This chapter concludes "This Changes Everything." I thank everyone who has read, favorited, and followed this story in the almost 25 months I've spent writing it. You encouraged me every week, every chapter, to make this the best story I possibly could.

I wrote this story because Castle, the show, and especially the Beckett/Castle relationship, captured my heart and made an impact on me that only a couple of other TV shows over my lifetime have. But there's only one Castle. I love these characters, and I did my best to show my vision of their lives after the show's canon concluded...and I'm not done yet. I'll be back in a couple of months, as I've said, with more, shorter stories in this universe, covering a variety of situations and occasions when everyone is at all different ages. (In fact, you should be able to guess what the next story I write in this universe will be by the end of this chapter.)

Thank you again for your enthusiasm, interest, encouragement, your understanding when real life got in the way of my posting on schedule, and for going on this journey. I hope you have truly enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

We have one last time jump, to the summer of 2023, and now the final chapter of "This Changes Everything."


The living room of the loft had undergone a major change in d├ęcor in the last two years, and so had the lives of not only the five people who lived there full time, but also the lives of the rest of their family members.

Here, in July of 2023, the entire extended Beckett-Castle family, both by blood and by bond, were thriving. The 4th had fallen on a Thursday, just two weeks ago, and everyone had spent a four-day weekend at the Hamptons house, which was an annual tradition by now.

Victoria had been promoted to the Chief of Detectives of the entire NYPD in 2022, and Gerald was planning to retire from the company he worked for in 2026.

Madison and Mark were happily married, and Madison was still wowing customers and critics alike with the menus at both Q3 locations, while Mark had also been promoted within Homeland Security, using the skills from his previous career in computer science to head the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, focusing on national cyber security.

Javi had been promoted to Lieutenant in February of 2023, and Kevin was currently studying for his Lieutenant's exam; both of them were still working homicides at the 12th Precinct, which was still under the command of Captain Karpowski. Alexis was working in the office of the New York County District Attorney as a prosecutor, putting away the kind of murderers and criminals that Kate, Rick, Javi, Kevin, Lanie, and Victoria had spent their careers in the NYPD catching and arresting.

But the biggest news from Alexis and Javi was that they were expecting their first child in December. They had announced the news to everyone at the same time when they were all at the Hamptons house for the 4th of July weekend. The first morning everyone was there, Alexis and Javier were the last ones down (which Alexis ruefully admitted after all of the congratulations and celebratory hugs was because of morning sickness), and at first everyone was puzzled as to why they were wearing Christmas-themed t-shirts on July 5. Alexis replied there was a reason she and Javi were wearing Christmas-themed t-shirts, and everyone would understand if they stepped into the living room.

Upon heading into the living room, everyone noticed the chalkboard propped up on the mantel, leaning against the wall. Martha reacted first upon processing the message on the chalkboard with a loud shriek. The others joined in as the message on the chalkboard registered in their minds.

Written in green, red, and white chalk, with a Santa Claus hat on the 'S', and the bottom line of text flanked by two wrapped presents, the chalkboard proclaimed:

"SANTA WON'T BE

the only one

COMING TO TOWN

this CHRISTMAS!

Baby Castle-Esposito, December 2023"

Alexis was due ten days before Christmas. No, they weren't finding out whether it was a boy or a girl; they wanted to be surprised. Kevin and Jenny would absolutely be the godparents. And everyone else would be aunts and uncles, Martha would be Great-Gram, Earl would be Pops, and Jim was honored when Alexis said she hoped it was okay with Jim if the baby called him Great-Grandpa Jim once he or she learned to talk. (It absolutely was.) Javi assured Sarah Grace and Nick that they wouldn't be teaching the baby to call them "aunt" and "uncle," and Alexis made the same assurance to Lily, Reece, and Jake, although Lily and Sarah Grace were more excited about the baby than any of the boys were, and Lily announced that she wanted the baby to be a girl because they were surrounded by boys (Reece, Jake, Nick, and Lanie and Alan's trio of sons). Sarah Grace piped up that they were not only surrounded by boys, they were outnumbered. Nick's response to that was the predictable "Boys rule, girls drool," and after the ensuing bickering was settled, Rick engulfed Alexis in a big hug, and then Kate did, and then everyone was hugging everyone. That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Rick and Kate marveled that they were going to be grandparents by the end of the year.

Now that Nick was 7, and Sarah Grace was 9, and they were both in school all day, Jenny had gone back to work full time. She and Kevin had celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary in January, and Alexis and Javier had hosted Nick and Sarah Grace for a weekend while Kevin and Jenny went away to celebrate.

Lanie and Alan had completed their family with the birth of Andrew Zachary Masters, their third and final son and child, in March of 2022. Lanie had returned to the M.E.'s Office shortly after Drew's first birthday. She and Alan had moved to a townhouse on the Upper West Side shortly after learning they were expecting Drew. 2-year-old Robbie and 4-year-old Will shared a bedroom, and 16-month-old Drew had the smallest of the three bedrooms in the townhouse as his nursery. Alan had been promoted at work as well, and was now head of his department.

Martha and Earl were still going strong, having officially moved in together shortly after Javier and Alexis's wedding in 2020. They both worked at Martha's acting school, Earl had guest starred as one of the title character's hapless, zany secretaries on the Murphy Brown revival a couple of seasons ago, and Martha was set to do a stint as one of the witches in an off-Broadway production of Macbeth beginning in September.

Jim, long since fully retired, spent most of his time with his family. Reece and Jake had turned three in February and would be headed to preschool at Marlowe Prep in September, while Lily would be starting first grade. Reece and Jake's preschool would only be a half day, in the mornings, as Lily's was, so Jim would continue to spend as much time as possible helping Rick and Kate with child care.

Rick's second serious literature novel, Inside the Disarray, was still on the best-seller lists after almost a year. The book tours weren't nearly as much fun for him now as they had once been, at least the ones that Kate and the kids couldn't accompany him for, which was most of them. They did spend a memorable few days in California at Disneyland the previous summer, the first trip there for not only Lily, Reece, and Jake, but also for Kate, after Rick had done some press and book signings near Anaheim.

Kate had been re-elected to the City Council in a landslide in November of 2021, and she was already talking with the same people who had approached her years ago about running for the State Senate once her second and final City Council term was up in 2025. In the meantime, though, she continued to serve the people of New York City as one of the best City Council members in recent memory.

This summer morning, neither Rick nor Kate had anywhere to be, and they had just had all the grandparents, Alexis and Javi over for dinner the night before.

The top of the piano was covered in framed photographs of the family through the years. One of the photographs was a copy of Jim, Johanna, and 10-year-old Kate that Jim had given to Kate for Mother's Day a couple of months earlier.

The living room was filled with toys, including the gigantic teddy bear that Rick had won at Coney Island at Lanie and Alan's pre-wedding celebration years earlier, as well as assorted other stuffed animals, the green-and-yellow tricycle that was Jake's pride and joy, and the red fire engine ride-on that was Reece's most prized possession, as well as the small toy house that Lily loved to play with, a toybox filled to the brim near the piano, and full bookshelves.

Lily darted out of the playroom, through her parents' office, and through the living room, Reece and Jake both hot on her heels, and Kate chasing after all three children, refusing to admonish the kids for running in the house just this once, given the source of their excitement: she and Rick had been talking it over for quite a while, had decided that it was time to get a dog, and they had pulled the kids into the playroom before heading to the table for the breakfast Rick had already laid out to tell them that after breakfast, the whole family was going to the animal shelter to pick out a dog. Kate wasn't sure who was most excited about the impending addition to the family: the kids or Rick.

Reece, their little klutz, tripped and fell, and Kate helped him to his feet while Lily ran to the table, throwing her arms in the air in victory when she reached the table before anyone else.

Rick emerged from the office with a big smile on his face and hurried to join Kate and the kids, having just gotten off his phone with the animal shelter to let them know that the Castles would be arriving in about an hour and leaving with a dog, and asking them to get as many kid-friendly dogs together as possible for the family's consideration.

After Reece was back on his feet, Jake, giggling, ran around the couch and away from the kitchen. Grinning, Kate dashed after her youngest child and picked up the laughing little boy, carrying Jake to the table to settle him in his booster seat. Lily was already at her place, and Rick was at the table as well, having gotten Reece in his booster seat, and was pouring orange juice for Lily, milk for Reece and Jake, and coffee for himself and Kate.

Lily bit the top off a muffin as Reece held up his sippy cup, asking for a toast. Kate tapped her coffee mug against Reece's sippy cup. Rick raised his coffee mug in the air, and Lily did the same with her glass of orange juice.

Then Rick turned his attention to Kate as the kids began eating, tapping his mug of coffee against hers. The smile on his face, the love in his eyes, Lily, Reece, and Jake chattering excitedly about the dog they were going to be bringing home that day...This life he had with Kate and their family, their whole big, crazy, wonderful family, made him marvel anew every day when he woke up next to Kate.

After a sip of coffee, Kate surveyed the four people at the table with her, smiling at them, in awe, as she was every day, that this was her life, that she was a wife and a mother, that she had Rick, Lily, Reece, Jake, Alexis, her dad, Martha and Earl, Javi, Kevin and Jenny and their kids, Lanie and Alan and their boys, Maddie and Mark, Victoria Gates and her husband, and by Christmas a grandchild. If anyone had told her, before she ever met Richard Castle, that this would be where she, where they, would wind up, she would have told them they were insane and checked to see what drugs they were taking. But this was all very real, and this life was so much better than anything Kate had ever dared to believe she could have for the longest time.

Rick reached for her hand, and she slipped her hand into his, her smile growing wider as their hands connected, the solid warmth and love in his touch still sending goosebumps skittering down her spine after all these years. His own smile also grew wider, lighting up his whole face, as he stroked her hand with his thumb.

Rick Castle and Kate Beckett had traveled separate paths, broken roads of heartache, tragedy, and loneliness, until one fateful March night in 2009, their paths converged, changing everything that came after that night for both of them. Their partnership was born that night, forged in the crucible of years of joy and pain, secrets kept and revealed, near-tragedies, narrow escapes, and as the years went by, their partnership evolved. They fell in love. They nearly died more than once, sometimes while fighting for each other. But their love was stronger than death, stronger than everything else, and once they found their way together, there were still some missteps, some secrets kept, but their love triumphed over all of that, and together, they built a love, a life, a home, and a family that was their entire world both as individuals and as a couple.

They had both summed up their relationship to one another in one single word, two syllables, years ago, and that word still applied, would apply eternally, to their love for one another, to the life they shared, to the certainty they both felt deep in their souls that what they had was forever.

Yes, it was something they had known for a long time, something they silently reaffirmed at the breakfast table that July morning as they held hands and looked at each other and then at Lily, Reece, and Jake, as the children scarfed down their breakfasts and talked about the dog they would be bringing home in a matter of hours, a couple of weeks after learning they would become grandparents for the first time by the end of the year.

What Rick Castle and Kate Beckett-Castle had, what they shared, the love and life and family together they fought for, building it day by day, was for always.