This chapter is dedicated to Garrae, who has read every word of this story. For offering me cheers when I was uncertain, and gentle corrections when I got carried away. Thank you so much for all of your support and words of wisdom. One of the many pleasures I've had in writing this story has been getting to know you better. Thanks so much, my friend. You rock.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,

For want of a horse, the rider was lost,

For want of a rider, the message was lost,

For want of a message, the battle was lost,

For want of a battle, the war was lost,

For want of a war, the kingdom was lost,

For want of a nail, the world was lost

-T. Rundgren

March 2010

Tamahere stood on the beach, toes sinking into warm sand while soft waves lapped the shore in front of him. The azure sky nearly matched the blue of the ocean, making the entire world appear to be a giant sapphire, unmarred by any other color.

Recognizing the start of the nightmare that had haunted him for the last ten years, he shook his head, trying to wake up before he had to relive the catastrophe one more time, if only in his dreams.

It didn't work. It never did, though he strained and bucked against the tentacles of the past that still could reach forward and pin him in place, helpless against the tide of memories and guilt.

Grimacing, he turned and began to walk along the coast. It was always the same view: nothing but sand in front of him, endless sea to his right, and the verdure of the jungle to his left.

Desolate emptiness gave rise to an anxiety he couldn't suppress. Every single nightmare—and he'd had hundreds, maybe thousands, of the same damn dream—panicked him as he surveyed the uninhabited wilderness. He'd begin to run, but no matter how fast or how long he sped nothing changed. He was alone; abandoned in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes, on his lucky nights, he'd wake up at this point. His heart would race as he wondered if there was any chance this had been their fate. That they'd still been alive and had somehow made it to an island. Had lived despite the long, near-impossible odds. Had carved out a home in such a forsaken place.

He'd rock in bed, keening, as he imagined passing day by empty day without a hint of a rescue mission; a mission they'd so deserved but had never been mounted. When none had arrived, would they have despaired? Would they have tried to build a boat in a desperate bid for salvation? Or would they stay put, waiting for the recovery that never came? Could they still be waiting, after all this time?

On bad nights, like tonight, he wouldn't awaken on the island. Instead, he'd be running in the sand, sweat dripping down his face and harsh panting drowning out the sound of the ocean and then suddenly he'd be in the sea. A wave crashing over him, unable to catch his breath; lungs dying for just one more taste of air. At the last moment, sure he was ready to inhale nothing more than salt water, it would finally break.

He'd then find himself in a boat. Not just any boat: the boat. The lifeboat that had enabled him to survive the wreck a decade earlier. The one in which he'd sat, unmoving, as he and his two companions cast off from their crippled ship and left Rick and Kate to their unknown fate.

This part of the nightmare wasn't imagined: it had happened all those years ago. Sometimes the remainder of the dream was a rehash of the exact events that had actually taken place: their survival. Their celebrated rescue.

His ensuing descent into madness.

But tonight wasn't a bad night. Tonight was much, much worse.

"Tamahere, wait for me," cried his best friend and crewmate. A man given the Polynesian name Hopo; born Richard Rodgers, but known to the world at large as Richard Castle. "I'm here. I'm alive. Please, wait."

Tamahere tried to stand, but found his legs wouldn't support his weight. The storm was raging around him, just as it had in real life. He wanted to get up; to seek out Hopo's voice. No matter how he struggled, he was held fast in place.

"Tamahere, help me. Hold the boat, please." That was Kate Beckett's voice. He'd not known her well, but that didn't lessen his guilt over having left her behind.

"Tamahere," their voices mingled. "Help us. Please, help us."

The boat was moving, pulling away from the wreck at a rapid pace. He peered with all his might at the hulk, through the veil of the pouring rain. Gasping, he shivered when he saw the faint outline of two bodies. Arms pointed at him, either in supplication or in blame.

Perhaps both.

Breaking free of his invisible bonds, he stood up, rocking the life boat wildly and earning the shouts and disapprobation of his comrades. They wouldn't consider going back; screamed at him to sit. To stop. Crumpling back to his seat, he couldn't bear to watch. Covering his ears to silence the anguished screams, his shoulders shook as his chest tightened. He couldn't breathe. Struggling for any air, he was fading into the mist even as he fought to remain.

Gasping, he sat up in bed. His hair was damp, though with sweat and not saltwater. It was still pitch black outside. Warm, as always in French Polynesia. Digging out of the twisted sheets, he shuffled over to the sink and poured a glass of water. He'd not had such a bad nightmare in over a year. He'd hoped they were finally fading away.

Guilt is a heavy burden to carry, and he was certainly the only one of the three survivors who carried it. Sighing, he rinsed out the glass and shuffled back to bed. This time, thankfully, the nightmare stayed away.

The next morning he woke exhausted. Tortured sleep is not restful, but he viewed it as his penance. Further punishment was born out when he opened his pantry to fix breakfast. It was empty, a metaphor for his life.

He tried to count back the days since his last trip to the store, and gave up after he passed ten. He avoided human contact on principle. But he couldn't survive on dirt and rock, so a trip to town would have to be braved.

Looking back later, he would marvel that such a simple need put him on course to affect an entire nation. To save the lives of the innocent. To find salvation after his self-inflicted sentence.

Heaving a sigh, he grabbed his bag and set out from the isolated hut on the long trek to the store. His days were spent in mindless tasks; little would be interrupted by a few hours to get provisions.

He currently resided up a steep mountainside on Huahine Iti. One of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, Huahine was not his home island. However, he had no intention of returning to his family. He'd been lost to them long ago. Ten years, if one needed a number.

Like many of the islands, Huahine offered plenty of coastlines for its inhabitants to choose from for their homes. He preferred the isolation of the interior, a place few lived in.

Isolation. Peace. Insulation from noisy, nosy humans. The only drawback to his remote abode was the long journey required to get supplies. A very small cost, in his mind.

He'd tried drinking and drugs while living on Tahiti, just after their rescue a decade ago. It had worked to numb the pain and erase the memories, but the oblivion was always temporary.

He'd lived in fear, during those years, that an insatiable reporter would stumble upon him and start asking the same questions they always asked. Dredge up the damn story again, and he'd be right back at the start. His carefully constructed sea walls, which protected him from his own guilt, would be reduced to rubble once more.

Eventually, he'd fled to Huahine Iti. He wasn't ashamed to admit it; he knew he was running. If he never had to remember the whole thing again, he'd die a less unhappy man. A name change went a long way to help hide him. He was known as Areiti here: 'Little wave.' No one knew him; he was a nobody. Just as he'd planned.

He kept to himself, and the locals had long ago learned to leave him alone. He was considered eccentric, probably a little touched in the head. He was still young, just into his early thirties, but he looked like he was two decades older.

The weight of guilt is a hard burden to carry. He alone carried it. Even though several others had far more blood on their hands than he. They lived their life as if the wreck hadn't been a complete catastrophe. Probably because it had been the answer to their prayers.

Given how their lives had turned on a path so successful—and drastically different from his—he supposed they never thought back to what they could have done differently. What they should have done differently. He was the one who couldn't forget. Or forgive.

After a long, sweaty march he reached Parea, the nearest town to his hut. He had plenty of money to buy a substantial lunch if he wanted, from the pension the government provided him. Blood money in his opinion. He hated it. He hated himself even more for accepting it.

Holding a job was impossible. He was too broken, too shattered to even attempt work. Not to mention he'd have to be around other people—an idea he found insupportable.

So, he only used the money if he had to. Each time he did, it thrust the sword of guilt deeper in his gut. His stomach clenched every time he thought about why they paid him. Accepting it put him deeper into their grip. But without it, he'd be forced to pretend he wasn't the ghost of a man.

Years later he would joke that on this day of all days the bloody phantasm that for so long had haunted him finally decided to help instead of torment. Perhaps it just happened through sheer dumb luck.

Either way, as he approached Parea around eleven am, he'd decided to grab something to eat at a small diner. It was at the time of day when he knew it would be fairly empty—safe enough for a hermit like him.

And with this one decision, an entire country's fate would veer from quiet backwater to worldwide sensation.

He asked for a booth away from the small scattering of other customers. He ordered, without even looking at the menu or the young waitress, and then found himself watching a family across the room. Wishing he was whole enough to have what they had.

A pulling sensation in his gut overwhelmed him. He wanted to touch, be touched. To hold, be held. To love, be loved. No one would have him—not if they knew what he'd done. He didn't deserve such connections. Not after he'd abandoned Rick and Kate to the depths.

Sweaty palms and wringing hands soon replaced his fleeting jealousy. He'd need to distract his brain if he wanted to avoid a meltdown. Crying in public by a grown man was seen as strange. If they only knew why he was crying—maybe they'd join him.

A stack of papers on an empty table attracted his attention. He grabbed them, just as his food arrived. He ate while browsing the news he'd been purposefully ignorant of for so long. Careful to avoid the political section, he started with sports. It was on top, so it was an easy decision.

His appetite for soccer and handball were soon exceeded, so he proceeded through the other sections. Sans the portion containing news politique, of course. That would be too much to deal with. Tears might be the least of his problems if he was to read of their latest exploits, and the praises lauded on them.

Monique would never forget the sound of the dishes as they shattered on the hard floor, or the mess they made. She'd been required to do a prolonged cleaning effort afterwards, mandated by her manager.

But the true spectacle was the odd, old man in the booth as the crash of ceramic echoed through the diner, calling everyone's attention to her curious customer. He was half standing, clothes sullied with the soup and sandwich he'd ordered, as he held the three day old paper in shaking hands.

"Is this real? This is not a joke?"

It was all she could make out from her spot behind the counter, though he continued to mutter to himself for another few minutes until sinking back into the booth and ignoring the soup seeping into his clothes.

The whole diner was staring silently at him, but he was oblivious to their concern. After he'd finished reading the offending section he looked up, eyes wild. Monique took a half step back, hoping he wouldn't remember who she was.

A hope that was dashed when he spied her and gave a sloppy gesture indicating he wanted her to attend him. Legs glued to the floor, she was frozen to her spot. Or at least she was until a shove from her manager gave her stiff legs momentum towards the table. No one in the diner wanted to deal with the man, but he was her table so she was volunteered. A sacrifice, for the safety of the others.

Lips pursed, she took small, slow steps until only a gap of five feet remained between them.

Close enough.

Taking a deep breath, she remained stiff—ready to jump away at any sign of violence. "Oui, monsieur. How may I be of help? Do you want another plate or bowl of soup?"

He looked first at the newspaper then at her, eyes swinging back and forth in some demented tennis match that only he could follow.

"What? No, NO. No soup, merci. Tell me, do you keep up with the news?"

It was such an odd question, incongruous with the image of him seated in the midst of a total mess, that she relaxed a tiny bit. Neither she nor her friends paid much attention to the news unless it involved the latest celebrity gossip.

Afraid to upset him further, she decided to answer in the affirmative. Hopefully he wouldn't ask her something obscure.

"Yes, assurément. Is there a problem?" She thought there was definitely a problem: he was in the diner, at her table. She just wanted him gone and her shift over.

"This article, the date says it was three days ago. Do you know anything about this matter?"

She couldn't see what he was pointing to from the safe distance where she stood. He was still seated and as old as he looked, she was confident she could outrun him if needed. Curious to see what had led to such derangement, she shuffled forward.

This close to him, she could now see how red his face looked, under its brown pigment, and the sheen of sweat that glistened under the afternoon light. Glancing back at the rest of the diner, she saw many of the patrons were no longer watching, disappointed no further eruptions were imminent. Her manager was still watching closely, however, so she clenched her jaw and turned back to the old man.

When she held her hand out for the offending paper, he placed it in her hands as if it were the crown jewels of some lost kingdom. Skimming it, she saw no immediate cause for his outburst and shook her head slightly. He frowned, then pointed to a small article and accompanying picture.

"Oh, yes, monsieur. This has been quite a famous case here in French Polynesia. It is known to almost everyone," she explained. She let out a large breath and slumped her shoulders. This news was indeed very familiar to her.

The article in question discussed the sentencing of a man and his subsequent imprisonment in Nuutania prison. The picture accompanying the article was a close up. He had unkempt dark hair and a wild looking beard.

She shivered as he glared out of the newspaper. He looked menacing, according to her friends. However, she'd never agreed with them. To her, it was grief, not a threat, that emanated from his eyes. He looked like a man who'd lost everything that had ever mattered to him.

"I've been…out of touch for some time. Can you tell me a bit about it?"

She frowned, wanting nothing more than to return to her regular duties, and he spoke quickly in a pleading tone that touched her heart.

"Just the basics, mademoiselle. You don't need to go into details. Please, sit." He gestured at the seat opposite him. Glancing at the booth, she noticed it appeared dry. Still, she ought to get back to work.

"Please," he begged. "It is very important. Perhaps a matter of life and death."

His eyes were sincere, with no trace of madness. The romantic in her was piqued. How could a scruffy vagrant, as he appeared to be, have anything to do with one of French Polynesia's most notorious cases? She sat, smoothing her pants as she thought about where to begin.

"Do you know any of the story?"

"No. Nothing. Start at the beginning, please."

She frowned. This man really must be out of touch if he knew nothing. "The beginning. Yes, well, the trial of Jean Dupont—. "

"Jean Dupont?"

"His name." The man stared at her, apparently not comprehending. "The criminal, his name is Jean Dupont."

"Are you sure?" His tone was sharp, and she pursed her lips. She hadn't even made it through the first sentence and he was questioning her version.

"Yes, I'm sure. See? It's here in the article as well."

He looked, brow furrowed. "I didn't read it. I just saw the picture and the headline. Jean Dupont? That is…a curious name."

She smiled at him, feeling a bit more charitable as he confessed he'd not read anything. "Well, as you know, Jean Dupont is a generic name. This man turned up claiming amnesia, so Jean Dupont was assigned to him. Anyway, as I was saying, the trial started back about two months ago."

"Wait, wait, please," he interrupted again. "This man—this Jean Dupont—was tried and sentenced in just two months' time?"

Monique took a deep breath. This was turning out to be much more trying than she'd imagined. Still, there was something in the man's tone that made her want to help him. "Oui. Yes. It was a very rapid trial, but he did not fight the charges and the evidence showed he was clearly guilty."

"I've never heard of such a thing," he mused to himself.

"It's true, good sir. Everyone thought it was fast, but the government wanted it moved forward due to the scandal. Once Dupont realized he was fighting a tsunami of bad press, he just gave up. He was found guilty, and as you can see has been sentenced to many more years than he'll be alive. It's essentially a death sentence, given that he'll be in Nuutania." She shuddered, thinking about the notorious prison. It was widely known to be one of the worst places in all of France's justice system.

"You said there was a scandal? What did this man do?"

"It's not what he did, more what he said. Or who he said he was."

The confused look showed that he still had no idea what she was talking about, so she launched into the bigger story.

"About five months ago, he was found drifting on a ramshackle bamboo raft between the Australs and the Societies by a Chinese ship headed to Papeete for copra. They had altered their original course due to some weather and a bad engine. Luckily, they had an alert crewman at the helm that day; he saw the boat and managed to avoid running over it. When they came about, they saw there was a man in it, though he was not in good shape. They sent a small party over and rescued him. He was near death from starvation and dehydration."

"He was alone? No one else was on the raft?" He stared intently at her, as if she were withholding part of the story. She stared back, wondering at his odd questions.

"Do you know this man, this Jean Dupont?"

He startled, eyes darting wildly all around the diner before settling back on her.

"No. No, I don't know him. He just…he looks like someone I used to know. The picture caught my eye."

"You had a very…strong…reaction to the story," she remarked, trying to encourage him to talk.

"It was a shock to see this picture. And to read that this man was in Nuutania, with such a sentence. He looks a lot like my old friend." He peered at her for a moment, then frowned and waved at the dripping table. "I'm sorry for the mess I've made here."

Monique twisted her lips, but his earnestness chased away her annoyance. "I can see how it would be upsetting if you thought your friend was in jail. I'm glad it was just a mistake."

The man looked down, but not before she saw a look of pain in his eyes. "Now, let's see. I was telling you of his rescue by the Chinese crew, no?"

He gave a brief nod, almost shy now. "Yes. You said he was alone. No one with him on the boat…not even a woman?"

His tone made it a question, and her breath hitched as she was struck by the thought that perhaps he knew more than he was telling her. "No, he was alone. No woman."

She paused, watching him carefully. He whispered in a voice so soft she knew he'd not meant for her to hear, "It's been so long. Maybe they were separated. Or it was always just him, alone for all these years."

It made no sense to her. Dupont had never claimed to be with anyone else. Even in his wildest declarations, he'd always said he was alone.

"And then?" the man asked, breaking her from her reverie.

"The Chinese crew had a medic. They were able to rehydrate him. He had blood on the back of his head, and a bump; they thought he'd had a head injury. They could tell he wasn't Polynesian, though his skin was deeply tanned by the sun. However, since they found him in Polynesia, they brought him to Papeete where he was placed in the hospital, still unconscious."

"No identification on him? Where did he come from?"

"No one knows. He had no ID at all. He was in hospital for several days before he awoke. Naturally, it was a sensation at the time. Even in the South Pacific, we do not frequently find starving sailors drifting past in need of rescue."

The man smiled at her, and his transformation from an older man, stooped from a heavy burden, to one much younger was nothing short of astonishing. She gaped at him, until he prompted her for the rest of the story.

"So, um, initially he had complete amnesia. He couldn't say who he was or what he had been doing. The head injury and the dehydration, said his doctors. About a week after his rescue, he was visited by a local reporter. They intended to publish his picture in the paper, let him tell them any details of his life he knew and see if anyone recognized him."

The man grinned at her as he listened. "That seems like a good place to start if you need to find out the identity of someone who can't remember anything."

Monique nodded and then hesitated for a minute. She was about to unveil the cause of the scandal and hoped it wouldn't upset him again.

"Yes. Except the man now said he had remembered his name. He told it to the reporter, who faithfully copied it down and published it. All hell broke loose."

"What? Why? What in the world would cause such a reaction?"

She had his rapt attention, and a thrill thundered through her blood as she watched him, waiting breathlessly for what she was about to reveal.

"He claimed to be a dead man. And not just any dead man, a famous dead man."

"Who?" he moaned, rocking slowly back and forth in his seat as his eyes closed. Only to snap back open in horror as she gave him the answer.

"He said his name was Richard Rodgers."

Welcome to all new readers! This is an A/U story—one that explores how Rick and Kate might have met, and how their lives play out under very different circumstances from canon.

Let me first reassure you that this is a Caskett love story. Chapters 1-12 are ultimately the setup for the entire fic. If you don't find this tale compelling enough to continue by the end of 12, then you won't like the rest. Which is fine. A story this A/U is not for everyone.

This is my homage to the incredible characters that AWM et al. have gifted us. I have no connection with the show; all Castle characters are their property. All original characters in this fic are my creation.

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There are many pics and maps posted on Tumblr if you're interested.