Chapter 1: Strangers

Disclaimer: The characters of Castle belong to Mr. Marlowe and ABC Studios. I'm merely borrowing them.

Richard Edgar Castle stared at a row of weathered mystery books in the murky light of the used bookstore, breathing in the familiar scent of yellowed pages and flaking paperbacks. It was strange seeing his own work for resale, and more than a little unsettling-okay, disappointing-knowing that someone had read through something he created, had immersed themselves in a world, in characters that were practically pieces of his soul, so deeply he had invested himself, and then perfunctorily exchanged them for a couple dollars at most in recompensation.

He huffed a little, half amused half depressed at seeing his blood and tears sitting on pressed wood shelves, sale stickers slapped on their spines. But then, he didn't do it for the money or accolades, writing. Not really. His success was a fringe benefit that had first shocked and then fortified him, but ultimately he wrote because he needed to write. He couldn't not write. Stories crafted themselves in his head and haunted him, the words and sentences that belonged in unwritten narratives distracting him to the point of sleeplessness. Until he put pen to paper, or fingers to keys. Whatever.

Regardless of the mode or method, he considered writing to be the ultimate medium of expression. And in his case, of sanity. Without writing he wasn't sure where he would be. Talking to himself, potentially. Or worse still, to the voices and characters in his head.

That people could so easily discard his stories was...unexpectedly painful. There was so much of him, of his innermost thoughts, in each story, and the tone and characters and plot often reflected, at least in part, the struggles and triumphs he experienced in the midst of his writing. How could he not take it personally?

To be honest, he had never really considered this aspect of the reading process. The true denouement. Was it routine for people to give away the books they finished? He couldn't remember the last book he gave away. It was probably a gummy, crayoned children's book or an overlooked harlequin he'd forgotten to pack with the rest of Meredith's myriad belongings. But his books? He kept those. They were...road maps to him. He remembered where he read each and every one, the feelings and emotions certain passages evoked or intensified, and how he carried the presence of each novel with him for varying amounts of time-some books weighed on his mind even now, so much had they shaped his thoughts, his character, who he was as a man. Revisiting his favorite novels, he could make out faded drops of black coffee on the pages, reminding him of the nights he spent reading for pleasure as a college student when he should have been studying; or his hastily scrawled notes in the margins, pointing out literary techniques or verbiage he found "fascinating" or "enthralling". Yeah, he was...really a nerd.

Pushing his musings aside, he focused on one book in particular, his brow knitting in concentration. Interesting. It stuck out to him for all the best reasons. It was A Rose for Everafter, which was, of all his work to date, one of his personal favorites. Top three, at least. And the spine was well-worn in the extreme, the ink smudged in some areas, the text rubbed to fading, the edges of the dust jacket slightly frayed. Clearly loved, but not so damaged as to be abused. Someone who loved literature, who had read and reread it often, owned and then relinquished his book. Confusing. And as a crafter of mysteries, it was impossible for Rick to ignore this book and the questions it raised. The potential stories it presented as explanation.

He plucked it from the shelf, dislodging a puff of dust, and cradled the familiar weight in his hands for just a moment before flipping open the front cover.

An inscription greeted him and his breath caught as he read the message, feeling almost guilty, slightly voyeuristic. These...these words weren't for him, but they were keeping his words company, so...that had to mean something, right? Chalk it up to fate or kismet? Serendipity? Assuaging his hesitancy with that rationalization, he focused on the tight, even cursive, and began to read.

My darling girl,

This summer, I witnessed your desire for justice and love of literature intersect when you devoured every one of Rick Castle's mysteries. I hope that you enjoy his latest installment, and that it provides a respite from your own tireless pursuit of truth, if only for a moment!

We are so proud of you and love you more than words can say!

Happy 18th Birthday!

Mom & Dad

A sticky hand gripped his forearm, jerking him from nostalgia that, by all rights, belonged to someone else. He blinked rapidly, clearing his thoughts, and peered into sleepy blue eyes.

"I'm done, daddy," Alexis murmured, back from the bathroom.

"Did you wash your hands?" His lips curved up at her drowsy little nod and fuzzed hair and she smiled back at him, though it was a little lackluster and his heart clenched at the sadness she so clearly didn't want him to notice. Always protecting him.

In another astonishing display of parental negligence, Meredith had reneged on a long-ago-promised, mother-daughter vacation to California, featuring a trip to Disney Land, the Golden Gate Bridge, and bewhiskered sea lions. Some indie flick cast her in a main role at the eleventh hour, and they were shooting in Chicago for three weeks, which delighted Meredith to no end, while thoroughly derailing her plans with Alexis all in one fell swoop.

Meredith had called him yesterday, chirping excitedly about the potential impact this would have on her career, informing him that she could spend time with Alexis next month, saying she knew they would understand why she had to reschedule. All selfishness and superficiality and hollow justifications. Sending him into a white-knuckled rage that had him, quite literally, biting his tongue to refrain from launching into a blistering verbal attack. Instead, he leashed his temper, coolly hung up on Meredith mid-ramble, and told Alexis that they were going to the Hamptons tomorrow. Oh, he aimed for excitement and nonchalance, but Alexis was too perceptive for her own good. She knew as soon as he knocked on her bedroom door that Meredith had backed out-saw through the false cheer in his eyes or the too-tight smile-and he had watched her wilt under the knowledge, watched her chin tremble and her eyes go glossy before she turned toward her window to hide her response.

God, she was only 8-years-old. That she had to deal with rejection from the very person who should have loved her was kind of killing him. And he didn't know how to fix it for her. Meredith was going to do what Meredith wanted to do, consequences, repercussions, and collateral human damage be damned. All he could do was pick up the pieces and minimize the emotional devestation as much as possible.

Fighting back a resurgance of bitter anger, he smoothed a hand over her bright hair. "Do you have enough reading material, Speedy Gonzalez?" She was like him that way, devouring books, always requiring more reading material. And he loved that.

"Yeah, I have Call of the Wild and a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales and some Boxcar Children books, so I'll be good."

"You sure? I figured we would stay for a week or so-longer if you want, even. With your track record, having a couple of extra books to tide you over might be good."

Damn. Not even the promise of new books seemed to perk her up. Meredith had managed to snuff out that effervescence that was such a defining aspect of Alexis' personality, and he really and truly hated her for that. She would get it back, he knew. Alexis was resilient, and she would recover. Eventually. But seeing his baby like this...watching her suffer? It was hell.

Alexis shrugged and ambled over to the children's section to peruse her options, and he turned back to the book he still held in his hands. His book, to be precise. Containing a personal message that was...exactly that. Personal. Very personal. Why, he wondered, would the owner give it away? Presumably, it was given to the previous owner-Darling Girl, clearly a female owner he deduced-by their mother. With whom it seemed they shared a close relationship, if the endearment was to be considered. So why abandon a memento like this? He turned the question this way and that in his head, but no explicable reason came to mind. Curiouser and curiouser...

He flipped to the title page and sucked in a little gasp that startled Alexis. He smiled to reassure her and then hurriedly bent his head over the pages again, because now he had a name! Or a fragment of one, really.

Property of K. Beckett, Stanford University.

Wow. Darling Girl was also brilliant. Ivy League brilliant, for all intents and purposes, despite Stanford's exclusion from the Ivies. And having the pick of the nearly 4 million volumes contained in the Cecil H. Green Library, she still elected to read his novels. He felt thoroughly complimented by the mysterious K. Beckett, despite the fact that her copy of his book now graced the shelves of the very quaint, poorly lit, impossibly dusty Second Time Around book store.

He started leafing through the pages and paused about halfway into the first chapter, stunned. She had freaking annotated his book, he marveled, drinking in the neat words scrawled in the margins.

"RC writes emotion by showing not telling."

"Visceral; near palpable emotion from Sister Mary Grace."

"Character's flaws make her accessible/relatable."

A plethora of other similar phrases littered the pages, the blue ink of her words blurring as he flipped through the pages rapidly. Maybe close to a hundred comments, give or take. He was floored. Kind of overwhelmed that someone had taken the time to dissect and analyze his work when there were countless volumes worthier than his available for study. Most women he encountered at his readings had done nothing more than skim the synopsis on the book flap, despite their claims to rabid fandom. And like a good author, he pasted on his best charm smile and signed his name on the cover of books he doubted those women with their chiclet smiles and fake tans would ever read. But here was a woman who had not only read his book, but examined it in detail. And he found that...really sexy.

K. Beckett, who are you and where are you?

Snapping the book shut, he looked up to see Alexis balancing a stack of books in her slender arms, giving him a sheepish smile as she walked toward the register. He followed her and placed "A Rose for Everafter" next to Alexis' selections.

"I hate to say I told you so..." he sighed in mock exasperation, eyeing her books meaningfully, and hid his relief when Alexis shot him a familiar chiding look.

"Not as much as I hate to hear it! And if you want someone to build sand castles with you this week, you better not act smug! Like having a kid who reads is a bad thing..." She trailed off incredulously with a snort.

"Duly noted," he replied, repressing a smile and nodding sagely. Alexis frowned as the teenaged cashier started lazily ringing up the books and turned to regard him with something like bemusement.

"Dad, why are you buying a copy of your own book?" Peripherally, he saw the teen startle at her words and gave a mental groan, because the very last thing Rick felt like doing was doling out autographs and giving this unmotivated teen an inspirational pep talk about realizing those adolescent aspirations to become a great writer. He just didn't have it in him today.

"I'll explain when we're back in the car," he hedged, wanting to get out of there before the teen's burgeoning awe and excitement led to an unavoidable conversation. "But," he continued, "I think I may have found an unexpected friend."

It took them another half hour to reach the beach house, and to his relief, Rick intercepted the grocery delivery service as he carried in their minimal luggage. Another 10 minutes on the road, and they would have missed out on the artisan cheeses and fresh cookies he had been banking on to further lift Alexis' spirits. Despite a rough start to their week, it was looking more and more promising, like this trip might be an actual success and not just a mediocre consolation. He pressed money into the delivery boy's hand and set about putting groceries away and transferring bags to the appropriate rooms.

Alexis was a flurry of movement, dashing up the stairs to don her swimsuit, down again to fetch the sunscreen, a blur of enthusiasm and singlemindedness that left no room for sadness. He looked on as he set about preparing homemade macaroni and cheese, pleased that she was no longer quite so despondent, but he also knew that her melancholy would return in the evening when she slowed down again. He only hoped the fun and inevitable exhaustion of the day would blunt it a little.

She chattered away while meticulously applying some stratospherically high SPF he had purchased per the suggestion of his dermatologist (melanoma was not a joke), talking about one of her friends from school, about the premise of one of the books she had purchased today, about their neighbor's dog, and then she stopped abruptly and scrunched up her features in an adorably quizzical expression.

"So wait...why did-why did you buy that book today?"

"My book?" He clarified, continuing at her affirmative nod. "Well...I-that is-someone wrote in it. And..." how did he explain his motives when he wasn't even entirely sure what had driven him to purchase the book in the first place? "Okay, so you know how your teachers will make comments on your book reports when you turn them in? And then you can use the things they say to improve your writing, to learn more about yourself? It's the same concept. Just applied to a novel. Whoever owned the book took the time out of their busy life to read my words, and then they took additional time to add in their own thoughts and suggestions and marked passages or words that they liked. And this person? She was a true book lover. And do you know how I can tell? She didn't write down these notes anticipating that someone would read her words one day," because, jokes and digs about his massive ego aside, he knew his books weren't college course or literary classic material, they were for entertainment. "She did it for the sake of putting her thoughts on paper. I'm pretty sure that was her only reason-just recording her thoughts. And I find...I find I quite admire that."

"Well, yeah..." Alexis arched a coppery eyebrow, smirking, "you admire it because that's exactly like you, dad. Of course you admire it. Her. Whatever. You're always saying you have too many words in your head, that they have to come out. That's...that's probably why she wrote in your book. She has words, too. But she's probably not an author, so her words and her stories don't have anywhere to go. Not like yours."

His kid. God. He swallowed hard, trying to relieve the ache in his throat. was more than a little humbling and awing that she was so well-adjusted, all things considered. Brilliant and articulate, solemnly dispensing advice while covered in fondant-thick sheets of zinc oxide. His perfect, brainy, albino kid.

"How in the world are you so smart?" He smiled tenderly, and she shrugged, a blush throwing her freckles into relief as she basked in the glow of his compliment.

"Someone has to be the grownup," she teased, rosy cheeks lifting in a grin, and the sweet moment dissipated as he pressed a palm to his chest and adopted a beleaguered expression.

"Fie, Daughter! Thou hast mortally wounded me, cut me to the quick! Oh, Alexis, thou hast-"

"Good grief! You really are your mother's son," she muttered through a grin, rolling her eyes at his theatrics and then making a hasty exit to the patio before he could get in a rejoinder, presumably headed for the pool.

He quickly sobered as he resumed dicing cheese, thoughts of the enigmatic K. Beckett running through his head. Alexis was right, it was the words that drew him in. Being a student at Stanford, she was unarguably intelligent. But it was more than that. Just the few comments he had read revealed her to have emotional depth and refreshing insight, especially regarding human behavior. He hadn't gotten the chance, but he wanted to see if she'd annotated any of the book's raunchier scenes. That...that could be interesting. Did they share a similar sense of humor, he wondered? Was she still in school, or had she since graduated? The niggling need to know had taken up residence in his brain, and he knew it was going to plague him until he unearthed some answers. The lure of a fresh mystery excited him, ratcheted up his heart rate, and honestly, he wanted to abandon the macaron in pursuit of that mystery, but he didn't dare risk disappointing Alexis. Not today. Or this week.



He felt like he was constantly compensating for Meredith's failures. Casting a mournful glance at K. Beckett's book on the kitchen table, he heaved a sigh and returned to dicing, making mental plans and potential contingencies. Because he was going to find K. Beckett. Come hell or high water or a hail of bullets-oh, that was good...he was proud of himself for that literary allusion-he was going to track her down and unearth the story behind the inscription and her lovely commentary and her abandoned book. And by doing so, maybe he could unravel a real life mystery.

K. Beckett...


I recently had the pleasure of reading through a Grey's Anatomy fic entitled "Fates Collide", authored by OddCoupler222, and thought it would be fun to apply the same plot premise in the Castle-verse.

Next up, Castle reaches out to the mysterious K. Beckett...