Our Best Selves - Epilogue

"I'm going to call them."

Lifting her head off the towel, Kate stares at her husband from behind her sunglasses.

"Right now?" she asks, nudging his thigh with her toe. They've only been out of the villa for a few hours, and only enjoying the beach for just half of that time. "Rick, they're fine. Isn't that what you've told me repeatedly?"

He catches her foot, squeezing gently. "I know they are. I just–"

"–Miss them," she finishes for him, allowing her lips to twist upward.

Rick nods, looking out at the clear aqua water before turning back to her.

"Don't you?"

Wiggling her toes against the palm of his hand, she sits up to grab her water. "Of course I do, but I think they'll be okay if you don't go running back to check on them again this morning."

He must see her point because he stays put, but he doesn't necessarily look happy about it.

"Rick," she murmurs, slipping her hand down his arm, giving it a gentle tug to draw him closer. He comes willingly, sharing her beach towel. He's still mum on what's bringing this up, though. They've been having a quiet day, a fun day, and she hates to see that fall by the wayside unless he honestly thinks something is wrong.

"What's going on, babe?" she asks, brushing soft fingers over his cheeks, along the bridge of his nose. "Thought you were in the middle of Operation Keep Kate Relaxed."

He nods, dipping his head to find her lips. He tastes like sunshine and the fresh fruit he's been sneaking, and she comes back for another lazy kiss when he pulls away.

"I am," he says once she releases his mouth, "and I've been succeeding admirably, I believe."

"And yet, I'm not convinced you're relaxed," she keeps her voice light. "Was the first honeymoon enough for you?"

He gasps, allowing himself to look mock-scandalized by the accusation. "Never, Kate. I just…" he trails off, but she does get it.

Slipping her fingers through his hair, she nods. Although they've been affectionately referring to it as a second honeymoon, the trip had been spur of the moment at the "suggestion" (though not the expense) of the FBI, and it's only fair that after almost four weeks away from home, Rick's starting to get antsy. She understands that, too; sitting things out has never been in her nature. In fact, she had railed against the decision to keep them out of the final phase of the investigation, even going as far as to insist they needed to be there when the arrest was made and not shipped off somewhere to avoid the media circus. But she'd been denied and the trip – a restful second honeymoon, in Castle's convincing words – had been booked.

"You don't feel right being here with them still in New York, I know," she supplies, feeling her husband's body sag. "You know, Alexis said that nobody has bothered her in a while; if you want to go home, I think the Bureau would allow it."

His head thrashes from side to side, emphatic. "I am not leaving you here. That would make me a pretty terrible husband; you might decide you like one of the strapping locals better and stay for good."

A laugh bubbles from her lips, but she tamps it down, turning to brush her mouth across his forehead. "Never."

"Well that's good to know." His lips lift. "And I am having a good time still, I just also wish Alexis and Cosmo had joined us," he finishes on a sigh.

Her lips twitch. Cosmo hadn't been her first choice of names for the chocolate speckled Catahoula lab mix puppy she'd given Rick as an engagement present almost two years ago, but it's grown on her.

"I know, babe. That would've been nice. But," she adds, slipping her arm through his, her head landing on his shoulder. "I am glad that you don't want to go home without me. Thank you for being here. And for sticking around through all of this."

Her husband's fingers knot with hers, and he lifts her knuckles to his lips.

"Where else would I be, Kate?" he asks, lowering her hand and pressing a fond smile to her forehead. "I did promise you, after all."

He's right about that. So many times in the years they've been together, he had sworn he would be by her side if she ever decided to make the leap and reopen her mother's case. She'd kept it in mind, but had been firm in her conviction to let it rest, even though it tore her up inside to do so. In the end, the decision had been made for her with one seemingly simple body drop in her jurisdiction. But still Rick has been here, at her side through discovering that their victim had been the one to run Roy Montgomery down on the street just months before her former boss's retirement, through unearthing her mentor's part in the events that led to Johanna Beckett's murder, even through understanding Roy's subsequent machinations for complacency in exchange for protection.

It's no secret that she's still working through her feelings about it all. There have been times in the last eight months where she has hated Roy, hated what his actions – and his inaction – had cost her family and his. Other times she tries to remember Montgomery for the good things, the amends he'd tried to make: giving her a chance as a rookie and guiding her to be the best cop she could be, for loving his wife and his kids and attempting to shield them from harm, for his attempt to make things right before her mother was ever killed.

It had been a single cryptic note in Roy's files that had led them to the cassette tape hidden in the elephant parade of Johanna's that Kate keeps on her desk – the parade Castle had been fascinated with when he first started shadowing her. That tape has since become one of the pivotal pieces of evidence in the FBI's case against Senator William Bracken, the piece that's going to put him away for having Johanna Beckett killed.

Suffice to say, the last few months have been difficult, but her husband has been here riding out every one of the ups and downs with her. When she's been overwhelmed by her grief and her anger, he's listened, holding her when she's needed the strength of his embrace instead of his ear. When she's been concerned by possible retaliation from Bracken, and frustrated at having the investigation in someone else's hands, Rick has – and will continue to be – here with her.

"I know," she murmurs, forcing herself from her thoughts before she can go get pulled into that maelstrom again. "I know, Rick. I just want you to know how grateful I am."

He nods, squeezing her knee. "I already know. Now come on, Mrs. Castle. Put all of that out of your mind and come swim with me. We'll call the kids later," he adds, grinning at her rolled eyes.

They've been over this; Cosmo is not their child, even though they both treat him like he is.

"Uh huh. And we're just swimming, Rick," she warns, allowing him to tug her to her feet. "No funny business."

He scoffs. "You act as if I can't keep my hands off you."

Kate uses their joined hands for leverage to lean in and knock a kiss to his jaw, scraping her mouth across his stubble.

"You act as if you can. Remember that dinner our first week here?"

Rick laughs, pulling her into his side. "That was one time."

"We're not allowed back in one of the three restaurants in this town, babe," she says as their toes brush the edge of the water. "I'd say that's fairly significant."

He heaves a sigh, looking out to the sea. "It was the worst of the three. No big loss. Plus we can still get room service."

Kate laughs, drawing him deeper into the water, relishing in the cool rush against her heated skin. "You would say that."

Her husband lifts a shoulder, looking nonchalant. "I just speak the truth. And when my wife is the most beautiful woman in the joint, who can blame me for getting a little bit carried away?"

She can't help but laugh again. "You would say that, too."

He's been talking to Alexis for almost forty minutes, discussing just about everything under the sun – from the current project Alexis is working on, to Martha's latest shenanigans, to Cosmo's new affinity for sneaking treats from the stash on Alexis's counter.

Kate doesn't mind his distraction; it's worth it to hear her husband this happy.

Plus, it gives her the opportunity to take care of her own things. She checks her email, hangs their discarded swimsuits and towels to dry, even decides to relax in the bath for a little while. And now she stands at the bathroom counter, staring at the half-straightened vanity and the too-large stash of tampons in her possession. She'd brought a bunch, anticipating needing them within a couple of days of their arrival, but judging by the number in her hand, she hadn't even touched them. Not once. In almost four weeks.

Come to think of it… it's been longer than that. If memory serves, her last period had been light, but she's been so busy, so focused on aiding (and then trying to get back on) the FBI investigation, on making sure William Bracken is going to stay in prison for the rest of his life, she apparently hasn't noticed that her period has been nonexistent since then.

The odds are good that it's just stress, but if it's not… Well, the timing's not great, not with so much still going on, but she's surprised to find that there's no stab of panic at the possibility. They've talked about this, about expanding their unconventional and wonderful family, but every conversation has been purely hypothetical thus far. They haven't agreed to make the leap just yet.

Well, looks like it's probably time to do something about that. Time for her to find out and they can go from there.

Slipping through the bedroom and glancing into the living area, she finds Rick making faces at the phone. He has to be talking to Cosmo. Either that, or his chat with Alexis has taken a strange turn.

"Hey, babe?" she calls, waiting until she gets his eyes to continue, "I'm going to run and grab some snacks for our movie later. Want anything specific?"

Cosmo beats him to a response, barking at the sound of her voice. Rick chuckles, gesturing for her to come closer.

"Someone's talking to you. Come say hi before you go."

"Yes, baby, I hear you," she calls, ignoring the catch in her voice. That nickname could soon refer to someone else, too. "We'll be home soon, Cosmo."

Rick beams, turning the computer to get her on camera, too. Alexis and Cosmo stare back at her, grinning (and giving her what she's always assumed to be the doggy version of a grin) when she waves.

"Hey, Alexis," she says, allowing her fingers to skim the back of Rick's neck when she steps to his side. He spins the laptop again. "How's it going?"

The young woman smiles. "Pretty well, Kate. I was telling Dad that I think you guys will be good to come back really soon. Barely anyone's talking about the arrest anymore. I've only seen a few reporters here and there, and they've kept their distance. So I don't see why you can't come home. I mean, they're not going to try to keep you away until the trial, right?"

Kate shakes her head. "That was never the plan. We can't put our lives on hold that long. I'll check in with Agent Wilkins in a few days, let him know what you've said."

"That sounds great," Alexis agrees, rubbing a hand over Cosmo's head. "Because while I know it's super tough out there in paradise, we do miss you here. Don't we, buddy?" She waggles Cosmo's ears in pretend agreement.

"Miss you guys, too," Kate murmurs, blowing them a kiss and standing taller, unwilling to lose her nerve. "Kay, I'm going to get that stuff. If you're still talking when I get back, I'll jump on again. If not, talk to you soon."

"Okay," Alexis says, waving the dog's paw. Cosmo licks at her chin, drawing a round of laughter from their lips. "Bye, Kate."

Rick's arm snakes around her waist, tugging her in before she can pull away. "Grab that spicy popcorn we had the other day?" he asks, getting back to her original question. "And some wine?"

Her stomach tightens at that. Oh shit, wine. She's definitely had alcohol since they've been here, and before that, too. Not much – it isn't as if they've been partying it up every night – but still. No more, though.

If she is pregnant, they're going to need to go home soon, just so she can see her doctor and get checked out.

"I'll see what they have," she murmurs, pecking his mouth quickly. "Back soon."

She slips away before he can change his mind about his call and decide to come with her.

Not that she doesn't want him to come, but marching into a store with her husband and scooping up a pregnancy test is probably not the most delicate way to let him know she thinks she might be having their child. She considers telling him as soon as she gets back, before she takes the test. If it turns out to be nothing, it'll disappoint him, but it's better than blindsiding him in public.

Then again, after turning their lives upside down this past year, maybe a good surprise is in order. She can take the test first and give him the news with some degree of the Castle flair.

The general store down the street from their villa isn't large at all, and she recognizes the kid behind the counter as the teenage son of the owner. The second she steps inside, he gives her a friendly nod in recognition and goes back to the crossword puzzle book in front of him, allowing her to lift a basket and shop in peace.

She grabs the snacks first, finding it easy to pick up those items without much thought. Next, sparkling water goes in the basket instead of wine. If anything, that alone will pique Rick's interest. She picks up a couple of other odds and ends – hair elastics for her and a new bottle of shampoo for her husband – before allowing herself to stop avoiding the real reason she's here. Thankfully, the store only has two types of pregnancy tests, and both land in her basket with a dull thud. Decision made. Go time.

On a whim, she grabs a tiny souvenir t-shirt from a rack near the front. It's kitschy and screams "tourist," but there's something adorable about it. If the test comes back positive, it'll be her kid's first t-shirt, and part of how she'll tell Rick. If not, then it'll be a gift for her husband, a pledge that this is what she wants to try for soon.

Rick is off his call when she bumps the door open with her hip, but from the dip of his head and the quiet tap of his fingers, she knows he's writing. Good. This entire ordeal with Bracken has put him behind on the next Nikki Heat book, and the last thing she wants is for Black Pawn to come down on her husband.

The fact that she can take the test while he's preoccupied is a bonus.

Her hands shake as she rips into the cardboard box and retrieves the test. So much for being calm, cool, and collected; her entire life is about to change, regardless of the results.

Then again, her entire life has changed already. More than she'd ever thought possible after losing her mother at nineteen years old. She has a husband – an amazing husband – a beautiful, sweet dog, a mother-in-law and a grown stepdaughter, both of whom she adores, and after too many years, she also has justice for her mother. The closure she's worked so hard to find.

Not for the first time her heart aches for the fact that her mother never got to meet Castle, and won't ever meet her grandchild – whenever said grandchild comes along. God, her mother would be so happy for her right now, for Rick. Happy and proud, so very proud. And so ready to know for sure.

Sucking in a deep breath, Kate takes the test.

"Sorry about that," her husband announces over an hour later, stepping out onto the balcony with her. "I got a great idea for my next chapter while you were at the store, so I wanted to run with it. Didn't mean for it to take that long, though." He shakes his head at himself.

She smiles, marking her page and closing her book, reaching for him. "No problem. Glad you had the chance to get something down."

He hums against her mouth, cupping her shoulder in his large hand, his palm warm through her shirt. "Me too. It's a really good chapter, too, if I can say so myself."

"You just did," she drawls, tugging him in for another kiss. His overdone ego nonsense had once nearly driven her away, but now she likes when he pats himself on the back. And in her opinion, he has earned every opportunity to praise himself; he's come so far these last few years.

Rick chuckles. "Touché." He squirms onto the chair with her, cuddling close and resting his chin on her shoulder. "Didn't mean to leave you hanging, though. First with the video call, then with work. It feels like I haven't seen you since this morning."

Kate shakes her head, pulling his arm around her tighter, thumbing his bicep underneath the sleeve of his shirt. "You didn't leave me hanging. I don't mind when you call home, and I don't mind when you write, Rick. You know that. I love both of those things, in fact. Especially the writing."

"Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint my number one fan," he says, grinning when she rolls her eyes. It's all good-natured, though; she is his number one fan and they both know it. "Movie time?"

Her heart flutters, half in excitement, half in terror. It's almost time for him to know what she's been doing all afternoon. "Sure. I got your popcorn, and some of those gummies we tried the other day. The ones we both liked, not the gross ones you said tasted like soap," she says, waiting to get to her feet until he squirms from the chair and stands. "And a few other things to eat, too."


She rubs his back, trailing him inside. "I'll get the food while you get the movie set up?"

"Done." Her husband twists, stealing a quick kiss before they part to complete their tasks. Castle moves to hook his computer up to the TV and she steps into the kitchen to gather the food and arrange them on the tray that held their breakfast earlier in the day.

Everything seems to be ready when she steps into the other room. The blinds have been drawn, a blanket rests on one couch cushion, and the throw pillows have been fluffed in preparation.

Rick turns at the gentle rustle of her feet on the carpet, smiling easily. "There you are. Ready?"

"Mhmm," she hums, setting the tray on the coffee table, crooking her finger to beckon him near.

Rick grabs the remote, bounding over to her. Affection bubbles in her chest; she loves this man so much. He never fails to make even the simplest things fun.

"No wine?" he asks, reaching for the tray once they're settled on the couch. "Oh, was it all the terrible cheap stuff?"

Chuckling she shakes her head. "Not exactly."

"I'll call the front desk if you want, get them to send some up," he offers, starting the movie and putting the remote aside. His arm winds around her shoulders pulling her closer.

Her lip finds its way between her teeth, the nervous thud of her heart growing louder in her ears. She shakes her head, managing to find the words to move forward with her plan.

"No, that's okay. Just make sure I got everything else you wanted."

He nods, poking through the small mountain of movie snacks she'd bought until his fingers brush the shirt with the multi-color tie dye fractals and the adorable sea creatures on the front.

"Ah, Kate?"

Releasing a shaky breath, she glances up to see his expression. "Yeah?"

"This… isn't for me, is it? Because, this is not my size at all, honey."

Laughing, she plucks the pillow from her side, swatting at him. He fends her off, chuckling in return. "No, Rick. It's not for you."

He nods, but she can tell he's still debating if she's putting him on or not. "Then um, what does – just so we're on the same page here – what does this mean?"

Twisting to face him, her fingers trip up his arm, over his shoulder, her palm skimming the back of his neck. She pulls him in for a sweet brush of her mouth, rests her forehead against his as she gathers her thoughts.

One of his hands skims her back, the other clutches the shirt still.

"I realized today that I'm late," she explains, her voice barely daring to go above a whisper. "Very late, and with everything, I just hadn't noticed. It was super light one month, and then… anyway," she trails off. He's used to period talk after living with women for so long, but she wants to get to the point. "So I took a test while you were writing."

Rick's eyes dart downward toward her belly, tripping back to the tiny t-shirt in his grip.

"Kate," he breathes, lifting a hand to cup her cheek. "Are we having a baby?"

He sounds so hopeful, so cautiously overjoyed, the answer spills from her lips in a choked exhale,

"We are."

His mouth is on hers the instant she manages to get it out. Kate laughs into the kiss, shifting closer, taking the shirt from his hands and encouraging his questing fingers to slip under her shirt and caress her stomach.

"Oh my god, this is – Kate, this is amazing. We're having a baby. We're having a baby."

She nods, brushing his cheeks with her fingertips, letting his new mantra, his elation, wash over her and clear away all her concerns for the time being. They'll go home as soon as they can, she'll get checked out, and then they'll live the best lives they can with one another and the tiny little person they've created.

"We're having a baby, Rick," she echoes, watching joy flood his face once again. After the last few months, it feels amazing to give him good news.

"We're having a baby," he repeats, awed. "God, I love you," he says, skimming his thumb over her navel.

"I love you, too. And I'm so glad you're the one doing this with me."

His eyes slip shut. "I wouldn't do it with anyone else."

Her lips touch his in promise, in silent affirmation of the vows she had recited on their wedding day; partners in crime and in life.

And now in parenthood.

A/N: Two years ago today, I posted the first chapter of this story, never anticipating the amazing response it would receive (or that it would take two years to complete). Since then, I've been positively blown away by your enthusiasm for the "AU in an AU" as I sometimes think of it, by your encouragement when updates were slow, and by your wonderful words on each and every chapter.

Thank you to Rida - caskettfan28 - for prompting this story way back when. I hope if you're still reading, you've enjoyed this interpretation of the AU-verse without "our" Castle's visit to bring Caskett together.

Thank you to Valen - prosemeds - for making not one, but three gorgeous cover art possibilities for this story. I'll put the others up on my tumblr soon, because I think everyone should see them. You have no idea how difficult it was to pick one to use.

And lastly, thank you to every single one of you for allowing me to share this story with you, for being patient and kind each and every time, and for never giving up on me even when it seemed like I might've been faltering. This journey has been amazing for me as a writer, and I hope as readers you've enjoyed it as well. I wouldn't have made it to this moment without you. Thank you so much.

Until next time!