A/N: Turns out this didn't take as long as I feared. What? You needn't all look so shocked. I never said it was going to be a long epilogue. Just that there was going to be one. Anyway, here we go. Here it is. Hope you enjoy it. And thank you to everyone who enjoyed the story and who reviewed. You're all lovely. Oh, and thank you to MK who offered to send my muse hot fudge sundaes. Probably not necessary in this case (for some reason I knew it wasn't going to necessary for the epilogue), but feel free to send 'em anyway. I hope the end works for you guys. I quite like it. And I also kind of like working in a universe that doesn't go beyond the middle of S2. Oh, and it is a different format from the rest of the chapters. 'Tis why it's an epilogue and not a chapter.
Obviously they knew people watched them. How could they not? Neither of them was stupid. But just because people watched and wondered didn't mean either of them had to acknowledge the fact, or even change their behaviour because of it.
After all, it was no one else's business anyway.
And besides, if they admitted to each other that people were watching them then they'd probably also have to admit that there might be a reason for all the attention.
That could be dangerous.
Danger was to be avoided.
When she was being honest with herself, usually late at night when she was reading one of his books, or remembering something that he'd done to make her laugh, Kate almost admitted that there might be something there. Something was never defined of course. Like an admission, a definition meant she might have to actually take action.
And sometimes when Castle was writing in his office, trying to plot out what Nikki would do in a particular situation, and trying to remind himself that though there were obvious (and unavoidable) similarities, Nikki Heat was not Kate Beckett so if he rewrote something she'd done at the precinct earlier that day into his novel verbatim she'd kill him, no matter how awesome it'd been. Castle tried to pretend that he didn't wish she was nearby so he could ask her opinion of the matter. And maybe, while she was at it, she'd give her opinions on other matters as well. Because he wanted to know what she thought about any number of things, most of them unrelated to his book, though he refused to think about the whys and wherefores of that too deeply.
As long as neither of them thought too hard they could just be Castle and Beckett without a label.
And it was remarkably easy to be just Castle and Beckett at the precinct. At the precinct there was structure and unwritten rules, for protection.
So while Kate occasionally admitted to herself in her room late at night that she genuinely liked having Castle around, that she was flattered by the attention, that she secretly loved that she was Nikki Heat (well, sort of), she'd never tell him. And if she sometimes grinned to herself like an idiot because her favourite author had chosen her as the inspiration for an entire series of novels, that was fine too as long as nobody knew. And even though she knew that half of the things Castle said to her were either exaggerations or an act to protect his image, that underneath his frivolous exterior Richard Castle was loyal and steadfast and loving and protective and a million other things no one would ever think just from looking at him... Well, most of the time she pretended that she didn't know either. She let him get away with pretending he was the shallowest man on the planet. Because that was part of the unwritten rules, the ones that prevented her from getting hurt.
In the meantime Castle let her push him away and shut him down or he deliberately provoked her, or made easy quips to play up his image as a womanizer who shouldn't be trusted. And he pretended that he didn't care when she berated him or scorned him or judged him. He pretended that the only reason he wanted to know all about her was for his book. That was the excuse after all, the party line.
They both knew sticking to the rules was important.
If they stuck to the rules Kate got her shadow, the one who made her days brighter and helped her through the tough spots. And Castle got to be the man in her life, the one she leaned on, and confided in, the one she occasionally even let protect her. Just a little bit. Because let's face it, sometimes even she got tired.
And they got to laugh together, to have fun, to enjoy their work.
Sure, the rules weren't ideal, but they meant the two of them spend time together without all the pressure. They could ignore the speculation from coworkers, the obvious bets, and the subtle winks in their direction. They could spend twelve hours straight in each other's company and no one batted an eye.
They got to know each other. Even as they pretended not to.
Richard Castle walked over to his lovely muse's desk carrying two cups of coffee. He set one down next to the Detective who was still poring over something or other in a file, and sat down across from her taking a sip out of the other one. "You looked like you could use a refill," he told her when she looked up.
Kate Beckett glanced over at the steaming coffee, biting her lip slightly to stop the full-blown smile from blossoming onto her face. Instead she sent the man sitting across from her the slightest of grins. "Thanks," she told him sincerely. Then she looked around. The bullpen was almost empty, and with good reason. It was almost 11 o'clock at night. Most sensible people had already left for the day. "What are you still doing here?" she asked curiously.
He shrugged. "You're here," he told her, as if that explained everything.
"I see," she said sceptically.
"And the case isn't closed," he added.
"No, I guess not," Kate admitted. "But..."
"Plus, how can I observe you on the job if I'm not here he to see you?" Castle asked, smoothly interrupting her objection.
Kate smirked. "Ah yes, research."
"Research," he confirmed with a nod. "Exactly."
"I sent everyone else home hours ago," Kate pointed out.
"You should know by now that I never do what I'm told Detective," Castle replied, stating the obvious. "Besides, you stayed."
She shrugged. "Something's wrong," Beckett admitted.
"I know," he said softly.
"Something doesn't fit," she added as if she hadn't heard him.
"I know," he said again.
"I don't know what it is though!" she said in frustration.
"I know," Castle said with a sigh.
She looked at him. "So?" she asked hopefully.
"So what?" he asked innocently, eyes twinkling.
"So do you have any suggestions on how to solve this since you're here anyway and you're obviously not going to leave me alone?" she asked with the required hint of irritation in her voice.
He grinned. "Of course I have a suggestion."
"Does it involve a story in which our vic is magically transported into a cheesy dime-store mystery novel?" Kate asked somewhat caustically. He deserved it. He was looking at her like he knew exactly what she was thinking, like he agreed, like he'd do anything to help her. It was... distracting. So obviously she needed to distract him, and nothing did that like a blow to the ego.
Castle drew himself up a bit then, clearly insulted. "My stories are not the ilk of dime-store mystery novels," he said defensively. Then he grinned, bright and suave and smooth. "As I believe you well know Detective. After all, word on the street is that your personal collection is all first editions." And one of these days he vowed to find out the facts behind that particular story himself. At the moment he was content to savour the anticipation, certain that the eventual payoff would be worth it.
She ignored that, "What's your plan Castle?" she asked him dryly. "What can you do that I haven't been doing all night?"
"I thought we could go over it together," he admitted, pleased when her eyes brightened at the suggestion. "If you're nice to me of course," he added.
"And if I'm not nice to you?" she wondered. After all, she could hardly admit that she was glad to see him. That she sometimes got lonely working late all by herself.
"Even better," he admitted.
Beckett let out a huff of laughter and pushed the file towards him. "Here," she said. "It's all yours. I've already been through it so many times I've practically got it memorized."
"Thanks," he said as he scanned the first few pages. "So Detective," he asked idly. "Just how not nice are you planning on being? Is my safe word going to have to come into play?" He knew he probably shouldn't, but he loved to bait her. It was so much fun when she played along and she was clearly now in a better mood.
"I dunno Castle," Kate replied, leaning back into her chair. "Given how little it seems to take to make you scream out 'Apples,' I think you should tell me." She loved to tease him. He almost always reacted, and it made her feel powerful, desirable, that this man never seemed to tire of flirting with her.
He grinned, "Oh, but why just tell you when it would be so much more fun to let you use a hands on approach?" he asked with a grin.
"I can give you hands on Castle," she promised him sweetly as she leaned closer. "But somehow I don't think it's going to be in the way you'd like."
"Promise?" he asked wiggling his eyebrows.
"Oh yeah," she said, right before she smacked him, the unofficial signal that he'd gone too far. "Now focus on the case," she ordered. "Before I throw you out of here."
"You're a very physical woman sometimes you know," he said rubbing his head.
"I'm a cop Castle," she exclaimed. "It's in the job description."
He pouted. "Still, one of these days I might start thinking you don't like me."
"I don't like you," she confirmed.
"Ooh, that stings Detective," he said in exaggeration. "And after I brought you coffee too. But it's okay, I know how it is, you only want me for my brilliant crime-solving mind." With that he opened the file and began to study it. "Well," he amended. "That and my totally hot body."
The second smack upside the head came as no surprise.
He decided to play it safe. He studied the file for a full thirty seconds before chancing a glance in her direction.
The hint of a pleased grin on her face came as no surprise either. He smiled to himself before going back to the file. But something was wrong.
He was hungry. Obviously it was time for a midnight snack.
Before he could say anything he heard Beckett open her drawer, pull out a jumbo-sized bag of peanut M&M's, pour them into the bowl she kept in her desk drawer for that purpose and push them towards him.
He caught her eye and sent her a slight grin before he grabbed one.
Moments later she did the same.
Castle was calm as he searched for that elusive clue. He wasn't worried. Together they could work it out. They always did.
In the meantime, he was content to be where he was. So was she. Why should anything change?
They were comfortable with each other.
There was even trust. Most of the time.
Whatever 'it' was between them, 'it' mattered too much to both of them to screw it up.
So while friends and family wondered what the hell they were both doing and why they were both being so incredibly stupid, wondered why the two of them pretended to be blissfully unaware, and when that didn't work fell back on the old standby of deny, deny, deny.
And yeah, maybe sometimes even they even wondered themselves what if… what if they threw caution to the wind?
But neither of them ever did it.
Because neither of them were quite sure, and both of them knew it.
Right now things were good. And in future? While, maybe they'd get there.
As to what they were at the moment though? Well, they knew that.
They were writer and muse, Detective and tag-along. Reader of rights and writer of wrongs.
They were Castle and Beckett.
And that was enough.
For both of them.
Kate reached for an M&M and met Castle's eye across the desk a second time. He winked at her. She smacked him lightly in the arm. He smirked. She shook her head.
Whatever they were, they worked.
They were good.
And maybe someday they'd even acknowledge that they could be better.
Thanks to all those who stuck it out. I hope you enjoyed it. And I appreciate all the reviews, really I do.