A/N: And this is the end. It's been a fun yet emotional ride and I hope after taking the characters through the ringer that I brought them back to a good place.
Epilogue: All Our Tomorrows
Four months after Kate's return...
"That's the last of it," Castle declared as he set down the final box of Alexis' belongings.
For a college student, she had accumulated a surprising amount of stuff in her dorm room. Of course, she still had things in her room at the loft, but the apartment was now going to be her new home. After discussing it with Kate, they had decided to leave most of the larger furniture for Alexis to use. Most of it would not fit in the loft, although the few items Kate was particularly attached to they found a place for anyway.
"Now, you have to promise to call me and check in," he told Alexis.
"Dad, I've been at Columbia for two years. I always check in."
"Yes, but this is different. In the dorms, you had a roommate, other students around. Living on your own, there's no one here to make sure you are okay..."
"I'll be fine," Alexis assured him. "But I promise to call at least every other day."
Kate watched the father-daughter exchange from a few feet away, feeling slightly like an intruder. While she enjoyed feeling like a part of their family, she wanted Castle to maintain the same close relationship with his daughter that he always had. And sometimes, she needed to give them space for that.
"Castle, why don't I meet you down stairs?" Kate said and then turned to Alexis. "And I will see you very soon."
"Thank you, Kate. For everything."
She gave the young woman a hug before exiting the door of her old apartment. In the hallway, Kate paused for a moment to smile to herself before walking to the elevator.
In the months since her return, she and Alexis had enjoyed several long chats together, talking about everything from college to boys to their individual relationships with Castle. Alexis confessed to how much she had resented the detective for not calling her dad after her shooting, not to mention how she had felt when he had been shot. She also spoke about how relieved she'd felt when Kate left. Of course, after a short time, that relief had transformed into not only concern for the detective's safety but also for her father's mental health. Still, Alexis had always been on the same page as Kate - his physical health mattered more.
"That's how I knew you really loved him," the college student had said.
"I do love him. Very much."
More than life itself, she added silently.
Alexis went on, "And he loves you."
Kate had nodded in agreement, although it wasn't a question. "You are still the most important person in his life, Alexis. That's never going to change."
She shrugged. "You two are probably going to get married, maybe start a new family..."
Shaking her head, Kate said firmly, "Not a new family, Alexis. Listen..." She looked the younger woman in the eye. "I am so grateful to be part of your family - you, your dad, and Martha. That you have accepted me into your lives, it means so much. And if your dad and I do get married... if we do have kids... that's not something we've talked about, but if we do, they would be part of your family. Our family. Not a new family."
"I know, it's just... I always wanted a brother or sister, you know? But after my dad and Gina got divorced, I never really thought it would happen. And I got used to it just being Dad and me." The red-head paused before asking, "Do you think you want to have kids, Kate?"
The question had been a difficult one for Kate to answer.
"I don't know. Your dad and I have talked a little bit about getting married, but we haven't talked about kids. As for me... I don't know. I guess I stopped thinking about it after my mom died."
She had been thinking about it ever since conversation with Alexis, however, and helping Castle's daughter move into her first apartment had kept the issue at the forefront of her mind. Did she want kids? Maybe it was a moot point. After all, Castle had already raised a daughter. Maybe he would not want to go through it all again.
When Castle arrived in the lobby a few minutes later, Kate smiled at his expression of sadness. She wrapped her arms around him in a comforting hug as he said pitifully, "My little girl is all grown up."
It struck Kate suddenly that she hadn't been there when he took Alexis to college. He had endured that trial alone, although Martha had likely helped him through it. Pushing away the guilt, Kate decided that at least she was here for this parental milestone.
"She will always be your little girl, Castle."
Wrapping her hand in his, she walked with him out to the street and down to her parked car. By the time they arrived back at the loft, his spirits were beginning to lift, especially because Alexis had called on their drive home to ask if he remembered which box her chemistry books were packed in. Then a few minutes later, she had called again, this time to ask Kate how to turn the stove on. Kate suspected that the young woman had feigned the need to call (it wasn't a difficult stove and she herself had carried up a box marked 'text books') just to reassure her father that he was still needed.
While Kate stood in the kitchen and made them a pot of coffee - she had become seriously addicted to the substance again - she listened while Castle explained how to use her oven, having cooked with it himself on several occasions. She left him to describe the mechanics as she had actually rarely used the appliance. By the time he was finished, Kate wasn't sure if Alexis was more confused or less on how the thing worked.
"Ah, kids," Castle lamented. "What would they do without their parents?"
His head snapped up a second later as the full implications of his off-hand comment hit him. "Kate, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean-"
But she was already holding up a hand. "No, Castle, it's okay. I know what you meant."
She still missed her mom, of course, but that was a hurt which had finally begun to really heal. After so many years of feeling as though she had let her down and failed to bring her mother justice, Kate was finally at peace with it. All the therapy hadn't hurt either.
"Alexis is very mature and competent person. But she will always need her father."
"I know. I'm just going to miss her. It feels like just yesterday she was running around in diapers." He sighed slightly before turning his eyes to Kate. "You know, we never talked about... kids."
Him bringing the subject up so soon caught Kate off guard. She must have looked startled, because he quickly added, "Not that we have to talk about it right now. I'm just saying... we've never talked about it."
"Do you want to talk about it?" she inquired carefully in return. "I mean, we just dropped Alexis off at her first apartment..."
Castle gazed at her for several seconds before pressing on. "Honestly, Kate, I want whatever you want. Kids, no kids... it's up to you."
"Wow, no pressure," she said quietly as she looked at the floor.
"No pressure at all," Castle responded. "Honestly, I have a daughter. I've had that experience in my life, and it was wonderful, if not a little terrifying at times. But it's not for everyone, I know, and if it's not for you, that's okay with me. That being said, I think you'd make a fantastic mother."
"You really think so?" she asked, more than a little disbelieving.
"Well, you've been giving me advice on Alexis since I met you. You're a mentor to Ryan and Esposito. You're patient, kind, thoughtful-"
"Okay, okay," she interrupted, embarrassed. "Well, it's not something we have to decide right now."
"No," Castle agreed. "We have plenty of time."
That night, instead of having a nightmare - which were becoming more rare since her dream about shooting Castle - Kate had a good dream, the kind of dream that left her feeling happy and secure when she woke in the morning. In the dream, she was pregnant with Castle's child. He was making her a pancake breakfast while they discussed possible names. But of course, because it was a dream and because it was dream-Castle, all his suggestions were absurd.
"What about Pluto for a boy?"
"We can't name a baby after a planet," she protested.
He instantly responded, "But it's not a planet anymore! Then how about Victoria after Captain Gates."
"Gates hates you," Kate responded.
He laughed at her for rhyming, then pointed out, "But she'd like me more if we named the baby after her."
The suggestions that followed proved just as absurd: Kardashian, after the infamous sisters, Royal, after the dog they had briefly shared custody of, Alexis, after his first daughter, James T. Kirk (but only as a first name), Tom Brokaw, and Random, because wasn't it such a great name?
Kate woke up laughing, which was a nice change. Of course, she had to explain her dream to Castle, who chuckled along with her as they lay in bed together. "Random is a great name," he agreed.
"I like how you wanted to use Alexis again," she said.
"That one went pretty well the first time around." He looked at her for a moment, and asked more seriously, "What about Johanna, after your mom?"
Sucking in a breath at his suggestion, she responded, "Castle, I'm not even pregnant yet."
"Yet? Does that mean you want to have kids?"
"I don't know what it means," she said. "Maybe? Probably? At some point, I think."
He kissed her then, before commenting, "Well, lets get married first, and then we can talk more about kids."
Laughing at him, Kate responded, "Is that another implied proposal, Castle?"
"Do you want me to get down on one knee?" he asked. There was something in his tone, something real. He wasn't joking.
"Are you being serious?" she asked.
"I was serious last time."
The 'last time' was shortly before their first time making love, when he had found her on the couch reading Heat Lost and sentenced her to a lifetime of daily kisses. She had dismissed his words of marriage then, saying something about having a first date first, but now she realized perhaps she shouldn't have.
Her heart racing, Kate stared at him before saying, "We've only been together for four months."
"Plus four years," Castle corrected. "Plus two more years if you count the time we spent apart."
"I don't know what to say."
"Do you love me?"
"Of course I love you," she responded instantly.
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life with me?"
"You know I do."
Pressing forward, he asked, "Then what are we waiting for?"
What were they waiting for? Or rather, what was she waiting for? Why would she even hesitate? She loved Castle, more than anything. He loved her. His family approved. They'd been living together, so she knew what that was like. She had even admitted to being open to the idea of having kids together.
So why shouldn't they get married?
"Yes." The word came out without her even realizing it. "Yes, I will marry you."
He looked at her, both surprised and slightly suspicious. "Really?" he asked, as though it were too good to be true, as if she would revoke the word with a joke or a laugh.
"Yes, really," Kate assured him. She kissed him for good measure.
"Well then," Castle said a moment later. "I suppose I should go get your ring, then."
He stood up from the bed as Kate stared after him in confusion. He was seriously going to go shop for a ring right now? It was seven o'clock in the morning. But she could hear him fiddling with something in his office, and he returned a minute later holding a small object in his hand. As he climbed back into bed with her, he held it out - a blue velvet box.
She opened the box, and inside was a stunning diamond engagement ring. An engagement ring he'd been holding onto, probably in the safe in his office, for goodness knew how long. How long had he been waiting to ask her?
"When did you buy this?" she asked, stunned.
"About..." Looking down at the ring, Castle's eyes darted back and forth as he attempted to calculate the time. "About a year and a half ago," he said finally.
"You bought this while I was gone?"
Kate could not wrap her brain around that answer. He had bought her an engagement ring, not knowing if she would ever be coming back? "Why... why?"
Castle shrugged. "I saw it and thought of you. I was feeling... hopeful. Very hopeful, I think. Not just that you would come back, but also that you would say 'yes' if I asked you. I've held onto it ever since, just hoping..."
As she listened to him speak and saw the love reflected in his eyes, Kate wondered why she hadn't said yes the first time he had (sort of) asked. She handed him the box and held out her left hand. Understanding her silent request, Castle slipped the ring onto her third finger and in an exaggerated display, kissed her hand. Unsatisfied with his lips on just her hand, Kate pushed him back onto the bed and engaged his mouth with hers.
They spent the rest of the morning in bed.
And the rest of their lives together.