A few years later . . .


Epilogue: Another Nikki Heat


She sees a ship on the horizon, the sky aflame with sunset.

He stands with her, and the warmth of him at her back is a solid contrast to the breeze off the water. Softly he brushes his hand against her abdomen, her belly swollen with their greatest joy. She looks up over her shoulder and savors his smile—her favorite kind, the one that makes his eyes crinkle—and they share a laugh as the life inside her makes its playful presence known with a tiny kick.

He kisses her, wrapping his arms around her and intertwining their fingers. "Soon enough," they tell each other as they turn to watch the waves on the shore; soon enough, they'll play with their child on this very beach.

His arm is draped over her body when she wakes; his hand tucked under the hem of her loose T-shirt, his thumb tracing lazy lines along her toned belly.

When she realizes that she's been dreaming, that there is no little life beginning inside her, the feeling of loss is more visceral than she would care to admit. Her heart aches with it, not because of any regret in her waking life, but only because the serenity of the dream was so great.

She hasn't told him yet that she sometimes dreams of having a child with him. That she's had these dreams before, before they were ever together.

He'd probably run the other way.

And anyway, she's still enjoying the sweet newness of what they have and who they are together.

Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that she pulled him to herself and whispered kisses of remorse and longing. Sometimes it feels like they've already shared an eternity. Being with him—finally being with him—is so fresh and beautiful and familiar and comfortable, all of these things all at once.

They're only now planning their first weekend away together in the Hamptons, and she blames the location of the dream on that anticipation. But for the recurring theme of children, who are sometimes infants and sometimes grown and sometimes only swollen bellies, she has no logical explanation other than her innermost desires and what she sees in Castle.

She has long appreciated his thoughtfulness and his courage and his imagination, but his persona as a loving father, whenever he's let it shine through, has always topped the list. His own baby is grown now. She wonders if he would ever want to take on that role all over again.

But right now is not the time to figure out what he'll be. Right now is the time to appreciate what he is. Right now he is her—well, yes, her boyfriend. She told Ryan she was going away next weekend with her boyfriend.

Castle is her boyfriend.

And he has some of the most irritating ringtones, she decides, when Yoda's voice disturbs the quiet.

Your phone. Ringing it is. Press the button you must, and fulfill your destiny.

Without moving an inch, she tries to rouse him: "Castle."

"Mm."

Your phone. Ringing it is. Press the button you must, and fulfill your destiny.

"Castle."

"Uhn."

"Phone."

Ringing it is. Press the button you must, and fulfill your destiny.

He wakes now, taking a moment to savor where he finds himself. To him, Yoda isn't nearly annoying enough to make him skip one of his favorite morning rituals.

Kate Beckett is in his arms, in his bed, in his life.

He breathes her in and smiles into her hair, presses his lips to her shoulder. In turn, she kisses his forearm—the one that's tucked beneath her neck and nearly numb by now. He can't remember how long he's been spooning her, but if it ever comes to it, it's worth an amputation.

The other hand slips out from beneath her shirt, but he barely shifts the mattress. She can sense him trying to reach behind him without actually lifting his head or leaving her side. Whatever he's doing, it sounds painful.

Her eyes are still closed and she wouldn't be surprised if his are, too. It's one of those mornings, isn't it?

He hits his hand on the nightstand hard enough that he has to shake it out. Now one hand is numb and the other is on fire. He still doesn't open his eyes as he fumbles for his phone.

The ringtone is relentless, unaffected. Neither pleased nor fazed, Yoda is.

Kate sighs: "Just roll over and pick it up!"

And fulfill your destiny. Your phone. Ringing it is.

It stops, and he answers.

She can hear the murmur of the voice on the phone but can't identify the caller or the words. Judging by his responses, the message sounds fairly positive.

"That's great," he says. "Oh."

Murmuring. Lots of it.

"Well, I think—ah, let me get back to—okay. I'll call you back."

She doesn't ask, but either she's not-asking very loudly or he just feels like filling her in. She turns over on her other side to face him while he talks.

"Frozen Heat is selling like hotcakes," he says. He winces at the simile and revises it in his head as he burrows into the blankets they'd eventually foregone in favor of snuggling. "It's early. Let me try that again. . . . It's doing well."

Kate smiles as she gives him a soft kiss and wraps an arm around his shoulder. "That's wonderful." He glances away, his face betraying unusual uncertainty, so she asks, "Isn't it?"

"Yeah . . ."

"What's wrong?"

He holds his breath for a moment; ultimately chooses to confess. "They want another one."

"Who's they? The Jedi?" she teases.

"That would be amazing but no. As far as I can tell."

"That was Paula," she supplies when he doesn't, "asking you to extend the series."

He nods. "Book Five."

"Good," she says. "After the way you ended the last one, I was hoping to find out what happens next."

It was quite the cliffhanger. And besides, when Kate first read Frozen Heat, she couldn't help but think that Nikki and Rook have finally caught up to her perception of them. The more she wrote her own scenes, the more she felt like she's always been at least one book ahead of canon. But Nikki trusts him now. And it's a new kind of trust—not just physical. It's profound.

It's about damned time.

Castle's voice is more tentative than he means it to be, but he's a little surprised at his partner's gentle enthusiasm. "So, you'd be okay if I wrote another Nikki Heat?"

"Mm." An ambiguous sound, smooth and mysterious. And then a smile playing at her lips is his only shot at a warning before she holds his face in her hands and kisses him breathless. He's just beginning to respond in kind when she pulls back. Then she acts as though she hasn't just planted a wet one on him in total sneak attack mode; just calmly carries on with their conversation: "Why wouldn't I be?"

That's good to hear—provided that he's ever going to be able to write that fifth book for her.

She sucked his capacity for words right out of his mouth.


The end.

I don't normally do this, but I hereby dedicate This Nikki Heat Thing:

To the extraordinary Castle and all my friends in the fandom.

Thank you for all your support. When I wrote my tiny little ditty about Caskett playing Rock, Paper, Scissors for Royal a year and a half ago now, I had absolutely no idea I'd eventually write this often or stories this involved. As always, I'd appreciate your feedback. Sometimes I like to revise my work, or else take note for next time. If my writing has improved, it's largely because of what I've learned from you. (And Richard Castle, the best accidental writing teacher ever.)

And finally, happy September! Everyone breathe. We'll get through this together. We've got this.

-Rachel