This is the end. There may be stand alones after this but this epilogue is the last chapter for this story. I don't think I could give this the attention it deserves if I try to keep it going, I'm sorry. Enjoy this fluffy epilogue though.
The teen turns and flashes a brilliant, brace-stapled smile at her father as he walks through down the aisle towards her, very handsome in his black tuxedo with a white flower in his pocket. She runs towards him, her lavender dress fluttering in the summer breeze, her bare feet tickled by the grass.
He catches her in his arms and grunts as he spins with her while she just giggles.
"You're getting so big, munchkin," he says, placing her back on the ground. Kate had been right about the growth spurt, after all. Joey had grown nearly six inches in the last few months and it had gotten to the point where they needed to buy her new clothes every few weeks because she kept outgrowing them. Not that she was complaining.
"Are you really that surprised?" she laughs. "You and Mom are, like, giants!"
"Speaking of your mother," he says, glaring at her for the comment, "is she almost ready?"
Johanna nods. "I think so," she replies. "Alexis and Gram are helping her into her dress."
"And what mischief have you been getting yourself into?" he asks, raising one eyebrow at his youngest child (but not for long, he muses to himself).
"No mischief," Jo says, rolling her eyes. "I was just walking down on the beach, picking up sea shells and," she furrows her brow in that way that Kate always does, "thinking," she decides after a moment.
"That's never good," Castle teases gently. "About what?"
Jo's shoulders raise in a shrug and she frowns. "Stuff," she says.
Castle sighs. His daughter had embraced teenager-hood wholeheartedly. First, with mood swings and eyes that rolled so hard that he feared they might fall out of her head, and then with snarky talkbacks that made him wish he hadn't missed the first decade of her life; that he'd been able to enjoy the excitable, fun-loving little girl he saw in so many pictures the last three years. And he can't even believe it's been three years since he found out he was her father. It feels like it was just yesterday.
"What kind of stuff?" he asks her. "Is everything alright, munchkin? Do you feel okay?"
"I feel fine, Dad," she groans, rolling her eyes again and Castle sighs. He knew that Joey turning out exactly like Alexis would be too much to hope for—especially given what Jim Beckett has told him about Kate's "Wild Child" days. He just gives her a look and waits patiently for her to open up. And she does.
"I was just thinking…about the first time we met," she says. "Do you remember?"
Castle smiles and nods. Oh boy, does he remember…
The knock at the door had both Castles turning from the mirror in his office and before they could even step out, his mother's voice rang through the loft.
"Oh, you look marvelous!" Martha exclaimed. As he entered the living room, Castle felt his heart thunder in his chest at the mere sight of the detective, wearing the dress he'd sent for her and holding the hand of a precious little cherub of a girl. Joey had been taking in everything with big blue eyes, a crooked grin on her face that showed two missing teeth—one of which left a huge gap at the forefront of her smile.
"Mom, you were right," she was saying as Castle and Alexis stepped into the room; "it is like the bat cave!"
Castle's chuckle startled the young girl and she turned forward, looking right up at him. Her face broke out into an even bigger grin as he stopped a couple of feet away from her and kneeled down.
"Good evening," he greeted. "Are you my date for this evening?"
She'd giggled and shook her head.
"Wrong Beckett," Kate said, wryly, and he'd grinned up at her.
"My apologies," he said. "But it is very nice to meet you, Miss Beckett," he said, turning back to the girl.
"Call me Joey," she said. "Or Jo. Or Jojo, but only sometimes."
"Nice to meet you, munchkin," he said, warmly, holding out his hand to shake hers. He was surprised by how tiny her hand was, despite the fact that Beckett told him she'd be eleven the following September. "I'm Rick Castle."
"Munchkin?" she asked. "I'm not a donut hole, Mr. Castle."
"No, but you are the miniature version of your mother," he said, "and a small part of her; hence the 'munchkin' Beckett."
Joey had rolled her eyes at him in a perfect imitation of her mother, but she seemed to accept the nickname. Castle stood back up and smiled at Kate. "You look lovely, by the way," he said. "That dress really suits you."
"Of course you'd think that," Kate snorted, but he could see the faint blush on her cheeks. One glance down at the young girl and he knew she'd seen it too, by the tiny glimmer in her big blue eyes. And he had the slightest sense that his life had just changed dramatically.
And he didn't know why.
Until now. Castle smiles down at his daughter and runs his hands through her hair—which she'd recently cut short because she wanted a "change"—and displaces the white flower in it slightly. She glares at him and he hastens to fix it, settling it right above her ear.
"What about that night, honey?" he asks. "What about the night we met?"
Jo shrugs again. "I dunno," she says. "I just…I had a feeling that…well, that we'd get here eventually. But I thought it was stupid at the time considering how much Mom used to hate you."
"Oh, your mother never seriously hated me," Castle laughs. "That was just an act to hide how deeply infatuated she was with my rugged good looks." He wiggles his eyebrows at her and the girl laughs.
"Whatever you say, Dad," she snorts, shaking her head. "But, really," she says, her face becoming serious, "I'm glad we made it here; I'm glad I was right."
"You always have to be right," Castle comments, and Joey punches him in the arm. "Ouch!" he yelps, rubbing at the place her fist touched. "And violent—just like your mother."
"Not violent," Joey says. "Just tough."
"My little warrior," he coos, reaching out to pinch her cheek, but Joey slaps his hands away, giggling all the while. He laughs too. "Okay," he says, "now go find your warrior mother and send my Best Man down here so we can get this show on the road, huh?"
Joey nods and wraps her arms around him in a quick hug. "I love you, Dad," she says, pressing a kiss to his cheek before she lets go and runs in the opposite direction, back towards the house.
"Love you too, munchkin!" he calls out after her, smiling fondly as he watches her run through the grass.
"This is your house?" Joey gasps as Castle pulls her out of the car. "This is like Tony Stark's mansion!"
"Nah, I don't think we're that rich," he laughs, "but we're doing pretty okay for ourselves, right pumpkin?" He turns to Alexis, who nods.
"Maybe better than okay," she says with a shrug and a grin. "Come on, Jo," she says, "let me show you to your bedroom. Grab your bags!"
"Don't you dare," Castle huffs. "I'll get them. You two just head on up." Joey looks to Alexis for guidance and the older girl just shrugs, taking her hand to tug her towards the house. Meanwhile, Castle turns to find Beckett already pulling out suitcases and he sighs. "What did I just say?" he asks her, stepping up to tug a duffel bag from her hand.
"You don't have to treat us like princesses, Castle," Kate sighs. "We can carry our own bags."
"I don't have to," Castle acquiesces, wrapping his arms around his girlfriend's hips, "but I want to." He presses a kiss to her neck and Kate chuckles, shaking her head.
"Well I want you not to throw your back out today," Kate says, leaning back to whisper in his ear, "because I have plans for you."
Castle growls and she giggles, pressing her lips against his cheek.
"Get a room!"
They both look up to see Alexis and Kate staring down at them from one of the front windows, both of them wrinkling their noses. Joey sticks out her tongue and Kate returns the gesture. Castle just laughs.
"You ready, bro?" Esposito asks as he, Ryan, and Alexis approach, jarring him from his thoughts.
He smiles and nods. "You have no idea," he sighs. The boys both pat him on the back and he thinks about how grateful he is to have both of them in his eyes—and how much more grateful he is that they both haven't murdered him yet.
"What do you mean, Castle's her father?" Esposito practically growls at Kate, his eyes finding the writer through the break room blinds. He cowers at the mere sight of that glare. The only thing that softens it is Ryan's puppy dog look of confusion as his eyes flit between Castle and Beckett.
"You mean," he says, "I was right?"
"You were right?" Espo practically yells, making the shorter man wince. "About what? You knew Castle was Joey's father and you didn't say anything?"
Ryan shook his head. "No, I was just…I just made an observation. I didn't think he could seriously be…" he turns to Beckett. "Where did you two meet, anyway? I mean…before."
"Las Vegas airport," Kate sighs. "He didn't know who I was and I didn't really know who he was, either, so before you get all butthurt, Esposito, it's not like we exchanged numbers and he just ignored all my calls; he just never knew about her. It's nobody's fault. Or both of our fault for getting drunk and making bad decisions."
"But you don't regret it, right?" Ryan asks.
Kate shakes her head. "Not one bit."
They've invited a small group of people. After Kate's shooting, she doesn't really like big crowds and he could do without the press shouting questions during their vows, so it works out well for both of them. Close friends and family are all that he sees now, each side only about four rows deep and five seats wide. Agent Jordan Shaw is probably the furthest relation they have here and her daughter and husband are here with her. She shares a smile with him as his eyes scan the crowd.
Back when a crazed stalker had been killing people based off the character in his books, Agent Shaw had arrived with all her shiny toys and gadgets and Castle is not too proud to admit that he was enraptured by them. Just touching that SMART board of hers made him feel like James Bond. But Kate had been visibly jealous and both he and Joey found it hilarious.
Until her apartment blew up with her in it.
It was after they thought the real murderer had killed himself and, thankfully, Joey had opted to stay with him for the night, but Kate had decided that she could use some time to herself to relax. Both her boyfriend and daughter had understood and each had kissed her goodnight at the precinct before returning to the loft.
Castle doesn't know what he would do, though, if Joey had been in that apartment or if Kate had not jumped into that tub on time. He'd gone only the previous night to stay with them, for "protection", but he knew that he was no defense against a bomb like that. They'd rummaged for everything they could find in the remains, then Kate had come to stay at his place. It was supposed to be temporary—just until she found a permanent place big enough for her and Joey—but they'd gotten comfortable in the loft, to his delight, and ended up staying forever.
Jordan seems to have chosen his side, which is great because it seems to be lacking, guest-wise.
On Kate's side is her Aunt Theresa, who had been the first to spill the beans about their engagement on Facebook, and Cousin Sophia with her boyfriend. Then there were some old high school friends, like Maddie, who'd been involved in a crime somewhere around the beginning of their relationship and who Castle had gone on a friendly 'date' with, which served to make his girlfriend jealous—again.
Captain Gates, Montgomery's replacement after his untimely death, had opted for Kate's side as well. Her two children, both boys, are there and her husband, a friendly, affectionate man—which surprised the hell out of Castle, by the way—has his arms around her shoulder as they both wait for the ceremony to start. There's also Kate's therapists, Roger and Dr. Burke—physical and psychological, respectively—who've both made it to the wedding and a bunch of fellow cops (who've most likely placed bets on the wedding as they had on their relationship).
On his side are fewer people; his poker buddies; Kyra Blaine and her husband, and their two-year-old daughter, who wriggles in her father's arms in a fit; a few "family members" from Coney Island, friends of his late grandparents who once worked there as psychics, all excited to see little Ricky get married for, hopefully, the final time; and a man he doesn't recognize. He looks a bit familiar, though, with a gray beard and hair, his suit and face too average to really be remarkable. He wonders if it's some long-lost family member of his mother's or an acting friend. Maybe her date? Martha, however, is in the front and doesn't seem to be paying the mysterious man any attention at all.
He can't really find it in himself to care when he hears the music begin to play and looks up to see Johanna come walking down the aisle, feet still bare but practically unnoticeable by the length of her bridesmaid's dress. She beams at her father and he beams right back, their smiles matching. Behind her is Lanie, who clutches Espo's arm. Jenny and Ryan are close behind them and the music fades out as they get closer, until Johanna is standing opposite him, with Lanie and Jenny behind her, and the boys are on the other side of Alexis, his Best Man, who reaches out to squeeze her father's shoulder. Castle pats her hand and gives her a small smile, before turning back to look up the aisle, just as "Wedding March" begins and his heart swells with more love than he could ever imagine when he sees her and Jim turn the corner.
She's clutching her father's arm for dear life, but the smile on her face is the biggest he's ever seen. It stretches across her entire face and light shines from her eyes as she and Jim step slowly towards him, flashes of light from guests' cameras illuminating their way as the sun begins to set behind him. Kate's smile only grows and Castle can only image the look of pure love and adoration that must be shining from his eyes as well.
She's a vision in white; dressed in a wedding gown passed down from her late mother, which only needed a few alterations here and there before it fit like a glove, accentuating all the curves it needs to and puffing out at the skirt, making her look like a princess—or an angel, he thinks. Her hair is held back and curled and she looks just…wow.
He lets himself glance away for only a second, just to look at his daughter, who has tears shining in her eyes as she watches her mother walk down the aisle, a smile just as wide on her features, and all he can think about is how far they've come. From threatening to shoot him almost on a daily basis…to this.
They still have their spats, sure—what couple doesn't?—but they'll always come out of it in the end. She knew that he was it for her when he stayed by her side for every second of her recovery (knew before that, even, but his dedication to her in that time had reinforced that) and he knew that she was it for him when she let him be. They knew this was going to last when they stayed together through the toughest of times.
A few times during their relationship, Castle had worried that the only reason they were even together was for the sake of the young girl they'd unknowingly made together—and he knows that Beckett has felt the same, more than once—but he's come to realize that that's not the case.
Everything they've ever done, every choice they've ever made, every terrible, wonderful thing that's ever happened to them…it's all led them to right here, in this moment. Together.
And, as his fiancée—future wife; love of his life—finally makes it to where he's standing, at the end of the aisle, and her father passes her off to him with a kiss to her cheek, Castle can't help but be grateful for all of it. Because, no matter how hard things got, he's exactly where he wants to be.
Thank you so much for following along with this story! As said above, there may be more one shots and ficlets that take place in this universe in the future, but this is where this particular part of the story ends. Thanks, guys!