Disclaimer in Chapter 1.
See, I'm a huge sucker for an epilogue. I always have been. An epilogue makes everything just that little bit better, I think. Plus there was one little moment that I needed to write, I didn't feel the story would've been truly complete without it.
But more importantly, I need to say a HUGE thank you to M for the amazing beta job she did on this fic. M, you do indeed, rock.
The room was chaos.
It was organised chaos, but chaos none-the-less.
Not that Kate had really expected anything else. The first birthday of Miss Sophie Castle was the social invitation of the season, at least according to Rick, who had personally demanded the presence of the entire family, including Ryan, Esposito, Lanie, the Captain and if the Mayor hadn't had a really good excuse, she was sure His Honour would've been here too.
Presents, balloons, streamers and discarded wrapping paper were everywhere, and Kate made a mental note to make sure that Rick and her Dad were given clean up duty later when she took a long and well deserved bath.
Kate let her eyes take in the room. Uncles Kevin and Javi were arguing over which stuffed Finding Nemo character Sophie liked best, Ryan having bought her Nemo and Esposito having bought her Dory. Not that Sophie cared much; she was busy zooming around the hardwood floor in the garish, but cute, baby walker that Alexis had gifted her this morning. The garish, but cute, baby-walker being, without doubt, the toddler's favourite present of the day.
Lanie and Martha had claimed the couch and were busy discussing the merits of younger versus older male co-stars. While her Dad and Captain Montgomery were playing with the light-up bowling set Rick had bought 'for Sophie'. Ha! Actually, Kate grinned to herself, that may even deserve a 'Double Ha'. As soon as she'd seen his face in the toy store when the pins lit up on a strike, she'd known exactly who he was getting the toy for, and it wasn't the one year old who was at this precise moment attempting to break a land-speed record across the living room floor.
Just then, her thoughts were interrupted by a howl of pain as Sophie ran the walker right into Rick's shins.
"Woah, there, munchkin… how about you taking aim at something that isn't quite as breakable as your old man instead?" And with that, Kate heard the little girl squeal in delight as Rick pushed her across the room, making zooming noises as they went.
"Yo, Momma Bear, what you doing hiding out in here?"
Kate looked up as Esposito sat down on one of the breakfast stools.
"I'm not hiding, I'm preparing. Or do you not want cake?" With that, she threw a plastic spoon at him.
"Hey! What was that for! I could book you for a concealed weapon you know!"
"It was hardly concealed, Esposito, I threw it at you. And you know exactly what it was for."
"Beckett, you are the only person in this entire loft who still won't actually say it. You are Momma Bear. You have been for a year now. Through the sleepless nights, the ear infections, the teething… for all intents and purposes you've been that little girl's mom. But since I want cake and not a stab wound, I'm going to go back to the party now and leave you to your 'preparing'."
Kate watched him leave, a small frown settling itself on her face. Was it really that obvious that she wouldn't call herself 'mom'? Her relationship with Rick was solid, so much so that she'd given up her apartment nearly six months ago and moved into Casa del Castle. And it was even better than she'd ever dreamed it would be.
Her bond with Alexis was something she took great pride and comfort in, the teenager really was an amazing person already and Kate was enjoying witnessing – and helping - her grow into the astonishing adult she had always promised to be. And then there was Sophie… it wasn't that she didn't want to be 'Mom', she did. More than she ever thought possible. She just didn't want to put words into anyone's mouths, or force labels where they weren't necessarily sought. No, she would be there for every step of life that Sophie Castle made, for as long as fate allowed it, and she would continue to relish every single moment. But the choice as to how she was viewed would always be Sophie's when she was old enough to make it.
"Hey, what'ya doin?" Kate startled a little from her thoughts, but didn't look up this time, she didn't need to, she just waited for him to step behind her and rest his hands at what had quickly become their natural place on her hips. He didn't disappoint.
"I'm building the Great Wall of China, what does it look like I'm doing?"
"Ooo, you're grumpy! Don't be grumpy, Sophie banned grumpiness today, didn't I tell you?"
"I'm not grumpy, Rick, I'm busy, there's a difference."
"Yeah, there is, but when you're busy you get a little crease between your eyebrows and you bite your lip. When you're grumpy, your eyes narrow and your lips thin a little bit… just like they are doing right now."
Kate swatted him as he reached around to steal some frosting.
"Seriously, Kate, is everything ok?"
She melted at the concern in his voice and as much as she wanted to talk to him about the apparent 'Momma Bear' issue, to make sure he understood why she wasn't pushing the label, she decided that it could wait until later, when they didn't have a houseful of party guests to overhear and interrupt. So she turned slightly, angling her head in just the right way to meet his lips with hers, reassuring him – and herself – that all was well.
"Quit it you two, there are, after all, minors in the house!"
Kate turned and laughed out loud as Martha wandered into the kitchen before angling back to the counter to continue putting the finishing touches to Sophie's birthday cake.
"I still don't understand her fascination with that clown fish, kiddo…"
"Me either, Martha, but you're going to have to blame your son for it."
"Don't I always blame him for everything?" Kate chuckled at Martha's dry retort. She almost felt sorry for Rick; he was well and truly outnumbered in this house now.
"Hey! I might've started watching the movie with her, but I wasn't the one to go crazy on the Nemo themed party. That was all you, Detective!"
"Yeah, well, she does love that fish. Anyway, I wasn't the one who decided to buy a one year old a rocking horse!" Kate sassed back.
"It's a pony! I bought my little girl a pony!"
"She's a year old, Rick! The Nemo ball pit would've been way more to her taste and not to mention actually age-appropriate."
"You're just jealous. I offered to buy you a pony once and you turned me down and now you're jealous!"
Kate shut him up the second best way she knew how. She rammed a sugar donut into his mouth.
"Now, Ricky, go be a good Daddy and pick up your daughter, I'm about to serve the cake. Oh and drag my Dad and Lanie away from the chocolate fountain while you are at it, please?"
Rick's mouth was still full of donut and his lips full of sugar when he leaned in and kissed her, swatting her butt as he left to retrieve Sophie and check on the chocolate fountain bandits. Kate laughed to herself as she wiped her mouth before placing the candle in the centre of the cake.
"You make him happy, Kate. You make us all happy. Thank you."
Kate had forgotten Martha was still in the kitchen and had obviously been watching the previous interplay between them. Catching the older woman's gaze, she felt her throat constrict as she spoke. "I'm only repaying in kind. Thank you, he's the man he is today because of you. As much as he'd never admit it, I am more than happy to; you are a great mom, Martha."
Kate met the outstretching hand half way and gripped tight.
"Oh, Darling… I love you too."
The redhead took a moment to compose herself and Kate let her. It wasn't often Martha let her see past the aging ingénue, but when she did, Kate valued it for its truth worth.
"All right, enough already or my mascara is going to run and then we really will be in a mess. There's a little girl out there waiting to blow out a candle… well, her father is waiting to blow out the candle at any rate…"
Kate laughed again, lit the enormous wax 'number one' shaped candle and picked up the cake before walking into the living room with Martha just a half-step behind.
Kate was pleased to see Alexis had taken charge of Sophie, hearing her insist that Rick would only blow the candle out before the song was finished because he had less patience that the one year old sister she carried on her hip. Grinning at Rick's pout she caught his attention to start the raucous rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.
A few minutes later, the cake was in generous pieces on various different plates and Sophie had been corralled into her high chair, occupied by her own slice of, albeit, mushed-up cake. Most of which, Kate knew from experience, would end up in her hair and on the floor.
Kate walked over to the baby and couched at the side of the high chair, automatically brushing her hand gently over the silky brown baby hair, dislodging several dozen crumbs as she went.
"Hey, sweetheart, you're enjoying your big day huh?"
Sophie giggled and clapped as Kate instinctively ran her finger over the button nose.
"I still can't believe your Daddy bought you a pony. Although I suppose I should just be grateful it wasn't a car…"
Sophie giggled again as Kate made faces at her.
"Can you say Da-da again, baby? Da-da…"
Kate had been working with Sophie for a while now, small words mainly, but it was 'Da-da' that had reduced her big, strong boyfriend to crying girly tears in the bathroom the first time he'd heard Sophie say it. And every time since, his eyes had gone glassy and his throat had worked hard to keep his reaction at bay and Kate Beckett wasn't above using that little reaction as ammunition in front of the boys…
Kate froze as a chubby little hand patted her cheek, no doubt covering her with blue frosting. Mama? Had she heard right? Yes, of course she had. Sophie Castle had just called her Mama and now her eyes seemed to be leaking all over her cheeks, mascara be damned.
"Oh, Sophie… I love you, baby."
Kate kissed the little girl as her heart beat right out of her chest, just as two familiar masculine hands wound their way to rest on her stomach as his chin rested on her shoulder.
"She loves you too… Mama. We all do…"
Kate turned in his arms, burrowing into him. "Rick, she just called me… "
"I know, Kate, I heard."
The catch in his voice caused her to look up at him and when she did, she realised hers weren't the only eyes leaking at the moment.
"But you never… I didn't want to…"
"Shh, Kate, I know. I didn't want to push either, not on this. This was always a decision between you and Sophie."
"God, Rick, I really am Mama, aren't I?" She felt him wipe a thumb over her cheek, catching the new tear before it fell.
"Yeah, Kate, you really are. You always have been."
"I just can't believe she actually said it, Rick…"
"Now you know how I felt when she said 'Da-da' and I do believe you mocked me for hours, nay, days!" His faux outrage achieved its goal and lightened the moment, so she dropped a kiss on his pout. As usual, he deepened the kiss as soon as he could, at least until he was hit in the back of the head with a flying Dory-fish, courtesy of Esposito.
Kate laughed along with everyone else, but her heart was still stuttering because of the little girl contentedly covering herself in frosting and cake and the man whose current look was all too easy to decipher.
"Don't you go getting any ideas, Richard Castle!"
Later, after the guests had left and the party was over, Kate was once more in the kitchen, this time loading dishes into the dishwasher as Rick sauntered in.
"She's out like a light," he grinned as he took up his favourite position behind her, dropping his usual kiss on her shoulder and he slid his arms around her middle.
"I'm not surprised; she's had a big day. After all, it's not everyday a girl gets a pony…"
"You're not going to let that one go are you?"
"No, not for a good few years yet, so I'd get used to it if I were you."
"Mmm, 'years' you say? I suppose I can deal with that…"
She turned her face to his kiss, this time letting it deepen; safe in the knowledge that there was no one around to butt in at an inopportune moment. He turned her and pulled her tighter to him and she happily melted into his arms.
When the kiss naturally ended, he pulled away slightly.
"By the way, in the interests of full disclosure…"
Kate moaned. "Oh God, what did you do?"
"Nothing, I swear! It's just that before, you told me not to get any ideas?"
Kate couldn't stop her shoulders from stiffening or her face from betraying her feelings.
"Relax, Kate… I'm not going to ask… not yet at least…"
He was laughing at her, the jerk! That damned arrogant little quirk of his lips… it's a good job she found it sexy as hell.
"…I just meant that I've had ideas since the day I met you, Kate…" She quirked her eyebrow at him. "Okay, since the day after… but the point is, I know you aren't ready for me to ask that particular question just yet, but in every way that matters you are already 'Mama' and already 'wife', Sophie proved the former this afternoon and one day soon, I'm going to prove the latter. All you have to do is tell me you're ready, Kate and I'll make it all official within a week…the adoption papers, a wedding…"
She kissed him. Deep and hard and with every ounce of love she felt for him. But not even that could stop the mockery for too long.
"A week? It would take the Great Richard Castle an entire week to get the job done?"
He grinned at her, the full on, toothy, eye sparkling grin that she utterly adored.
"Firstly, thank you for calling me 'Great' and second, I would have to make sure that any timetable allows for unforeseen occurrences of dragon slaying, Mama…"
Kate felt the tears well in her eyes and fall, only for him to catch them on his thumb.
"I love you, Rick. Thank you for giving me your family."
"You're welcome, Kate. Thank you for letting me."
And with that he kissed her again.
Only this time, neither stopped for air.
(No, really this time is the definite end.)
AN: And there you have it, the absolute end of the story. I swear I'm getting a little teary here now it's over!
I very much doubt that there will be a sequel to this, as I feel I've told the story I wanted to tell, but since I never say never, I won't close off the possibility entirely, but there's not a good chance.
I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. You made me smile – and bounce - so much with your reviews, so I can only hope that I gave you even half as much pleasure as those reviews gave me.
Thank you so much and see you soon – with a new fic.