Castle was more than a little exhausted by the time their plane touched down in New York. Kate was at his side as they stepped into the terminal, looking around for their ride. The boys, plus Lanie, had insisted on picking them up from the airport and arguing had been futile.

Their fingers were laced together as they made their way toward luggage pick up. Rick had started to pick up one of their bags only to hear a very familiar voice just feet behind them in the crowd.

"Yo! Castle, Beckett, over here!" They both turned at the same time, spotting Esposito with his arm around Lanie and Ryan at his side. Rick almost dropped Kate's hand in surprise but she gave his a tiny squeeze. He glanced over at her and smiled before squeezing back.

"Hey boys. Mind giving us a hand?" Kate was only teasing with the suggestion but her boys were there in and instant and grabbing up their luggage. They already knew about everything from the takedown in Venice, including the minor injuries both parties had sustained.

"I'm perfectly capable –" Rick began, but Lanie prodded him with a finger on his uninjured side.

"The hell you are," she replied. "You're not picking up anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next month, you hear me?"

He grumbled. "I hear you."

Rick and Kate followed their friends out to a waiting taxi, which took them directly to Castle's loft. "Jordan said she'll be at the precinct in the morning for the debriefing, but you've got today to relax," Ryan told them.

"What's going on up there?" Kate asked.

Esposito jerked his head in the direction of the cab driver. "A lot of stuff."

Kate held her questions until they were safely inside Rick's loft, at which point she turned on her friends with a gimlet eye while Rick made his way into the kitchen for drinks. "All right, spill," she demanded.

"Montgomery's gone," Esposito began, dropping into a seat at the counter. "His family, too. The house burned – we're pretty sure Lockwood did that. But they were already in WITSEC at that point, so they're okay. But they're gone."

"He's going to do time," Ryan added. "We don't know how much, but they're shipping him off under his new name. He'll be close enough to his family so they can visit, and when his time's up, he'll transition out just like... like normal." Like any other criminal, he didn't say.

Castle returned with drinks a moment later, having gotten himself a glass of water. He leaned against the couch for a moment, watching as everyone fell silent. "What about the Senator?" he finally asked, knowing that Kate wanted the answer just as much as he did.

Esposito put down his glass, glancing at Ryan before he answered. "Jordan has him in custody. They were going to wait for you guys but she had a feeling he might run with no contact from either Lockwood or the other guy."

Kate nodded in understanding, glancing over when she noticed Rick fighting a yawn. She turned to look at Lanie and her friend nodded as she put her glass down.

"Come on you two. If I'm not mistaken you had paperwork to finish," Lanie said without pause. Both Ryan and Esposito looked like they wanted to complain but they held back at a glare from the medical examiner.

Both guys took their glasses to the kitten before getting ready to go with a suffering sigh. "We'll check in later, bro. See ya, Beckett," Esposito took Lanie's hand and almost pulled her out the door as she waved goodbye. Ryan stayed around a moment longer, patting Castle on the shoulder and as he gave Kate a smile.

"Good to have you back," he offered before leaving the couple alone in Rick's loft.

Once they were gone, Rick set his glass aside and moved to take Kate in his arms. She leaned against him, draping her arms around his neck. "I'm so glad we're home," she said softly into his shirt.

He leaned down and pressed his lips to the crown of her head. "Me, too."

She sighed heavily, looking over their arms toward the window. "I know it's the middle of the day and all, but can we..."

"Just go to bed and sleep for a week? I was about to suggest the same thing."

They laughed softly together, and then she stretched up and kissed his lips gently. "Please," she said softly.

He took her hand, leading her across the main room and into his bedroom. He gave her an oversized t-shirt and she went into the bathroom; when she came out, her face was clean of makeup and she was swimming in his favorite Invader Zim shirt. He kissed her gently as he passed her, going in to use the bathroom himself, and when he came out, bare-chested in his pajama pants, she was already curled up in the bed.

Rick paused halfway to the bed, smiling at the image of her lying there. It was different here than in Venice because this was his home and his bed and she was in it. Smiling, he climbed into the bed and pulled her against his chest with care, wrapping her up in his arms. Kate relaxed into his body with a sigh, closing her eyes. Both were asleep before anything could be said.

"Richard, darling! I'm home!" Martha's voice carried to Castle's room, but it did little to wake him. They had only managed a few hours' worth of sleep and he tugged Kate closer to his body with a soft groan, burying his face against her neck. She shifted in his arms but only mumbled something incoherent before she was out like a light again.

In the living room, Martha looked around, certain that her son was back. His bags, and what seemed to be Kate's, were next to the door and there were glasses on the counter in the kitchen. Taking a deep breath she moved toward her son's bedroom, opening the door with a flourish. "Richard, are you – oh my-"

"… Mother?" this time Rick rolled slightly onto his side, letting go of Kate as he turned to look at his mother, a slight blush gracing his features when he realized what Martha had found.

"I see that you're home, darling," she stated with a mischievous smile.

"And I see that you are as well. Make yourself useful, will you, Mother? Alexis needs a flight back from Los Angeles."

Martha nodded. "Of course, dear. Kate, I'm so glad to see you. Now, you both get some rest." She shut the door again, and they both listened to the sound of her heels on the wood floor as she strolled away.

"Hmm," Rick said as he laid himself back down and pulled Kate back into the circle of his arms. "That was convenient." He rested his chin on her shoulder and closed his eyes again.

She chuckled softly. "She didn't seem phased at all."

"There are very few things which can knock my mother off her stride," Castle confirmed. "Most of them involve fire." He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. "Go back to sleep."

She did.

The next day, feeling a bit more rested and with Alexis on her way home, they dressed and headed into the precinct about ten in the morning. Jordan was there waiting for them, a smirk on her face that Kate was sure wasn't entirely to do with the arrest of Senator Myers.

"Detective. Castle. Nice to have you two back," Jordan greeted them, watching the way that Castle unconsciously hovered a little closer to Kate than he had just a year previously. She wasn't the only one to notice, however, and the detective turned, giving the writer a look that made him back off just slightly, but not enough to really count. Esposito and Ryan, sitting at their desks, hid their laughter behind coughing fits.

"Agent Shaw, nice to see you again," Kate replied, reaching out to shake hands with the woman in front of her. Castle stepped up behind her to do the same, giving Jordan one of his brilliant smiles. The other woman just shook her head, dropping his hand as she stepped back to look at Kate.

Something in her expression alerted the detective to what their next topic of conversation was going to be. "We have him in custody. He's in room one, if you want to see him."

Kate turned slowly and looked toward the interrogation rooms. Through the tiny window inset in the door, she could see Myers sitting at the table, looking angry and defeated. She stared at the door for a long time, and the others could see the debate playing out on her face. Finally, though, she turned her back on the door and shook her head. "No," she said softly. "I don't think I do."

Shaw nodded, not looking the least bit surprised. After a moment, she spoke. "He made a deal." When Kate looked back up at her, she nodded. "Details got hammered out this morning. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison, but he doesn't get the needle. And all of his assets have been seized, so he's as poor as a church mouse. Poorer, really."

Kate's lips pressed tightly together as she considered this information. Finally, she nodded. "What charges?"

"The usual. Murder, extortion, conspiracy."

Kate nodded. Her eyes closed for a long moment, and when she opened them again she said, "What about Captain Montgomery?"

Jordan sighed softly. "He pled, also. Conspiracy, kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter. He'll do some time, but then he'll be out again, and in the meantime, his family is safe."

Kate nodded. Her eyes shimmered slightly. "Will you give him a message?"

"Of course."

"Tell him..." Kate swallowed hard. "Tell him I forgive him."

"I will," Jordan said softly. "I know it will mean a lot to him."

Rick stepped up behind Kate, letting his fingers brush low against her back. The touch was short before he pulled away and headed toward the break room. She didn't even watch him go. Instead, she walked to her desk and started rummaging through the drawers. Her face pulled in annoyance and she looked up, glaring at her partners across the room.

"Who ate my Skittles?"

Both men quickly scattered and Kate smiled once they were gone. She still had her touch, it seemed; even after a few weeks away. Jordan stayed in the background, watching as the other woman situated herself once more at her desk. Less than five minutes later Castle passed her by, setting down a coffee cup in front of Kate before he took up residence in his usual chair.

A moment passed between them and then Kate was smiling over the rim of her coffee and Rick was relaxed beside her. Jordan shook her head before walking away, getting ready to make the arrangements with Avery to have the Senator moved back.

Kate looked up as Jordan returned a few minutes later. "All done?"

"All done. We'll be out of your hair in just a few minutes."

Kate stood and came around her desk. "Thank you," she said softly. "For everything."

"You're welcome," Jordan replied sincerely. She stepped forward and hugged Kate. "Take care of yourself, okay?" She gave a slight nod of her head in Rick's direction. "And take care of him, too."

Kate laughed. "Somebody has to," she replied with a wry grin. "His daughter's going off to college soon."

Jordan chuckled softly, leaning around Kate to wave at Castle. He waved back before turning back to his conversation with the boys who had just reappeared. Looking back at the detective she smiled. "Hopefully next time we'll meet under better circumstances."

Kate nodded, offering another thank you as she watched Jordan leave. Rick broke away from Ryan and Esposito, moving to stand beside his muse. "You good?" he asked quietly after a moment. She nodded, turning to look at him.

"Yeah. I'm good," she replied just as quietly.

He nodded and then leaned a little closer to her than necessary at work. "You know, Detective, I always had this fantasy concerning an interro-"

The sharp elbow jab he received in his arm was enough to make him wince but the light smile on her face was worth it.

Around noon, Castle left to pick up Alexis at the airport. He squeezed Kate's hand before he left. "Dinner tonight? The three of us?"

Kate nodded. "Definitely." She watched him go with a slight, unconscious smile, and then returned to her paperwork. She was almost done typing up her official report of everything that had happened when the sound of someone clearing their throat – someone unfamiliar – caused her to look up. A woman in a suit was standing in front of her desk. "Can I help you?"

"Detective Beckett?" the woman asked.

"Yes," Kate replied warily.

"Lisa Benson. Your new captain." She offered her hand, and Kate shook it. "I'd like to speak with you privately, please."

"Of course, Captain." Kate saved her work and turned off her monitor, then stood and followed Benson into what had been Montgomery's office. She swallowed hard when she entered the room; all of Roy's things were still there. It still felt like his office.

Benson saw her reaction and smiled slightly. "I'll be making some changes in here first thing," she admitted, closing the door. "But I know that you and Captain Montgomery were close. If there's anything you'd like to have, for a keepsake, let me know."

Kate smiled slightly. "Thank you."

She watched as the new captain took a seat behind the desk, her expression suddenly serious. "I've been informed that the Twelfth has some... unorthodox methods," she started in a tone that was somewhat sharp but still open. "Such as that you are shadowed by a novelist."

"Castle," Kate stated firmly, thinking about the man that had left not that long ago. "Richard Castle. My partner."

The look on Benson's face changed somewhat and Kate was suddenly aware of how much she had taken for granted with Montgomery letting Rick shadow her. "He cannot be your partner, Detective Beckett. He isn't NYPD. It is my understanding that Captain Montgomery had no issues with him tailing you."

"Castle doesn't get in the way. Actually, he has proven himself to be quite useful when it comes to solving cases." Kate informed her quietly. So far Benson hadn't made a move to shut it down immediately and she hoped that meant that the other woman was open to the idea.

Benson tapped her lips with her index finger, studying the detective. "I've spoken with the Commissioner about Mr. Castle. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I have very serious concerns about his presence." She held up a hand to forestall anything Beckett might say. "They are the same concerns I would have regarding any civilian being involved in police work. The Commissioner has similar concerns, but we are open to allowing Mr. Castle to continue his... consulting work. Under certain conditions."

"I'm listening," Kate said, still wary.

"I'll be watching your team closely. I don't say that to make you paranoid, or to sound harsh and critical. I mean it simply as a statement of fact. I will be watching. I will be checking and double-checking everything that you do. And if I am satisfied that Mr. Castle is not actually interfering with the process of police work that should be going on, then he can stay. If at any point I get even the slightest impression that he is interfering, he goes. This is not negotiable, Detective. If you argue with me on this, he goes today, and if you don't like that, you're welcome to go with him."

"Then I don't suppose I have much of an option, do I?"

"Frankly, Detective, you don't have any options at all." Benson leaned forward and put her elbows on the desk. "Let me be very blunt with you, Kate. Look around you. How many female detectives are there in the various homicide divisions of the NYPD?"

Kate paused and considered. "Not many."

"Not many. Precisely. And there are even less in the higher ranks. This is a boys' club, and you know that as well as I do. The Twelfth is currently viewed as being 'out of hand.' Montgomery was dirty, which was bad enough, but Castle... frankly, in some circles, he's viewed as a joke. I know that you like having him around, and I'm sure he occasionally has flashes of brilliance, but I'm going to be very, very honest with you: I have to think of my own career, and even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

Kate nodded. "I do, Captain." And she did. That didn't mean she had to like it.

Benson sat back. "Okay. So please understand that I'm going to be watching you. I have to. It's nothing personal. And if he has to go, then he has to go, and I can't back down on this."

"I do get that, Captain," Beckett admitted. "But I'm pretty confident we'll be able to prove ourselves."

"I'm not," Benson replied bluntly. "But we'll see. I do promise to keep an open mind. All right?"

"Fair enough." Kate waited a moment before she spoke again, keeping her tone calm. "Is that all?"

Benson nodded, dismissing her without another word. Kate shut the door behind her when she left, feeling herself tense up a little. Ryan was nowhere to be seen but Esposito automatically tuned in to her mood. "Yo Beckett, everything good?"

She thought about lying to him for less than a second before she walked over to his desk and leaned against the edge. "New captain," she started out. He nodded his head in agreement, looking at his computer screen as she talked. "We're going to have to be careful. Castle especially. She has his number."

Esposito tensed up a little but it passed quickly. "Don't worry. Even he's not dumb enough to screw this up," he commented after a moment. Kate shook her head, smiling a little. If it had to do with her then Castle would try his hardest to make it right.

She went back to her desk, determined to be done by five o'clock. She had somewhere to be that night.

When she arrived at the Castle loft, the first thing she noticed was the smell wafting out of the open door. She poked her head in and looked around the corner into the kitchen. "Is it safe to come in, or should I call the fire department?"

"Oh, very funny," Rick replied, giving her a sour look.

She strolled in, pushing the door shut behind her. "Seriously, what did you set on fire?"

"Dad was trying to make Steak Diane," Alexis explained as she came down the stairs. "It involves flambé. Unfortunately, the only thing that got seared was his shoes."

"That would be why I'm smelling burned rubber," Kate said, laughing as she accepted a hug from Alexis. "But I assume since he's standing and glaring that he's not hurt."

"Just his pride." Alexis looked up at her. "Are you okay?"

Kate nodded, giving her a smile. "Better than okay," she replied after a moment. It was true. Now that she was with Castle and Alexis she felt better than she had all day.

The teenager smiled back before heading toward the stairs again. "Call me when it's done, please."

Rick shook his head with a slight smile, glancing up at Kate. "Ashley. They've been on the phone since she arrived home," he explained as he left the stove. She smiled at him, wrapping her arms around his neck when he was close.

"How are you feeling, Tiger?" she asked with a grin. Rick gave her a wry grin in return, bending down to press a gentle kiss to her forehead.

"You asked at a good time. The pain killers are kicking in."

A worried look passed over her features but he leaned down to kiss it away. "Rick –"

"I'm fine. I laid down earlier and twisted a little. It doesn't hurt much, scout's honor," he promised.

She narrowed her eyes slightly, poking his chest gently. "You were never a scout."

He chuckled, leaning down to kiss her gently. "No, I wasn't. But it's true. I'm fine."

She studied him carefully, then finally nodded, running a hand down his chest. "You'd better be," she said softly. "I need you healthy for all the stuff I have planned for you."

He grinned back. "Don't worry," he assured her. "I need me healthy for all the stuff I have planned, too."

"Oh?" she asked, her brow arching. "And what do those plans include?"

He laughed. "For now? Dinner. Maybe some dancing – vertical, at least until Alexis goes to bed. After that, maybe horizontal." He leaned down and kissed her thoroughly, then whispered into her ear. "And later? More crime solving. Lots of movies, dinners, walks in the park. Eventually I'll need to be able to get down on one knee. And I've got to have good ribs for picking up babies. So don't worry, Kate." He kissed her again, soft and slow. "I have every intention of being very careful until I'm back to a hundred percent."

When he finished speaking, she looked up into his eyes, her own shining. "You really want all that? With me?"

"I really do," he murmured. "What do you say, Kate? You up for that kind of an adventure with me?"

She reached up and wrapped her hand around his neck, pulling him down for another long, slow kiss. "Always."

The end.

I would like to personally thank every single person who reviewed this story. I know I didn't personally respond to as many of you as I intended to, but I did read every single comment, even the critical ones! :) Thank you all so much for caring enough to let me know what you thought about our story. My co-author (WonderTwinC) and I have been absolutely floored by the number of hits this little tale has gotten, and the number of alerts and faves has been boggling. We are both so very grateful for your support.

I would also like to thank my wonderful beta, secondalto, without whom this story would have had WAY more flaws than just the ones you guys caught. ;)

Thank you all for staying with us til now. We hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did!