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Here goes chapter three. A thousand apologies for the CRAZY-long delay, but you know what they say: life happens swiftly and without warning. (I'm sure someone says that.) Or even better: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" (John Lennon).

Anyway, do enjoy. ^^ (Oh: this section picks up a short while later. Was Friday; now the following Monday. Carry on.)

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"So you're coming to the matinee on Wednesday, right?"

Walking idly around her kitchenette, Kate twirled the phone cord around her finger until it turned white, then back the other way again. Most people she knew didn't even have a landline anymore, but the apartment had a jack for it, and she liked the feel of having a 'home base.'

"Absolutely. It is…" On the other line, Johanna paused, probably scribbling something down about it. "On my calendar as we speak. Have I told you how proud I am of you in the last few days, Katie kid?"

A grin crossed Kate's face: not only did she already know, but she could hear her mom loading the dishwasher in the background, and it reminded her of home. "Yeah. I think I got the idea."

"Well good. But I might just say it five or six more times backstage when I get there. Loudly. After introducing myself to all your actor-friends as 'the star's mom.' I think I get to do that, right?"

"Only if you want me to be severely hated," Kate laughed. But…then her expression faded, becoming pure curiosity as she slowly sifted her mail with the other hand.

Johanna caught onto the pause almost immediately. "Katie? You still with me over there?"

"No, yeah, I'm still here, mom," she assured. Huh…well that's weird. "It's just that I got this envelope in the mail just now. It looks like a personal letter, but I don't recognize the return address."

"If you like, I can see if there's a way to sue," her mother jokingly offered.

"Hang on." Kate set the phone down on the countertop and held the envelope up to the light. All she saw inside was a folded rectangle of paper; no blades or powder or anything like that. It was still New York, after all, and people were nuts. You could never be too careful. The coast clear, she dug a finger into the corner of the envelope and dragged it across, impatiently unfolding what was, in fact, a handwritten letter. Just not exactly in the way she expected.

Mutely, she scanned it for a full minute, reading every word twice. Then Kate picked up the phone.

"…Mom? I'll have to call you back…"

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He'd always believed in stubborn perseverance. That was how Mr. Ryan made it through his first-period study hall and two subsequent Oedipus discussions today: he simply opted not to let the letter in his vest pocket distract him. Done deal. Right? Curiosity wasn't going to make the clock go any faster, he reasoned - the same thing he told a lot of his students, ironically, though in a cruel turn, they were right: it didn't work so much. He tried not to think about it anyway.

The summons had been in the mail when he'd gone down to check the box this morning. Right there by the junk mail, which, c'mon, was probably where he should've filed it to begin with. Honestly, what was he even curious for? Could be a psycho, a Ponzi scheme, a guy trying to sell ShamWows. Maybe later he'd have to ask Jenny's advice… Who was this person anyway? Someone who wanted to meet. Someone who thought they were crafty, obviously. Either they were right or they were one of those Unabomber types…Kevin didn't figure for the second one. At least, he hoped not.

The end of third period meant he was officially on his lunch break. Like clockwork, Mr. Ryan filtered into the hallway immediately after the eleven-fifteen bell, en route to Marlowe Prep Academy's only designated teachers' lounge. His habit of being on-time or early meant that there was only one other person in the room when he arrived, and he recognized the man from behind.

"Hey, mornin' Sarge," he greeted, feeding a dollar bill into one of the two vending machines.

The recruiter had a habit of taking his lunches on-campus with the regular staff, so this song-and-dance was familiar. "Teach," he returned, opening the common fridge and inspecting the inside. "You know you guys got at least three things in here look like they're crawling?"

"Ah, yeah." Kevin scooped up his bag of chips from the drop slot and grabbed a seat at one of the tables. "Those would belong to the advanced chem classes. Studying the growth and development of contained and climate-controlled mold spores."

"Ah. That's why I'm not eating it." Finding what he wanted at the back of one of the shelves, the First Sergeant shut the fridge door and joined him at the table, claiming the seat opposite. He set his paper bag on the table and unfolded the top, rummaging through. "Avocado?"

"Thanks. I'll pass." Kevin always figured he'd never last two seconds in the army. Esposito here always seemed to bring a ration's worth of rudimentary-cardio-approved food with him and usually finished maybe half of it. Kevin, on the other hand, would perfectly happy teaching English the rest of his life not just because he loved the curriculum, but because he'd always been a fan of spending weeknights on his ass in a Barka lounger with a box of Cheez-It crackers.

Of course, then there were moments where Sarge exhibited that he was, in fact, a normal human being: someone had left a very-recently-hot pizza box on the table, and they both helped themselves to generous slices. No name, fair game.

"Any luck today?" asked Mr. Ryan, after putting away a few chips and a bite of The Works.

His comrade finished his own first, shaking his head as he took a napkin. "I'm headin' back out there for the kids' second and third lunch, but I don't see a whole lot comin' out of it. It's the same four or five kids over and over who keep comin' up to ask questions, and one's already goin' to Brown."

"Yeah, well, s'not your fault. Still think your superior officer's got his head in his ass thinkin' you'll have any luck getting kids to join at a prep school. I mean, come on, right? We're not exactly 'Be All You Can Be,' here; it's more like…'Cheat All You Can Cheat Off The Person Next To You.'"

Esposito laughed. "Got that right. No offense."

"None taken."

"Anyway, I dunno if I'll be here much longer."

That caused Kevin to look up mid-chew. "Thought you were off active duty?" Call him impressionable, but over the past few months he'd fallen in pretty good with the guy. A friend was hard to find in a job where everybody was competing for tenure.

The other man gave a half-shrug. "I was, but we've got guys pullin' outta the sandbox right and left, and it's not like we can just leave it like that right now. I'd go back for another tour if they needed me."

"And, this'd make your…" he left a blank there.

"Fifth tour total," Esposito filled in. "Second with rank." He picked up a slice of avocado from the plastic bag, then seemed to rethink it and dropped it back on his napkin, raising the pizza slice again. "Besides, I got a letter this morning that could end up bein' somethin'. Think they might want me to start training rubes, or maybe take on some high-profile mission. I'll know tomorrow."

"Huh…well, the offer's impressive, anyway." Mr. Ryan had ventured to the fridge during that talk, and returned to his seat now with two cans of Diet Coke; he slid one toward his friend and tipped the other companionably. "Good luck either way."

"Thanks. Whether I'm right or not I'll probably need it."

"Oh, please, you don't need luck, you've got the U.S. government equivalent of an AT-AT walker."

The recruiter raised one eyebrow at him, thinking for a minute. "…Star Wars?"

"The Empire Strikes…yeah. Nevermind. I just heard it again in my head."

"Hey, works for me." He stopped to chew some more pizza, washing it down with a drink of Coke. "What about you?" he nodded at Mr. Ryan, "You said your AP kids had that big test on Friday?"

"Yeah, yeah, they, uh, they did." He took another chip.

"How'd Alexis do?"

Hearing Sgt. Esposito refer to Alexis by name was nothing new. Mr. Ryan spent roughly half his lunches reading or grading papers, and the other half spouting off about his day. He figured Esposito could tell that Alexis was one of his favorite students simply by how many times she came up in conversation. What was new was the fact that he was taking an interest in her test scores. That was a first. Kevin showed his surprise with a quick raise of the eyebrows, but his reply was proud anyway. "She got a hundred and one. Answered every question perfectly and finished the extra credit."

"Yeah? Good for her."

"Very. Not even sure why I'm surprised." He studied his lunch partner for a moment, the hand with his can of Coke paused halfway. "Out of curiosity, why the interest?"

"I met her the other day. Friday after last period."

He grinned then. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Seemed like a good kid - finally see what you've been talkin' about. Not the best reflexes, but, definitely a good kid."

Mr. Ryan looked at him skeptically. "You didn't make her do pull-ups or anything, did you?"

"Phh. Hell no - I meant we 'ran into' each other. As in, literally."

"Ah. Gotcha." Kevin wasn't sure why he'd felt the need to reaffirm the 'reflex' comment. Mostly because the image of Alexis Castle dropping and giving anybody twenty was on par with a zombie apocalypse.

"Seemed like she was in a hurry, though," the recruiter noted.

"She was. Her grandmother was in a play and she didn't wanna be late."

"I'm sorry: her grandmother was in a play?" Esposito looked incredulous, then just amused, shaking his head as he balled up the paper bag containing the remains of his lunch. "What kinda family's this kid come from?"

"You have no idea, my friend. You should sit in on a parent-teacher conference sometime."

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Now how hard was it to get somebody to put down the time on the damn sign-in sheet? That was the way it went. You sign your name, you mark the time, and nobody gets a lecture. Clock in. clock out. Not rocket science. "All I know is, I saw her around ten-thirty this morning and she said she was takin' her fifteen-minute break."

Lanie's supervisor didn't have time to remain stationary for this conversation - hell, nobody did - so she followed on his heels while he talked. "Okay, fine, then I'll dock her next paycheck for the extra time and credit yours the month after. I still need you to cover for her while she's out."

Don't I always. This job was entirely thankless sometimes. "What if I said this was my second shift in a row," Lanie rebutted.

Her attending spun around on her, causing Lanie to stop short - literally. Caulfeld had at least a good five inches' height on her. "Then I'd say start packing caffeine capsules or drink a Red Bull. Vending machines, due west - look at it this way: you're that many hours closer to completing your residency. Now. If you'll excuse me, Nurse Parish, I have a surgery on Five."

Stuck in her footprints, Lanie glared daggers and possibly AK-47s at the back of the attending to go along with the string of silent curses she sent with him. "Yeah, and you're that many hours closer to my foot up your ass," she grumbled under her breath. From behind her right shoulder, another nurse came up and chuckled at the comment, taking the clipboard out of Lanie's hands.

"Please, make good on that," she said.

Lanie gave her an exhausted smile. "Hey, Heather."

"Hey." Signing with a flourish, Heather handed the clipboard back to her, and Lanie took it. "That should take care of Dr. Douche for at least an hour."

"Thanks, girl, I owe you one."

"Oh, don't even, you owe me nothing. You save me when Morgan stuck me here last week, remember?"

"I do not understand why in the hell they don't fire that girl already."

"Probably because she's sleeping with every attending on the floor," Heather winked.

"Mm, I would not be surprised…"

"Oh. That reminds me."

"How does that remind you?" Lanie laughed.

Her fellow nurse let it go. "There was someone here to see you downstairs a few minutes ago. They're on their way up now; should be any second."

Before Lanie had a chance to form any educated guesses about who exactly that might be, a familiar voice was already coming up the hallway behind her. "Lanie!"

"Right on time." Heather took the clipboard out of Lanie's hands again. "I'll file this, come to think of it - and, that would be my cue to go." She gave her a sly smile and a "Take your break" before slinking away.

Lanie good-naturedly rolled her eyes before settling them on her best friend. "Hey, Kate."

"There you are."

The med-student's glance turned skeptical. "Okay, why do you look like you just lit a match and left without puttin' the fire out?"

"Are you busy?"

"Not right now, no - I'm takin' a long lunch break and if Caulfeld doesn't like it he can bite me. What's goin' on?"

No more enlightened, Lanie watched Kate yank a piece of folded paper out of her coat pocket and hold it up in the fluorescents for all to see. "We need to talk."

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"…Well?"

Kate leaned further forward on her elbows, by now totally ignoring the cup of diet Cherry Crush that sat in front of her. Across from her, Lanie was still focusing one hundred percent of her attention on the text of the letter, and the silence was driving Kate nuts. If someone didn't say something in the next ten seconds, she was gonna explode.

Lanie squinted at the letter again in a way that had nothing to do with the hospital's overbright cafeteria lights. Finally, she laid the paper down next to her can of A&W.

"And you're positive that you don't know this guy," she checked.

Kate shook her head, relieved to find someone as incredulous about this madness as she was. "I don't even know if it is a guy. It could be a woman. It could be that creepy old Asian man that runs the register at Andoloro's and gives me this leer every time I go in - how should I know?"

"Honey. I don't think Mr. Hyun - "

"Oh, good, you know his name."

" - thinks far enough ahead to send you a letter. If he wanted to creep, he'd just creep."

"Comforting," Kate rolled her eyes. Then she reached forward and poked the letter. "Now help me."

"I'm trying to help you; I'm helpin' you decide whether or not you need to bring mace and a Life Alert when you go meet with this guy."

Sitting up a little straighter, Kate's eyes widened. "So you think I should go?"

"I did not say that," her friend clarified. "Let's take this one step at a time, here." Lanie paused for a moment, eyed her friend, then made an observation. "You obviously want to go…"

"How do you know that? I never said I wanted to go."

Lanie simply arched one eyebrow. That eyebrow had been known to sink ships before.

"…Okay, so I want to go."

"Mm-hm. Like I said. And then there's the matter of the aftermath."

Was it just her, or was Lanie speaking Chinese now? "Aftermath? What aftermath?"

"If you don't go. I know you, girl. You pass this up, and you'll be callin' me up every day at some point or other, whinin' about how you'll 'never know' and how you 'coulda passed up the opportunity of a lifetime' and all kindsa crap like that. And frankly, I'd just as soon not deal with that for the rest of my life, thank you very much."

Kate's flattened brow matched her even flatter voice. "So you want me to show up and meet a total stranger to spare you twenty years of melodramatic phonecalls. Thanks, I'm convinced now. Let me get my coat."

Mock-insulted, Lanie swatted her friend's arm. "You know what I mean. Admit it, I'm right."

"Never," Kate stubbornly teased back. She picked up the wrapper from her straw and started ripping it to methodical bits, just to give her nervous hands a task to do. "And besides, you said 'guy' again. You don't know it's a guy."

"Katie, believe me. You just got a mystery letter from somebody who wants to meet you in person. If it's not a guy, I will be shocked, disappointed, and you can also kiss my ass."

"Great - so now I'm on Backdoor Matchmaker."

"Look. The day I stuff your size-nothing butt into a white gown and shove you down an aisle toward a psycho with split personalities and a parrot, then you can worry." Kate gave her friend a look that said she was wary of that actually happening one day, but Lanie was unfazed. "Nobody's saying marry the guy or even date the guy. Just go, see why he's so damn interested in meeting you, and if things start to look funky, you can get out of there and call me up. I'll come kick his ass back to obscurity for you, and you can bank on that one." Like most things Lanie said, it was a clean-cut summary, and she unwrapped a straw and dunked it into her can of root beer as if that punctuated the whole conversation.

For a few quiet moments, Kate thought about it. Actually, for a few quiet moments, Kate really just pretended to think about it, if honesty counted here. How could she pass something like this up? It was too rare an opportunity, and there was something alluring about mystery. She'd be an idiot to ignore it. All she'd really needed was a good old fashioned, no-frills nudge over the fence - and what else were best friends for? If Lanie wasn't good for a dose of advice, then the world was made of Styrofoam and Cher would be making a comeback any time now.

Anticipating what was coming, Kate made a show of rolling her eyes again, and breathed out a heavy sigh. "Fine. I'll go."

She was right: Lanie's display of excitement would have embarrassed a less hardy soul. "If he's cute, I'm gonna need evidence. Take pictures."

"And ruin your fantasies of running drills with Sergeant Salacious?" Kate teased.

Lanie almost snorted. "Oh, please. I need reality."

"You know…you could just come with me." The actress raised one of her well-trained eyebrows along with the suggestion, waiting for her fish to take the bait. Her friend's face lit up in under a second.

"In that case, screw the pictures. Pick me up at three."

"Obviously. There's no way I'd let you drive."

She ignored the napkin that bounced off her face in mock-retaliation, finally taking sips of her soda through a Cheshire-wide grin. Ammo was nothing. At four o'clock tomorrow, Kate Beckett would experience her first official twist of fate.

The script was hers, and she was ready for her close-up.

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Worlds are about to collide, people. Can you handle it? (If you're even still reading?) XD Next chapter (whenever that is): Castle's POV as his plan of epicness comes together. ;]

You guys know how I always mention my Castle RPG forum on new chapters, right? Well, this time there's an update: WE NEED SOMEONE TO PLAY LANIE! That's right: our old Lanie RP-er has decided to give up the character, and we're desperately in need of someone to fill Dr. Parish's shoes. Or scrubs. ;D Anyone interested, just go read the bold paragraph in my profile (or even PM me!) and we can take it from there. ^^

Even if I don't get the chance to respond to every review personally, I'd just like you guys to know that I REALLY appreciate when you share what you're thinking - ApollaCammi, runeaglerun, The-Sun-Princess, Duck Life…there are more of you out there, but those are just a few whose reviews stuck out to me. I love you all! ^^ That said, please consider reviewing real quick. It's such a help knowing what works for you guys, or seeing what you noticed, etcetera. You guys know how fun it is to get shiny new reviews, right? ^^

I'm definitely continuing this story, even if updates take a long time. Shockingly, college is time-consuming, and this ain't the only fic in the sea. XD Thanks people - stay tuned!

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