Author's Note:

Here it is, the last chapter. I hope you've all enjoyed this short story. =)

Chapter Seven

"Happily Ever After"

"This was a terrible idea," Kate said, rubbing her heavy eyes and listening to the heartbeat just below her left ear.

"Speak for yourself," he replied, sprawled out at the end of the bed. "I'm having fun."

"Only you could call this fun," she said, doing her best not to slur her words. Three empty bottles of Merlot sat on the floor, next to her copy of Persuasion.

"Am I supposed to take that to mean you're unhappy?" he asked, "Because you were just fine a few minutes ago."

"Tomorrow's hangover is going to be awful," she said, lifting her head off his chest to stare at her feet. One wore a bright red sock, the other was bare. "Hmm. How did that happen?"

"How did what happen?"

"I'm missing a sock."

"Who cares? It's a sock," he said and grinned. "Besides, you're currently in bed with Rick Castle. You should be worrying more about other clothes that might disappear."

"Try it and I kill you," she warned. "And we're not in bed. We're on my bed, fully clothed."

"And fully drunk," he added. "One thing could easily lead to another."

"Oh, no, it can't," she replied.

"Fine," he groaned, "Spoilsport."

"How drunk are you, exactly?" she asked out of curiosity, wondering if the ceiling was spinning just as much for him.

"Uh…" he started uneasily, "I can remember Alexis's birthday, but not my own."

"Oh, no," she said, "Don't tell me."

"Oh, yes," he countered, "I drove here."

"Easy. We call you a cab."

"Really, Detective?" he asked. "You'd send me home, drunk, to my fifteen-year-old daughter and unsuspecting mother?"

Kate laughed.

"Okay, for one thing, your mother's probably on her way home now in the exact same condition," he said and Castle laughed, "And I'm sure Alexis has had to deal with your party habits before."

"Wrong," he corrected. "Dead wrong."

"Which part?"

"The part about Alexis," he said earnestly. "I never came home drunk when she was a kid. Never. I wanted to be a better father than that, and I'm not going to ruin it now."

"So of course it has nothing to do with you wanting to stay here tonight?"

"No," he replied casually, "Not at all."

"Fine," she sighed, "I'll make up the couch." She turned her head slightly to look up at him. "You're a good father."

"Really?" he asked, incredulous. "You think so? I've been terrified of screwing her up her whole life."

"I think every parent is," she observed. "But Alexis really is a great kid. You should be proud of her. Hell! I'm proud of her and she's not even my kid."

"Thanks," he chuckled, "I have no idea how she turned out as great as she did. I doubt it was her mother, and I know for a fact it wasn't me."

"Martha, maybe," she offered and they both laughed.

"What about having your own?" he asked on a more serious note and he could tell Beckett was surprised. "What? It's a reasonable question. I saw the way you were with Angie Candela. You'd be a great mom."

"With my life?" she laughed, "No way. Absolutely no way."

"Never?" he asked pointedly. "Forever's a long time."

"Well," she wondered aloud, "Maybe not for a while, at least. Everything is too complicated right now, and it's still too dangerous for me to have someone depending on me."

"I guess I can understand that," he said and found himself staring at her. Her dark hair was messy and wild, and her usually pale face was flushed with alcohol. God help him, he couldn't remember seeing a woman more beautiful.

"I think your mom would have been proud of you, too," he told her, watching as her expression changed from one of quiet contemplation to one of sorrow.

"I think about that constantly," she admitted, her voice rough. "She wanted me to be a teacher or a doctor. Something normal and safe like that."

"So you became a detective. It's kind of the same thing," he replied, "But less normal and more dangerous."

"Tell me about it," she scoffed. "Castle, you have to make me a promise."

"Sure," he said, "Anything."

"If we do this," she started, "If we reopen Mom's case, you have to keep an eye on me." She rolled onto her left side, her head still resting on the muscles of his abdomen. He was tempted to reach out and push her hair away from her face, but he didn't want to lose his hand.

"I mean it," she said solemnly, "If I get in too far and lose it, you have to stop me. I don't care what I say or theater to do to you—you can't let me go through that again. I won't survive it a second time."

Castle nodded, unable to do anything else.

"You're the one who got me through her death in the first place," she said and her eyes widened with the realization of what she'd just said. The wine—though quickly wearing off—had loosened her tongue, and no she had no chance of being able to take the words back.

"How?" he asked, surprised. "I didn't know you then."

"Your books," she found herself saying, "I read them all, one after the other." She gave a weak smile. "I may not have turned into a cop without them."

"You're kidding," he marveled.

"No, I'm not," she said with a self-effacing laugh, "I saw the way these cops dealt with death, and how they gave closure to so many people." She cleared her throat. "By that time Dad and I had accepted that we would probably never know who killed Mom. I just kept thinking that I could give other people that kind of closure, even if I could never give it to myself."

"Huh," was all he said, though his mind was screaming, You're amazing. He kept thinking that he would have written hundreds more books over the years if he'd known that they would have given her even one more moment of peace.

"Yeah," she said, suddenly embarrassed by her confession. "So that's it. You were there from the beginning and now you're back, digging it all back up again."

He almost apologized, but he'd already told her how much he hated hurting her like he had. She knew, he hoped. He hoped she could read him as well as she could everyone else, because he didn't think he'd ever be able to tell her everything he felt when she was around. Having her this close, actually touching him, made the effects of the alcohol seem like nothing.

"I want to be there," he said suddenly, making Kate blink in surprise. "I want to be there for the rest of it."

Kate studied him for a second before nodding.

The trust this implied was nothing short of staggering, and they both knew it. Kate couldn't help but wonder what she'd done, and Castle was stunned that she'd done it. But, instead of feeling panic, they both felt an odd sense of relief.

"How long do writers usually annoy their inspiration?" she asked playfully.

"You know, that really depends on the writer," he replied with a smile, "It could be weeks or months or years."

"Oh, God," she groaned.

"What?" he asked, laughing. "I have every right to stick around until the happily ever after."

"I wasn't aware your characters got a happily ever after."

"Of course they do," he scoffed. "Why wouldn't they?"

"You shot Derek Storm in the head," she said pointedly. "What are you going to do to Nikki when you get tired of her? Car crash? Volcano?"

"Ooh, a volcano would be cool," he said excitedly, "It goes along with the whole 'heat' thing."

"Oh, God. What have I done?"

"But Nikki Heat doesn't need to worry about that," he supplied, "I have a feeling it's going to be a long, long time before I get tired of her." He shrugged. "Hell, I might never get tired of her."

"God help me," she replied, but she smiled as she said it.

THE END