Title: Of Finding Innocence

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Castle, obviously. However, I'd gladly serve them all coffee.

Summary: When Kate Beckett went to get her book signed by Richard Castle, she never imagined that she'd end up meeting his daughter, much less offering to babysit for the afternoon. What happened next was nothing short of her wildest dreams, and so much more. AU.

Chapter 41: Epilogue

She drummed her fingers against the metal bar, hearing the little 'chink' every fourth hit as her rings met the smooth surface. She searched the crowd with her eyes, looking for the familiar flash of red in the sea of blacks and browns and blonds. JFK was crowded and Kate sighed, glancing over at the arrivals board. On time. Well, that was a relief.

She watched as a surge of people came from one of the long hallways, a little family at the forefront. A tiny boy sat up on his father's broad shoulders, giggling, and a little girl, maybe seven or eight, clung to her mother's hand, babbling away. The mother, who looked about three years Kate's senior, with a low blond pony tail and customary black New York pea coat, smiled down at her daughter while her husband said something to send the little one on his shoulders peeling with laughter again.

They made a lovely picture and Kate smiled softly, fingering the rings on her hand and peering around with renewed vigor. She just wanted her girl back. As if called by her inner petulance, Kate finally caught sight of her, running toward the barrier, suitcase rolling behind her.

"Mom," Alexis called out, beaming as she whipped through the gap two sets away and then barreled over, dropping her suitcase to catapult herself into Kate's waiting arms.

"Hi, Lex," she laughed, stumbling a bit as they balanced themselves out. The fifteen-year-old version of Alexis had more of an impact than she'd had at eight. "How are you?" she demanded, pulling back to inspect her daughter, fresh from a week with Meredith, doing God knows what. "Piercings? Tattoos?"

Alexis just laughed, eyes alight and face exactly the same as ever—freckled, pale and perfect. "Expensive clothes you're welcome to pilfer," she replied, grinning as Kate nodded in approval. "You cut your hair," she continued a second later.

It was a testament to how all-out that hug had been that Alexis hadn't noticed sooner. "Do you like it?" Kate asked, self-consciously tugging at a strand of her ridiculously short hair. "I asked for a styled bob, and they gave me this," she explained as she grabbed Alexis' suitcase from her, firmly yanking it away as she feebly tried to protest. Her hair barely passed her cheekbones, and it left her feeling bare. She'd wanted something different, not the closest to page boy she'd been since she was three.

"It's cute," Alexis smiled, threading her arm through Kate's as they made their way out of the terminal and onto the tarmac. "Cold," Alexis whined, sounding eerily like her father.

"Happens when you spend a lovely week in California at the end of February," Kate laughed.

Alexis huffed and burrowed closer. "I like your hair," she decided after a minute as they passed the second lot, heading for the only spot Kate had been able to find during the rush hour craze of parking. The sky was gray above them, but clearing, and she welcomed the sight. There was nothing worse than an evening spent outside in the rain.

"I'm glad," she sighed. She'd been worried Alexis would hate it. She herself wasn't sure she liked it. Rick loved it. She'd come home, close to tears, and he'd taken one look at her, jumped up from his office chair and tackled her onto the small couch against the bookshelf, proclaiming her the sexiest thing he'd ever seen. So, for all the misgivings she had, she'd had to hand it to the hairdresser; her cut certainly did things to her husband. And anything that made a man, married for just over six years, pounce on his wife like that was worth every penny.

"How is everyone?" her daughter asked as they finally reached the car and Kate unlocked it, laughing as Alexis sprinted around to hop into the passenger seat, burrowing in. Kate opened her door and twisted the key into the ignition to give the pouting girl some heat while she stowed the suitcase in the trunk. She let out a low sigh, watching her breath rise in a puff before her. As much as she loved her family, it was never the same without Alexis there.

Kate slid into the drivers' seat and looked over at her daughter, who was curled up in a ball, watching her. "Everyone's fine," she laughed as Alexis rubbed her hands over her dark-jean-clad legs. "Looking forward to seeing you."

Alexis smiled. "Good. You know I love Mom, but it's just not the same."

Kate leaned over and rested a hand on the girl's knee for a moment. "I know. And we've definitely missed having you around," she assured her.

"Have I said recently how glad I am that you married Dad?" she asked quietly.

Kate squeezed her knee. "Just about a week ago, probably," she teased gently. "But the sentiment's mutual." Alexis met her eyes happily. Visiting Meredith always brought Alexis home grateful that her father had found Kate. Though, to be fair, Alexis had found Kate; Rick was just a side benefit—something they'd giggled about more than once.

Alexis smiled. "Mom's new costume designer used to work for Vera Wang," she told her as Kate put the car into gear and pulled out, listening attentively even as she navigated their way out of the crowded garage. "She was showing me all of these designs, but your dress from Nordstrom was still prettier."

Kate held back a smile. "I'm sure her friend's dresses were gorgeous." The visits also made Alexis sentimental. It hurt on some level, to know that the trip to California brought her back so eager for memories and extra hugs. But at the same time, it made Kate feel special, a dichotomy she still wasn't quite comfortable with.

Alexis gave her a look. "We both know you were the most beautiful bride ever."

Kate just shook her head and paid the fare for the garage, pulling out and into the dense mid-day, Friday afternoon traffic. "Well thank you," she said after a minute or two of tense driving, trying to ensure that they didn't end up in a wreck.

Alexis sighed heavily and Kate laughed. "You're ridiculous. Do you remember what Dad looked like? I'm pretty sure he wasn't breathing."


"Well?" Kate prompted shyly, doing a small twirl for her father as she stood at the bottom of the stairs. The dress billowed around her as she pirouetted on her bare feet and her father stood there, mouth agape, his eyes suspiciously shiny.

"Oh, Katie," he breathed, taking the hand she extended toward him. "You look so beautiful."

"Thank you, Daddy," Kate murmured, watching as he continued taking her in. She caught him as his gaze rested on the ring that dangled from a new platinum chain around her neck—her something old and something new, one from her mother and one from Martha.

"She would have been over the moon," Jim told her, meeting her eyes. Both were close to tears. They stared at each other for a long moment, missing Johanna, who should have been there with them. But then, simultaneously, it seemed, they realized that Kate was in her wedding dress and the processional was starting. Finally, they each laughed a little and wiped at their eyes.

She wished her mother could be here to see this. But at least Kate had a part of her; she gently twirled the ring on her chest, feeling her own engagement band on her finger—the old with the new. "I know," she said, smiling sadly at her father.

He nodded gruffly for a moment and then cleared his throat, gearing up to say something she could tell he'd thought about. "I can't think of a better man, or a better family to give you up to," he said, his voice a little tight. "Though, as your Dad, I have to agree with Rick; they're getting the gift."

Kate smiled and shook her head. "It's the other way around," she argued as she turned and watched Alexis prance down the little aisle in the sand, between the 20 white chairs. She spread flowers as she went, her head held high, staring at her father, Richard Castle, who had eyes only for his little girl. Lanie and Madison followed in their maroon dresses, barefoot as well, and Jim touched her shoulder.

"I'm lucky," Kate said as he came to stand at her side. She turned and kissed his cheek, infinitely happy that she had him there with her. "And I love you, Daddy."

He smiled and squeezed her hand, pulling it into the crook of his elbow as the little string quartet began to play the bridal march. Elise had insisted. As she walked onto the porch and down the steps, her father's words of, "I love you too, Katherine. And your mother and I are so proud of you," replaying in her ears, the music overtook her and it finally clicked; she was getting married.

The smile that split her face as that thought sank in was luminescent. She felt the sand between her toes as they stepped off the patio and began making their way down the little aisle. And then she only had eyes for Rick, who stood beside the Mayor—The Mayor—transfixed as he stared at her. The grin that bloomed on his face was exultant, and their eyes met, his blue and excited, hers hazel and wet already.

Slowly, so slowly that she almost wanted to break away and run to the front, she and her father made their way to Rick. She just wanted to hold his hand, hug him, kiss him, tackle him to the ground and wipe that grin off until all he could do was gasp. She laughed a little at herself; that was romantic. Her father squeezed her arm in question and she just shook her head. Rick laughed as his eyes held hers. She wondered if they were sharing the same joke together.

But it hardly mattered, for when they reached him, and her father kissed her hand before handing it to Rick, all they could do was stare at each other. Kate took a brief moment to lock eyes with Alexis, who was practically bouncing up and down next to Javier behind Rick. They beamed at each other and then Kate found Rick's eyes, and she was lost.

"You look…" he trailed off as Bob came to stand between them. Rick's eyes raked up and down her figure and he worked his jaw for a moment, unable to find the right words.

"Have I rendered you speechless?" she teased, because the alternative was catapulting herself into his arms, and you were supposed to wait for the rings, right? He laughed loudly and reached out to take her hands.

"If the bride and groom are finished," Bob chuckled. There was a laugh from the crowd, but Kate barely heard it.

"I love you," Rick mouthed to her as Bob began speaking.

Kate smiled and replied the same. She was pretty sure that for the next fifteen minutes, she didn't hear Bob at all. He was talking, but all she could do was stare at Rick, imagining their life together, thinking about his smile, his hands, his body, his lips and how much she wanted to kiss him. And he looked equally affected. They snapped out of it for long enough to share their simple vows, and then he was sliding a ring onto her finger, his hands warm and large around hers.

"I take thee, Katherine Beckett, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, as long as we both shall live," he intoned, his eyes never leaving hers. He squeezed her fingers between his once the ring was on and she blinked rapidly to stall tears she hadn't planned on shedding.

A second later, Madison was pressing the ring into her hand and Kate took a deep breath before gently dislodging his hands so that she could take his left in both of hers. She looked up and met his eyes as she slipped the ring, cool and smooth, onto the tip of his warm ring finger.

"I take you, Richard Castle," she began, surprised to find her voice so steady even though her heart was thumping wildly. "to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, as long as we both shall live." She gently glided the ring down below his second knuckle and they stood there like punch-drunk happy idiots, hands entwined.

"And now, by the power vested in me by the State of New York, I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Castle," Bob announced, grinning. "Go on and kiss her," he added to Rick. "I know you've been waiting."

Rick grinned and tugged her into his chest. Kate wound her arms around his neck, and found his lips hot on hers, chest strong against hers, hands clutching at her cheeks. She opened her mouth and sighed into him, her husband. They stayed there, consumed by each other until Bob coughed, reminding them that they weren't alone; it felt like they were. Reluctantly, they broke apart and Rick rested his forehead against hers, looking just as stunned and overcome as she felt.

"I love you, Mrs. Castle," he whispered, just as something knocked into their sides.

Kate looked down and found Alexis wrapped around them, grinning as they smiled down at her. "You're married!" she exclaimed, her big blue eyes shining up to meet theirs.

"That we are," Kate agreed, unwrapping one arm to cup the back of Alexis' head. She was mildly aware that they were standing in front of their family and friends, having an extremely intimate moment for all to see. But damnit, she was married; she couldn't care less.

"Now you really are my mommy," Alexis whispered, looking up at her as Rick leaned forward to press his lips to her forehead, his arm falling to wrap around her waist.

Kate blinked and felt a tear slip down her cheek. She'd dreamed this up. She was standing in the middle of a fantasy, because she'd heard Alexis say just that the first time she'd seen the dress she now wore. And here they were, a true family, married, legal and binding.

"Yeah, munchkin, I am," Kate whispered back.

Rick's hand squeezed her side and she turned her face back to give him a small kiss, before the noise of the little crowd broke through. They were clapping and cat calling, smiles over every face, tears in her father's eyes, streaks of mascara running down Martha's cheeks.

Alexis let them go and scampered to Lanie's side for the processional back down the little aisle. They turned and Kate snuck her arm around Rick's waist, gripping at the fabric of his jacket and feeling the two rings sliding on her finger. He turned and pressed a kiss into her cheek as they slowly made their way down the aisle, smiling at their friends and parents, who just wouldn't stop making noise. Kate didn't blame them though; she wanted to scream and jump and fall onto a bed, kicking her feet and giggling because she was so very, amazingly happy.

They cleared the chairs and Kate squeaked as Rick flipped around and hauled her into his arms. She clutched at his neck and laughed as he slipped in the sand, placing smacking kisses against her lips that certainly weren't helping his coordination.

"Rick," she laughed as they made it to the stairs and he climbed up. "Where are we going?"

He just smiled and stopped at the double doors. Kate glanced over his shoulder and noticed that their guests had hung back, watching them, some with cameras, and others laughing and exchanging money.

"Welcome home, Mrs. Castle," Rick breathed, grabbing Kate's attention back as he stared down at her.

She met his eyes and then laughed as he took an exaggerated step across the threshold to the beach house. "Thank you, Mr. Castle."

He just grinned and walked into the living room before setting her down, sliding her against his body as much as possible until her bare feet touched the floor. She reached up and pulled his face down to hers, one hand behind his head and the other threading into his hair as he wound his arms around her and pulled her close. They were married—husband and wife, spouses, together for the rest of their lives.

"You are the most exquisite vision I've ever seen," he mumbled against her lips. "I…that dress, Kate," he continued, pressing kisses all over her face.

She massaged his neck and sighed, pulling him closer, eager to feel every line and plane of his body against hers. "You look rather exquisite yourself," she whispered, stroking a thumb over his cheek as he pulled back to look at her, blue eyes sparkling.

"I couldn't stop staring," he admitted as he trailed a hand up her back to run across the smooth expanse of bare skin at her shoulders. "And then I couldn't stop thinking about getting you out of this dress."

"You too?" she giggled.

His eyes widened and then he laughed, collapsing into her so that they stumbled around, clutching at each other and pausing to share kisses that only tipped them further. "See," he gasped as they pulled apart, unable to take in enough air from the laughter and the kissing. "I knew you were thinking that!" he said triumphantly. "When you laughed as you were walking down the aisle—I knew it!"

Kate felt her eyes widen and then she blinked a few times. "Well…have you seen you?" she asked him.

"Have you seen you?" he parroted with a grin. Kate laughed and then sighed as he pulled her in, not for a kiss, but for a hug. He engulfed her smaller frame and she pressed her lips to his throat, grinning at the feeling of his strong arms along her back. "I don't care what you say," he murmured against the top of her head. "There has never been anyone—anyone—more beautiful that you, Katherine Castle."


"Well, your Dad looked great too," Kate mumbled while Alexis laughed, obviously having caught her in the memory. "And so did you, for that matter." She'd looked so lovely in that little white dress that probably would pass for a shirt these days.

Alexis rolled her eyes but then perked up beside her. "Will you help me find a dress for prom if I get asked?"

"Do you think you will?" Kate asked, glancing over at her daughter, who had her lip pulled between her teeth. They were heading into the dating period now, and it both saddened and excited Kate. It would be fun to get to shop for a gorgeous dress and do her daughter's hair, but at the same time, it meant Alexis wouldn't be a girl for much longer; she was a woman already, but sometimes, just sometimes, she was still the little girl that called her 'Momma' and asked for a hug.

"Maybe," Alexis whispered. "But…we'll see. Bella will want to come too."

Kate smiled at the image that shopping trip conjured up. "Maybe we'll bring your Gram too—balance the party out."

Alexis laughed. "How's Dad doing with that, by the way?" she wondered. "Has she driven him up the wall yet?"

When Alexis had left for the week, Martha had been living at the loft for a little over a month. It had been an adjustment for everyone involved, but hardest on Rick. He acted like Martha grated on his nerves, and she did, but at the same time, he was legitimately troubled by the fact that she'd been swindled by a man she'd fallen head over heels for. She drank more—was louder and more flamboyant—and that weighed on Rick. He'd shared as much with Kate, and then in a moment of quiet in the dark of their bedroom, curled up behind her and asked how she'd felt when she'd noticed her father sinking into alcoholism.

She'd glanced at the night table, where the watch her father had given her glinted in the dim light that crept through the crack under the door. Her father had been sober for five years, and the watch was a token for her. He said she'd pulled him out, brought him into the light and shared this amazing life she'd built with him. And as Rick had laid behind her, worried for his own mother, she'd threaded her fingers through his and told him they'd help Martha if it became a problem. But his mother wasn't her father, and she would bounce back.

And then Kate had rolled him and wrapped herself around his back, pressing her kisses to the back of his neck and rubbing her fingers across his chest, able to comfort him for once—to be the rock in his storm, because that was what they were for each other.

But recently, Martha had been a Godsend, and her increased role around the house had begun to endear her presence to her grouchy husband, cranky from book tours and not enough time spent with his girls. "He's okay," she told her daughter. "Getting better about it. Though, she did throw a party last week."

"Show tunes?" Alexis grimaced.

"With five friends," Kate smiled. That had not been a pleasant evening for anyone involved, except perhaps Martha's drunken friends.

"Always exciting at the very least, right?" Alexis offered and Kate stole another glance over to the mature teenager. Her daughter could find the lighter side of anything, and this was no exception. She kept them all above water, no matter how difficult things got.

"Right," Kate agreed. Their life was crazy and hectic, caught between playdates and recitals, homicide and book launches, with family time and married time thrown haphazardly somewhere in the middle. But Kate wouldn't trade it for anything.

Deciding that they could use a more upbeat topic, Kate began to ask Alexis about everything she'd done in California. They'd gotten daily updates, but Meredith was always dragging the girl out before they could talk for very long. The week long break her private school gave at the end of February provided the perfect opportunity to see Meredith before the craze of spring semester, and Meredith took the chance with gusto. They still weren't the best of friends, but the other woman had been relatively good about keeping her promises, and she and Kate had developed a tentative…acceptance of each other that sometimes bordered on a bizarre friendship—sometimes.

By the time they reached the back of the Barnes and Noble where they were meeting Rick, Alexis had regaled her with a number of stories of Hollywood parties that Kate didn't think she'd ever have experienced, even if she'd lived in LA. She felt a little bad, bringing her daughter from one glamorous experience to another, but Rick had demanded that they come to the signing so he could see Alexis, because there had been the off chance that he'd be wrangled into another conference and not get to see her until the launch party that night.

"Are you still mad?" Alexis asked as they got out and went through the service entrance, nodding to Bryan, Rick's main security guy as he let them into the white hallway.

"About your Dad killing off Derek Storm?" Kate asked. What else? Alexis nodded with a small smile. Kate had chased him around the house, not because he'd killed him, but because he hadn't warned her, and hadn't let her read anything before the galley copy. Alexis and Bella had laughed for hours after she'd caught him and whacked him with the large manuscript while he laughed and tried to pry it out of her hands.

"I'm not mad," she sighed with a small laugh as Alexis bumped her hip. "I want him to enjoy writing, you know?" And yes, it had broken a small part of her heart when Derek had died, but she had the real man, the mind behind the character, to come home to every day.

"Has he written anything yet?" Alexis asked quietly as they walked into the back of the store through the door to the bathrooms. The girl looked as concerned as Kate felt.

Kate shook her head. They were all worried about him. He'd lost his interest in writing. And while that was fine, and they wanted him to do what made him happy, writing made him happy. And no amount of family time or distractions seemed to be able to get her childish husband off of the couch at the end of the day and into his office to write a new story. So he'd killed off Derek, but it hadn't really seemed to help.

"But he'll get there," Kate assured her. At least she hoped so. Gina was threatening to take back his advance, and there was little happy blood between the two recently. And an unhappy Gina made for a tense Rick, which just threw the dynamic off in the house. With Martha there, it had been less than optimal on every level, and Kate just hoped that something would knock Rick into a new groove.

"Hey," Alexis said as they walked through the languages section, dodging a few displays as they went, "is this the same store where we met?"

Kate glanced around. She hadn't really given it that much attention, and they'd driven up to the back of the building so she couldn't be sure. It might be. But all of the Barnes and Nobles she'd seen recently had started to blur together. New books meant book signings and launches, and since she enjoyed his work and liked to support her husband, she'd ended up in many a bookstore in the past few months.

"Careful, speed racer," they heard as they rounded another out of place display of teen books. "Or you'll run into someone…"

A blur of sprawling brown curls rammed straight into Kate's legs and she stumbled backward, laughing. Alexis caught her as Bella grinned up at them. "Momma!" the little girl giggled, clutching at Kate's pants so she didn't fall down.

"You've gotta watch where you're going, Bells," Kate told her, running a hand over her head. "And it's good to see you too." She'd learned to roll with things, having a three-year-old to look after. Alexis had been a handful at times over the years, but Isabella Johanna Castle, her little spitfire, took 'handful' to a whole new level.

Bella smiled, looking innocently up at her. Then her big, light brown eyes found Alexis and she squealed, releasing Kate to fling herself at her big sister. "Lexi!" she screeched in a fit of childish passion.

Alexis laughed and swung her up into her arms, kissing her cheeks and spinning around, giggling with the little three-year-old. "Hi, Bella," she laughed. "I've missed you, pipsqueak."

Kate listened as her daughters conversed and then looked up to find Rick leaning against the bookshelf, watching the scene with a small, tired smile. "Hey," she said, glancing back at the girls, who were completely consumed in their own world. "You done?" she asked as she walked up to him and met his lips as he leaned down for a small kiss.

"Yeah," he breathed, leaning into the palm she rested on his stubbly cheek. He was dressed for success, wearing a nice pair of jeans and a deeply unbuttoned white dress shirt under a black suit jacket. "And I don't have that meeting, so you could have just met us at the loft," he added, and she could hear the irritation in his voice. He'd wanted to get some real time with Alexis before the launch party, where he'd be lucky to spend twenty minutes with her, if that.

Kate shrugged. "There's something kind of fun about having a complete déjà vu moment," she smiled, watching as his face lit up in recollection. "You really need to keep control of your daughters."

He grinned and pulled her back in for another kiss. They got lost in each other for a moment until their elder girl interrupted. "Hey, you see her all the time," Alexis protested, coming up to them, Bella giggling and pointing at them as she always did when they kissed. "What am I, chopped liver?"

"Hey," Rick protested as Kate untangled herself from him and lifted her younger daughter out of Alexis' arms. "She got to you first."

"Bella's just too fast for Daddy, isn't she?" Kate asked, sharing a wink with the little girl, who simply nodded emphatically.

"You're slow, Daddy," she added. All three laughed, and then Rick grabbed Alexis in a fierce hug, murmuring into her ear and making her laugh. "I didn't see you this morning," Bella said, bringing Kate's focus back to the little moppet in her arms, who reached up to play with her hair.

"I know," Kate said, leaning forward to kiss her forehead and running a hand down her sweater-clad back. "Sorry about that, Bells, but I had to go to work so I could pick up your Lexi."

Bella nodded in understanding. "And I won't see you tonight?"

"I don't know," Kate sighed, hiking her up on her hip as Rick dragged Alexis back over to them. "You might if I don't get a call. But we have to go to Daddy's book launch, remember? Grandpa Jim's going to stay with you."

Bella smiled. The only person who loved the girls more than she and Rick did would have to be Jim. He and Martha were normally a tie, but there was just something about the way her father watched Bella, who did look so much like Johanna had. "Will you come in and give me a kiss?" she asked after a moment, her voice small.

Kate smiled. "Of course I will. Just like always," she promised. She always snuck in to kiss her younger daughter when she got home, no matter what the hour. And usually she'd check on Alexis too, who as the years had gone by, sometimes stayed awake to see her come home. Kate had missed getting that small time with her over the past week, especially with Rick out of the house so much for press; everything was a little strained and they didn't get to see each other, any of them, as much they wanted.

"You know, I met about three little Bellas last week," Alexis told them as they began making their collective way toward the back door again; walking out the front door would only result in paparazzi heaven, with all four of them together, and today was just not the day for that.

Rick gave Kate a pointed look and she sighed. "Look, I didn't know that Isabella was going to become one of the most popular names in the country. I didn't even know Stephenie Meyer existed. You should have been more on top of that," she added, looking at Rick. It was a common joke in the Castle household, because they'd been calling Isabella, Bella, long before Twilight's Bella came onto the scene. But ever since Alexis had read the books, she and Rick had teased Kate about it.

"I like my name. And vampires drink human blood," Bella interrupted, having heard this conversation enough times to know where it was going.

"Ha," Kate laughed while Rick did that handshake Kate still didn't quite understand with their younger daughter.

Alexis leaned over after a moment and plucked Bella from Kate's arms, demanding more quality time with her little sister before they had to separate for the party that night. Rick sidled over and wrapped an arm around Kate's shoulders, pressing his lips into her forehead as they ambled behind their daughters. She was about to turn and make a comment about the short, skimpy dress she was planning to wear that night, wanting to get him a little more excited for the party, but then her cell rang.

"Not a body, not a body," they chanted together—one of their more disgustingly cute habits. Alexis smirked back at them.

"Beckett," she answered, squeezing Rick's hip.

"Sorry, Boss," Esposito said by way of greeting.

She dropped her head onto Rick's shoulder as he rubbed his thumb against the small of her back. "Alright. Where? And will I get back in time for the party?"

"607 Park Avenue. And as for getting out early—this one's definitely Beckett flavored," he relayed. She could hear both the amusement and genuine regret in his voice.

Kate groaned and took the small pad Rick extended, reluctantly stepping away from him to jot down the address. "Thanks, Espo."

"You got it. See you in twenty?"


"Tell Lex, 'welcome back,' for me," he added as he clicked off.

Kate smiled and tucked both the phone and pad back into her pocket. "Javier says welcome back," she told Alexis. "And I am sorry," she added, turning to Rick and wrapping her fingers through his. "I wanted to come to this one."

He gave her a soft, understanding smile. "It's okay. I know you don't love watching me run the fangirl persona."

"Mom likes to go so she can claim you," Alexis piped up helpfully while Bella giggled, not really aware of what was going on, but enjoying herself none-the-less.

"Is that so?" Rick laughed, turning back to Kate who sent Alexis a playful glare before giving him her attention. "Then maybe you can get away to come and claim me tonight?" he grinned.

Kate just shook her head and leaned up to give him a quick kiss. "I'll see what I can do, Mr. Castle," she offered, her voice low.

He growled and pulled her back in for another kiss, bringing a hand up to wrap into her short hair—a habit he'd developed since she got it cut—and it made the hair, the call, and the dead body almost worth it. Their daughters giggled and begin to chant, 'ew,' at them until they broke apart.

Rick laughed and released her, watching with a smirk as she straightened out her hair and ran her hands down the front of the blouse she wore. She'd have to throw her blazer on before going to the scene. She sighed and turned to Alexis, who walked over, Bella clinging to her neck. Kate chuckled as both girls hugged her, two sets of arms wrapping around her at awkward angles.

"I'll see you guys tomorrow, if not tonight," she told them, giving both a kiss. "And Lex, you and I have serious catching up to do, whenever we get a moment."

Alexis grinned and nodded. "Sounds good."

"Okay," she said, steeling herself to walk away from the picture of her daughters and husband, who came over to stand behind them, his arms around Alexis' shoulders. "Mommy has to go solve a murder."

"Kick butt!" Bella exclaimed, making all of them laugh.

"Will do," she smiled. "I'll see you later."

"Bye Mommy," they chorused, Rick loudest of the three.

She laughed and then turned around, headed for the front door, where no one would notice her without Rick and Alexis. And as she walked away from her family toward a "Beckett Flavored" murder, she smiled. She'd see them that night, and no number of suspects or interrogations would keep her from at least getting to pass out on their couch. She passed the children's section and her smile grew as she flashed back to the day they'd met, when Alexis had fallen asleep on her lap. She had what she'd wanted all those years ago in this store—that feeling of contentment and purpose, full of love and innocence, even as she headed toward the harsh reality of the world outside.

And who knows? Maybe she would get to crash Rick's launch party.

-The End-

Author's Note: My friends, we've come to the end of this story. It's been an amazing four months (exactly) of writing this story, and your support, encouragement, messages, tumbls, reviews, tweets and graphics have been a high point in every day.

A lot of you have been asking about future projects. I'm writing an original series, The Paige Series, which is up on my website. That will get another case, hopefully, sometime in the beginning of December, so I want to take some time for that.

In terms of future fanfiction projects, I'd like a little input.

1. I have ideas for a sequel to OFI, which would be a re-imagining of the series from the end of the Epilogue onward (might be just a one shot, could be more). I would re-write each episode, adding changes and altering the story so that the cases are the same (as much as they can be), but the other stuff—their relationship, his home life—fit OFI's ending premise, and expand on the plot elements the epilogue introduced (i.e. Bella).

Would you guys be interested in that?

2. I have one-shots I have sitting around, or in various stages of completion. I'll probably work on those before I'd start the sequel, if I do it.

Writing this story has made me grow so much as a writer, and I've learned a lot about myself in the process, and I have you guys to thank for that. I don't think it would have become what it is without your support. And so I thank you, because you're an amazing group of people and I am so happy to be a part of this fandom.