For my dear Liv, who finished strong. Proud of ya, girl.

She can't hide the smile when he steps off the elevator, a pair of coffees in hand. Can't hide it, and frankly, doesn't want to hide it. She knows the boys are watching her with open smirks. Even the captain is standing in the doorway of her office, arms crossed over her chest, observing the scene with no small measure of interest.

"Hey," he says softly when he reaches her desk, their fingers brushing as he passes over her cup.

She ducks her head, looks up at him through her lashes, feels the heat of a blush rising in her cheeks. "Hey."

He settles beside her, his chair back where it belongs. Leaning back, he folds one leg over his knee. "How'd it go this morning?"

She looks at him over the rim of her coffee cup. It's right - him being here. Both of them being here after so long away.

Setting the cup down next to her keyboard, she leans toward him, crooks a finger. He obliges, balancing an elbow on the desk to get closer. The detective lifts an eyebrow. "She asked when you were coming back."

"I knew it," he says, lips almost pressed together, voice a mere whisper, fist clenching in a barely visible pump. "She missed me."

"No," a voice echoes through the bullpen, and the pair look up to see the captain watching them with crossed arms and a stern glare on her face. "I didn't."

Turning back to her partner, Kate suppresses a grin at the pleased look on his face, the twinkling eyes, lips tucked between his teeth. He's adorable.

He's adorable, and she can admit that now. At least to herself.

"Maybe she didn't, but *I* missed you," she says softly, bumping her foot against his under the edge of the desk.

He gives her a confused smile. "It's only been a few hours, Kate. Or did you forget that quickly?"

She coughs, feels a warm flush crawling up her chest. "Ah, no. You're hard to, uh, forget."

He just nods, a slight leer entering his eyes.

Damn his insufferable smugness, the way she can't rattle him these days. All those years of teasing him, of making him squirm with popped buttons and well-timed innuendo, and now *he* is the one who's immune to *her* charms and it just simply throws her off her game.

He's still twinkling at her and she gives it up as a lost cause, rolls her eyes gently. "I missed you here, with me. Working together."

His expression loses the lust then, softens into that gentle adoration she sees so often these days.

A cough echoes across the bullpen, and the partners look up simultaneously to see Esposito shaking his head, an expression of disgust painted across his face. "And I thought Honeymilk was bad. At least Jenny doesn't come to work with him."

Whatever retort she might have made gets cut off by the ringing phone. She glances at Castle as Ryan answers the call. The writer wears the biggest grin she's seen in weeks.

They have a case.

She's missed the thrill, the way a case forces her to use all of her faculties for a single purpose, whether it's catching something at a scene or chasing down a suspect.

She's missed building theory with her partner, leaning against the desk in front of the whiteboard, standing a little closer these days as they bat ideas back and forth, alternately shooting down and buttressing each other's arguments.

She's missed the boys and their brotherly teasing, their genuine affection and the way Ryan always seems to side with Castle while Esposito is clearly a Mama's boy.

But she hasn't missed the fishbowl.

She hasn't missed the stares and the whispers in the elevator and the hallway.

She catches the tail end of a conversation in the break room just before she enters to get more coffee; the words mayor and muse and well, she has an in, so it's no surprise ring in her ears before the two older detectives startle, look guilty, and scurry back to their desks.

She doesn't bother to correct them, doesn't bother to tell them how she had to beg to get her job back, how she's on probation for three months, despite the fact that Captain Gates herself admitted she'd been missed. She doesn't bother, because as much as the words may sting, what matters more is that she's here. That he's here. That they're both here, together - alive.

Still, Castle must see it on her face when she returns and passes him a mug. His eyes linger on hers. He says nothing, but he stands a little closer and his voice becomes a little more serious, losing some of his usual joking demeanor.

Exactly what she doesn't want.

She elbows him in the stomach a little while later when - for the third time in the span of five minutes - he makes a completely reasonable, plausible suggestion that doesn't involve spies, the mob, or the undead.

He gets the message then, turns little boy excited eyes to her and postulates, loud enough for the whole bullpen to hear, that clearly their victim was murdered by the Illuminati.

She rolls her eyes, as expected, and he grins. Balance restored.

She tilts her head left and right, rolls her shoulders. Strong hands startle her, and she jumps, but he holds her down, keeps her in her seat on the couch.

Standing behind her, he starts to knead away the day's stress, eliciting a soft groan of pleasure from the detective.

"What did they say?" he asks softly when she leans back, tips her head to look at him upside down. "In the breakroom, I mean. You were upset when you came out."

She shakes her head. He doesn't need to hear this. He doesn't need to let it bother him. But piercing blue eyes bore into hers, and she realizes once again that he may not *need* to know, but he always *wants* to know.

"Basically they figured I got my badge back because of your connections to the mayor," she says quietly.

"You didn't," he refutes, his hands still working at her shoulders, squeezing the tight muscles.

She nods. "I know. And it wouldn't matter if I had."

"You got your badge back because the Twelfth's closure rate dropped dramatically without you," he says, and she doesn't have to strain to hear the pride in his voice.

"I know," she repeats.

His hands halt their ministrations, his palm rising to rest on her cheek, tenderness in his eyes. "People throw rocks at things that shine."

She laughs, and he looks terribly offended.

"You've been listening to Taylor Swift again," she accuses him, pushing herself up to kneel on the couch, turning toward him. His deer-in-the-headlights expression says it all.

He splutters for a moment, and then raises both hands in defeat. "Her music is catchy. Gets stuck in my head."

Leaning forward, she drapes her arms around his neck, brushes his nose with her own.

"Love *is* hard," she says softly, pressing a quick kiss to his lips. "But we've survived explosions and a tiger and a sinking car and a double agent and snipers."

"And my ex-wife trying to seduce me a month after we got together," he whispers. "Don't forget that."

She laughs. "Ah, yes, Meredith and her lip gloss smile."

He draws back, eyes twinkling as he runs one hand up and down her side. "Who's been listening to Taylor Swift now?"

Shaking her head, she pulls him closer. "Shut up."

She can feel his grin as he kisses her, can taste the happiness on his lips.

"Don't you worry your pretty little mind," he whispers a moment later, his breath ruffling her hair. She reaches up to tweak his ear for the teasing and he yelps, pulling away from her.

He doesn't go far though, stays close enough for her to soothe the offended flesh with a soft touch, soothe the worried heart with soft words. "You're right though. They can't take what's ours."

Nodding, he pulls her close once more, his strength enveloping her, his warmth dispelling the last of the day's shadows.

"If it's ever..." he starts, his muffled voice trailing off before he clears his throat and begins again. "If it's ever too much, Kate, you don't have to do it. You can do anything you want."

She hugs him tighter for that - her good, generous man.

"I know," she murmurs, pressing her lips to his cheek.

"And to be honest," she says as she puts enough distance between them that she can watch his gaze flit to her mouth, the blue of his eyes darkening when her tongue emerges to moisten her lips. "I've always thought I'd make a good trophy wife."

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