Here it is, lovely readers: The End!

The next day, New York's papers and a few national publications were splashed with stories of Castle and Beckett's romance. The headlines and angles of the stories ranged from "Castle Cancels Weekend Wedding" to "Castle to Marry Muse," "Castle's Honey Packs Heat" (with a close-up of Beckett's holstered service weapon) and "Castle Hot for Heat Cop." Some articles focused on the secretive relationship, and others on Rick's admission that he'd invented Nikki Heat to get the girl. Kate was relieved to find that most of the articles included her pleas for the press to keep away so she could do her job. So far, it seemed to be working.

They'd had to take some ribbing at work; there was no way to casually ignore that much press, especially with steamy photos of them kissing on the street. Paula had received "about a million" phone calls requesting interviews and photo shoots, and Rick and Kate were doing their best to schedule them. Donna from The Ledger called to gloat that she'd known it all along: "Rick Castle, you owe me an interview and an apology for disparaging the blurb I wrote about you for the most-eligible-bachelors list! 'Oh, we're not a couple,'" she imitated him, "'I won't be off the market.' HA!"

When Beckett and Castle had stepped outside his apartment that first day, there were no photographers waiting. There were none at the stationhouse before or after work. The whole family even ventured out for dinner that night. They were left alone, and all of them felt relieved.

Over the next month, everyone adjusted to their new life together. Beckett and Castle had received enough media attention that Kate had to give up undercover work, but thus far, her increased fame hadn't affected her ability to solve murders. The press mostly complied with Kate's requests, as she kept up her end of the bargain, though a few of pictures published had been taken of the unknowing couple on the streets of New York. Kate hated the invasion of privacy, but at least the reporters and photographers were keeping their distance. Besides, she had bigger problems to worry about.

"Castle, remind me: why didn't we elope that weekend?"

The couple had just finished buying Kate's wedding gown. The women in the dress shop had raised their eyebrows at the groom helping her pick it out, but Kate didn't care about tradition, and she sure as hell didn't care what the saleswomen thought. All she knew was that Rick had picked out that red dress— the most perfect dress she had ever owned, the one that made her feel beautiful and glamorous— so she wanted him to help pick out her wedding dress, too.

Rick laughed as he escorted her out of the store, a hand at the small of her back. "As I recall, you said you wanted me to know you were marrying me because you love me, not just to avoid the paparazzi."

"Oh, yeah."

"Why? What is my mother trying to get you to do this time?"

"She thinks I should have six bridesmaids. I tried to explain that making a woman be a bridesmaid is actually kind of mean, but she wouldn't listen."

"You could ask all of those friends who made you be their bridesmaids. You could pick out vicious revenge dresses. Traffic-cone orange. No, chartreuse!"

"No way. It's going to be Alexis, Martha and Lanie. That's all, and they can pick out their own dresses."

"Okay, then I'll just ask your dad, Ryan and Esposito."

"Seriously? Didn't you have friends before you started following me around, Castle?"

"I had poker-playing-writer friends and go-out-clubbing friends, but Esposito and Ryan are get-shot-at-together friends."

"That does create a special bond."

"We should know. Less than a year ago, you wouldn't even talk to me. Now we're getting married. Can you believe it?"

"No," Kate replied, honestly.

Sometimes she had nightmares that her life with Castle and his family was just a dream, and that she had awakened alone in her old life. Other nights, she dreamt that they were working a case, and Castle was shot and killed. In those dreams, she felt gutted by sorrow.

But then Kate would wake up in Rick's arms, light streaming through the window. Kate and Rick would go into the kitchen to make breakfast, and two vivacious redheads would join them. Then, her new family would do the craziest things. They would have silent-movie-style fencing matches, or laser tag battles with sci-fi storylines. They would spontaneously dance or burst into song. They would hug her, kiss her and love her. They would even give her space when she needed it. All she ever had to do was ask.

The guys of the 12th precinct tried to tease Kate that love was making her soft, but Detective Kate Beckett knew better. Being open to heartbreak required bravery. It had taken a lifetime for her to be ready for this: love, family, and even the long, white dress. Kate finally believed what Rick had told her their first night together: sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to ask for what you need.

"Take me home, Castle?" Kate asked.

Rick kissed her, and hailed a cab back to their apartment.

I hope you've enjoyed the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it for you. Thanks for reading!