"Beckett? In my office, please."

Beckett frowns, and stands up from where she's been leaning against Jones' desk, staring down the murder board with him. "Go on, kid," Jones tells her, and she narrows her eyes at him. He may be her superior, but they're more like partners these days and she takes issue with the 'kid' part of it- it still reminds her too much of Royce.

"Close the door behind you," Montgomery tells her. "And take a seat."

She does as her Captain says. She thinks- she hopes- she knows where this is going, and there's a pit of anxiety in her stomach. Added to her own career goals, the case she and Jones are working on at the moment is taking its toll, and it's been a week since she had a decent night's sleep. "Sir?"

"Beckett," he starts. He's still standing, and not looking at her, looking through the window where Jones and now MacKenzie are sifting through files. MacKenzie moves over to his computer and beckons the other man, who peers over his shoulder. "MacKenzie's retiring. He's got another two months, Beckett, and then he's out of here. Did you know that?"

"No, Sir," Beckett tells him honestly.

Montgomery sighs. "He's young- too young to retire. But this job- it gets to you." He waves his hand dismissively. "What do you think, Beckett?"

"Uh- Sir?" Beckett's not sure what he's getting at. The job? It's a lot to handle, sometimes.

"Can you handle it, Beckett?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Hmm. I wonder." He sits down at last, and looks at her properly. "Beckett, this job- I know were talking about sitting for Detective as far back as last January. And even back then, if you'd sat the test, you would have passed. I wouldn't have any choice but to promote you. Do you know something?"

Kate purses her lips. "No?"

"I know Jones has taken you under his wing. Mentored you. I've appreciated it. You've always had potential, but I haven't had the time to nurture it. So I was glad when he started asking for you so much. And I was glad to see you grow."

"Thank you." Kate wants to sink back into her chair. This- discussion?- is bothering her, and she can't work out why. She forces herself to keep her back straight, avoid the physical intimidation she feels, the desk not providing enough of a shield against the bulk of Roy Montgomery sitting so comfortably in his chair. It's not like this in the interrogation room- at least, not for her, when she's paired with Jones, and she's starting to get some insight into how some of their suspects feel.

"You've changed a lot this year, Kate."

Shit. The first name thing. It's either really good, or really, really bad. "Have I?" she asks, and she wants to kick herself for letting that little waver into her voice.

"Your focus- when you came into this precinct as a rookie, I could see the drive in your eyes. I know you came here to solve your Mom's case-" Beckett starts to interrupt him, but he waves her down- "and I appreciate that about you. I do. I know that's where you get your drive from, and if that's what drives you, as long as it doesn't get in the way of other investigations-"

"-It doesn't. It won't-"

Montgomery gives her a look, and she shuts up again. "-That's fine. But in the past few months, almost the last year, even, you've changed." Shit. Kate doesn't know where this is going, but she's really concerned now. It can't be good. "You're not showing up at the crack of dawn the way you were, and you're not the last to go home at the end of the day the way you were. Something's happened to change the way you work-" Kate goes to open her mouth, defend herself, but Montgomery's glare has her shot down before she can say a word. "Your drive- it's still there, but the intensity you had- well, you've dialled it down a notch, let's just say." Montgomery regards her across the desk. "Anything you'd like to say, Beckett?"

Kate thinks she should say something, but what? She wants to be able to come in early, but she's been trying so hard to find a balance with her personal life, and if the Captain thinks she's slacking off- she doesn't know how she's going to be able to put more time into work, but if that's what she needs to do to become Detective, she'll do it. "No?"

He pulls a manila file out of his top desk drawer, and opens it. "Beckett, you've got too much personal leave built up. You've barely taken any since April- I need you to take at least some of it." Now she's being kicked out? Kate's head is spinning. Montgomery said she would have passed the test if she'd taken it back in January, and now- what- she's out? "I need you well rested, Beckett. Finish the week out here, because when you come back from leave you'll be partnered with Jones for real, and I need my Detectives at the top of their game."

"Sir? I thought-"

"I know what you thought, Beckett." Roy chuckles. Great. Beckett rolls her eyes, more at herself than anything else. Damn boys club combined with gallows humour, and she's screwed if she thinks she can just get a straight down the line conversation. "I meant it though. I would have signed off on your promotion last January with trepidation. It's a big job, and I think you've found a much better balance lately."

"Thank you," she tells him.

"You can go," he tells her. "I'll email you your copies of these forms from HR, make sure you put in for that leave." She's at the door, opening it. "And Detective? Congratulations."

She's grinning as she makes her way blindly back to the murder board, unable to keep her poker face, and Jones offers her a high five, and then MacKenzie.

"Detective Beckett. How does that sound, Beckett?"

"You knew?" she asks Jones, but of course he knew.

He nods at her, and beams back at her. "You can get back to this investigation in a minute, Beckett. You might want to call that fella of yours, tell him to take you somewhere nice tonight."

"Thanks, Jones." Kate's blushing as she picks her cell up from the desk and heads into the break room to call Castle.

Five years later

"I will try and make it babe, I promise." Her voice across the phone sounds distant, almost distracted. The tone isn't new to him, but he lets it go, because he's well aware that when he's writing he can be all too distant as well.

"It's okay," he assures her. It is. He wants her there, of course, as he does with every event, but it's not like she can control when a body will drop. If she's on call, she's on call, and timing hasn't been good this week. She'd asked for tomorrow off, so when the book launch had been changed with less than a week's notice, she wasn't in a position to negotiate.

"Okay," she says. "I'm really sorry. Talk to you later-"

"Seriously, Kate," he interrupts her before she can apologise again. "It's okay. Go get the bad guy- I'll see you at home tonight."

"Okay," she says again. "Love you."

"Love you too." He hangs up before she can say anything else, and turns back to Gina. "Sorry about that."

The blonde shrugs. "Not to worry, Richard. Your muse can't make it, I get it." His relationship with Gina has wavered a few times over the years, but she's been good to him as she's risen through the ranks of Black Pawn, so he bites back his snark, satisfying his annoyance with a slight shake of his head. "Well. A Nikki Heat launch party without Nikki Heat- I guess we'll just do our best."

"We always do," he agrees with her, and he steps forward onto the podium with her as her rich voice fills the air.

"Murder...Mystery...The macabre… what is it about New York's finest, hottest detective and the cold steel of a gun that keeps our bedside lamps burning into the wee hours of the morning? However the spell is cast, tonight we honour a master of the form and celebrate the launch of Deadly Heat… Ladies and gentlemen… the master of the macabre, Richard Castle!"

Beckett's pissed that she's on call and had a body drop when she should be at Castle's book launch party. It's the fifth book in as many years, and it's her book, dammit, but there's nothing for it. The flu has been going around and most of the detectives at the precinct are dropping like flies at the moment. She figures she'll get the basics and then leave Ryan and Esposito to do some of the hard yards while she slips out for just an hour, if the case looks like it'll be open and shut.

She heads up the hallway to the apartment and steps inside, steeling herself for a moment before she meets the body.

"Alison Tisdale. 24. Grad student at NYU, part of the Social Work program." Esposito lays it out for her.

"Nice place for a social worker."

Ryan's talking, but Beckett's not taking it in- she's taking in the scene. The all too familiar scene. Flowers covering the naked body, all too artistic.

Lanie comes and joins them by the body. "He even bought her flowers. Who says romance is dead?"

Beckett shrugs. "So, what'd he give her besides roses?"

Lanie moves some of the petals away. "Two shots to the chest. Small calibre."

"Does this look familiar to anyone?" Kate asks rhetorically, knowing they won't know. Or, assuming Esposito and Lanie won't. Ryan might.

"No, but I'm not the one with a thing for freaky ones." Esposito winks at her.

Beckett shrugs. "The freaky ones require more. They reveal more. Look at how he left her- covered modestly. But, despite all of the effort, all of the preparation, you won't find any evidence of sexual abuse."

Esposito looks at her like she's insane. "You really get that from just this?"

Beckett rolls her eyes. "This, plus I've seen this before."

"Where?" Ryan demands. Huh. Okay, bets are off. He was okay with teasing her about the Nikki Heat series, but he can't go a step back and read some of the older books?

"Roses on her body, sunflowers on her eyes? Don't you guys read?"

Esposito shakes his head. "You're the one married to a world famous author, Beckett, you tell us."

Beckett smiles, her first genuine smile since entering the crime scene. "What do you guys think about coming to a book launch party?" she asks them. Well. Castle's been begging for a ride-along for the last five years. Usually he has to be satisfied by discussing cases over dinner- either at home or in the break room on the occasions when he brings food by, if she's pulling an all nighter. Time to see if he wants to consult on a case.

Sometimes these things are so boring. It's always the same. He's kind of in a mood tonight, and it doesn't help that Kate couldn't make it- she usually keeps him steady at these things with just a look, or a touch of her hand when it all gets too much. And she gets on really well with Paula, for some reason, which doesn't hurt, because as good a publicist as Paula is- and she's good, that's why he's kept her around all this time- the woman annoys the crap out of him.

Alexis is doing her homework at the bar of all places, and he teases her and offers her a drink- which he knows she'll refuse since she's a more straight laced teenager than he's sure he deserves. "You know I'm only fifteen right?"

"You're an old soul," he tells her, sighing. "Do you know what's wrong with these parties? They become so predictable. I'm your biggest fan and Where do you get your ideas?-"

"-And the ever popular, Will you sign my chest?"

"That one I didn't used to mind so much."

"Yeah, well, FYI- it's not just you and Kate that one bothers."

"Sorry," he tells her grinning ruefully. Well. He had always enjoyed that one, in the Derrick Storm days, and riding on the tailcoats of his old reputation doesn't do his book sales any harm, so he does turn a blind eye to some of the aspects of fame that bother him, at Paula's request. "Just once, I'd like someone to come up to me and say something new."

Alexis nods and turns the page in her notebook, but her eyes flick up and widen in surprise, and he follows her gaze. Kate! She made it. But Esposito and Ryan are trailing her. "Huh. That's different," Alexis states flatly.

"Mr. Castle?" Kate walks up, badge out, a glimmer in her eye. "Detective Kate Beckett. NYPD. We need to ask you a few questions about a murder that took place earlier tonight."

Castle's eyes widen "Are you abusing your powers as a sworn officer of the law to arrest me and get me out of this party?" he asks her, his eyes lighting up. "Best. Wife. Ever."

Behind her, Esposito smirks. "Not quite, buddy," she tells him, leaning on to kiss him on the cheek and then reaching across him to squeeze her step-daughter's hand. "Hey, Alexis," she greets his daughter.

Kate fills him in- the abridged version, he guesses. It's horrifying, but oh-so-intriguing. She excuses herself to go and speak Paula and Gina and he watches her cross the room. She's under-dressed compared to every other women at the party, but in his eyes she outclasses them all. He admires her poise as she fills his publicist and publisher in on the situation, and then she's back in front of him, smiling at his daughter and his curious mother who reappeared the moment it looked like things were getting interesting.

Kate kisses his mother and then daughter on the cheek in turn, and takes his hand. Esposito shakes his head almost imperceptibly and exchanges a look with Ryan, and Castle grins. He knows Beckett's team don't see a lot of her softer side and he imagines that seeing her like this amuses the hell out of her fellow detectives.

"Well?" she asks him as she tugs at his hand, only the faintest hint of impatience in her voice. "You coming Castle?"

A/N: It's been a while. I wrote this epilogue long ago; it's unbetaed, much the way the entirety of this story was. But today felt like it was time to hit publish. I still love this story, I'm still very proud of it. I learned a lot, not the least, always use a beta reader. ;)

FWIW, I miss writing. My in-progress will be finished, one day. That's a promise. xox