Metamorphoses (Of Sandcastles and Dollhouses)

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or Dollhouse, or any of their brilliant characters. I am merely borrowing them for the purpose of entertainment, and promise to return them in (mostly) pristine condition.

"And those who loved before will be brought back together
Yeah those who loved before will be brought back together
And so they say baby, for everything a reason
And so they say baby you will be brought...

...brought back to me"

-Carina Round, For Everything a Reason

"All things change; nothing perishes."


It's all just a story.

It has to be, because there's no way this can be real. But the problem is, even if it's not real, it's also not his story. He can't hit the delete button when things go wrong (and things have definitely gone wrong); he's not the author, just a character stuck in the twists of the plot. And he can't deal with that, because that sounds too much like real life to be comfortable (and he's already established that this can't be real; nothing that hurts this much can be).

The party is everything he's come to expect from a promotional party; the girls, the flashing lights, the music, the girls (it bears repeating). He's relatively positive he used to love it once; that every fan, every "where do you get your ideas," every "sign my chest" (the only reason he doesn't mind that one is because it's freeing; it's so far from memories that hurt far too much to remember) was an impossible excitement, but the glow has faded; now it's just tiring.

But he's a commodity, and he knows the rules; you smile at the fans, you laugh at the jokes, you put on a show. And so he does, and he's good at it; no one sees the little cracks in him and he keeps his complaints only for Alexis, who understands; who knows him (who he lets know him). She's his miracle, his precious little angel, and no matter what it is she always makes him feel better, and this time is no different; he can feel himself lighten as he banters with her, like all his problems have gone away (only for now, but it's the best he has).

Then there's a hand on his shoulder, a voice calling out his name and since the voice is female he pulls out his pen and he spins; armed with his charm (it fits like a finely tailored suit; he's made it fit, taken the broken pieces and put them into someone that he doesn't mind looking into the mirror and seeing). His eyes go to the badge first, because that's definitely new (be careful what you wish for, a little voice whispers to him) and then they flip to her chest (this is the usual signing space, but hers appears to be covered, which is new as well) and then, finally, they go to her face.

The world stops. The pieces break all over again; shatter and fall to the floor like glass; crack into a million pieces and he wonders, for a second if he'll ever be able to put them back together again. He doesn't feel Alexis pull the pen from his suddenly numb fingers, doesn't hear her retort, although he's sure it's clever (his little girl is always clever). He can't come up with anything to say to her; he can't come up with anything to think, because it's her, and that's impossible because it can't be her.

He doesn't say anything when he goes with her; an uncharacteristic move, he is distantly aware, but he can't help it. So he sits passively in the back of the police car as she's taking him to be questioned and stares at the back of her head (god, it can't be her head; can it?) and as he does so he comes to a decision. He decides that she can never know; he can never let her know that it isn't her question that's made him freeze. It isn't because she's asked him something new; no, that wouldn't have made his breath evaporate in his lungs and his heart actually stop for a moment. She can never know that instead it's her face, because he knew that face once; he loved that face once.

He buried that face in a beautiful cemetery fourteen years ago, on a sunny day in June where the diamond on her third finger had glistened in the light and his heart had bled and bled.

It is, he decides, only a mediocre day. Sure, the sun is shining; sure he's got a day off of teaching due to some inane school holiday, but it's still only a mediocre day. For it to be a great day, he would have to be able to write more than twelve pages in his novel; the novel that he's been trying to write for a goddamn year. That's a page a month, and although he isn't a math teacher he can easily figure out that at that rate he'll be finished his novel around say, never. He's in possession of all the words that he needs, but he's desperately lacking inspiration; ironic as he'd always thought that whole 'muse' thing everyone had been talking about was crap (well jokes on him now, he guesses).

So, to get himself out of his rut (and away from an answering machine full of messages from his mother, because that's really not helping his self esteem) he grabs his coat off of the hanger and goes outside, in the hopes that some fresh air will clear out the cobwebs in his head. He strolls around Central Park for a while, taking in the sounds of the city and the sights of the forest as they combine to create a dazzling contradiction. After a while he finds himself heading for the university, and so with the vague intention of hitting the library to find something to inspire (or at least amuse him, on the highly likely chance that he still can't get anything done) him, he strolls through the quad lazily, taking in the environment that he actually finds that he misses.

He's about halfway to the library when he looks up for a moment and then just stops, completely poleaxed at the vision he sees. Long, dark reddish brown hair, auburn maybe (he's not sure and he definitely doesn't care), falls to past a lovely pair of shoulders and accents a breath taking face; perfectly symmetrical in it's dimensions, all pale skin and naturally red lips with the most beautiful doe brown eyes. He's so enraptured that he can't even move; which of course, in the true nature of his life comes back to bite him in the ass as, lost in his little dream, he doesn't notice that said dream girl has gotten much closer to him until she rams into him and they both go tumbling to the ground.

Thankfully the pain pulls him from his little space out and back into reality, and with a rich sense of mortification starting to build in him he quickly and careful extracts himself from the jumble of limbs they have become and gets to his feet so that he can extend a hand towards her.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"

He finds himself babbling, because really, this kind of thing only happens to him; the smooth charm of Rick Castle never fails to knock them on their ass (and sadly, the literal definition for that is true about 50% of the time).

"I think the only thing bruised is my pride. Oh, no, wait my ass is too, but I can live with that. I think it was my fault anyways. I wasn't watching where I was going, and I walked into you."

She says, and he has a moment to admire how lovely her voice is, soft and delicate, before she looks up and places her hand in his and his focus is diverted to how perfect her skin is. Thankfully, muscle memory kicks in at this point and he finds himself pulling her up gently (because if it had been up to his brain, he'd probably still be standing there when the sun went down). However, his mother raised him to be a gentleman (among other things) and so once she's standing he quickly moves correct her misconception of the situation,

"No, no that was definitely my fault. I was so dazzled by you that I couldn't see what was going on - and I hadn't meant to say that out loud."

He finishes, and he can actually feel the flush go up his neck as he realizes what he's just admitted, because yes, he's not exactly the smoothest guy on the block, but he's not this bad! Fate, however must be taking pity on him because instead of giving him that 'and I'm going to leave now because you have all the indications of a stalker' look that every woman seems to have perfected at birth she smiles at him, the sight dazzling, and he has to actually consciously focus on what she says next so that he doesn't miss it.

"And yet, I'm glad you did. So, if it was your fault, then why don't you buy me coffee to make up for it?"

It takes him a second (that smile has the potential to enslave) but when what she said does register he jumps to respond, because if by some extremely lucky twist of fate he hasn't put her off yet, then he's not about to waste this opportunity.

"I could do that. I could definitely do that. Now or...?"

She smiles at him, sweet and genuine (not in that 'you should ride the short bus' way that he half thinks she should, given his current performance) before she says, her voice light,

"Now works for me. I imagine you have a name, don't you handsome?"

"Yes, yes I do."

He responds as they start walking towards the nearest cafe on campus. After he speaks there's a pause, and then she gives him a look and he starts again, his flush crawling up to his cheeks this time, because oops, he knew there was something he was missing.

"Ah, right, you want to know what it is. Rick-Rick Castle. I think my mother watched too much 'I Love Lucy' when she was pregnant, and there might have been some story about the actor that played Ricky; that trust me you really don't need to know about, but here I am."

He finally manages to cut himself off, and he now he more than half wishes that he could just melt through the ground to spare himself the humiliation of his absolute loss of his wits that seems to occur when he's talking to her. She just smiles wider however, as if she finds him charming (or at least humorous in a cute kind of way) before she replies,

"I'm Lillian Monroe, but Lilli's great; nice to meet you Ricky. I'm not sure if there's an interesting story behind the origin of my name, but yours sounds like it's interesting enough for the both of us."

"Yeah, it probably is,"

He says and this time he manages to stop himself from elaborating any further. He vaguely remembers his mother telling him about something involving feathers before he had decided that going temporally deaf was probably the only way he was going to get through the rest of his youth without extensive therapy (and so it's probably not a story that's going to win him any favours with the beautiful lady). Thankfully by then they've reached the cafe, and as he's eager to change the topic he opens the door for her and then once there both inside he gestures toward the board and asks,

"So, what can I get you?"

"An Espresso Ristretto, please."

She says, and turns to him, her expression deadly serious but her tone expressing her humour,

"So many people under estimate the importance of a good espresso, but no one should ever subject themselves to poor quality coffee."

He smiles at the deadly earnest look on her face and then he turns to the woman behind the counter and says,

"Make that two then, I'd hate to go against nature."

And her smile in response is simply lovely and so he simply stands and basks in the glow of it until their coffees are ready, where they then move towards an empty table and he puts down his coffee before holding out her chair for her, which makes her smile at him and nod her head once in thanks before she stinks down into the seat. Once he's sitting in his own seat and they've both taken a sip of their coffee (which is awesome, he will give her that and decides that he may make that 'no bad coffee thing' one of his rules for life) she asks,

"So Ricky, tell me about yourself. What do you do?"

He takes a second to weigh her tone; he's perfectly aware of the fact that most women ask that question because they want to know what a man's bank balance is and he'd be slightly crushed if this woman was like that, but he finds nothing but simply curiosity in her tone and so he lets himself relax as he replies, trying to keep his voice from becoming to flat (he's not exactly thrilled about his career after all),

"I'm an English teacher. How about you?"

"Law student who waitresses to pay the numerous, numerous bills."

She says with a long suffering shrug of her shoulders and then she leans back in the chair, crosses her legs (and he has to actually command his eyes away from the inch of flesh that the motion revels) and pins those beautiful eyes of hers on him for a minute, as if she's sizing him up. After a minute she asks,

"You didn't seem all that jazzed about being an English teacher, but you've clearly got some dough; nice shirt, nice pants, nice watch; not rich but not totally broke would be my guess, so why are you doing something you don't like?"

He takes a second to admire her instincts (and to mourn all the poor bastards who are destined end up against her in court, because she's going to make a hell of a lawyer) before he replies,

"I love the language; I love the way you can combine words to make the greatest stories, but teaching isn't really where I wanted to end up."

Her smiles grows for a minute before she leans forward again and says, her voice satisfied, as if she's figured out the secret of his life,

"Ah, don't tell me, let me guess. An aspiring writer?"

He cringes, only a tiny bit, because he's knows that in the women's codebook that pretty much translates into 'moody and destined to end up living out of his mother's basement and bitching about their lack of inspiration,' which isn't exactly appealing. However she doesn't seem to be drawing back; rather she's still leaned forwards, simply waiting for his answer and so he gives a little half smile of his own as he says,

"I know, it's a cliché right?"

And she smiles in response and her whole face softens before she replies, her voice sincere,

"Yeah, but somehow on you it's also impossibly sweet."

And then she looks down at her watch and scowls before she directs her attention back to him and says, apologetically, as she stands and moves over to his side of the table,

"I hate to go, but I've got a lecture and I'm practicing this whole responsible adult thing, so I shouldn't skip. I'm not much of a writer, but I think I can handle this."

And she pulls out a pen and takes his hand in her own, bringing it closer to her face before she scrawls something on it and then lets his hand go.

She smiles at him and then turns, and she's taken about three steps before he even thinks to actually look at his hand to see what she written (he was too busy watching the way she walked). So he lifts his hands up so that he can read it, and he's about half way through reading her number when she turns back towards him and says, from half the cafe away, although he hears every word,

"I hope you call me."

And then she winks at him, a saucy little gesture that goes straight to his groin, and without another look back, leaves the cafe.

He's in love by the time she passes the potted ficcus at the entrance.

He manages to pull himself together somewhere between 5th avenue and the police station, and so he's completely composed by the time they're in the interrogation room, just her and him, where the scent of her perfume (it's light but smoky and that's not right, Lilli always smelled like sunshine but maybe it is right, because she can't be Lilli; he buried Lilli, but god she looks so similar; identical even) surrounds him as her voice tries to get him to spill his secrets. And although he most certainly hasn't killed anyone, he's definitely unsettled by the situation (by her) and since he's perfectly aware that if he shows that, then he's likely going to held on suspicion of murder rather than just questioned (and because the truth isn't going to win him any points; it's absurd, impossible – he hopes), he falls back on his charm, and it must work because he doesn't get arrested.

He knows he should let it go; that for his sanity's sake he should walk away and try to forget this day has ever happened, but he simply can't. This is impossible, fantastic, mind-blowing; larger than anything a Julia Roberts conspiracy theory movie ever touched on and he just can't help himself. It's mostly because of her, not even he can fool himself out of that, but he's surprised that it's not really for the reason he thought it would be. The resemblance is uncanny, yes, but that's not the only reason that this woman, this Detective Beckett (not Lilli, he has to keep reminding himself of that) has caught his eye, and he's dying to figure out just what it about this woman that's got him more interested in her than he's been in any woman in a very long time.

So he prods and he gets himself on the investigation so he can solve the mystery (and if he ends up solving the murder as well then it's an added bonus) and because the mayor is a fan he finds himself sitting across from the dead ringer of his dead fiancé, sneaking glances over fan mail possibly written by a murdering psychopath (that he probably owes a big favour). And then she's looking at him with that cool, cop gaze of hers as she tries to filet him with her words and so he pins on his best smile and decides to fight back, taking that writers instinct of his that's made him famous and use it to analyze her; to paint her a picture of the woman he thinks (prays) that she is (and an opposite of the the woman that he sees when he looks at her).

When he sees his words hit their mark he can't quite keep in the sigh (of relief or disappointment, he's not sure) that the knowledge brings him (different people; the dead don't walk again, after all), but she misses the gesture as she hurries to respond, to regain her ground and to ease the sting of the memories (memories that make her someone else than Lilli) brought up by what he has said, her voice cool and defensive, but oh so vulnerable as well.

"Neat trick Castle. But don't think that you know me."

He shouldn't know her. He shouldn't want to know her.

He does anyways (on both accounts).

So after they catch the guy that he doesn't believe for a second did it and he's told to forget about it, he goes to his poker game instead and he pushes, because the case isn't over just yet; he can feel it (and then that feeling gets him arrested, but at least it's for something he deserves, and the feeling of her body pressed against his as she slams him down on the table is just an added bonus that leaves his skin over sensitized for hours afterwards) and if when it turns out that he's right he just smiles, even when he's being held hostage by a little rich kid murderer who needs a breath mint, it's only because his instinct was correct (not because he gets to spend more time with her; no not all).

When it's all over and he's knocked the guy out (and damn he wishes he'd gotten that on camera because come on, how cool was that!) she smiles, whispers in his ear and then walks away like its goodbye, and he stands there; watching the swing as her step and feeling the heat of her breath on his cheek. And the first thing he does, before he even gets home (before he even gets into the cab), is pull out his phone and call his good buddy the major.

He's not ready to say goodbye just yet (not ever).

Not again.

He's still not sure what he's done to deserve this particular little patch of heaven (maybe he saved a whole busload of nun's in a previous life) but he wouldn't give it up for the world. If someone had ever told him that he'd owe the most precious thing in his life to a case of writers block he probably would have laughed at them (and then asked to try what they were smoking) but now he's been proven wrong, because that's exactly what's happened to him. Admittedly some things haven't changed in the two and a half years since that afternoon in the cafe; he's still and English teacher and not a published writer, and yes, he's still only got about half of a novel (although at least he's getting faster) but other than that, his life has become an absolute dream.

Two years ago he was single and vaguely lonely, and now he has the most beautiful fiancé, which in his book makes him the luckiest man in the entire world. And then, a few months ago, just when he thought he couldn't get anymore blessed he'd been proven wrong when Lilli sat him down and very carefully explained exactly why she couldn't drink alcohol for a while. He'd been puzzled for a second, before he'd finally gotten it and then he'd jumped from being stunned to being over the moon ecstatic in about a millisecond and the feeling still hadn't disappeared yet, even through morning sickness, two am wake-ups for Chinese food and rocky road ice cream (at the same time, more often than not) and hormonal imbalances.

In short, everything in his world, despite the fact that Lilli doesn't want to get married until a while after the baby is born (Lilli doesn't want anyone to think they're doing for any reason other than they love each other, and he only wants what she wants) is just serene and...perfect.

"You bastard! Why did I ever let you knock me up again?"

Ok, so maybe not so serene at this particular moment, but that's to be expected; every book he's read had said that women can become very vocal during labour, and Lilli's having a very textbook pregnancy apparently. He's also pretty sure that she's broken his hand, but he's definitely not going to bring that up right now, because he's perfectly aware of the fact that any pain he's feeling right now pales in comparison to hers.

"Breathe honey. Remember how they taught us. Just breathe."

He chances, and tries to make his voice as supportive as he can. Lilli, however, is definitely not in the mood for it right now as she pins him with a look that's so hot that it should peel the flesh from his skin and hisses,

"I am breathing you jackass! How about we switch places; I tell you to breathe for a while and you push a watermelon out of your groin!"

He can't help but wince, just minutely as his mind immediately goes to a very scary place as it tries to image the logistics of just how that would work, but he yanks himself back into the moment and once again sacrifices his already screaming hand again to the cause, which Lilli takes with the tiniest smile on her face before a contraction hits and the smile twists as he swears he can hear the bones crack as she squeezes.

The doctor apparently thinks that it's a good sign though, as after she emerges from checking an area of his fiancé that he'd previously considered for his eyes only the room erupts into a flurry of motion as gowns are put on and directions are called to the nurses and somehow he ends up at the head of Lilli's bed, still holding her hand and telling her to breathe and she's yelling at him and then suddenly she gives one big push and the room goes silent and then there's nothing in the entire universe but the wails from the (their) tiny person that has just entered the world.

It's pretty much a blur for him for a while after that; he vaguely registers the doctors finishing with Lilli and declaring that she's the picture of health, is pretty sure that he remembers the doctors checking their little angel out and declaring the same thing about her, but he has no recollection of how they end up in their own room, Lilli laying on a bed with their little girl bundled up in her arms, while he can do nothing more than stand by the bed and stare at them.

"Do you want to hold her?"

Lilli asks, ever so quietly as not to wake their precious little girl, and he can only nod in reply, as he finds himself unable to force anything resembling speech out past the lump that has formed in his throat, created from the sheer overwhelming emotion of this moment. Then Lilli is putting a tiny (and god, she's so tiny) bundle into his arms and he takes her, ever so gently because he is so afraid so hurting her in some way (her head is smaller than the palm of his hand for god's sake), and there is nothing but love, so pure and powerful that he wonders how he has lived without it.

"You're a father," the love of his life whispers, her voice rough with exhaustion, and when he can finally tear his eyes away from their daughter, he sees that on her face is smile a mile wide as she looks at him, holding their little angel in a pink blanket (he imagines it likely mirrors the one on his own).

This is the happiest moment of his life.

As a writer, he comes up with some seriously paranoid fantasies; it's sort of his thing, and he (along with anyone else who has ever seen his house and his bank balance) thinks that it's worked out for him alright so far. However right now, he definitely wishes it wasn't his thing and that it hadn't worked out for him so well, because he's got a hell of a theory right now that he'd like to have never had; that he likely wouldn't have if he wasn't rich.

After his divorce from Meredith, which had been expected but no less painful for it, he'd gone through a rocky couple of months. Meredith had never been perfect; never been quite what he'd wanted, but she'd been what he'd needed to survive through what had been, hands down, the hardest period in his life. She'd help shape him into someone who could at least live without Lilli, because the man he had been before couldn't and so after they'd split, he'd been understandably a little bit wary about being on his own without his loud, blond and very distracting training wheels to help him. And it had been in the third month of his Meredith free existence that one of his poker friends had noticed that he wasn't exactly his best and had, decided to play a mentoring role to him and let him into a little secret that only the fabulously rich (of which he'd only become recently) were aware of.

And so, that was how he'd ended up in a very expensive office that boasted an excellent view of Times Square, drinking tea from a small blue cup and listening to a soft spoken blonde woman telling him about what the Dollhouse could offer him. At the time he'd been a bit terrified, then a bit amazed; he'd always been a bit of a closet science fiction fan and this was the sci-fi equivalent of a wet dream and then? Well then he'd been more than a bit tempted. Money, as he'd been quickly learning, could pretty much get you anything, and when you added fame to the mix the sky was pretty much the limit. He'd never been really poor, but he was only really new to the whole very rich thing, and the sheer range of things that could be bought if you possessed enough money and fame were dazzling, but he'd never really lost his head, because even they couldn't give him the only thing he really wanted...or so he'd thought.

And so, if he said that as he'd sat in an impeccably decorated office and listened to an impeccably groomed woman tell him how the Dollhouse could give him that one thing that he'd hadn't been more tempted than he had ever been in his life, it would have been a lie. And yes, for a moment (perhaps even more than a moment) he'd thought about saying yes; about simply being able to talk to the only woman that he'd ever really loved, showing her their precious daughter; simply being able to be with her, to make up for all the time that they had stolen from him. But in the next moment he had thought about it further, and about all the things that it couldn't bring him; to talk to Lilli but with someone else's voice, to be with her but without seeing her face, and he found that trade-off took away most of temptation and left him able to finally think clearly, in way he hadn't since he'd walked into that office.

However in the end he didn't say no because he knew it was wrong, or because he knew that Lilli wouldn't approve, or because he was relatively sure that the illusion would end because he'd never be able to call a woman with another's face her name, although they all played a part. No, instead he ended up saying no because he knew that Lilli wasn't something he could ever describe well enough for someone to program her into a glorified floppy disc; Lilli was light, was life and no matter how advanced the Dollhouse's technology was, he knew that they'd never be able to get her right, and so in the end his refusal was actually a relatively clear decision. His Lilli was dead, and although it had hurt his very soul to admit it, he had refused to become a man who dressed up a doll with her memories and pretended otherwise; she deserved so much more than that, and truthfully, so had he.

In the end it had really come down to the simple fact that although the real world might be a hard place to live, it was also where Alexis and his mother and his memories of Lilli were and so it was really the only place he could be. And he been slightly consoled by the fact that, if he ever felt the overwhelming urge to escape from reality, then he had his writing as a safe haven, and he had resigned himself to the fact that it was going to have to be enough for him.

And so he had left the Dollhouse with a sworn statement of his silence (and a not sworn, but thoroughly understood statement of what would happen to him if he ever broke that silence) and he'd gone home and tucked his daughter in bed and had done his best to forget about the Dollhouse. And he'd actually done a pretty good job of it, because it hadn't been until years later when he'd laid eyes on one Kate Beckett, the absolute splitting image of his dead (but only brain dead, a little voice whispers to him, brain dead but not body dead, not until they pulled that plug) fiancé that he'd remembered.

Beckett usually gives him such a hard time about his wild theories; he wonders what she'd think of this one (he's never going to ask her; that bothers him too).

He thinks what he's most afraid of is that those wild theories of his somehow turn out to be right more often than naught.

"Castle, did you even hear what I said?"

He snaps back to reality fast and remembers he's in the bull pen of the station (not the best place to be thinking those kinds of thoughts –not that there is any good place-but he finds that he just can't help himself these days). To cover he turns and plasters the dirtiest smile he has in his arsenal onto his face and drawls, as suggestively as he can manage,

"No, and I am very sorry for that. You want to spank me as a punishment? Please say yes!"

When Beckett just rolls her eyes he chalks it up as a victory and breathes the tiniest sigh of relief that thankfully Beckett doesn't catch. It's a feeling that doesn't last longer however, as a second later Beckett reiterates the question he missed while he was lost in his thoughts (please, just let them be thoughts).

"I asked you why you became a writer. What was your tragic inspiration?"

He freezes for about three seconds as he remembers; his heart, his lungs, everything (perhaps even time) held still under the deluge of painful memories that is the answer to that question. He's not sure how, but somehow he manages to recover before she notices the impact of her question; manages to make his mouth move so that he can spin her a yarn about the groundskeeper's boy, laughs when she falls for it like it's all a big joke. Keeps it light, so that it's seems like it's hardly a secret at all; that it doesn't matter.

It can't be farther from the truth; it's the most important thing in his life.

It's the one story he can't tell her.

It's Alexis's birthday, her first and the day is perfect; the sun shines in the cloudless, blue, blue sky, making everything glitter; making everything beautiful. Lilli has planned every second of this day out; invited all of their family members (between the two they don't have that many; her parents have been dead since she was six and he hasn't ever had a father, but she's so excited about the ones that are coming that somehow, it's all ok), all of their friends and all of Alexis's little "friends" from the park.

The party favours are all set up, the presents neatly wrapped in shiny paper that they will have to pull off, because Alexis is only one after all, and she can't do it herself. The guests will be arriving in an hour, and the only thing they still need is the cake, but Lilli isn't worried, because this is exactly when she's supposed to go and get it on the schedule (to the second; she's very good at this). So he holds Alexis in his arms and smiles at her as she laces up her sneakers and pulls on a light jacket and hands her the keys when she starts to pat her pockets frantically.

"I knew I'd forgotten something,"

She says, and laughs before she presses a kiss; brief but sweet, that speaks of a past and the expectation of a future together to his lips in thanks.

"There has to be a reason why you keep me around,"

He replies and she chuckles, her voice deeper than it was a moment ago, and the sound races down his spine to pool somewhere in the vicinity of his groin (he knows what that laugh means).

"It's not the only reason why I keep you around," she purrs, and then she angles her head to whispers lowly in his ear, "And if everything goes to plan today, I'd love to have a refresher course on all those other reasons after Alexis goes to sleep tonight."

"Say goodbye to mommy Alexis. We don't want her to be late."

He says with a tiny smirk, and picks up Alexis's little hand and waves it gently at Lilli while Alexis's coos in response, completely obvious to the subtext that's occurring between her parents. Lilli simply rolls her eyes playfully at his tone and sighs in a long suffering manner before she smiles and says,

"I'll be right back. I love you."

At that his heart softens, as it always does and there's only one thing he can say in response.

"Love you too."

And at that Lilli smiles once, before she blows them both a kiss and then turns towards the door and leaves. It's at that particular moment that Alexis decides she's hungry and starts sniffing (she never wails, merely not wails very loudly) and so with one last fond look in the direction that Lilli's gone, he goes to get a bottle of breast milk from the fridge and see if he can't appease his other very special lady.

The next time he looks up at the clock, twenty minutes have passed, which is five more than Lilli should have needed (the bakery is close; everything in New York is really). But despite that, he doesn't start to worry right away; it is New York after all, and the Big Apple is famous for being home to millions of people who like to live fast and because of their sheer numbers, end up driving slow, so a five minute delay is hardly cause for alarm. Then another ten minutes pass, and he starts to feel a little off, but he pushes it away; he might not be a published writer yet, but he suffers from an over active writer's imagination and so he has been known to over react a little and he's sure it's unfounded in this particular situation.

It's Lilli he's thinking about after all; as endearingly reliable as the passage of time, so if she says she'll be right back, then she'll be right back, and he's just making a mountain out of a molehill regarding the time she's been gone (thirty minutes is hardly a lot; maybe they're having a cake issue). He finally (at least it seems like a "finally" for him) gets a call fifteen minutes before the first guest is supposed to arrive, at least thirty minutes after she should be back. He picks it up with a vague sense of relief; of course she's alright, she just got stuck in traffic and couldn't find a phone and his imagination was just trying to run wild, but his cheeky retort dies as the speaker on the phone identifies themselves. He hears "your fiancé, hospital, gunshot" and then nothing more as the phone falls from numb fingers and hits the floor where it shatters into almost as many pieces as his heart.

He's not sure how he gets to the hospital; he vaguely remembers telling his mother to take care of Alexis, of taking her keys (because Lilli has their car and oh god, please, not Lilli), but he remembers nothing more until he pulls into the emergency drive through at the hospital and runs to the booth where he asks frantically about Lilli's condition. Then there's a nurse who says, in a manner who supposes is intended to be reassuring (but in reality it's anything but) that she's in surgery and that there are some forms that he needs to fill out and so he takes them in numb fingers and retreats to the waiting room

He sits for hours, his heart in his throat, waiting for something; news that everything went well, that Lilli is alright; anything. Then, on the cusp of the seventh hour a doctor emerges from the surgery wing and he feels his heart shudder, because the doctor's covered in blood, the blue of his scrubs hardly visible at all and he isn't smiling. The doctor turns toward the nurse, and she gently raises a hand and points at him, and even from where he's sitting he can see that her arm is trembling, ever so slightly and it's at that moment he finds out that he was wrong; his heart can break into tinier pieces.

Hours later (he was sure it was days, but the tick-tock of the clock ensures him it's only been hours) he sits in a hospital room and listens to the beep of a heart monitor that is the only indication that the woman that he loves is still alive. Lilli is as dependable as time and she never lies, he thinks dully as he sits at her bedside, holds her hand and looks at her (but she's not there anymore; brain dead, echoes in his mind; an endless loop); she said she'd be right back, so she should have been right back.

A man with a gun and an itchy trigger finger made a liar out of her.

He's not sure how long her sits there, but when he comes to at the sound of a woman's voice saying his name, his neck and his back hurt, so he images that it must have been a while. The voice is British, elegant and cool, with just the right amount of sympathy and when he raises his head to get a look at the speaker he finds that description works as well. She's beautiful in a cool way; long dark hair falling around a pale, cultured face that is accentuated by pale green eyes; like a China doll that you don't touch, not because you're afraid you'll break it (this woman, despite her features, does not strike him as fragile, by any means) but because it doesn't belong to you, and you know better than to touch things that don't belong to you.

"Mr. Castle?"

She inquires quietly again, the English accent making her 'r's' soft and for a moment he considers saying no, because there's a huge, screaming black hole in his heart that is desperately hoping that if he denies it than it won't be true; if he says no than he can just go home and Lilli will be there with a cake and they can celebrate Alexis's birthday like they'd planned. But he has to live in the real world, no matter how much he'd rather not and so he replies, his voice roughed by his grief and his period of inactivity,


"I am very sorry to have to do this now, Mr. Castle. I am aware of the fact that grief takes time to process and I am terribly sorry for your loss. If it were my decision, we would not even be having this conversation, however out of necessity we must. Ms. Monroe has a do not intubate order; she should not have truly even been hooked up, however the physician at the time was unsure whether or not she could make a full recovery, and so he took a chance."

The words don't really register; it's like she's speaking another language because she can't be telling him what he thinks she's saying, and he jerks his head upwards to stare at her almost blindly as he asks, his voice rough with pain,

"What are you saying?"

Her voice is smooth and professional when she replies and he is almost grateful for the lack of emotion, because he has far too much of his own to deal with someone else's right now.

"Your fiancé has no brain activity, and unfortunately the doctor's hopes have not come true; there is no chance for recovery. According to the law, she has to be removed from the machines, and you, as her next of kin have to sign off on the order."

"I can't,"

He whispers, his voice like sandpaper as he clutches Lilli's hand between his own and stares at her; at the tube through her mouth that is breathing for her, at the machine that is keeping her heart beating (that is keeping her alive; how can he be expected to stop that?).

"I am sorry,"

She says in return, her voice soft, but her meaning firm and clear (he doesn't really have a choice in the matter), and so there is no comfort in her reply.

It's Alexis's birthday, her first and the day is perfect; the sun shines in the cloudless, blue, blue sky; but nothing glitters anymore, nothing is beautiful. The love of his life is in a coma; the doctors say she'll never wake and he has to decide when to pull the plug (sooner, rather than later; it would be a kindness, is whispered to him by a British voice that drips sympathy).

This is the day that his life ends.

He spends his free time investigating her past single mindedly, with a fervour that can only be described as religious. His mother, he knows, worries about his dedication; she's been worrying more about him ever since she first laid eyes on Beckett's face, and although he understands her concerns (he's relatively sure this isn't healthy, but not for the reasons his mother thinks; his are worse), he can't help himself. He wants to help her, to find out something about her mother; he wants to be her hero and make all of her monsters go away (he's always wanted that).

He doesn't want to find anything out of the ordinary; nothing that will support his crazy theory that seems to grow less crazy by the day. There are little things that are adding up (Kate has a mole in just the right place on the side of her neck, he's never seen a picture of her as a child; tiny little things that are threatening to crush him under the weight of their implications). So he looks, every word a terror and a pleasure, and for a while it's all good; it's all blissfully normal. He finds harmless things that only make her more appealing to him; how she used to act in school plays, that her favourite color is red and that she buys flowers for her mother's grave every year on the anniversary of her death.

It isn't until he comes across the report about a car accident that occurred ten years ago that he feels his heart stop for a beat before it lurches onwards, its beat uneven and staccato, and the saliva in his mouth dries to nothing. But even though he knows; even though he can feel that it's all going to go wrong, he makes himself read the details; every single terrible, damning word. He stops only when he gets to the part where it mentions, in prose that oozes the nature of goodwill and generosity (sacrifices to the gods of good PR), how that the company that her father worked for, Rossum, paid for the reconstruction surgery she needed after her facial bones had been crushed in the accident.

He barely makes it to the washroom before he throws the contents of his stomach (and his heart) up.

The hospital room is so quiet, so dead, with the only sound to keep him company the sound of Lilli's heart monitor and the soft snuffle of Alexis's breath as she lays on his shoulder, her big eyes open and unblinking. His hand is clasped tightly around Lilli's, which lays limply in his own, so warm (likes she's just sleeping; but she's never going to wake up and oh god, he can't breathe).

He closes his eyes to try and get some of his composure back, and when he can finally breathe again he opens them and leans over, presses his lips to her cheek gently, kisses her lips one last time before he draws back slowly and places his hand gently against Alexis's head, turning her to face her mother.

"Say goodbye to mommy Alexis,"

He whispers and leans down, ever so gently to allow for her tiny lips to grace her mother's cheek. After an endless moment he pulls back slowly and whispers once more,

"I love you Lilli. Sleep well,"

Into the quiet of the room, before he finally turns his head towards the doctor that has been standing silently in the corner of the room. She nods gently in response and moves forward gracefully, her movements elegant, even as she takes a needle out that will stop Lilli's heart and slowly injects it into the IV.

The sound of the machine as she flat lines is drowned out only by the sound of Alexis's (who doesn't understand what is going on, only that it's wrong) cries as she wails, long and mournful and endless, despite all of his attempts to calm her.

He thinks it's appropriate; it's the sound that his soul is making.

What he doesn't see is that once they are gone, and the room is empty, the British doctor ducks back into the room, locks the door and switches the machine back on, where monitor begins to beep again, indicating the presence of the a heartbeat (the drugs are very efficient, their effect timed down to the minute). When she is sure that she is alone, the woman pulls out a cell phone and dials a very special number and at the tone, enters a very special code. She waits until a man's voice says her name, and then answers his questions in a professional manner, her tone devoid of all emotion, as the situation dictates it should be.

"Yes sir, everything went exactly to plan."

"Yes sir, I believe she will make the perfect addition to the house."

"No sir, the family won't be a problem."

A week later, a funeral will be held, open casket, and her family will mourn her, never knowing that the face they are looking at does not belong to their loved one. Her face; her body, is too valuable for that; too precious to waste by burying her in the ground; her brain might not be functional, but they can get around that (they have the technology, after all).

Adelle DeWitt is, at her core, a practical woman; she cannot stand for anything to go to waste, and what she's salvaged will go towards the greater good.

She thinks she might even get a promotion out of this.

She's pushing for LA personally; the city of Angels has such a nice ring to it.

"I was just-how could anyone do that?"

She asks him when they're alone in the bullpen together, late at night when everyone else has gone home (she stayed for paper work, he stayed for her) and although from her tone he isn't completely sure that he wants to know the question he finds that he can't help but ask,

"Do what?"

In response, not because he's particularly invested in her answer, but because it's just the two of them and she's opening up to him; letting him in, making him part of her world (and he desperately needs to be part of her world; his has been far too cold without her).

"Lie to a child about their mother like that. Let them grow up thinking that a woman that wasn't their mother had birthed them. What kind of a man does that?"

She asks, turning towards him, her face so open and earnest; so vulnerable, as it so often is when the subject of mothers is brought up. She looks at him like he shouldn't have the answer, because although he's the author and telling tales is his business, she's asking him the impossible and she knows it. She's asking because she wants him to tell her, 'a man who suffered; a man who broke; a man who made a mistake,' because it should be the truth, in the world of black and white that she tries so hard to live in; that she needs to live in (that he's pretty sure they've made her live in).

So he does; he tells her what she needs to hear and she smiles at him softly; brushes her fingers against the material of his jacket in thanks and he clenches his hands into fists so that he doesn't grab her hand into his own (to pull it away of to keep it there forever, he's not sure), heat and guilt rising within in him to twine and clash (he wants her, he's found; wants her as Beckett, and he's not sure what kind of man that makes him, in light of what he knows now.)

The heat dissipates a while later, when he's in the cab heading home and he finally can't feel the imprint of her flesh anymore. The guilt however, stays, his constant companion, even (especially) as he sits at his daughter's bedside and gently brushes her red hair (he'll never tell her its hair she got from her mother; Meredith is a natural blonde) off of her face as he watches her sleep.

He gave her what she wanted, not the truth, because he couldn't give her the truth. It's almost not even a truth anymore, (she can't remember it being a truth, only he can and he tries so hard to forget) somehow too insidious and absurd to say aloud.

A man like me.

He's absolutely stinking drunk; so drunk that the world spins, so violently that he can hardly make out the empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting on the table in front of the chair he's huddled in. But despite how absolutely wasted he is, he isn't drunk enough to forget; he still hears her voice in every corner of the apartment, sees her ghost in the places they used to go...and in Alexis's face. Alexis isn't the the image of her mother but it's close enough that it simply hurts too much to look at her and so he doesn't; he feeds her, changes her and puts her to sleep, but he can't look at her the way he used to and it kills him a little more inside every time. He can't figure out how to do this without Lilli; how to care for Alexis, how to live, how to breathe; occasionally he doesn't even want to, and he doesn't know how to overcome it.

He doesn't remember falling asleep, but when he wakes up its morning and the light that is pouring through the windows burns his eyes and causes his head to pound. It takes him a few moments to realize that there is another pounding sound beyond the one in his head, it takes him another few minutes to realise that it's someone pounding on the door. When he finally manages to pull himself together enough to get to the door and open it, his mother barges in with Alexis on her hip and he only hates himself more because he didn't even remember until that moment Alexis had been with his mother over night.

He turns his gaze away from his mother, unwilling to see the pity that he knows will be in her gaze in favour of looking at his shoes, and he only looks up, nearly an eternity later at the sound of his mother's voice.

"Hold your daughter Richard, while I go warm up a bottle. It won't kill you, I assure you,"

His mother says quietly and although her voice is not judgemental, it only possesses a shadow of her typical vibrancy and she presses Alexis into his arms before he can protest, retreating quickly back into the kitchen.

The weight of her is almost surprising; he hasn't held her for any real amount of time since Lilli died and he hates himself because of it. She doesn't make a sound; none of those little cooing and burbling noises that she used to, just stares up at him with those little eyes of hers and in that moment he can't help but stare back. It's the longest he's looked at her since Lilli died, but instead of that horrible feeling that normally occurs at this point he simply sees his daughter; his little precious girl and although the relief he feels is nearly crushing it is completely overshadowed by the sheer wave of love that washes over him; a feeling that has been terrifying absent since Lilli died.

He doesn't fight the feeling this time, but rather goes with it as he simply shifts his hold to cradle her better and starts to rock her gently, like he used to, humming the lullaby that Lilli used to sing as he does. His mother comes back a moment later with a bottle in her hand and stops when she sees him holding Alexis, and the sheer hope on her face makes him feel like the biggest asshole on the planet. She opens her mouth to say something, but he beats her too it, his voice quiet and plaintive in the absolute silence of the room,

"I need you to help me."

"Oh thank god. It's about time,"

She whispers, a tear escaping from one of her eyes and it almost surprises him that when he raises one of his hands to his own face that he feels wetness on his own cheek (he hasn't been able to cry since Lilli died).

And so three hours later his mother makes him an appointment with a psychiatrist and that is how he finds himself sitting in a room and telling the story of his life to a soft spoken middle aged woman who listens and doesn't judge and at the end of the session he books another one that he goes to just as faithfully and slowly, oh so slowly, he begins to learn to live again. He holds his daughter; takes her for walks in the park, stops drinking and starts talking to people again; he builds himself back up slowly, and one day, when he wakes up he feels like he doesn't have quite as big of a black cloud hanging over his head, he simply smiles, makes breakfast for Alexis and then calls his mother to thank her for not giving up on him.

It's a few months later, when he's feels like he's finally starting to make some progress that he meets Meredith, and somewhat unsurprisedly it's due to his mother. Martha Castle, for all her faults, is an amazing strong willed woman, and so after he ignores several of her phones calls about how because of the advance on the book he can finally afford a new place (or at least a change in style, she says in a quieter and gentler tone) she finally stops. However, since he's knows his mother well enough to realise that's she hasn't given up, it's with a certain sense of trepidation that he opens the door a couple days after her last phone call and is then promptly swept over by the hurricane that his mother has sent over. After he's spent three minutes with her he knows she's blond, she's loud and apparently she's an interior decorator when she isn't acting and after he's spent five minutes with her he's realized three more things: she's the antithesis of Lilli, she's interested in him, and although she's someone he thinks he could end up caring about she's not someone he's ever going to truly fall in love with (not like he felt like with Lilli at least); after ten minutes he decides she's exactly what he needs he needs.

He can't live like this; he's worlds better than he was all those months ago, but the man he is right now still can't truly deal with the pain of losing Lilli and so he needs to become someone new, because Alexis needs a father, and although he's been doing much better she deserves more than what he has to give right now. And so, the only solution he can come with is that he has to become someone else; not the man that Lilli fell in love with; not the man who's been broken into so many pieces by her and death and that's where he thinks Meredith might become useful. He's willing but be doesn't know how to put the pieces together into something new, someone who can close his eyes and not see Lilli's face and he thinks Meredith can; she's not anything like Lilli; she's flighty and slightly shallow, but underneath it all she does actually care and that's the sort of person that he needs to become and so if she can help him become that, then he's willing to offer her the keys to the castle (pardon the pun).

And so after she finally stops talking long enough for him to get a word in edgewise he asks her out to dinner, and is not surprised when she says yes before he can even finish getting the question out. And it's after that dinner, when they're both back at his place and Alexis is at his mother's that he lays down the score for her; where he's coming from and what he wants from her. He tries to explain about Lilli, about how he can't let her become a causality of the talons of the press and the public, about everything she meant to him, even though he knows before he starts that he'll fail, but somehow Meredith seems to understand, because she accepts the terms of his exceedingly unfair arrangement and in that moment, he can't help but love her just a little bit for that.

It happens relatively fast after that; one day Meredith moves in, then one day they get married, and one day Alexis says her first word; she calls Meredith 'mama' and Castle simply can't bear to correct her and Meredith doesn't either, and that, simply is that. And although there's still it a part of him that is absolutely sick at his silence; his lie by omission, life does get better; with the therapy and Meredith's help he slowly becomes someone new, someone who can be a worthy father for Alexis, who can even laugh again; who can breathe again, and so if the only consequence of the trade-off that gives Alexis a mother is a bad taste in the back of his throat, then he thinks it's probably worth it.

And so no, it's not what he wanted; not what they'd dreamed together, curled up on the couch after Alexis had gone to sleep, but it's what he has, and he thinks that one day he might even be able to be happy with it.

He puts his foot down though, when Meredith suggests getting a new couch; obviously one day is not today.

He's put this visit off so long; hoped that if he doesn't go it all won't be real, but deep down he's always known he was going to end up here. Denial, after all, can only sustain a man for so long, and his river has finally run dry. New York is a big city, granted, but it isn't big enough to guarantee that he or anyone else she'd known wouldn't run into Lilli and since he's pretty sure the hard working fuckers at the Dollhouse knew that as well he doesn't start his inquiry with the New York Dollhouse. Instead he starts his own, very careful investigation into the Dollhouse (he isn't particularly interested in ending up a mindless zombie) and when that goes nowhere, he sets up a very quiet, very brief meeting with one Mr. Beckett, and asks, over a mug of steaming coffee, if there was anywhere other than New York that Kate had spent some time; say four years?

The man (not her father, but her father all the same) hands shake, the coffee in his cup sloshing over the rim and he looks at him for a long moment, his gaze searching and he looks right back (he doesn't hate this man, because he's aware of the fact that he easily could have become this man if anything had happened to Alexis: he knows what it feels like to lose someone and not be able to handle it, after all) before he stands and mentions, in a very small voice, how he's heard that Los Angeles was a lovely city to visit and then he leaves Castle alone with his thoughts and a terrible, bitter taste in his mouth (it wasn't from the coffee).

And so that is how he ends up in LA (just a quick trip, he'd told Beckett, a book thing, and the lie that had been heavy in his throat had only become more weighted as she told him, a bemused little smirk on her face, to have fun) in an impeccable office, staring at a very familiar (he'd never forgotten that face either) impeccable woman who sits across from him and offers him tea from a pale green tea pot.

"Mr. Castle,"

She says to break the silence, her 'r's' still soft and in an instant he's transported back to a hospital room so many years ago where he'd heard her voice last, before she'd stolen the one thing he'd never wanted to lose. She continues before he can come up with anything to say,

"In the interest of not wasting time with carefully worded implications and badly concealed anger, I believe it would simply be easier to tell you that yes, your suspicious are correct. Katherine Beckett inhabits the body that once belonged to your Miss Monroe."

And her voice is cool and unruffled and then takes an elegant sip of her tea, while the truth in her words scalds his skin and for a second he is aware of nothing but his impossibly strong desire (need, a dark little voice whispers and a dark sense of irony sets over him; she's in the business of giving of giving people what they need after all) to kill her; to smash that fucking green tea pot over her head until her blood ran down his arms like gloves (he wonders if it would be cold).


He finally asks when he thinks he can unclench his muscles without fear of lunging at her, and the word simply vibrating with emotion; fury, rage, pain, sadness that all twine together to create a tone that would scare little children, but the woman across from him simply leans back in her expensive, imported leather chair and says, her voice infuriating level and tinged with more than the slightest tinge of superiority,

"Your fiancé was brain dead, Mr. Castle, but there was nothing wrong with her body, and it would have been a terrible waste to bury it in the ground. At the Dollhouse we have the technology to make sure that no such opportunity is wasted."

"So, in your mind, faking Lilli's death and stealing her body so you could...whore it out was some kind of charity? What kind of a person are you, that you can actually sit there and believe that?"

He demands, his voice incredulous and sharp and she responds by sitting up in her chair further and pinning with a cruel gaze before she says quietly, the ice in her voice clear,

"You needn't be rude, Mr. Castle. I have shown you nothing but courtesy, and I would hate to see that have to change."

It's a threat wrapped in the silk of an elegant English accent, satin over steal and they both know it and because he knows that this is her house and that he's playing by her rules Castle takes a second to visibly reign in his anger. It's a nearly impossible feat, because his anger is justified and righteous; it deserves to be expelled here, but if he ever wants to get anything out of her he can't do that and so he sits in silence and tries to composes himself, forcing his attention away from the monster across the room that took the woman he loved and whored her out and feels no remorse over it.

"Is there anything of Lilli left?"

He asks when he can finally speak without hissing, and even to himself his voice sounds dead and defeated. She smiles in response, and if she was anyone else than he would say that the gesture was kind, but because he knows better (because there is nothing kind about this woman) he sees the gesture as it is; nothing more than terrible amusement and it makes his blood boil. It's in her voice, this hideous humour when she speaks, hardening her soft voice,

"No. As I said before, the reason your fiancé interested us was because she was brain dead. She came without an original personality that we could not restore – a true blank slate."

"Isn't that just marvellous for you? She was a real person, you could show some respect."

He does hiss it this time, his anger so strong that there is no way that he can contain it, but it doesn't faze her. In fact if anything she seems to grow more self-assured in front of his eyes and a moment after he has finished speaking she leans forward and says, in a tone that is so secure in her belief that what she speaks is the truth it is almost painful to listen to,

"I am sorry for your loss, Mr. Castle. I told you that when your fiancé died and I meant it. The loss of a loved one is a tragedy that is beyond compare and one that many cannot deal with. In fact, it is one of the main reasons that the Dollhouse will always have customers. We help ease the suffering of people in the same situation as you, and that is what we did with your fiancé. Her time at the Dollhouse helped many people, including Mr. Beckett and yourself."

"You didn't make Beckett so she would like me?"

He asks and the thought which hadn't even occurred to him now horrifies him, because he can deal with the loss of Lilli (it's taken him many years but he's finally accepted it) but he can't deal with this; the thought that the heat in her eyes when she looks at him sometimes and that any feelings that might accompany that look are not of her free will but rather because someone programmed to be her that way.

"No Mr. Castle, we did not. Mr. Beckett has been an indispensible part of much of the work that we do at Rossum for many years and as such he is entitled to certain benefits that others are not. After his wife passed away he had both himself and his daughter scanned every two months, so that if anything ever happened to either of them they would have a back-up, although he never revealed their true purpose to her. When his daughter died in the accident he suffered a breakdown and was unable to continue working and since that would have been a crippling loss to all the good that we are able to do here, we loaded his daughter into Ms. Monroe's body, as she was both the closest body match as well as one of our only dolls that had no original personality that was waiting to be reinserted. So you see Mr. Castle, through the ingenuity of the Dollhouse's technological advances, your fiancé's death helped many people."

She says it so earnestly, with such and edge of certainty that in that moment he realises that there is no way to reason with this woman, because she simply does not exist in the same reality that he does. Perhaps at one time she saw the sheer evil in this, but now she can't; she's bought into the glorified fantasy of the Dollhouse because the reality is too hard to deal with; because she needs to believe that what's she's doing is for the greater good. There should be some satisfaction in the realization that she's no more than a client herself but there isn't; he's simply to numb for there to really be anything, and so he says nothing in return because truly, there is nothing to be said.

She takes his silence as a victory, or perhaps she is simply uncomfortable with it (he truly doesn't care at this point), but whatever the cause she rises from her seat an tells him, her voice so cruelly rational that he wonders if this woman has ever had a genuine feeling in her life (he doubts it).

"You have until tomorrow at noon to make your decision; your life or your unsuccessful attempt at revenge. I suggest you use that time to consider all of your options and make the wise decision."

It's a dismissal, hardly subtle, but he supposes it could be worse (it could likely involve guns and him bleeding all over the floor) and so, because of that and because he truly cannot think of anything else that would be worth saying to this serpent in this twisted garden of Eden he simply stands in response and turns to leave.

He only makes it a few steps when he is stopped by her voice, and although it is against his better judgement (he can't see any real benefit in turning back to listen to more of the poison that spills from her lips) he does anyways, in the hopes that it will simply expedite his leaving.

"The question you should ask yourself, Mr. Castle, is if it were possible to reload your finance back into her body, would you? Would you be able to trade Detective Beckett for her?"

At her question he can't help but laugh, uncontrollably and chaotically, the sound harsh and nearly hysterical and a direct clash to the fung shae inspired order of her office. He doesn't turn back towards her (there simply isn't any point; he's perfectly of the superior look she's wearing), rather says quietly into the silence of the room,

"You say that like I haven't been asking myself that question every moment of everyday since I figured out what was going on. I've probably asked it a million times and I still don't have an answer."

It's her turn to be silent and he takes advantage of it, taking a few more steps towards the elevator. He finally turns his head back to her for a second when he gets to the door as one thought that's been bouncing around his head finally crystallizes, and although he can't see any real advantage of saying it aloud, he's too tired of things unspoken to keep it in. His voice is light when he speaks, conversational even and he can see that the tone, so devoid of the rage and anger that he came in with unsettles her a little bit.

"You know, I spent at least half of our little chat trying to figure out who you'd be in this particular story. Occupational hazard, you might say."

The abrupt change in the conversation throws her for a second, but it's only a tiny lapse; she simply blinks once at him, slowly, before she recomposes herself and says, her voice slightly condescending, as if she's doing him a great service by assuming him and responding,

"Quite. May I assume you have come to some kind of conclusion?"

"You're the evil queen from Snow White; regal and elegant, who loses her grace and transforms into a dragon when your power is threatened, and still loses it all to the beauty that you put to sleep. You're the saddest one in the story, because your unforgivable truth is that you're the only one who can't look into the mirror and deal with the fact that you aren't the fairest of them all."

There's no humour in his voice, only truth, which is something that he knows doesn't see a lot of life in this particular office (too sharp, it clashes with the decor). Her mouth opens once, then twice in response but nothing comes out; something he's said has hit a nerve that apparently she keeps very close to home, and if he wasn't so disgusted (at her, himself and the whole situation), he might smile at the picture she makes; the pristine Ms. DeWitt standing in her office, her mouth moving like a fish's. But he is, and so instead he simply says, as solemn as death,

"I'll show myself out."

And then he turns towards the elevator door and does just that, not daring to take a breath until the door has closed and he can no longer see her office and the air leaves him in a wheeze, likes he's deflating (he supposes he is). He thinks he should probably feel some kind of sick satisfaction at getting the last word but he doesn't; he just feels unbearably tired.

He's alone in the elevator for about 13 floors, before the elevator dings and stops and a tall, dark skinned man in a finely tailored suit enters. The man doesn't look over at him or at the buttons, and Castle decides the fact that the man knows what floor he's going to isn't a good sign. He doesn't need to be a murder writer to know that being in the elevator of the house of horrors with the tall, dark man after you've insulted the boss is probably not a good place to be in (but it most certainly gives him several very colourful scenarios to think about).

They both stand quietly in the elevator, both studiously not looking at each other, until the bell dings, indicating that they've reached the lobby. Before the doors open, the man turns toward him and says, his voice deep and strong,

"I apologize if I worried you, but I felt compelled to meet you. You left her speechless. Very few can claim to have accomplished that particular feat."

For a moment he's a bit thrown because, huh; tall, dark and morally judgemental, apparently. He wonders for a second if he should ask the man if he's lost. However the hint of humour that the thought brings him is terribly fleeting; it disappears nearly as fast as it appeared, no match for the gaping emptiness that his meeting with Dewitt has left him with. Still channelling that sentiment he turns back to the man and says, painfully quietly,

"She left me heartless. I think she wins."

The man nods once in response, the movement sober, before he replies softly, his voice kind,

"I won't tell her that."

Castle inclines his head, the movement respectful before he responds, solemnly and quietly,

"Thank you."

And then the doors open, and with one more look at the man he leaves the elevator and doesn't look back; hardly breathes until he's safely inside a taxi and speeding towards the airport so that he can get as far away from this nightmare as he possibly can.

There's nothing but numbness as he flies back to New York; no real sense of time, no one thought that stands out in the maelstrom that has become his mind as it tries to process the new and horrifying truths he is now in possession with. He barely registers the landing of the plane; get's his bag and a taxi on nothing more than auto-pilot and because he is so out of it, it isn't he's dropped his bag quietly (the last thing he wants to do is wake Alexis, because there is no way he wants to explain this) onto the kitchen floor and has poured himself a brandy that he notices that he's not alone in the room.

He spins around, a retort to answer the question that either his daughter or his mother is sure to pose when they see him like this but it dies on his lips and his hands nearly goes limp around the glass as instead of his mother of Alexis he sees Kate sitting on his couch, like she belongs there, absolutely motionless as she stares out the window.

He's opened his mouth to say her name when she turns, but the movement is so smooth, so unlike Kate's efficient, no-movement-is-wasted grace that he realizes that the name that he's about to say probably doesn't apply and since he doesn't have any ideas on who she is right now, he settles for asking,

"Who are you?"

"You are more intelligent than most people give you credit for."

She says her voice almost childlike in its quality and completely devoid of any sarcasm that he would have expected to have been present in that statement. When he doesn't answer (what is there really to say to that?) she continues,

"Sigma. My name is Sigma."

"Where's Kate?"

He asks, and he's almost proud at himself that his voice doesn't express the rising sense of hysteria that is starting to build within him (because it just had to be today, of all days, when he was already so close to losing it-someone up there clearly hates him).

"She fell asleep, just for a little while."

He can't think of anything to say to that; there are a million questions but none of them are germane to the situation, and he doubts any of the answers she could give him would make him less confused (he also doubts that she'll be able to say anything that will erase the terrible wrongness of that statement, spoken from a mouth that doesn't belong to her – or does it? If Lilli isn't in there does that mean that Sigma has seniority?) However, there's definitely one reason he can think of that she'd be here (that whole 'just recently insulted the boss of that company that steals bodies and erases souls' who apparently has a really poor sense of humour) and so he doesn't go any closer, instead he darts a look around to see if there's anything he can use to defend himself (there isn't and he's almost relieved, because if there was he'd have to use it on Kate, and that just wouldn't work).

This particular letter of the phonetic alphabet is clearly no slouch however, as she follows his glance for a second and then returns her gaze his face and asserts placidly,

"I am not here to kill you."


He drawls out, and takes a second to analyze her tone, but there's still nothing but honesty there (can these...dolls even lie?) which leaves him back at square one (and creeped out; sad really, that after everything he's seen this is what does it). Sarcasm apparently isn't something in her repertoire, or perhaps she's just messing with him (although he's going to go with the former) as she replies levelly, and without a hint of irony,

"Yes. Ms. DeWitt does not know that I still exist. I would ask that you keep it that way."

"How is that even possible?"

He asks, before he can stop himself and in response she cocks Kate's head ever so slightly, and pierces him with an analysing look, Beckett's earring bobbing as she does so, metal glinting in the light of his desk table lamp. After a minute she answers him, her voice quiet and humourless,

"I am not sure. Does it really matter?"

It stops him for a minute; his righteous anger instantly cooling, because he figured that would be something that would matter to her (it's only her existence, after all). But it gives him a new perspective to consider, and so he does for a moment and afterwards he comes to a conclusion.

"I suppose not. Why are you here then?"

He asks, because he definitely hasn't forgotten that whole 'it's still possible that she's here to kill you thing theory.' She straightens, her posture immaculate and she takes a moment to fold her hands primly in her lap before she responds, her tone even more serious than her previous humourless drawl,

"I protect Kate, when she is unable to, or unaware that she needs protection."

The righteous indignation comes back with a vengeance, because he's not about to let some doll who is temporarily inhabiting Kate's body (and god, there is not enough alcohol in the world to make that sentence alright) insinuate that he would hurt Kate. He feels his fists clench and he whirls on her and demands,

"You think she needs protection from me? I'd never hurt her: I lo...I love her."

And then the fight just drains out of him in an instant, like getting hit by a fist to the solar plexuses and everything just stops for a moment as he takes in the weight of what he's just uncovered. He just stands dumbfounded, his face slack, and after a moment of silence on his part (he just can't form any words; he doesn't think there even are any) Sigma tilts Kate's head again and says, like's it's the most obvious thing in the world,

"You seem surprised. Did you not realize it until now?"


He replies dazedly, forcing the word out and then he just stares blankly into the room for a minute, because really, how did he miss this? He knew he was attracted to Kate; that he found her charming and witty; that he cared about her more than he'd cared about any woman since Lilli, and well that had been sort of been the part where he'd forced himself to stop thinking, otherwise he would have gone mad (he'd thought that was understandable considering the situation). His subconscious apparently held no such qualms however, and in true Rick Castle style it had decided that now was the best time to spring it on him, and frankly, as he grew more accustomed to the idea he finds that it is actually freaking him out less by the moment, as if it is the most natural feeling in the world; as if he's loved her since birth (maybe he has).

"Ah. Well, she loves you too, if it makes you feel better."

She replies, in a tone that makes him feel like she thinks he is exceptionally stupid (perhaps he is) and then she continues before he has formulate anything to say to that particular statement,

"But you will hurt her, if you try to expose the Dollhouse."

"I could destroy them. I could get justice for Lilli and for everyone else they've hurt - are hurting."

He responds, and the anger that tried to suppress when he was with DeWitt returns with a vengeance, but she remains calm in the force of his rage, as she gives him a moment before she replies quietly,

"You could try, but men with far more experience than you have tried and failed and you would too. And when you did they wouldn't just kill you, they would also kill your family; your mother and your daughter. And then they would try to kill Kate, or reclaim her body for engagements, as they would know that she would never stop trying to solve your murders."

There is nothing but truth in her voice; she is not trying to intimidate him or bully him into doing what she wants, and although that takes some of the anger out of him he simply can't drop it that easily and so he demands quietly,

"So you're telling me just to leave it all alone. How can you expect me to do that when I know what they did to Kate and to Lilli; to the only two women I've ever loved?"

She pins him with a look that is nearly as level as DeWitt's was, but there is a warmth in her eyes and her voice when she speaks that wasn't present with DeWitt, and he finds himself almost absurdly grateful for the difference.

"I am not telling you to do anything; I am merely explaining what the consequences of your actions will be. You can have a life with Kate and your family, or you can have revenge; you cannot have both. The decision is entirely yours."

"And what will happen to you?"

He asks, because she might not be a real person; everyone says they aren't real people, but she's sitting on his couch having a conversation that's more coherent than any he's had in a long time and so he can't think of her as anything else than a real person (he thinks he might go insane if he did, although he's also half sure he's already has lost his grip on sanity). And although he's not about to let her have Kate's body, he doesn't want anyone else to have to die needlessly in this impossibly sordid mess. She looks at him in a manner that could be called considering, before she replies, her voice monotone but somehow more sincere than he's heard it before,

"I protect Kate. If there was someone else to do the job, I could sleep without for longer than a little while. I'm tired; I would very much like to sleep."

There's nothing he can think to say to that and so he doesn't, merely stands dead silent in the middle of the room and stares at her, this stranger in Kate's (he can't think of it as Lilli's anymore; he buried his fiancé and she can't be brought back, but Kate can - Kate will be) body and realizes that in that moment that they are united by a common cause; a willingness to die for Kate. Sigma stands after he's been silent for a few moments and pins him with her gaze before she says,

"It's almost time for Kate to wake up, and I believe you have much to consider."

And then turns to walk towards the door, Kate's heals clicking on his imported hardwood floors as she does so. He stays silent as she moves; the only thing he can think to say is thank you, and he's pretty sure that isn't all that appropriate given the situation at hand. She opens the door and steps out and then pauses, her hand still on the door knob and turns back to look at him, half of her face obscured by Kate's hair , the other half nothing more than a shadow and says,

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Castle and so I hope you do not take this the wrong way when I say that I hope we never meet again."

And she let's go of the door knob and the door shuts closed on the body of the only two women he's ever loved, the sound nothing more than a click, but to him it's as loud as a gunshot, echoing endlessly in the silence that is left behind.

He stays up for hours after she leaves, sitting in his leather writing chair and just thinking. More than once gets up to pour himself another drink, but he never takes a sip; he'd desperately love to cloud his thoughts, but the unforgivable reality is that he needs a clear head for this. He thinks about Lilli about her laugh, her voice (different from Beckett's somehow; softer perhaps, but equally as appealing as Beckett's no nonsense tone) and about their life. Then he thinks of Beckett, of everything she's come to mean to him, of the place she carved in not only his life but Alexis's and his mother's as well. He sits there and weights his options until the first light of dawn peeks through his window and reflects off of the full brandy glass on the table like a rainbow. Then he gets up, writes a note to Alexis, finds his keys and leaves.

He finally has an answer to Dewitt's question.

He shows up at her apartment a few minutes later and when she opens the door, already dressed and ready for work he draws his mouth to hers and kisses her, gently, like she's the most precious thing in the world (she is). She tastes like he's imagined she'll taste; cover girl lipstick and coffee, with an underlying hint of something pure Beckett, nothing like the sunshine and coconut lips gloss that Lilli did and the difference is freeing. She draws away first, pins him with those quizzical cop eyes and so he whispers, his heart in his words, the only truth he can give her (the only truth he has left).

"I love you, Beckett."

She pins him with that police gaze of hers again, no doubt looking to see if he's high or drunk or just playing a nasty prank and he stays quiet and lets her, his heart in his eyes for her to see. After a moment her eyes warm, and the cynicism disappears as she brings one of her hands to his cheek and says, heartfelt and sincere, but with just the right hint of bemusement and shyness in her tone to make her Beckett,

"I love you too, Castle."

Her answer isn't a surprise; he's already been told by a fairly credible source that she does, but it's a million time better hearing it from her, so his pulse races like it's the first time he's heard it. He kisses her again and as she pulls him into her apartment and it's both a farewell and a new beginning; a goodbye to Ricky and Lilli and a hello to Beckett and Castle. He buried that part of himself when he buried Lilli, so neither of them is the person they were when they first met, but they've got each other, and that's enough.

Later, after he's convinced her to call in sick, and then acquainted himself with every inch of her body, he waits until she's sleeping before he slides out of her bed and pads silently over to his bag where his computer rests. He sends an email to the attention of a Ms. DeWitt, nothing more than two words and his name, before he shuts the computer down and returns to her bed, draws her close and finally, finally sleeps.

I surrender.

For her, he'd move heaven and earth and so this; this is such a tiny price to pay.

"One day you're going to be famous, a bestselling author and a millionaire and women will line up at your door."

She whispers into the silence of their tiny apartment, while they lay on the couch together, Alexis (their precious, precious little angel) curled up between them, her breath making a tiny, snuffling sound as she sleeps.

"With all that variety, will you still want me then? Will you still love me then? Even if I'm fat and pregnant and crazy?"

She questions, her voice soft and light, a sign of her teasing (she's not the kind of woman to be insecure). She's expecting a quip, he knows; a light hearted 'well, who knows? Some of those women are bound to be pretty hot,' but looking at her as she is now; exhausted, her hair dull, her eyes tired, the glow of mother hood severely dimmed by sleep deprivation (she's the most beautiful woman in the world) he feels the love, pure and unlimited rise up in him and so he answer with the truth instead, and the smile he gets in return is the most dazzling he's ever seen.

"I'll want you forever. I'll love you forever and always, no matter what you are."

He keeps his word. He does; he loves her forever and always, no matter what she is.

In the end, it's really just that simple.

It's all just a story, but it's real all the same; he's still not the author, still just a character stuck in the twists of the plot.

But it isn't just any story; it's fantastic, it's impossible; it's more twisted, more beautiful than anything he could ever put on a page.

It's the story of their lives.

He wouldn't have it any other way.


A/N: Yeah, so I have no idea where this idea came from. One day I simply thought, "huh, I wonder if I could combine Castle and Dollhouse together in a way that would be AU but wouldn't totally screw with canon" and after about 3 months of mostly ignoring this fic (which is why Boyd is still good and Adelle is still evil) in favour of school, this was finally finished. I posted it as a Castle fic instead of a crossover because to me it really is a Castle focused fic that just happens to borrow certain elements (and DeWitt and Boyd) from Dollhouse. That said, enjoy and review.