A/N: This is it, guys. Last chapter. Enjoy!
"I still can't believe you rented a limo," Kate remarked as she got in the car outside of the restaurant.
"Well, you were right. I had to do something to make it different from every other time we've gone out after work. I figured this would work." He got in beside her, and the driver closed the door.
"It doesn't seem a little ridiculous to you that we're riding in a limo to and from a place that serves hamburgers wearing the same clothes that we wore to work?"
He shrugged. "No. Not really."
"Well, how do I argue with that?"
"You can't." He smiled, and the car started moving. "Can I ask you something?" he asked, changing the subject.
"What did you do?"
Kate frowned. "What do you mean?"
"When we were in LA. When you went to get Alexis's things. You talked to Meredith, didn't you?"
Her heartbeat sped up. This night had been going so well. The food was good, the company was great, and since they knew one another so well there was none of the typical first date awkwardness. Why, now that it was coming to a close, did he have to bring up the one point that had the potential to ruin it all? Just to remind her of what she already knew so well, that nothing good could ever last? "Do we have to talk about this now?" she asked.
He smiled. "I guess you did talk to her, then. It's not a bad thing. I actually wanted to thank you."
She frowned, remembering the last conversation she'd had with Meredith. "Thank me? For what?"
"Meredith called Alexis today. She apologized to her for keeping that secret from her for so long, and she told her she wanted to be more a part of her life."
Kate felt her eyes widen. When Rick had asked her if she'd spoken to Meredith, that conversation was not the one she'd recalled. And she certainly hadn't expected that the woman would go as far as to do those things. Although necessary, an apology had seemed far-fetched, even as she'd suggested it.
"What did you say to her?" Rick asked.
"Uh… what makes you think I said anything?"
He smiled. "Your face, for one. And for another… Meredith is not a bad person. She never was, and she really hasn't changed. But the thing about Meredith is that she's very… of one mind. She sees things the way that she sees them, and it's almost impossible to convince her that there are other points of view out there, let alone that they might make a little more sense than hers. She doesn't apologize. She doesn't… regret. She doesn't change. The fact that she's even thinking that she might have had something wrong… she couldn't have gotten there on her own. And there was a time when I would've sworn that there wasn't a person alive who could get her there." He looked at her with that characteristic sparkle in his eye, and allowed his face to fill in the rest of the thought, the part that he didn't speak.
"I didn't do that much," she insisted. "I just… I might've mentioned that lying to her, and to you, for all those years wasn't exactly right."
"Yeah, I've seen you mention things to people who've upset you. You can get pretty persuasive."
"I didn't yell at her," she said.
"I believe you."
He'd said that so earnestly, with so much sincerity and so much trust that she felt something tug inside of her, and as much as she wanted to avoid a fight tonight, as much as she wanted everything to be perfect, she couldn't help but take it back. "I might've yelled at her. A little."
He didn't say anything right away, he just kept looking at her, his expression totally unchanging.
They sat in silence for less than a minute, but she soon found that she couldn't take it anymore. "Should I not have done that?" she finally asked. "Are you mad?"
He shook his head, but suddenly seemed mute, a trait that she'd never known Rick Castle to possess.
"Will you please tell me what you're thinking?"
"I was just thinking…" he started, proceeding slowly, cautiously, "that you're perfect."
She was a hair's breadth away from rolling her eyes. "What?"
"I'm serious. I mean, I don't have to tell you how many other women I've had relationships with, do I?"
She frowned. "Definitely not."
He smirked. "Wait 'til you see where I'm going before you get mad, okay? With every other woman I've ever gotten close to, close enough that Alexis was part of the equation, like Gina, hell, even Meredith, I've had to practically force them to spend time with her, just simply to get to know her. And then there's you. I've seen you with her these past few days. You really care about her. And it's not like you're doing it for my benefit. We've had one date, and it's not even over yet. Who knows what's going to happen? But as much as I want this to work out, you and me, and that's a lot… for once in my life, I'm not worried about how whatever does or doesn't happen between us will affect her. Because I've seen the way you act around her. You care about her as a person, her own person, not just as my daughter. And that's… just… perfect. I love you for that."
She let his speech absorb, but she couldn't think of anything to say in response that she hadn't already said ten thousand times. It was no problem. It wasn't as big a deal as he was making it out to be. And she found herself distracted by his last sentence. He'd come within two words of a phrase that really would have changed things between them, but those last two words… she wasn't sure what to do with them. For that. They were two simple words that shouldn't have had so much potential to alter a meaning, and yet…
"And not just for that," he amended, his very blue eyes boring into hers. "I love you. In general."
She smiled. "In… general?" Two more simple words that seemed, somehow, to take away from the first three. But now, at least, she knew what he was trying to say.
"No. I just…" He sighed, and prepared to start over.
"Rick?" she interrupted, deciding to put him out of his misery.
"I love you too."
He leaned in and kissed her then, and, wordsmith though he might've been, she gleaned more meaning from the pressure of his lips against hers, the sound of his breath, and the taste of his tongue, than could've come from any sentence he'd managed to string together.
She'd been spending time with Castle every night after work for almost a week straight now, excepting one very long day when she'd gone straight home and fallen asleep on the couch for an hour before managing to drag herself to bed. It was nice having someone to spend the evenings with, even if all they did was watch TV. It gave her something to look forward to at the end of the day, rather than just retiring to an empty apartment.
He showed up at the precinct on Saturday morning with two cups of coffee, as usual, but he was stressing about a deadline for his next novel that he was about to miss, and she didn't really need him for anything, so she sent him home to work on it, promising that she'd meet him at his place when she was done with work.
They'd wrapped up a case the day before, so today she was just finishing the related paperwork, and she managed to finish up so that she could leave a little early and went straight to the loft.
Rick answered the door when she rang the bell. "Kate," he greeted her, a little surprised but smiling. "I didn't expect you this early."
"I'm still welcome, I hope?" she teased, because she knew the answer.
"Of course." He kissed her cheek. "You're always welcome."
"How's the writing coming?"
She eyed him sternly, although she was only half-serious. "Hey, I let you out of paperwork today. You better tell me you got something done."
"I definitely got something done, just not as much as I hoped. But it's okay. I'll catch up."
She smiled. "I'm not worried. So, what's going on at chez Castle this evening?" She took a step past him and into the apartment, trying to see who was around.
"They're here," he told her. "Alexis is upstairs, and Hurricane Martha is around somewhere. So be on the alert."
She laughed. "Will do. I know I'm early, so do you want to get back to writing? I can sit there and distract you every five minutes like you do when I'm trying to work."
He smirked. "I don't know how much more I'll get done, but that does sound fun. Let's go."
But just as they started toward Rick's office, Alexis and Martha came down the stairs. "Oh look, Alexis," Martha said, "Kate's here. You'll have another buffer."
She raised an eyebrow. "Buffer? For what?"
"It's no big deal," Alexis said, blushing. "I just need to tell Dad something. And I don't need a buffer." She smiled. "But I am glad you're here. Why don't we sit down?"
Rick frowned. "Gram thinks you need a buffer and we need to sit down first? This is sounding less and less like something I'm gonna want to hear."
Alexis sighed. "I told you, it's no big deal. I just thought sitting would be more comfortable. But if you'd rather keep standing here, that's fine too."
He looked at Kate, who raised her eyebrows at him, and he sighed. "Okay, let's sit down." He led the way to the living room and sat down in the middle of the couch. Alexis sat on one side of him and Kate on the other. Martha selected a nearby chair. "So, what did you want to tell me?"
"I, um, got an interesting call today."
"Oh? Who from?"
"Patrick Jenson," she said the name quickly, as though hoping he wouldn't remember it. Kate tried not to register her surprise. Not only had Meredith come through on her promise to ask him to call, but he'd come through and actually done it. "But, um, he normally goes by Pat."
"Patrick Jenson," Rick repeated, turning the name over on his tongue until he did remember it. "That's the guy you tried to see in LA." That phrasing seemed strange to Kate. What he hadn't said was glaring.
Apparently Alexis noticed this as well. "Yeah," she said slowly. "My, um, my biological father."
Rick's face seemed to harden a bit, although she didn't think he'd intended that. "I know. What did he want?"
"He just… wanted to talk to me. He said he was sorry he chased me away last week, he was just surprised. Which makes sense. I probably shouldn't have showed up unannounced like I did. He said that he didn't mind talking to me a little, but he didn't want his whole life derailed, and I said that was fine because I don't want that either. He told me he hadn't known about me, but I knew that. And then we just kind of talked a little. He told me about his job and his family, and I told him a little about my college plans, and you, and… that was it." She continued to stare at Rick, her father, gauging his expression. "Are you mad?"
He softened immediately. "No, sweetie. Of course not." He squeezed her shoulder. "I wonder how he got your number?"
"Mom, I guess? She's really been trying to mend fences lately. It's weird, for her, but… I think it's good."
He nodded. "Yeah. It is good. Do you think you'll talk to him again?"
She took a second to answer the question, a contemplative frown on her face. "I don't know. I have his number now, but… I kind of doubt I'll ever use it. I already have a dad. I'm not looking for another one. I guess I just… wanted him to know that I exist. And I feel a little better now that I know he isn't a completely terrible person."
When Alexis had started talking, Kate had expected that she'd feel the need to jump in, to explain that Meredith had called her and she'd told her it was okay to have Patrick call Alexis. But now she wasn't sure. It seemed like admitting this would change the course of this entire conversation. It would make it about something that it shouldn't be about. She was glad, now, that she'd told Meredith to go ahead and set this up. It had been good for Alexis. That was what she'd hoped. But she certainly wasn't looking for praise. This had been Meredith's idea, not hers. And she didn't want the Castles to feel like Meredith had thought she'd needed Kate's permission to do this, although in a way she had. It was better not to say anything when there was nothing that really needed to be said.
"Okay," Rick finally said, although he looked a little uncomfortable. "I'm glad, then."
"You're sure you're not mad?"
"I'm… glad Mom lied to you. When I was a baby. Maybe it was wrong, but I can't imagine a better family than I have now."
Without another word, Castle hugged his daughter tightly. When he pulled away again, Kate could've sworn she saw a tear in his eye, but he blinked and it was gone.
"Who's hungry?" Martha asked, ending the moment. "I'll start dinner."
"Let me help," Kate offered, thinking to allow Rick and Alexis a little alone time.
"Me too," Alexis said, ruining that idea. "I need a break from my homework anyway."
"Well, then we might as well make it a family project," Rick said, getting up and starting toward the kitchen.
"I'm not family," Kate reminded him.
"Sure you are," he argued as Alexis nodded and Martha smiled.
It wasn't a point that she wanted to argue, and she could tell that she'd be overpowered if she tried, so she didn't, and instead followed the other three to the kitchen. She fell into the task of chopping vegetables as Alexis grated cheese, Rick cooked chicken, and Martha glided around the kitchen overseeing everything and occasionally commenting on what they were doing. And she began to think that maybe he was right. Maybe family wasn't about being related by blood or genetics. Maybe it wasn't about living under the same roof. Maybe it was just about caring about one another, and spending time together. Helping each other out when it was necessary, and even when it wasn't. These three people, Martha, Rick, and Alexis, they were definitely a family. And maybe, it was possible, that she was a part of it.
A/N: Annnd that's a wrap. Of the strangest, and, interestingly enough, most popular story that I've ever written. Considering that this started as a random thing on my hard drive that I REALLY didn't think anyone but me would ever even see... I'm pretty amazed by the fact that it turned into a 20-chapter story that quite a few people actually read, and apparently liked. :) Thanks so much for all your feedback. It's been incredible, and there's no way that I would have finished this without it. I know I always say that when I finish a story... but it's completely true.
I've had a few inquiries already about whether I'm gonna write a sequel to this. And here's my answer. I'm not planning on it. I have lots of plans for other stories (as almost always...), but at the moment that isn't in the works. I can see how this story ended in a place where there might be room for a sequel someday... but for the foreseeable future (which is... at least a week..), this story is over. Hope you enjoyed the ride! :)
Quick reminder... this is your very last chance to review this story, because there aren't going to be any more chapters. So take advantage? Pretty please? Okay, I'm done.
Thanks for reading!