Hi everyone. So sorry it's taken me so long to finish this story. I always had the general framework of this epilogue in my mind even when I wrote the story last year, I just needed to figure out how I wanted it to go more specifically and then get the wherewithal to actually write it down.
So here it is - the epilogue. Thank you to everyone for sticking with this story. Enjoy and please review!
The wrought iron gate swung open and the dark colored Crown Victoria with Massachusetts license plates slipped through and up the gravel drive which was lined with tall green hedges. The drive curved slightly to the left and ended at a white brick car port suitable for about five vehicles. The Crown Victoria parked next to a familiar black Lexus, and its occupants climbed out.
"Why did I agree to this?" Jane grumbled, a faint tinge panic showing in her voice.
Gabriel came up behind her and began gently rubbing her shoulders. "Because this is what friends who don't live in the same state do. They visit each other at other's houses."
"I know, but you know it makes me uncomfortable being around rich people. And don't make it sound like I never socialize with anyone but cops." She shot back, poking him in the chest with her index finger.
"May I remind you, you don't socialize with anyone but cops."
"I do too!" Jane protested. "I socialize with you and Maura…and…" Gabriel cocked an eyebrow and fixed his girlfriend with an earnest stare that he knew made her melt. "Oh shut up and don't look at me like that. You know what that look does to me." A smile crept onto her face and her eyes, hard and hot a minute ago, turned soft.
"Remind me what it does to you again?" Gabriel asked and stepped closer to wrap his arms around Jane's waist.
"It makes me want to do this," she whispered and took his face gently in both hands and kissed him softly, but firmly.
"Oh right! Now I remember," Gabriel teased and got a playful punch in the arm in return. He popped the trunk and both slung stuffed overnight bags over their shoulders. Gabriel also pulled out a case of Corona while Jane picked up two bottles of wine, one red and the other white since she had been unsure what her friends from New York preferred. They shut the trunk, locked the car, and made their way towards the main house's front door.
"At least it's more modest than I expected," Jane observed. The house was, like the carport, white brick with navy blue shutters. The second story looked to consist of one room, perhaps the master the bedroom that looked out over the front of the house. Two doors opened up onto a small balcony under which was the front door. Another more spacious balcony looked to wrap around the other three sides of the house. Overall, the effect was classy and relaxing, but not overly upscale.
Jane rang the front door bell and took a deep breath.
"Relax. You saw Maura's already here." Gabriel soothed.
"I know. I'll be ok. It's Castle and Beckett and the guys from the station all up here for a relaxing weekend in the Hamptons." Jane told herself, feeling her blood pressure back off.
But when the door opened, it spiked again.
"Hello, hello, hello! Welcome to the Hamptons dear friends! Come in, please!" Martha trilled enthusiastically and gestured inside grandly with her arms. Though it was mid-afternoon, she had a half-empty flute of champagne in one hand and a fan in another. She was dressed in a modestly cut but riotously colorful swimsuit and a shiny thin cover up. Large round sunglasses were perched on her head.
Having recovered from the initial shock of meeting someone who seemed to exemplify the word diva, Jane dropped her bags and passed Martha the bottles of wine.
"Why thank you, dear. You must be Detective Rizzoli and you must be Agent Dean." She said, pointing at each of them with a flourish.
"Yes, they are, Mother, but this weekend is for relaxation. So I'm sure they wouldn't mind it if you called them Jane and Gabriel?" Castle asked then bussed Jane on the cheek, shook Gabriel's hand and relieved him of the Corona.
"Allow me to introduce my mother, Martha Rodgers," Castle said.
"Thank you, Richard. And may I say, it's always a pleasure to meet fine officers of the law in a setting that doesn't involve bailing my son out of prison."
"Mother, you promised you wouldn't embarrass me."
"I promised I wouldn't embarrass our guests, dear. You are not a guest." Martha trilled and excused herself to chill the bottles of wine. Castle rolled his eyes and did his best to chase the pink color from his cheeks. Fortunately, he was saved by a young redhead.
"Sorry, Dad. I was just finalizing plans for tonight with the girls."
"No worries, hon. This is Detective Jane Rizzoli and FBI Special Agent Gabriel Dean. Jane and Gabriel, my daughter Alexis." After handshakes were exchanged, Alexis showed them to the room where they would sleeping so they could get their things settled, freshen up, and change into their swim suits.
By the time Jane and Gabriel came back downstairs, Castle had made up a platter of hamburgers, hot dogs, and vegetables for grilling, and had stuffed large bowls of potato salad, chicken salad, and fruit salad into the large stainless steel refrigerator of the house's kitchen for dinner later. He led to outside to the patio. A large grill sat in the far left corner under an umbrella and was angled to face a comfortable looking patio set that could fit six people. To the right of the grill on the ground, the case of Corona had been emptied into a cooler filled with ice which sat next to another cooler full of beer. Music from hidden stereo speakers wafted on the air past several lounge chairs, on which one, to Jane's relief, Maura was relaxing and talking intermittently to Lanie. The lounge chairs were arranged comfortably around a large swimming pool that had been divided in half widthwise. The shallow end, in turn, was bisected with a short volleyball net. Gabriel followed Castle to the beer cooler, so Jane headed for the lounge chair next to Lanie.
"How was the ME's conference, guys?" Jane asked, after hugging both women in greeting.
"Wonderful!" Maura answered with her characteristic enthusiasm. "My favorite part was the seminar on new the new technology to determine burn degrees."
"Nice," Jane said flatly and quickly put the image of charred skin out of her mind. "What'd you think, Lanie?"
"That was a good presentation. But, I admit I was more interested in the presenter." She chuckled coyly.
"Excuse me?" A voice from behind Jane demanded, startling her slightly. "Ryan, did the sexy Medical Examiner in the smokin' hot bathing suit just say that a guy other than the one with whom she is currently pursuing a relationship caught her eye?"
"Sounded like it to me, partner."
"It wasn't like that, you two." Lanie protested, not taking the bait. "A cousin of mine just moved up here after getting divorced and I thought the guy could show her around, and if nothing else, take her mind off being newly single in a new area. I'd met him before at another conference in New York, so I got his number so they could connect."
The two men, one being Hispanic and well-built and the other Caucasian and slightly shorter than the first, exchanged serious looks.
"What do you think, Javi? Hook her up to the lie detector when we get back?"
"Oh my Lord, you two never quit do you? Jane, Maura, in case you haven't already guessed, these two pranksters are Detectives Javier Esposito and Kevin Ryan." Lanie stood and slipped an arm around Esposito's waist.
"Yeah, I figured. Nice to meet you both." Jane said and shook hands with both men. Maura followed suit.
As Lanie and Esposito pecked each other on the lips, Ryan offered to get everyone a drink from the coolers. After making note of their requests, he headed over to the coolers, but deviated off course to hug Martha, who was uncorking another bottle of wine. After being kissed on both cheeks by the ex-Broadway diva, Ryan helped Korsak and Frost fill a third cooler with ice and bottles of water.
As she watched Korsak and Frost shake hands with Castle and Gabriel then each become enveloped in a hug from Martha while Alexis talked excitedly with Maura, Jane couldn't help but grin. My how things had changed since 3XK had traveled from New York to Boston and dropped more murders in her lap. She had finally given in to her feelings for Gabriel, in no small part thanks to Castle and Beckett's example, but she had also gained more friends. And odd as she felt enjoying herself in the glitzy, glamorous Hamptons at the summer home of a world-famous and filthy rich writer, she couldn't deny that somehow it just felt right.
"I know how you feel," Jane turned around as yet another voice came up behind her. Beckett looked at her reassuringly as she slipped out of a white linen cover-up shirt and tossed it on the lounge chair next to that which Jane had claimed. She now wore matching linen pants over a fire-engine red monokini that fit her so well that Jane became slightly self conscious about the simple navy blue two-piece she wore under her t-shirt and sweat shorts.
"What do you mean?" Jane asked.
"You're thinking what an odd bunch all your blue collar friends are with Richard Castle, the world famous murder mystery writer and his mother, former Tony award nominee, Martha Rodgers and you're trying to wrap your mind around the idea that you're actually here at their house and you and all your friends are having a really good time. Am I right?"
"Pretty much," Jane nodded and couldn't suppress a chuckle. "I'm usually uncomfortable around rich people, but they're…real."
"All right, who's up for a game of volleyball?" Castle called out. "How about New York versus Boston? I'll bet the Big Apple beats Beantown!" And when a chorus of boos erupted from the Boston contingent surrounding him, he retaliated by doing a cannonball into the shallow end of the pool.
"Among other things," Beckett joked and both women laughed.
An hour later, after Boston had upset New York, the ladies team of Maura, Jane, Lanie, and Beckett lined up in formation across the net from Ryan, Esposito, Castle and Gabriel. The men got off to a good start, with Castle taking advantage of Lanie's diminutive size and putting several serves just out of her reach. Finally, she and Beckett got wise to his strategy and devised a diversion of sorts.
"Is anybody else getting really hot?" Beckett asked nobody in particular. When she got no definitive response, Lanie joined in, according to their plan.
"You know, if you're getting hot, honey, you really should get out and get some water. I don't want to have to do CPR on you, especially in this outfit."
"I'll volunteer!" Castle shouted.
Got you right where I want you, Beckett thought.
"I know Lanie, but this pool water just feels so good," Beckett said and began rather seductively lifting water in her cupped hands to spill all over herself. Jane and Maura figured out what she was doing and could only smirk. In fact, Beckett's performance was so effective that even the happily married Ryan had to turn away slightly to hide his flushed cheeks. For her finale, Beckett bent her knees and lowered herself until she was neck deep in the water then slowly rose to reveal inch by inch her now very clingy and very wet suit. Castle called out the score and served the ball, but the damage was done. The ball sailed clear over Lanie's head where it bounced on the patio and knocked over the beer Korsak had been drinking as he chatted with Martha.
"Nice one, Dad," Alexis, their referee, observed. "Ladies ball."
After that, the women mounted an impressive comeback until the score stood at a tie and the men sought revenge of their own. Ryan had the serve with Esposito next to him and Gabriel and Castle at the net. On the other side, Beckett and Jane were up front with Lanie and Maura behind them. Ryan served, but instead of directing the ball over the net, he hit it off his thumb at an odd angle and it shot straight into the back of Castle's head.
"Oof" he murmured, then pitched face first into the water. But instead of surfacing after a moment as everyone expected him to, he just hovered limply on the bottom of the pool.
"Dad!" Alexis yelled, but Beckett was quicker than anyone. She dove under, grasped Castle under his armpits and heaved him upwards. She then dragged him to a set of stairs in the corner and sat him down as the others crowded around.
"Castle! You ok?" She called and panic began to sink in as she leaned closer to his face to make sure his eyes hadn't rolled back into his head. Seizing the moment, he grasped her around the waist and pulled her lips to his for a long kiss that, despite the fact that she was standing in water, still managed to rock her back on her heels.
"Now we're even, you minx." He said against her mouth. The women groaned, the guys laughed, and Beckett swore.
"I hate you, you know." She said trying to be serious, but giving in when she saw the playfulness tinged with lust in his eyes.
"Always?" Castle asked.
The sun had set, food had been eaten, and more wine and beer consumed. Alexis had gone to meet some girlfriends for dinner and a movie, so the adults moved the party to the second floor balcony. Castle changed the music from peppy and upbeat pop and rock songs to slow and smooth jazz. He dimmed the balcony lights and set out some citronella candles for an added romantic effect.
He then took Beckett's hand and led her into a large empty space he had cleared for dancing. She rested her chin on his left shoulder, wrapped her left arm around his upper back and let him hold her right hand close to his chest to feel his heartbeat. The warm night breeze mingled with his breath to caress her cheek. They didn't talk, but just enjoyed feeling each other's closeness. Gradually, other couples joined them: Lanie and Esposito, Korsak and Martha, Ryan and Jenny, who had arrived in time for dinner after working late in the city, Maura and Frost, and finally Gabriel and Jane.
"What's the matter?" Gabriel, sensing Jane's thoughtfulness, asked as they swayed gently to the music.
"I was thinking earlier about how funny life can be."
"Well, I'm sure if you had told Beckett when she was a kid that she would become a Homicide detective, she'd have never believed you, just like if you had told me a year ago that I'd be dancing in your arms on Richard Castle's back porch at his house in the Hamptons I'd have laughed in your face."
"Ah, I see," Gabriel said and pulled Jane a little closer to him. "That's life for you. Just fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride."
Jane leaned back a little to look Gabriel in those beautiful dark eyes which always made her heart skip a beat. "I am. You know, high school was a nightmare for me, but one thing I've always remembered was this poster that hung in one classroom. It showed a person walking on a path that forked in two directions in the woods and quoted Robert Frost. 'Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.'"
Who are you and what have you done with Jane Rizzoli was Gabriel's first thought. While he knew the tough, intense woman in his arms had a pensive and soft side, her comment took him by surprise because she so rarely gave that side a voice. But he resisted the temptation to step on the tender moment and instead smiled. "That's one of my favorites too."
"As crazy as my life gets and as unexpected as the last six months with you have been, I'm glad we're here and that we're, you know, us. I'm glad I took the road less traveled, especially since it led me to you." Both their hearts swelled for each other, but before Gabriel could do anything, Jane moved in and kissed him passionately without any regard to the ten people nearby or to the razzing she could get if Korsak and Frost spilled the beans to anyone back at the precinct. Her hands came up and gently stroked his cheeks while his arms curled around her back. One by one, the five couples surrounding them took notice and drew away, leaving Jane and Gabriel alone in the middle of the floor with each other.
Across the bay from Castle's house, a man crouched on the floor of what had once been a spacious tree house, and studied the figures on the rear second story deck of Richard Castle's house through high powered binoculars.
"Enjoy yourself now, everyone," the serial killer known as 3XK said to himself. "Because you ain't seen nothing yet."