Thank you all so much for reading and commenting and following this story. You make it easy to keep writing! ~Carrie :-)

Clarity slowly settled in Kate's brain, and she opened her eyes with a tentative blink. His smile was the first thing she saw, his kiss the first touch that entered her renewed awareness. "Hi," she whispered and winced at how raw her voice sounded – and felt.

"Welcome back," Rick murmured, stroking some wayward hair behind her ear. "I really wish you wouldn't do things like this. It takes at least 5 years off my life each time."

"Yeah, and we all know you have less to work with than the rest of us," Ryan quipped from his place in the corner, causing Kate to turn her head and take in the other occupants of the room's small space.

"Take pity on him," Esposito agreed with a wink. "He can't afford to lose any more years."

"Hey," Kate offered, a small grin tipping the corners of her lips wryly. "If I had a choice, I would be home right now – in my own bed, safe and sound. No psycho fans that hold me captive. No whacked-out orderlies that put God-knows-what in my IV line."

"You would pick your bed over mine?" It figured he would focus on the innocuous choice of vocabulary.

Rolling her eyes at the teasingly-wounded pout to his face, she breathed a slightly abashed, "Castle…Not in front of the kids."

She glared briefly at the two detectives as they snickered childishly, then returned her softening gaze to Rick's twinkling smirk. "I didn't say I wanted to be alone in my bed," she pointed out quietly, her voice barely loud enough to carry to his ears.

Desire darkened the blue that stared back at her, and she bit her lip to hide the smile that wanted to dominate her face. She was quiet for a moment or two, reviewing the previous events in her mind. Cocking her head with a puzzled frown, she said at a normal volume, "What did that orderly do to me tonight, by the way? My memory is a little … fuzzy."

"I'm not surprised," Rick answered with a droll arch to one eyebrow. "Edith's beady-eyed orderly put enough happy juice in your IV to send a herd of elephants to the great beyond on a pink fluffy cloud." He covered her hand, needing the connection. "And for the record – it happened yesterday. You've been out for quite a few hours."

He tweaked her chin when she shot him an embarrassed grin. "The officer that the boys and I decided to have posted outside your room had conveniently gone to the nurses' station for a cup of coffee. Fortunately for all of us, he returned just as our perp was sneaking out of your room."

"Officer Grimes detained him and alerted the nurses that you might have been harmed. They got there just in time – flushed out your system – Doc says you're going to be fine," Esposito continued the story, coming close enough to the bed to squeeze her toes over the blanket that covered them.

"So…" Kate ran her free hand (the one not currently being caressed very distractedly by Castle's thumb) through her hair, mussing it even further. "This guy..."

"Arnold Douglas."

She nodded at Ryan's interjection. "Okay. This Arnold Douglas creep was the one who rigged my brakes?"

"Yep." Castle shifted a bit in the uncomfortable chair, bringing their clasped hands to rest on his knee. "He was the one who primarily took care of Edith in the nursing home. Apparently, she had two time periods that she was trapped in because of the Alzheimer's. She alternated between the two – we always seemed to get the 8-year-old. She also frequently thought she was a young bride and spent a lot of time telling Arnold about the gold bars and stock certificates that her family had given them as wedding gifts."

"He found out that she'd transferred them to her son's name before she went into the nursing home – so those funds couldn't be taken by the state to pay for her care. Did a bit more digging – learned about the vault. I'm sure you can figure the rest out."

Kate dipped her head to acknowledge Ryan's assumption and looked between the three men. "So he's in custody?"

"In custody. Arraignment went on while you indulged in your beauty sleep," Esposito teased her, his dimples prominent as he grinned. "Being held without bail for two counts of attempted murder of a police detective, multiple counts of theft and larceny and, of course, the murder of John Brennan."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Kate asked the next burning question at the top of her list. "When can I get out of here?"

"I see you've been getting distracted again," Kate joked as she made her way gingerly through the great room, leaning on Castle's arm to support her wobblier-than-she-wanted-to-admit legs.

Rick chuckled bashfully, his gaze taking in the hastily discarded laser tag gear from the night before. "Yeah, well, Alexis and I were having some father-daughter bonding time when Espo called to tell me what had happened to you. Needless to say, putting the gear away was the least of my concerns at the time."

He found a seat on the sofa, tugging her gently onto his lap, folding her into his arms and tracing a line of kisses from her temple to her jaw. "I love you."

Smiling, she leaned into his embrace and tilted her face to offer her lips for a more satisfying kiss. He obliged. "I love you, too," she murmured when he gentled his embrace.

"Did you ever think we'd end up like this?" he asked against her hair.

"Mmmm." She snuggled deeper, taking his arm and wrapping it more tightly around her waist. "I think – somewhere inside – I knew we'd wind up here. Eventually."

"I hoped we would. Since the second I kissed your cheek on our first case," he admitted. "You remember – right before you arrested me. I wanted to make a habit of it."

Kate laughed quietly. "Getting arrested?"

"By you – heck, why not?" He stole her eye roll by nibbling lightly on her ear lobe. "But I meant kissing you."

Drawing a deep breath, he continued with a voice that had gone husky with depth. "I knew for sure that day in the bank – that smile you gave me, before my Mother interrupted. I knew. Whether you knew it or not. That was the smile of a woman in love."

"It was," she agreed. "I almost kissed you then."

"I knew it!" he exclaimed triumphantly, jostling her in jest and eliciting an eruption of giggles by loudly blowing raspberries against Kate's neck.

When she'd recovered from the assault, she laughingly twisted in his arms and let her hands come to rest against his shoulders. "I think I'm ready for bed."

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, then concern. "Really? You… you slept for like 12 hours straight. How can you possibly still need sleep?"

Her smirk sent blood rushing south of the border, and he found himself struck speechless by the lust that flashed in her gaze. His mouth dry, he swallowed as she wriggled into a more 'comfortable' position on his lap, her lips a breath away from his.

"Who said anything about sleep?" she purred, the sultry undertone in her voice rendering him incapable of any thoughts but one. As he lifted her in his arms and made a hasty beeline for the bedroom, she curled her face into his chest and smiled. This was what she'd been waiting for – even long before she could identify the need. Love. Home. Passion. Friendship. Forever.

Her 9-year-old on a sugar rush had turned into the man of her dreams – maybe he always had been. In either case, she knew she would never feel that emptiness in her soul again. She was loved. She was whole. She was happy. She was free.

She was safe.