Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work in an interpretation of the origianl material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context and are not intended to be libelous, defamtory or in any way factual.

AN: I'm using the ficathon word goal as a way to try to encourage myself to push through the issues I've been having with writing for the past - well, for forever. Fingers crossed.

A note on the timeframe: This story goes AU after the season one finale and is set mid-season three.

"There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one."

~ Kazuo Ishiguro

He gets an F.B.I. escort back to the city.

Not even the stone-faced silence of the agents flanking him in the backseat of the black SUV can completely extinguish the excitement flickering inside his chest. He's always wanted a police escort, is actually sort of surprised that he's never managed to warrant one before, not even through his most active years of - usually drunken - misadventures. Of course, that was before.

Before he let curiosity get the better of him and managed to screw up what he's pretty sure had the potential to be one of the best things to ever happen to him.

Richard Castle, hands folded in his lap but wrists unshackled, leans forward, mindful of the less than subtle placement of various tools of subdual around the interior of the truck. "Excuse me, Agent Avery," he addresses the solemn young man riding in the front passenger seat. Since he's the only one who has spoken - even if it was only to identify himself and then rather brusquely request Castle's presence in the Escalade idling in the driveway of his Hampton's home - Castle makes the safe assumption that he is the one charge. "Can you please tell me what this is about?"

"You'll find out -"

" -when we get there," Castle finishes for him, the same answer he's gotten each of the last five times. "Not even a hint?"

"No," Avery says, thumbing at the touch screen of his phone and never once sparing a glance in Castle's direction.

Castle slumps back, his shoulder bumping into the meaty bicep of the agent on his right. The tires chew up the road, carrying him back to the city he escaped from less than two weeks ago. Back to the oppressive heat radiating from the sidewalks and the cold loneliness of an empty loft. Back to the haunted streets, where the ghosts of happy memories and what-might-have-beens lurk around far too many corners.

His heart sinks when they pull up outside a too-tall building, the mid-afternoon sun glinting off the countless windows and making him squint. Avery tucks his phone into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and slides out of the SUV, his lean body fluid and graceful. The back door pops open and the beefy armed agent, moving far too quickly for a man of his size, thumps down onto the sidewalk. A jerk of his dimpled chin has Castle scrambling out after him, tripping over his own flip-flop clad feet as he stares up at the eerily signage free facade of the building that houses New York City's F.B.I. Headquarters.

"Let's go," Avery commands, striding toward the front door.

Castle watches the reflection of the SUV in the glass as it pulls back out into traffic and then follows. The flip-flops slap against his heels, the noise echoing loudly in the library quiet of the lobby. The chill of the industrial grade air conditioning cuts through the thin cotton of his vintage Green Arrow t-shirt and cargo shorts, brings up goosebumps on his exposed forearms and calves. A security guard looks him over from his post behind a bank of black and white monitors, a smirk tilting the corners of his mouth. He really should have insisted on being allowed to change.

"Okay, we're here," Castle points out, standing off to the side as Avery swipes his badge across the electronic pad of the elevator. The doors glide open and they both step in. Avery presses the tip of one long, thin finger to the button for the eighth floor, his dark skin going two shades lighter under the pressure. "Am I allowed to know what the hell is going on now?"

Avery stares straight ahead, the reflection of his stoic face made wavy by the brushed metal of the elevator doors. "The SAC will explain what you need to know momentarily."

"What I need to know?" Castle repeats, annoyed at his own incredulousness. "What I need to know is why the F.B.I. showed up at my summer home in a black SUV with tinted windows - which, by the way, could you guys be more cliche with that?- and forced me - "

"No one forced you, Mr. Castle," Avery says, his voice as placid as his demeanor. "We merely requested your cooperation. The decision to comply was yours alone."

"Requesting cooperation while brandishing a weapon pretty much guarantees compliance," Castle huffs.

"A Bureau issued sidearm secured in a holster is not a brandished weapon," Avery clarifies and Castle swears he can hear just the slightest waiver of a chuckle behind the words. Son of a bitch is actually enjoying this.

"Look, Agent -"

A subdued ding announces their arrival on the eighth floor. The elevator glides to a smooth stop, the doors sliding back into their pockets to reveal a bustling but oddly quiet bullpen. Men and women roam about, all dressed in various shades of black and dark blue and speaking in hushed, hurried voices. Phones ring and keyboards click, but all at a muffled decibel, as though they know that this is a serious environment and their joyful noise would not be appreciated.

A pair of agents stand in front of an opaque glass square mounted against the far wall, conversing in whispers as they look at a box filled with scrolling text. The female agent reaches out and touches the glass, stopping the words. With a flick of her finger, she moves the box to one corner of the screen and then pulls up three more boxes, each of varying sizes and content.

"Whoa," Castle whispers, awed in spite of himself. "That is so cool. Where can I get one?"

"Government issue, Mr. Castle," Avery says, more of the barely restrained amusement in his voice. "This way."

Castle trails along after him, walking as slowly as he thinks he can get away with. His eyes dart around the room, cataloging details, trying to make as vivid a mental picture as he can. The urge to write settles almost uncomfortably at the base of his neck, a heavy feeling that tenses the line of his shoulders and seeps down into his arms. His hands curl into loose fists, ready to unfurl over a keyboard and fly.

Avery comes to a halt and Castle, head still craned around to catch the last glimpses of the bullpen, almost walks into him. He mumbles an apology but Avery ignores it, his hand already twisting the handle on a door marked 'Interview 3'. The heavy wood slab swings inward and Avery motions for Castle to follow it.

"You're not coming?" Castle asks, shame burning hot across the back of his neck. Adrenaline, intrigue, and a healthy dose of annoyance have carried him this far but the idea of crossing that threshold and facing whomever or whatever is waiting for him without Avery makes him feel like a scared little kid unsure of why he's been called to the principal's office.

All he gets from Avery is a shake of the head. Okay. Alone it is. Sucking in a deep breath, Castle pulls himself up to his full height and steps into the room. Two women sit with their backs to him, their heads angled together in conversation. The door closes with a soft whoosh and snick and the room falls silent. The woman on his right stands and turns to face him, the tips of her auburn hair brushing across the collar of her fitted suit jacket.

"Mr. Castle," she says, her voice husky and lower than he would have guessed, "I'm Special Agent in Charge Jordan Shaw. Thank you for joining us."

"I was under the impression that declining your invitation wasn't really an option," Castle rebuts, taking her extended hand and shaking.

"No, it wasn't," Shaw agrees, the left corner of her mouth quirking up. "But I appreciate it all the same."

"So are you going to tell me why I'm here now or do I have to start guessing? Because if it's the latter, I'm definitely going to need to consult a lawyer before I end up incriminating myself."

The woman still seated at the table snorts, her hands busy closing and arranging files, and he feels the knot of fear in his chest loosen.

"No need to request your one phone call, Mr. Castle," Shaw says. "You're here as a consultant, not a suspect. We have a killer who is using your books as the basis for his murders and -"

"Again?" The question pops out before he can stop it and Shaw's eyebrows raise. "Sorry," he says, trying to wipe it away with a wave of his hand. "It's just that this happened a few years ago -"

"Harrison Tisdale," Shaw interrupts. "Yes, I'm aware. The NYPD reports that you were instrumental in solving that case and I'm hoping you'll prove just as valuable an asset this time."

Castle feels his chest puff. Instrumental. She must have talked to Montgomery, then. Not -

Yeah, definitely Montgomery.

"I'll help however I can."

"Good," Shaw says, turning to pull out her chair. She waves Castle around to the other side of the table. "And on the topic of the NYPD, I believe you're familiar with our other consultant on this case, Detective -"

"Beckett," Castle breathes, coming up short when he rounds the table, his heart lurching hard against his ribs.

Beckett looks up, her expression - once upon a time an almost open book to him - unreadable. Her hair, long and caramel colored now, curls around her face and shoulders, shining even under the harsh fluorescent lights, and he has the insane urge to wind his fingers through it, test the silky texture of his memory against reality. He can see the glint of a necklace through the open collar of her button up shirt and the guilt he's never completely suppressed swirls to life in his gut, making his stomach churn.

"Castle," she says after a moment, nodding toward the empty chair on his side of the table. "Sit down."

Eyes never leaving her, Castle gropes in midair for the back of the chair. When his fingers finally curl around the cold metal frame, he drags it out and sits, landing off center. The edge of the seat digs into the meat of his left thigh, but he can't stop staring at Beckett long enough to care. His brain keeps overlaying the image of the last time he saw her - the wild look in her eyes, the kiss bruised pout of her lips, her short hair splayed out across the pillowcase in soft spikes as she came apart underneath him - and he finds himself suddenly unable to draw in a full breath.

"You grew out your hair," he mutters and Beckett dips her chin, eyes darting down to where her hands are folded together on the table top.

The loud clearing of a throat makes him jump. Castle tears his eyes away from the flush creeping up Beckett's neck and looks toward Agent Shaw. The smile ghosting across her lips makes him feel like a teenager and all he can do is shrug. Shaw nods.

"As I was saying, the two of you know each other."

"Yeah," he says, reduced to monosyllables as his gaze gravitates back to Beckett.

"Mr. Castle assisted my team with the Allison Tisdale case," Beckett says, her voice far too even for his liking. And his ego. Couldn't she be thrown just the tiniest bit off her game by his presence? "After which he began to shadow my team's cases as research for -"

"I know, Beckett," Shaw cuts her off with a short laugh. "And I'm fairly certain Mr. Castle remembers the sequence of events as well."

"Vividly," he pipes up, glad to have regained the ability of polysyllabic speech.

Beckett still won't look at him so he keeps staring at her, eyes tracking over and over every visible inch. Time has drawn its hand over her face, chiseled the soft roundness of her cheeks and jaw into sharp angles. He wants to trace them, feel the hard bite of her bone against the fleshy pads of his fingertips, prove to himself that she's here. Real. He'd truly never expected to see her again. Not after that morning when he'd woken up naked and alone, the signed copy of Heat Wave he'd sent to her resting next to him on the cold sheets.

One night.

Kate Beckett had been in his bed for one glorious night. One night that was at once more than he'd ever really let himself believe they'd have and not even close to being enough.

"Since we're all up to speed on your previous relationship with Detective Beckett and the NYPD - " Agent Shaw says, and Castle watches the pink stain on Kate's neck crawl even higher at her use of the R word - "let's talk about why you're here now, Mr. Castle."

"You said someone is basing murders off my books."

Shaw nods. "Specifically, the books you wrote about Detective Beckett."

"Nikki Heat," Beckett interjects. "The books are about Nikki Heat, not me."

Castle sees Shaw roll her eyes in his periphery. "The Heat character is based off you, Beckett," she says, the weariness in her voice indicative of an argument had one too many times. "Which is the exact reason we're all here."

"Wait, what?" He finally drags his eyes away from Beckett to focus on Shaw. "What do you mean?"

"Our suspect is obsessed with Nikki Heat," Shaw clarifies, hooking a thumb toward Beckett. "He's committed two murders so far, all in the name of catching Detective Heat's attention. He wants her to play with him."


"Precisely," Shaw agrees.

"What can I do?"

Anything. He'll do anything.

"We've already contacted your agent," Shaw informs him, "and her office is sending over your fan mail. What we need from you is insight." Castle cocks his head in silent question and Shaw continues. "This man wants Nikki Heat. With the combination of you and Detective Beckett, we can give that to him. Use it to draw him out."

Castle flicks his gaze back to Beckett, watches the muscles in her jaw flex. "Beckett," he whispers, pleads. For the first time since he sat down, she looks directly at him. Their eyes lock and it knocks the air out of his lungs. It's still there, all of it. The hurt, the anger, the spark he's only ever felt with her. God. It'll be a miracle if he survives this.

"I'm in," he says, still looking at Beckett but directing his words toward Shaw. "Where do we start?"

The door opens and he looks up, watching as a team of agents file through, each carrying a cardboard box stuffed with envelopes. The boxes pile up, a half a dozen of them, before the last agent walks in and drops his load directly in front of Castle on the table, the metal legs vibrating with the impact.

"Where we start, Mr. Castle," Will Sorenson says, his eyes cold and voice dripping with disdain, "is with your adoring fans."

"Sorenson." Castle looks up at him, fighting against the urge to stand up. To put them on equal footing. "What - I thought you worked kidnappings?" He drops his eyes back to the women sitting across from him. "Has someone been taken?"

Shaw shakes her head.

"I have a special interest in this one," Sorenson explains, a smirk curling the corners of his mouth as he steps up and places a hand on the back of Beckett's chair, "seeing as how it involves my wife."

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

Much gratitude to Kate and Allison for the beta work and cheerleading.