A/N: Flying out to the other side of the country tonight to visit my grad program this weekend! Here's to closing this chapter as I start another. Though this ends it, the story is far from finished. Check out my ending Authors Notes for more information.


"So … What now?"

Now that they'd managed to clear the air between them, a slightly uncomfortable and awkward pause settled in the places all their worries vacated. Like two people who've said goodbye only to find themselves walking in the same direction, Alex and Kate were unsure of what to say to each other next.

"Umm, I think I should probably take my leave now," Kate reluctantly suggested. She had already infringed on too much of his time; she should let him get back to his day after she so unceremoniously hijacked it. She had managed to make her amends so for today that was accomplishment enough.

"Right, yeah. Thanks for stopping by. I'll see you later?" It came out as a question. Alex knew this was probably a good checkpoint for them, to regroup and let everything process before delving back into each other's company and companionship, but to have her just walk out the door after such an intense conversation, with only the mutual acknowledgement to start over? It felt almost like an empty promise. He wanted the guarantee that they will begin again, but he wasn't sure if it was appropriate to start pushing her already for any sort of a commitment.

"Yeah, that'd be nice. Uhh, I'm not sure how my schedule is with the precinct, given the last case, but I will definitely give you a call, if that's alright with you."

Kate didn't say it directly but Alex could tell she was referring to the lawsuit he kind of had against the NYPD. Though she didn't seem to hold any resentment towards him for the lawsuit—if anything, she seemed to accept it—Alex could see how she struggled. Considering that she basically just told him how important her job is to her, he can just imagine how this lawsuit must be wreaking havoc on her career and the relationships there.

An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. Kate may have made his professional life difficult, but that didn't mean he should do the same. He needed to speak with Gina about this, but off the top of his head, he believes he has a solution.

"Give me a week. And I think I know what I can do to help," Alex winked.

"Okay?" Kate didn't know what to make of Alex's response but figured she would just take it in stride. It had been an emotionally stressful few days and now that it was all over, she just wanted to go home and deal with any leftover ramifications as they come … later. Right now, she's pooped.

So Kate stood and bid her goodbyes to Alex, this time, parting as friends. Little did she know, brewing inside Alex's head were ideas for something a little more than friends but not yet lovers. It was too soon in their tenuous relationship to jump back to that checkpoint in their history, but hopefully, with what Alex had in store, that road can be repaved.

Later that evening, at the Rodgers's residence …

"Alexander Rodgers, what the hell were you thinking?!" Gina nearly screamed.

Alex had only just stepped into his loft when he spied his publisher already marching straight for him. His mother and daughter, he noticed, were inconspicuously trying to remain nonchalant by the lounge and kitchen areas, though the smirks on their faces belied their amusement at his deer in the headlights expression.

"Where have you been?" Gina continued, refusing to give him space as he slowly and cautiously took off his jacket to hang it in the closet by his front door. She probably would've continued to yell his ear off had his mother not decided then to finally interject and save him from Gina's perpetual wrath.

"Gina, why don't we let my son settle in a bit before we continue this inquisition? Alexander, kiddo, do you want something to drink?" Martha asked, though she didn't wait to hear his response before she issued off her next instructions, "Alexis, honey, can you just grab us all some bottles of water while you are still over there by the fridge? Thanks."

With a finality only Martha Rodgers could muster, and all while seated on the couch in his living room, Alex could admire his mother only for a few seconds before her leveled glare beckoned him to her. Thank goodness she was there though, because he had no idea how else he would've been able to placate Gina when she was on the warpath. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have the protection of a mediator as he introduced to his publisher his plans for moving forward, now that everyone knows who he is as Richard Castle.

So they all converged to the living area, Alex doing so almost happily, his publisher a little sullenly at having been asked to contain herself, and his daughter cautiously as she juggled the bottles of water in her arms. Once they all sat down, Alex didn't wait a beat to fill them all in.

"I'm sorry I cut out like that so soon after the press conference. I just needed to get out of that room and I couldn't think of anything but. I'm sorry for not waiting."

"It's okay, Dad. We understand," replied his ever sweet and compassionate daughter.

His publisher, however, could care less about that oversight as she immediately launched into her disapproval at him for something entirely different. "Okay, but Alex, that was hours ago. Where have you been since?! You can't just run out on a conference you asked to have organized, and especially not when your final statements inspired more questions and speculation!"

"I know, Gina, I'm sorry," Alex started, but Gina cut him off before he was able to get very far with his apologies and justifications.

"Sorry doesn't cut it! What were you thinking, saying those things, Alex? I told you to stay away from that case and the first time I hear otherwise, it's in a room full of reporters?! How do you think this is going to go down, what with our supposed lawsuit against the NYPD?"

"Supposed?" It's amazing how one little, normally negatively connotated word, can fill him with such hope.

"Yeah, I've been meaning to tell you—would've told you sooner but I had only found out this morning and I didn't want to distract you seeing as you were already so nervous before that press conference. Harvey—you know, that lawyer we pay thousands to represent you and us?—told us that his associate found the source of the leak as they were preparing to move forward with our case. Turns out, when the NYPD paid you a visit, something they said sparked the curiosity of your students. Being the bright little literary grad students that they were, some decided to compare the writing styles of the Richard Castle novels with the academic papers published by their now very mysterious and questionable professor. And guess what they found? The diction, syntax, and a whole slew of other things were too similar to be passed off as coincidence."

"My students ratted me out to the paps?"

"Not exactly. Your students were loyal to you, but in their excitement at having solved a contemporary literary mystery (the irony, considering your genre), their mouths ran away with them as they were discussing this in a rather public location. All it took was one person to eavesdrop on their conversation and from there, everything snowballed. Harvey said we still have enough to blame this on the NYPD, since it was something they said that inspired your students to dig into you and if they had just waited until your class was over to confront you, this whole thing may have been avoided. But Harvey also cautioned me that if we pursue this, we are taking on more risk than it is worth; it'll likely impact our image negatively. He's our lawyer and one of the best in New York, so he will support us, but he did say it would be harder for us to make it stick with the NYPD, especially when the leak didn't come directly from them and they have the selfless job to protect and serve while we are the big bad conglomerate who brings in more money in a day than the settlement this arduous suit would provide."

"I see."

That definitely gave him a bit to think about. On the one hand, from the sound of things, Gina would likely not be pursuing this lawsuit. But on the other hand, he kind of needed the illusion of the lawsuit for his plans. Wait. That's it. He doesn't need a real lawsuit, just the illusion of it. If it was only his very pricey lawyers who'd discovered the truth, then this could still work out to his benefit in the end. Time to test out how his plan will be received.

"Gina, are we dropping the lawsuit?"

"Well, Harvey only just told me this morning. He told me to take some time to think it over and discuss it with you, before I get back to him, but honestly, what he says makes a lot of sense. I can't see us gaining much from this thing."

"Then why didn't you say anything at the press conference?"

"Because that wasn't the time and place and as I've said, I hadn't discussed anything with you yet. Plus, I figured a little extra publicity couldn't hurt, now that everything is out in the open about you and Richard Castle. The news of the lawsuit and scandal has skyrocketed your sales and you are the most googled author at the moment."

"Okay, good. Let's keep the charade going for a little longer. Humor me please, because I have an idea for something that you may not like, but I guarantee you, it'll be worth it."

At that, Alex launched into the details of his plan, with the rapt attention of his publisher, mother and daughter. They were highly resistant to it at first but he was able to get them to come around, seeing as this was something that would clearly make him happy. It was undeniable. That gleam in his eye hadn't been seen in a while, especially in the past few days, that to finally see it back, the three women in the room didn't want to spoil his excitement.

One week later, at the 12th precinct ...

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Kate asked as she entered her captain's office. It had been a frustrating week where she wasn't exactly suspended but she wasn't allowed to assist with any of the new cases they caught. In other words, it was a boring but anxious week of desk duty as she waited to hear her fate. And finally, at the week's end, she was called into Montgomery's office with what she hoped would be the end of this suffering of hers.

"Yeah. I just got a call from Internal Affairs. Apparently, you have a fan."

"A fan, sir?"

"Alex Rodgers. Or should I say Rick Castle? Apparently he's been speaking with IA and our public relations department and has agreed to drop the lawsuit against us on one condition."

Condition? What the heck is going on?

"Seems he's found the main character for his next set of novels: a tough, but savvy female detective."

"I'm flattered? But I still don't understand."

"Don't be, flattered that is. He says he has to do 'research'."

It took a moment for that to sink in. A new set of novels? Research? What the hell was her boss talking about? And what on earth did that all have to do with her or the NYPD lawsuit? But after what must have been a full minute, Kate finally connected the dots and figured out what her boss decided to cryptically tell her.

"Oh no."

"Oh yes."

"No way!"

"Beckett, listen t—"

"Sir, this doesn't even make sense! After what we did to him, why on earth would he want to shadow us? And he has Derrick Storm! What do you mean a new set of novels?" Kate exclaimed, steadfastly ignoring that her boss had said it would be a female detective, thereby implying there was no "us" in his shadowing, just her.

"Apparently, Alex has been planning to go public for a while—" That was a bunch of bull and Kate knew it but her boss didn't seem to notice or care when she rolled her eyes at that. He just continued with his explanation, "He figured, what a better way to introduce himself than with a brand new storyline for what will be a new face, but old name?"

"Sir, he's a civilian! What if he's like a nine year old on a sugar rush, totally incapable of taking anything seriously because he has no formal training in what it means to be a detective?"

"But he did help solve this case, from what I hear."

"Oh," she scoffed. That does not justify anything. One case. And he was only able to assist because the murders were his own that he had written! There were no guarantees that he would be of any help. If anything, he was much more likely to be in danger for wanting to play cop.

"Beckett, think of it this way. This is free publicity for the NYPD and after what just the rumor of his lawsuit did to us? We badly need the good press. Plus, speaking of said lawsuit, he has agreed to drop it with our cooperation. When IA says something, it gets done. And if IA is happy, then I'm happy."

What could Kate say to that? It did seem like a very simple solution to their problem. If all the parties involved have agreed, then who was she to throw a hissy fit when their entire predicament had been her doing to begin with? Did she even have a choice in the matter?

"How long, sir?" Kate hesitantly asked, yielding for a moment in favor of more information, before she agreed to one thing or the other.

"Well that's up to him."

Her captain's gaze had already deviated from her to someone behind her. Already suspecting who he was referring to but needing immediate confirmation, she did a 180 so quickly her head must still be spinning because that can't be Alex Rodgers standing there looking a little too smug for her liking. What the hell was he thinking?

"Beckett, I expect you to play nice."

And with that, Kate knew their discussion was over. She had no other choice but to leave her captain's office, which meant walking towards the man blocking the door who had just effectively turned her life upside down, again.

She refused to look him in the face as she squeezed by and didn't even bother looking back to see if he would follow her. No, she just continued to walk resolutely towards the precinct's break room. Coffee. She desperately needed some coffee right now. Stat. Thank goodness, no one was in the break room when she entered, though she wouldn't mind it if a uniform showed up right now; she badly needed to feel some control over her life again and having a uniform to boss around would be very reaffirming. Though deep down, she knew she couldn't and shouldn't abuse her rank like that.

Kate knew she wasn't alone when she heard the door open and close behind her, but she still refused to turn around and acknowledge the presence that had just entered. She must have spent a good minute or two wishing that was her uniform come to let her boss him or her around, but eventually, she knew she had to give in to the reality of how very unlikely that was. So steeling as much of her nerves and control as she could, she turned around and leveled the best glare she could muster at the man she hadn't seen in a week.

"Kate. Hi."

No, she would not dignify him with a response. She didn't know exactly why he was here but she's not the one who needed to explain herself. He needed to talk and she was not going to make this easy for him.

"Right, I can see you're upset. Please let me explain."

When she refused to give him any sort of acknowledgement, he must've decided to just continue on his own anyways. What did he have to lose, right?

"Listen, when you spoke of your job and the little taste I had of it when I came that one day and helped you figure out that Kyle Cabot wasn't your real killer, I can see why you are so passionate about your work. Kate, I want you to be my muse. I'm taking a year-long sabbatical, not only to have this novelty concerning Richard Castle die down, but also because I want to explore myself as a writer. My writing up to now has come all from my imagination but also from my fear. I didn't want people to know who I was so I wrote my novels using only the extensive research available via the internet and my assumptions for the rest. I want to do this job right. And I want to start over fresh. Who better to do that with than you?

"Please, I would really like to shadow you to add some authenticity to my work. But I understand that this is a huge imposition to you. I just figured this would be an easy way to solve the whole lawsuit thing while also allowing us to continue to get to know each other. I meant it when I said I wanted to get to know you Kate Beckett, and I mean all of you. Our friendship is more important though, so if you are uncomfortable with the idea of me following you around, just say the word. The lawsuit will remain dropped."

Kate had to admit, that was a rather heartfelt speech. There stood Alex, feet away from her but his words had reached across their distance now, as they always had when she's read them off the page. Who was she to deny him this opportunity, to continue to grow as an author and impact more lives like her own?

Dammit, she was going to say yes wasn't she? And what a way to start off a new friendship. But when has her life ever been easy or normal? Fuck it. Why not? There was just one thing she needed to clear up first.

"Call me a muse again and I will break both your legs."

"Is that a yes?"

Kate shot Alex one last withering look before strutting out of the break room with her coffee in hand and her writer in tow. Oh, she was going to regret this, wasn't she? And yet, she couldn't wait to see what the future has in store for them.

Last A/N: Thank you everyone for staying we me for as long as you have, and for all your words of encouragement. This story has truly been a growing experience for me and I'm sad to see it end. I know many of you expressed interest in seeing this continue, or just to see how Kate and Alex will progress as a couple and believe me, I want that too. It's just, for me, this story has always been about my AU for the pilot and seeing as I've come full circle now, this is where *this* story must end. I emphasize *this* because I am very open to doing a sequel, I'm just not quite sure how to go about it yet (but I guarantee you, that one will end with a resounding Caskett). If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to message me and I will take them into consideration. (Or hit me up on Twitter: Elizabeth_Dante !)

It's been an amazing journey; thank you all for letting me share it with you. Special thanks to annem57, my wonderful beta for volunteering to be my sounding board and always reliable, even when you have the flu. Thank you to all the new friends I've made along this ride.

Until next time.