no worries about that." Castle replies with a grin and Lisbon can't help returning it, reminded once again how easily one of her oldest friends can win her over with just a smile. It fleetingly reminds her of someone else.

"Where is Kate anyway? Did she finally manage to escape you?" She teases, jabbing Castle playfully in the ribs before pushing off the desk.

"First of all, I resent that. And second of all, there she is."

Lisbon barely has time to register the look of adoration on Rick's face before a knock sounds through the room, "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

She's seen the detective in pictures before, has listened to Rick go on and on about her, whether he was conscious of it or not, and has read the novels based around the character inspired by her, but actually meeting Detective Kate Beckett in person leaves Lisbon with little doubt as to why the slightly womanizing Richard Castle is so smitten by her.

It's not just her looks, but the way her dark hazel eyes reflect both warmth and edginess, confirming everything Rick and Alexis have said about her. Still, Lisbon does notice a flicker of nerves in the woman standing awkwardly in her doorway, but before she can greet her properly, Rick steps in, pulling Kate into the room with a wide smile.

"Nonsense, we were just talking about you, anyway," he says with a twinkling eye and Kate sighs almost knowingly, diverting her gaze to Lisbon.

"I do hope it's not all terrible." She smiles softly, a flash of anxiety in her demeanor.

"Oh not at all. But, if he does start being mean, I have plenty of dirt on him." Lisbon smiles conspiratorially and Kate relaxes, looking at Castle.

"Good to know."

Castle looks alarmed for a moment, before sighing dramatically, "I'm beginning to think introducing you two wasn't such a good idea."

Lisbon rolls her eyes, shooting Kate a smile before glaring at her friend. "Well for that to be a problem, you'd have to actually introduce us, and you haven't. I'm going to have a talk with Alexis about teaching you some manners."

"My daughter teaching me manners?" Castle deadpans, gaze flitting between the two women.

Kate turns to face him, hand resting on her hip now, and with Lisbon standing with an equally incredulous expression on her face, Castle momentarily wonders how is that he can surround himself with such tough as nails women and still remain intact.

"Oh please, Alexis practically raised you," Kate reminds him and Castle sighs, a wistful smile on his face as he thinks about his daughter.

"But now that she's off to Europe for the summer and then college, no more raising dad for me."

He puts on his best puppy dog face, but apparently it's not as effective when the two detectives are together and they only chuckle quietly to themselves, equally amused by his show of dramatics.

Castle continues to pout, slumping against Lisbon's desk, but eventually the light laughter dies down and Lisbon clears her throat, intent on asking how long they're staying when another voice preempts her, reminding her that most likely everyone in the building, never mind the entire floor, probably knows the Richard Castle is in her office.

"You know for all your talk about manners, I am quite insulted that you haven't introduced me to your friends here," Jane announces as he walks into the room.

Three sets of eyes settle on him, one gaze fleeting with recognition and the other with surprise, while Lisbon just rolls hers, walking around to her desk.

"It's rude to eavesdrop too, Jane."

"I was not eavesdropping." The blond takes offense, hand pressed against his vest in an effort to look mortally wounded. "You were talking loudly and Rick here was obviously outnumbered."

Lisbon fixes him with a pointed stare while Kate and Castle exchange amused looks. She's about to retort, but Castle swoops in yet again.

"Thanks for coming to my rescue; I'm Richard Castle. You must be the insufferable consultant I hear so much about." Castle steps forward to shake Jane's hand, winking in retaliation at Lisbon, who has a prominent scowl on her face.

"Patrick Jane, pleased to meet you." Jane returns the gesture, and then looks over at Lisbon with a knowing twinkle in his eye. "Talking about me, I see."

"Complaining about you," Lisbon clarifies, dark green eyes settling warningly on both men and Jane retreats, albeit with a smirk. He turns his attention back to Castle, who beams triumphantly at the detective behind him and his eyes drift momentarily to the auburn haired woman standing quietly but amusedly to the side.

"Ah, you must be the living inspiration for Nikki Heat. It's a pleasure."

She smiles and nods, "Yes, Nikki Heat in the flesh, Kate Beckett."

Her gaze is strong and confident, but Jane doesn't miss the flicker of annoyance or the intonation with which she acknowledges her fictional counterpart's name; it intrigues him immensely.

However, from her position behind her desk, Lisbon can see that familiar hint of excitement that washes over him before he's about to reveal something embarrassing or private about someone, so she quickly halts him.

"Jane, you better not."

"Better not what?" He looks over at her innocently, but Lisbon just huffs her disapproval.

"You know what." She narrows her eyes at him, but Jane continues to feign innocence, refusing to break his gaze.

"Oh my god," Castle nudges Kate good-naturedly. "He was totally going to read you until T ruined it."

Lisbon nearly groans at Castle's excitement and Jane's flattered expression, suddenly realizing that these two meeting is probably a terrible idea.

Drawing a blank, Kate glances over at Castle, then at Lisbon, "Should I be relieved?"

"No." Jane interjects at the same time as Lisbon says, "yes," and walks around to stand next to Jane.

"You will behave yourself," she reprimands and Castle nearly bounces in excitement in front of her.

"You have to do me, this is so cool." He glances over at Kate, who merely raises an eyebrow, mirroring the same look Lisbon has as she first cautions Jane not to do it, then turns to Castle.

"He's not doing anything of the sort. Don't make me regret telling you things," she says pointedly, and Castle pouts, disappointment oozing out of him.

"That's not fair," he grumbles, settling himself closer to Kate, as if asking for comfort. She only chuckles in response.

"You tell him things." Jane's face lights up in delight and Lisbon returns her gaze back to the blond, eyes narrowed. "What kind of things?" He asks curiously and Lisbon has half the mind to physically kick him out of her office.

Luckily, in that very moment, her eyes catch her desk clock and she realizes with a little chagrin that she has somewhere to be.

"Damn," she murmurs and Jane's eyes grow concerned for a moment, before realization flickers over them.

"You have the McKenna deposition today, huh?" He says softly, and Lisbon nods, frowning.

He looks on sympathetically, knowing she would much rather prefer to take the rest of the afternoon off to spend some time with Castle and Kate. He's still not completely certain of the particulars of their acquaintance, but it's obvious that Lisbon and the author have had a long friendship, probably for many years, and a part of him is disappointed on her behalf.

Neither notices Castle and Kate exchange surprised but knowing glances with each other as they watch Lisbon and Jane silently interact, a vast distinction from the playfulness between them moments earlier.

"Pesky little job requirements," Jane mumbles, then turns to the couple. "I'd ditch them, but Lisbon here, well there's a reason why she has her big, fancy office while I get a battered brown couch and a desk," he explains dramatically and Kate actually stifles a laugh at his forlorn expression.

"Oh shush, you." Lisbon shakes her head at him, lips curving upward as she turns to her visitors again. "I do have to be in court for a few hours today. How about dinner though? My place?"

"That's an excellent idea." Jane concurs excitedly, but Lisbon throws him an annoyed side glance.

"Who says you're invited?" She asks, folding her arms over her chest, but this time Jane doesn't retort.

"Dinner sounds great. I had a few places I wanted to show Kate, so it works out perfectly, and regardless of what T says, I'd love to have you there, Patrick."

Lisbon nearly gawks at Castle as he finishes speaking, resisting the urge to hit him upside the head. A few minutes with Jane and Castle in a room is one thing, but a whole dinner…

She can't even fathom it, but it seems out of her control now. Over Castle's shoulder, Kate sends her a sympathetic look and Lisbon decides right then and there that it could be worse. At least with Kate there, she'll have someone with mental age of over five to talk to.

"Alright, it's settled then." Jane clasps his hands together in triumph, purposefully avoiding Lisbon's displeased gaze. Still, he knows that she can't stay upset for too long.

"Shall we say sevenish?" Castle asks, hazarding a cautious glance at Lisbon, who still looks immensely annoyed.

"Sure and just for your gracious invitation," she begins, walking around her desk to gather the documents she needs for court. "Jane can be the one to rescue you from your group of admirers." She smiles almost wickedly, while gesturing to the bullpen, where it appears that almost all the female CBI employees have gathered, with copies of Castle's novels in tow.

The look of surprise on Castle's face is priceless, even if it dissolves quickly into his showmanship grin.

"Kate, shall I walk you out?" Lisbon asks, purposefully sidestepping both men to approach the taller woman.

Casting an amused glance at Castle and Jane, the redhead smiles and nods, "With pleasure, Agent Lisbon."

"Please, call me Teresa." Lisbon suggests, and both women walk away triumphantly, laughing over their shoulders at the two men, still in the office, trying to wade through the crowd of fans.

"No alternate escape route, huh?" Castle asks only half jokingly.

"Not that I know of, my friend." Jane shakes his head, "I can do a quick hypnosis on some of them though," he suggests and Castle looks at him with a newfound twinkle of enthusiasm.

"You are so on."

xxx

Court runs late as usual and by the time Lisbon stumbles through her front door, she has less than an hour to figure out what to do for dinner. Despite Rick's penchant for being fashionably late to almost everything he's invited to, she doesn't risk the long supermarket lines, especially on a Friday evening, and hopes Kate will appreciate Chinese takeout.

She's in the middle of unloading the files she'd brought home from work, when a strong but pleasant smell wafts from the kitchen, and it's only then that she realizes that someone is actually inside her home.

One peek at the culprit and she gives up on sorting her things and heads towards the sink, set on retrieving the bottle of wine she keeps in the cupboard there. As appreciative as she is that dinner is taken care of, being unaware that her house was broken into is a little annoying, especially considering who her unannounced guest is.

"You know breaking and entering is considered a crime, Jane." Lisbon says matter-of-factly as she locates the coveted bottle of wine, then goes in search of glasses.

"It's not, when I know where the key is," Jane replies cheekily, deterring any retort from Lisbon by placing a wooden spoon of something very warm and very good between her slightly parted lips. He watches in quiet marvel as she tastes the offer, pink tongue running across her lower lip as she hums in approval.

"Good?" He asks, unable to avert his gaze from her mouth.

Lisbon nods, tips some wine into one of four glasses, and takes a hefty sip from it.

"Very." She adds afterwards, savoring the tart flavor of the spirit.

She pours Jane a glass too, as she contemplates which plates to put out. It's been so long since she's had someone over for dinner. Well officially at least, she thinks, as she looks over at the man humming to himself as he continues to stir the pot of risotto.

"I should go change," she muses, handing him the wineglass.

"Okay, everything should be done just in time," Jane reassures, taking a peek into the oven from where a delicious aroma escapes. It makes Lisbon pause at the stairs, a hint of appreciation sinking in. It is actually kind of nice of him to do this, very sweet.

"Hey, Jane," she calls to him and he peers out of the kitchen, looking ten years younger with his face ruddy from the warmth of the oven,

"Yeah?"

"I do appreciate you saving me from choosing between frozen lasagna and Chinese takeout, but this better not be because you hypnotized half the female employees at work."

As grateful as Lisbon is, she also knows Jane pretty well.

He feigns offence of course, almost gasping for dramatics. "I am appalled by your baseless accusation, Lisbon."

She merely rolls her eyes in response, ascending the stairs this time.

"Sure you are." She smirks to herself.

xxx

Lisbon emerges just a few minutes later in a pair of dark jeans and a soft green sweater. Despite the chill of the evening, the work in the kitchen has warmed up the downstairs and she props open the window that leads out to her porch, pushing the curtain back. Jane is busy setting the table, saving her the trouble of deciding which place settings to use as he pulls out her nicer china.

"So, how come you never told me about your friendship with the famous Richard Castle?" He asks somewhat teasingly, from his position by the table.

Lisbon, expecting this line of inquiry at some point, tears her gaze away from the window and shrugs. "Contrary to your belief, I don't always like you knowing everything about me."

"Really?" Jane raises his eyebrows.

"Yes, really." Lisbon smirks in response, making her way back into the kitchen.

"Hmm," Jane ponders, as he finishes laying out the dinnerware. "At least now I have an explanation for the Castle shrine in your closet. I was beginning to think you had a problem."

Initially, Lisbon is surprised that Jane knows, but it quickly fades upon the realization that it is Jane after all. She wouldn't put it past him if he knew about her friendship with Rick all along.

"Well imagine my relief that your confidence in my sanity has been restored." She retorts before searching her refrigerator for salad ingredients.

"There's no need to be so sarcastic, dear. Sanity is important." Jane declares, while Lisbon ignores him, placing a large bell pepper under the water stream.

Jane lets her be after that and they work in companionable silence for a few moments until his curiosity overpowers his resolve.

"So are you even going to tell me how you two met?" Jane probes casually, even though he's dying to know.

Lisbon grins to herself, aware that Jane may not be so appreciative of her next words.

"Let's just say you're not my first consultant."

Catching Jane off guard is a rare but gratifying experience and Lisbon takes reprieve from her chopping duties to revel in the confused expression on Jane's face.

"You must elaborate," he says with narrowed eyes and Lisbon can't help laughing.

She wipes her hands on a nearby dishtowel and leans against the counter to face him. Jane doesn't miss the nostalgia in her eye as she begins to talk.

"It must have been my second or third homicide working with the SFPD. A young girl was brutally raped and murdered, body dumped in an alleyway in Chinatown. Rick was on his second book tour I think, and he'd been the one to stumble upon the body. At that point, he was pretty popular already and somehow got the insane idea that he wanted to shadow our investigation, since he found the girl. He called it "research" for his next novel."

Lisbon can't help smiling at the memory, remembering her first encounter with the charming but arrogant young writer, riding high on the wave of his early literary success.

"Till this day, I have no idea how he managed to convince the chief to let him do it, but he did. Since I was the rookie and Bosco wasn't exactly fond of having someone like Richard Castle involved in such a grisly investigation, he gave me the task of basically babysitting Rick."

Lisbon pauses then as Jane chuckles amusedly, "What is it about you, Teresa Lisbon that makes your superiors assign you the task of controlling unruly yet intriguing men?"

"I have no idea," Lisbon admits, smile fading as she holds Jane's gaze. Eventually, she looks away, continuing, "I thought it would be annoying as hell and a waste of my time, considering how cocky and incorrigible he was back then, still is." She muses humorously.

"I'm assuming no one was seriously injured as a result of Castle's involvement?"

"Surprisingly, he was actually quite helpful. The murder was tied to a small underground Asian gang and Rick found a clever, albeit dangerous way of luring them out."

"I bet Bosco didn't appreciate that," Jane blurts out, but it's too late to take the offhanded comment back. A different kind of nostalgia sparks in Lisbon's expression but its brief and before Jane has a chance to apologize, she agrees, lips spreading into a wan smile.

"Yeah, he definitely didn't."

It's been almost two years since the incident, but they don't really talk about it. Regardless, Jane feels an odd sense of relief at the sight of Lisbon's reaction. He catches her eyes, communicating his regret wordlessly, but if Lisbon acknowledges it, she doesn't show it, turning around to continue chopping vegetables as she talks.

"Anyway, since I was stuck with him, I was the one to bail him out of the sticky situation with the gang members, so for whatever reason he felt indebted and literally forced me out for a drink after we closed the case. I think what really sealed the deal on our friendship though was the fact that I hadn't read any of his novels, which completely shocked him. He wasn't really used to not being praised for his writing or his looks."

"Ah, I see," Jane comments, walking up to the counter to transfer the risotto from the skillet to a serving dish. A moment later, without looking directly at her, he asks, "You guys never…"

His voice trails off and Lisbon looks at him incredulously. Something about the way he avoids her gaze is endearing so she spares him the suspense.

"Oh God no," she laughs lowly. "At that point, he had just gone through a messy divorce; I think he just needed a friend. Besides, I really wasn't his type." She adds the last part quietly, gauging Jane's reaction, but he seems just as relaxed as usual, focusing on the task at hand.

"Really?" He finally looks at her, eyebrow raised in perplexity, "You and Kate seem to have a lot in common from first glance."

"You mean from your first read of her," Lisbon corrects knowingly.

"Meh, just a different way of saying the same thing." Jane shrugs, moving the dish to the table.

Lisbon smiles to herself while finishing up the salad and moving it to the table as well.

"I don't know. Kate is different, I guess," she comments thoughtfully while wiping her hands again on the dishtowel. "Unlike his hordes of conquests and ex-wives, Kate caught Rick off-guard. I don't think he was expecting to fall in love with her."

"Ah," Jane nods in recognition. "How did it happen between them?" He asks curiously and Lisbon grins, retrieving her glass of wine.

"I suppose how most relationships come about," she explains vaguely, taking a sip.

"Oh really?" Jane smiles. "How's that?"

"Kate was dating a fellow detective in their precinct last spring and I think Rick realized she wasn't going to be around forever. He was going to spend the summer in the Hamptons with his agent, who also happens to be his ex-wife, but lasted barely a day there. He came back to New York, spent the next two months pursuing Kate until she gave in. Honestly, I suspected he had a crush on her probably from the third week he met her, but he was so blind to what was right under his nose the whole time." Lisbon recalls fondly, thinking back on countless phone conversations in which Rick would talk non-stop about Kate but then deny having feelings for her at the end.

In her reflections, she doesn't notice Jane step closer to her.

When she gazes up at him, he's standing close enough for her to clearly see speckles of green in the sea of his irises. She doesn't look away even as Jane smirks, leaning over to dump the dirty pot into the sink behind her.

"Well it's a good thing that other people are much more aware of what's right in front of them."

Lisbon folds her arms over her chest protectively, raising her eyebrow at him in amusement.

"How's that?" she challenges but before Jane has a chance to elaborate, the doorbell rings, sounding an arrival.

"Damn," Lisbon curses as she glances over at her unfinished salad.

"Go play hostess, I'll finish up." Jane suggests smoothly, as usual unperturbed by the interruption.

Without further encouragement, Lisbon sets her wineglass on the table and heads to the door.

The first thing her eyes gravitate towards is the familiar paper bag in Castle's hand.

"Donuts from Marie's?" She fixes him with a suspicious glance, before smiling at an amused Kate.

"Dessert." The dark haired author explains, but Lisbon merely grabs the bag from him before glaring at Jane, who smiles cherubically from the kitchen.

"Now I know you guys did something I'm going to be blamed for come Monday. I may need to take extreme measures," Lisbon warns, setting the bag of pastries on the kitchen counter.

"I'll help dispose of the bodies," Kate interjects and Lisbon nods appreciatively while Jane looks on.

"Your loyalty is awe-inspiring, sweetheart." Castle sidles up to her, running his hand affectionately down her side.

"Cops have to stick together," Kate defends, and it's Lisbon's turn to beam triumphantly at the two trouble-making men.

"I like you already," Lisbon says to the redhead, before pouring her a glass of wine.

Castle feigns concern, before looking over at Jane.

"This," he explains, gesturing between the two detectives, "is a dangerous combination. We need to divide and conquer."

Jane is about to agree, when Kate turns to Castle, fixing him with smug look. "I think you're forgetting that Teresa and I are usually both armed."

Lisbon smirks from besides Jane, while Castle looks absolutely untroubled, glancing impishly at the redhead next to him.

"Trust me, darling. I never forget about that."

xxx

Dinner is a surprisingly lighthearted and relaxed affair without a moment of awkward silence. Although skeptical of his skills, Kate finds Jane's stories of his childhood, working the carnival circuit extremely entertaining, and with a willing audience, Jane is in his element, turning up the charm and spinning tale after tale, with a captivating demeanor.

Occasionally, Lisbon wonders if maybe he's exaggerating for the redhead's benefit, but she doesn't say anything; appreciative of his restraint against reading or hypnotizing the strong willed detective. Though considering the budding (and dangerous) friendship between him and Rick, Jane is probably doing it out of respect for the author.

Silently, Lisbon relaxes in her chair, hand tracing the stem of her wineglass as Jane describes spiritedly one of the more lighthearted schemes he pulled with his father. She knows his father is a sore subject for Jane, and throughout the night, he's been careful not to bring it up, but even though he maintains a jovial façade, Lisbon can't help but frown slightly, as she notices his dimples fade when Jane mentions his dad.

She catches Rick staring at her with a bemused expression, blue-gray eyes twinkling at her almost shrewdly.

"What?" She asks suspiciously, arching her eyebrow.

"Nothing," Rick shrugs, feigning nonchalance as he takes a sip of wine, picking up the bottle to refill Kate's almost empty glass without her asking him. The detective notices and sends a small smile his way, which Rick returns, fingers briefly dancing across her knuckles.

Lisbon can't help the warmth rushing in as she witnesses the tender but subtle moment between her dinner guests. It's true that she and Rick don't often see each other. During his marriage to Gina, she had never even seen them together. However, despite having no first-hand experience on which to base her observations, she's certain that Rick was never as genuine in his feelings in any of his previous relationships. She hasn't had much luck in love herself and she's not nearly as perceptive of others' feelings as Jane is for example, but her intuition tells her that this time for Rick it's real, very real.

The sound of abrupt laughter snaps Lisbon out of her reverie and she chuckles softly as well, though she wasn't paying attention. Jane sends her a curious look, having picked up on her mental absence, but she ignores it.

"Well I'm still a little unconvinced about the hypnotism, but I have to say your experiences growing up are as far away as possible from mine, Patrick," Kate admits with a laugh, tipping the wineglass to her lips.

Jane eyes her curiously for a moment, before leaning in again, "You seriously still don't believe in hypnotism."

It's not a question but Kate nods and with one quick look at Lisbon, Jane smiles conspiratorially "What if I put you in a light trance, or maybe Rick?"

Castle's eyes light up like a child's on Christmas morning, but before he can say anything, Lisbon stands up, picking up empty dishes, "If either one of you wants dessert," she warns, "you'd better not even try any hypnosis in my house."

Kate laughs at that, standing up as well to help clear the dinner table, despite Lisbon's protests.

"Spoilsport," Jane mumbles with disappointment.

"Tell me about it," Rick huffs, drowning his sorrows in wine. "She's worse than Alexis!" He says loudly enough for Lisbon to hear.

"You'll get over it," she calls to him over her shoulder, before turning to Kate, who deposits empty dinnerware into the sink. "How is Alexis doing? Usually we talk on the phone, but with her trip and all."

"Oh, Alexis is fine," Kate shares, turning on the water. "She emails almost every night with about a dozen pictures every time. Apparently European boys are very fond of taking pictures with American redheads."

"I can't imagine Rick being okay with that," Lisbon supplies amusedly, taking out cups and dessert plates.

"I usually check the email before he does, just to make sure he doesn't have an aneurysm."

"That's probably a good idea," Lisbon smirks, peering over her shoulder to make sure Jane and Rick are not up to anything.

Kate echoes her laughter as she slides the sponge over a glass. Lisbon picks more dishes off the table and returns to the kitchen, placing them into the soapy water and beginning to towel dry the clean glasses.

From her conversation with Rick, she feels like she knows the redhead incredibly well, and still, the quiet poise and confidence Kate carries herself with is inspiring. Lisbon is certain the detective is capable of making men twice her size cower without raising a finger. Still, there's a hint of vulnerability about the woman that Lisbon finds appealing, maybe even a little familiar, and it definitely makes her like the detective, as she knew she would.

Kate hands her a clean plate and Lisbon turns to face her, wiping her hands on the towel.

"I know as one of Rick's oldest friends, I'm supposed to give you the 'if you hurt him, I'll break your legs," speech, but I'm not going to."

"Well, that's a relief." Kate smiles, a hint of mirth in her expression. She's heard a lot about Teresa Lisbon from Rick, but as tough as she usually must be, here in person, the diminutive agent just appears to be the concerned friend that she is, radiating warmth, not intimidation. It disables Kate's usual defenses, and she finds that it's something Teresa and Rick have in common.

Lisbon leans thoughtfully against the counter, glancing into the living room where Jane and Rick are vigorously discussing something; then she looks over at Kate.

"But I am going to say that he's still a work in progress. He means well, but sometimes it doesn't come out right. From what I've seen though, you're different to him; he seems to really care about you, so I'm going to save my clichéd threats for another time, if that's okay with you."

If Kate knew Lisbon a bit better, she would understand that a speech like that from her is a rare thing. She's not so good at articulating her feelings, never has been, but Rick has been such a permanent if physically distant fixture in her life that the words tumble out without much contemplation. She almost blushes as a result, but Kate, sensing Lisbon's immediate discomfort, merely smiles back understandingly.

"I'll only let it slide if there will in fact be a next time."

Lisbon raises an eyebrow in response, but her relief is unmistakable. She's glad this didn't turn into some heart to heart; she's not equipped for those types of conversations.

"I meant that you and Patrick should consider coming to New York sometime. I know Rick is dying for you to visit," Kate clarifies.

"Oh, I've been meaning to, but it's just work and stuff, you know how it is." Lisbon explains, purposefully not mentioning Jane, even though Kate's inclusion of him kind of catches her off guard.

"Yeah, I do, but still. New York is beautiful during the fall and wintertime, cold as hell, but gorgeous."

Lisbon shuts her eyes for a moment, picturing Washington Square Park blanketed in snow and twinkling lights and she can't help but smile, "I'll see what I can do, but Jane, I think you'll have to invite him personally."

Kate stops washing the knife in her hand, and casts a confused look at Lisbon, "Wait, are you saying that you guys aren't…"

Lisbon shakes her head right away, a curtain of dark locks shielding her discomfort, "No, we're just friends… colleagues."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I just assumed-" Kate's voice trails off guiltily, but Lisbon, having recovered from the surprise, merely shrugs.

"It's okay, it wouldn't be the first time."

Kate opens her mouth to say something, but the electric kettle signals that the water has boiled and Lisbon takes it as her cue to escape, walking into the living room with two cups and saucers.

Kate catches the way Jane smiles as the brunette approaches him. It's subtle and she would not expect anything less after learning what Jane's profession is, but as he accepts the cup from Lisbon, the redhead turns around, inwardly amused.

She may not have Jane's powers of observation, but she's a cop, and certainly not oblivious.

xxx

"You know, I can't remember the last time I saw your face in real life, as opposed to on a magazine cover or tabloid," Lisbon teases almost as soon as they sit down on her porch stairs.

Rick chuckles over the rim of his coffee cup, "Well what about all those books of mine you have stashed in your closet. Surely, you peek there from time to time?"

Lisbon whips around to glare at him, dark green eyes dangerously displeased. "I am so going to kill him," she mutters.

Rick chuckles quietly. "And by him do you mean your infuriating, pain in the ass, arrogant, and annoying consultant? Or the man who helped you cook dinner, made sure your friends were thoroughly entertained while you were gone, or the man who could manipulate half the CBI, but instead chooses to abide by your wishes?"

Lisbon eyes him archly, thankful for the years of practice she's had at keeping a neutral facial expression, even under severe questioning. Hopefully, she's not as bad of a liar as Jane thinks she is.

"First of all, he rarely ever follows my orders, and second, I wouldn't read too much into what he's doing tonight. I think he just really wants to convince Kate that hypnotism is real."

She hopes the diversion works, that by steering the conversation away from the topic of her and Jane, Rick will not pry and she will be spared from the pressure of discussing anything having to do with her love life.

Trust isn't an issue, but being careful is, and she's nothing if not that.

Rick doesn't take the bait, but he backs off slightly, not wanting to spend what little face time they have together, getting information out of her, despite what he surmises to be true.

Lisbon takes a sip of her coffee and stares out into the distance, allowing for a few moments of silence before breaking it.

"I like Kate." She says quietly, glancing over at Rick to find him smiling at her, eyes revealing a shyness she rarely sees in him.

"I do too," he concurs. "A lot."

"I'm glad," Lisbon nods.

They don't break eye contact until Rick looks away, expression tensing slightly as worry lines appear on his forehead, "I want to ask her to move in with me, but I'm afraid it's too soon."

Concern overwhelms her and in a rare moment of physical affection, Lisbon slides closer to her friend, placing a delicate hand on his shoulder. "You think you'll scare her off?"

"Maybe," Rick admits, finding a new interest in his shoes.

Lisbon takes a breath, squeezing his arm lightly. She's really not cut out for this, better equipped to deal with broken bones and deranged suspects than she is with emotional comfort. However, she's fiercely protective of Rick, who has been there for her in some of the darkest times in her adult life. So for him, she tries her best, treating his concerns almost as her own.

"I think you need to be rational here," she begins, coaxing him to look at her. "I know you're afraid to screw this up, but from what I understand, Kate is comfortable enough to travel with you, and you guys probably spend most of your nights together anyway. If you approach it carefully, I don't think you'll scare her off. To me, she looks like a woman completely smitten and even the most vigilant people take risks when they're in love."

"You really think so?" Rick nearly whispers, his eyes radiating hope, face devoid of its typical mirth. "That Kate is in love," he explains. He looks so much younger, so genuine, that Lisbon can't resist throwing her arm around him.

"I think she most definitely is," she concurs, then adds cautiously, "even if she doesn't tell you. Sometimes, it's hard for people to vocalize their feelings, not everyone has a way with words like you, Mr. Castle."

She nudges him playfully and Rick loosens up, chuckling in response. "You always know exactly how to cheer me up, Agent Lisbon."

"Please," Lisbon smirks, leaning back to look at him. "You're a famous novelist, who thinks the world of himself, of course me stroking your ego is going to cheer you up."

"You know me so well, Teresa." Rick smiles, insecurity and concern fading from his gray eyes.

"Nah," Lisbon shakes her head bemusedly. "You're just easy to read."

Rick feigns shock, "I so am not."

"Are too," Lisbon counters, eyes sparkling from amusement.

"Am not," Rick presses on, but Lisbon just laughs, taking another drink from her mug.

"This could go on for a while," she says, reminding him lightly of how stubborn they both can be.

"Yeah, probably," Rick agrees, heaving an exaggerated sigh.

"And it's probably a good idea we stop there, because I don't hear anything coming from my living room, which could only mean that Jane finally convinced Kate to let him put her in a 'light' trance." She says the last words with a hint of sarcasm but Rick immediately pouts.

"He wouldn't," he exclaims, "Patrick knows how much I wanted to do it, and you stopped him."

It amuses Lisbon to no end how she could be surrounded by grown men who can revert back to little children with just a few well chosen words. It's also extremely humorous that Rick isn't worried that Jane may hypnotize Kate. His trust in the consultant both unnerves and excites her, because Rick is a good judge of character, and she's not sure what to think about his positive assessment of Jane.

"I'm sure he didn't." Lisbon says in a vain attempt to placate Rick's exaggerated disappointment and stands up, brushing off her jeans before stepping up the stairs.

Rick rises as well, but catches Lisbon's arm before she can go back inside.

"I know how difficult last year was for you, with everything that happened, and I don't know exactly what has changed, though I have my suspicions." He smiles then, a knowing twinkle in his eye. "But you seem really good."

The earnestness with which he speaks makes Lisbon feel a twinge of guilt, but she merely smiles in response, communicating everything she can't say with her expression then wraps her arms carefully around him.

"I am good," she says as if she almost doesn't believe it herself.

Her words are barely audible, but she knows Rick hears her as he tightens his hold on her in response then presses his lips to the crown of her head as they separate.

"I miss seeing you, you know." He says after a minute. "You should come visit."

"Yeah, I know. I promise it'll be my next trip."

Rick resists the urge to roll his eyes, he too is aware of her workaholic tendencies.

"Alright, I'll settle for that, but only if you bring Patrick along."

Lisbon actually does roll her eyes and immediately heads back inside to hide her blush, avoiding the mention of her consultant for the third time tonight.

xxx

"New York is very beautiful in the fall," Jane agrees enthusiastically with Kate, sending Lisbon a surreptitious wink as Rick puts on his jacket.

Lisbon fixes him with a warning glare before smiling at the redhead. "It was great to meet you, really."

"You too," Kate agrees, as they share a brief, friendly hug.

Rick idles closer to Jane. "You know in all actuality, you're not as horrible as T made you out to be," he informs teasingly.

"Good to know," Jane replies and the two men share a smile.

The foursome exchange goodbyes and moments later, Lisbon finds herself leaning against the open doorway, watching Rick reverse out of her driveway. It's dark out, but she can still see his face, the way he's smiling at her, a lingering shadow of concern in his eyes before he speeds away.

She'd never really had true stability in her life, learning from an early age the only person she could rely on was herself. The SFPD and then the CBI have become her substitute family, the steady ground she is used to walking on, and most of the time, she's okay with it.

However, its days like these that remind her that she's fortunate to have people like Rick Castle in her life, a person that regardless of the distance, will always be someone she can count on. God knows, without friends like him, she likely would have forgotten how to lean on others completely.

As if on cue, a pair of warm, strong arms encircles her from behind, allowing her to relax, body naturally leaning back. Jane buries his nose in her hair, planting a soft kiss beneath her ear but saying nothing, letting the light summer breeze waft into the house.

After a while though, he can't help but tease her, breath tickling her neck as he speaks, "So it seems as though you like to keep all the men in your life in the dark."

Lisbon's lips quirk up in response, knowing exactly what he's talking about. Turning in his embrace, she presses her hands against his shoulders as she peers at him innocently from beneath thick, dark lashes.

"Well, a woman's got to have some secrets."

Jane seems to ponder this for a moment, before leaning in, lips unexpectedly brushing her mouth before trailing up to her ear. "I think I may have a way of extracting information from you."

Despite the shiver of anticipation that skitters down her spine, Lisbon remains perfectly controlled, challenging him.

"I'd like to see you try."

Jane raises an eyebrow at her, before his face dissolves into an expression of delight, something akin to adoration and desire mixing dangerously in his eye. He doesn't say anything, but swoops in and captures her lips in a dizzying kiss, before pulling her upstairs.

Lisbon doesn't put up any resistance, warmth spreading quickly as she lets Jane guide her.

In the hallway, she happens to catch a glimpse of her flushed reflection in the mirror and instantly realizes why she recognized just from the look in Kate's eye that the redhead was in love.

The revelation makes her smile.

xxx