"Hey guys," she calls softly, opening the door wider. "Daddy is almost here."

Two little heads pop up from the bed, blue eyes first, followed by the darker - and more tired-looking - brown.


"Yeah. Headed up in the elevator, he said."

Ellery scrambles up, slides out of her brother's bed. The moment her feet hit the floor, she's headed for the door, knocking past her mother to get to the hallway.

"Dash? You okay?"

He gets going too, a lot slower than his sister. Kate gave up trying to keep them apart. Ellery sometimes gets it into her head that the only person she can or will obey is her older brother, and when that happens, they just feed Dashiell what to say to get Ellery to do what she's supposed to. So Kate left Ellery in the care of her brother as both of them were supposed to be napping after lunch.

She heads further into the room and pulls back the bed covers. The Calamine lotion spread over his spots gives his skin a funny look, but Kate reaches out and brushes her hand through his hair. A little warm.

"How you feeling, baby?"

"I'm okay," he shrugs. "Daddy is coming?"

"On his way. Let's go see him."

Dash sways in the bed, so Kate gathers him up, heavy and still half-asleep, struggles upright with her son. "Whew, what a heavy boy."

"Itch me," he mumbles against her, rolling his head back and forth over her collarbone.

Kate huffs. "Can't, baby. My hands are kinda full."

He reaches up to scratch, but stops when his mother growls in his ear.

"Don't you dare. I can itch you when we get downstairs."

He rubs his face against her again, but she sighs and lets it go, choosing instead to get him down the hall. She has to go at an angle down the stairs, unable to see her feet, and then just as she reaches the next to last step, Ellery waiting on her very tiptoes in the entryway, the door opens.

Oh God, she's missed him.

Castle is grinning even as Ella barrels into his knees, wrapping both arms around his legs. He leans over, but his eyes are on Kate; he strokes a hand through Ellery's hair, drops his bag, then picks his daughter up.

Within two strides, he's at the stairs and pressing a hot kiss into her mouth, an arm encircling her. The kids wriggle between them, Dash jabbering and excited, a foot kicking her ribs, a hand against her neck, but all she feels is Castle.

They break finally to breathe, nose to nose, his chuckle vibrating her chest, his thumb brushing her cheekbone over and over.

"Love you, love you," she murmurs, kisses the skin just at her mouth, happens to be right under his eye. She can feel his lashes as his eyes close.

"So glad to be home," he says back.

"Daddy, you're squishing me."

They startle back, both laughing, and Castle takes Dash from her, both kids in his arms, both wrangling with each other to hook their arms around his neck, give him kisses.

"Careful, guys. Don't strangle Daddy now that we just got him home," Kate laughs, tugging down the back of Dash's shirt.

"You were gone so long," Dash whines.

"You missed me, huh?"

"I got pox!" Dash says, suddenly excited and bouncing. Kate catches him, pushes him into Castle to keep him from tipping backwards.

"I heard that. You look poxed," Castle says, smirking at his son.

"Let's let Daddy get in the door, guys," Kate says, moving past them to shut the front door. When she turns around, Castle is heading for the blanket fort still up in the living room.

"Whoa, you guys did an awesome job. Look at this thing. It's huge."

"Play in the fort with us, Daddy," Dash says, squirming to get down.

Kate nods when Castle looks over at her, but she glances at her watch on second thought. "Actually, Dash, you can play in the fort if you take some more medicine."

He sighs loudly, but Castle puts both kids down, scoots Dash towards Kate with a hand. "Hurry and take your medicine so the poxes won't bother you while we're in our fort. Ella and I will wait."

Dash trudges forward, takes his mother's hand, throwing a longing look over his shoulder. Then he turns bright and somewhat feverish eyes to her. "Are you snuggling with us too, Mommy? We can dogpile."

"Of course, baby. Wouldn't miss it."

The Benadryl has knocked him out; Dash snores from the shelter of Castle's other arm, his fingers curled around his father's tie, body tucked close.

Kate carefully slides the silk through the boy's hand, loosens it for Rick, dropping a kiss on his lips. He grins. "Thanks," he whispers.

"Any time, stud."

"Yeah, you totally missed me," he says, winking at her.

She smiles back at him, carefully leaning over Ellery between them, kisses him again, more slowly, until little fingers touch her neck. Kate pulls back and glances down.

"Hey, there, baby girl," she says. "Just helping Daddy loosen his tie."

"Is that what we're calling it now?" Castle says, sotto voce.

She flicks his ear, shaking her head, and slides his tie out from under his collar. "There. Better?"

"Better," he murmurs, grinning at her again. His arm, under Ellery's head, flexes so that his fingertips brush her cheek. Kate turns her head and kisses his palm.

Ellery's eyes droop, but she pushes on her mother to move. Kate drops back down on the other side of her daughter, glancing at the television; she was in Ella's way. Totoro has just started; it put Dash right to sleep and is doing the same to Ellery now.

Kate lowers her head to her arm and uses her free hand to brush her fingertips over her daughter's cheeks, her brow, down her nose.

"It's late," she whispers. "Sleep, sweet girl."

Castle's fingers stroke through Kate's hair; she closes her eyes briefly, reveling in it, then opens them again.

They spent the rest of the afternoon in the fort eating mac and cheese and pizza for dinner, Castle figuring out a way to use the couch cushions to keep the adults' backs from seizing up while they lounged in the floor. Every time the kids weren't climbing on him, Kate was, or rather, touching and brushing against him, letting her fingers, her palms, the slide of her knee tell him over and over he was missed.

She's pretty sure he knows, if the look in his eyes now is any indication. All soft and tender towards her.

His fingers curl around the top of her head even as she strokes Ella's face, mesmerizing the girl. He murmurs something to her that she doesn't catch, but she doesn't need to. It's all there between them.

She leans in and nuzzles Ella's cheek, dislodging Castle's fingers; the girl lifts a hand and pats her mother's neck, but her eyes have finally closed, and stayed that way.

Castle untangles an arm from Dash slowly, catching his head with his palm and putting him down gently into a pile of pillows, then curls on his side to face Kate and Ellery. He leans in and kisses Ella's forehead, brushes a finger down her nose.

"Good night, baby girl."

Kate smiles at the warmth in his voice, then lays her hand on Ella's stomach, kisses her as well. "Sweet dreams. Love you, Ella."

The girl's eyes flutter, beam brilliant, if tired, blue back at her mother. "All the ways."

Kate's heart flips. "Always," she murmurs in response.

"Did you hear her?" Kate whispers in the darkness, the two little bodies on one side of the fort, she and Castle on this side, close.

He shifts on top of her, solid and strong and heavy, a weight she's missed.

He traces her cheekbones with his fingertips, over and over, his thumbs sketching her lips. "I heard."

"I love the little sigh of her voice," she says, a sigh of her own as he dips his head and brushes his mouth over her collarbone.

"I love the quiet fierceness in it," he murmurs, his tongue at her skin.

Kate shivers, so good, and curls her arms around his shoulders, brushing against the scruff at his cheek with her mouth. "I love you," she whispers back.

"So I've been told," he laughs, and the sound travels between them, through her skin, down to her bones.

She loves this too, the tease of him above her when they've not done this for a while (though those times are rare, actually), the feel of his body pressed to hers, the sense of coming home.

"I don't like to leave," he says suddenly, his kiss so gentle against her lips.

"You seemed to have a good time," she says back, smiling slowly, nudging his nose with hers.

"Mm, okay time. You weren't there," he murmurs, then lifts his head, his eyes so liquid and blue even in the darkness. "Let's ditch the kids and take this party to the bed."

She sighs, glances past him to the little boy asleep only feet from them. "But Dash-"

He sighs, drops his forehead to hers. "We could. . ."

"No." Not right here. Not on the floor. "Or. Well, compromise? We could go to the bed for the party, come back out here to sleep? So Dash is close." She rocks her hips up against him, upping the ante quite suddenly.

He gasps, chuckling, his fingers delving into her hair and massaging her scalp. "Sounds like a plan."

She slides her hand down, and he catches her by the wrist.

"Ah-ah. Wait, truce. Leave me alone long enough to walk back to our bedroom, yeah?"

She grins back, smooths her hand against the plane of his stomach. "Sure. But hurry?"

He jumps up and disappears even as she laughs. He sticks his hand back under the fort, wriggling his fingers for her. She takes it, swings up into his arms, balancing on her toes.

"You want fast? I can do fast," he says, pushing an intense kiss to her mouth, teeth nipping at her bottom lip.

The spark flares up, catches fire. She shoves on his hips to get him moving, sees his eyes glittering.

"Get going, Castle."

"Slave driver," he mutters, but he's already turned towards the hallway, tugging her by the wrist.

Mm, best thing about being apart is coming back together.