Title: Persistent Illusions

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-13, gen

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Summary: "No way," Castle said. "Drake Stone? 2009 Magician of the Year, Drake Stone? I had front row tickets when he was in Atlantic City." 5600 words.

Spoilers: No specific timeline for "Castle"; set after the events of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (2010 movie).

Notes: For graycardinal, who asked, "Suppose Castle, Beckett & the 12th got the Drake Stone 'murder' case?" The answer... got away from me, a little. (So did the definition of 'murder'; this ended up kind of 'canon adjacent' for my SA tagfic series.) Title from an Einstein quote: "Reality is merely an illusion; albiet a very persistent one."

"So what's with all the secrecy?" Castle asked, raising his eyebrows as they rode the elevator up to the penthouse where their latest case awaited.

"Secrecy?" Kate echoed back at him, widening her eyes innocently. "What are you talking about?"

"You were awfully evasive on the phone," he chided her. "And this building's a little rich even for my blood. What happened? A master thief fallen afoul of someone's laser security system? An orgy gone badly wrong? Mr. Boddy in the den with a lead pipe?"

He was practically bouncing as he came up with one elaborate scenario after another, indulging his writer's imagination; Kate almost hated to interrupt his gleeful speculation. But the truth was at least as fantastical as anything he could possibly come up with- which was why she hadn't told him over the phone. The Captain was hoping to delay the media feeding frenzy as long as possible.

"None of the above," she said, primly. "I'm actually disappointed in you, Castle; I'd thought you might have picked up a clue from that rather prominent poster on the ground floor."

She could see his attention turn inward for a blink as he processed that; then his entire face went slack with surprise. "No way," he said. "Drake Stone? 2009 Magician of the Year, Drake Stone?"

Kate nodded. She didn't follow that particular branch of the entertainment industry, but even she'd heard of the flamboyant performer. The energetic man with the British accent and the dramatic fashion sense regularly sold out his live shows, and he was a frequent guest on various cable talk programs. She'd found him a little arrogant and over the top for her tastes, but she had no doubt he'd had plenty of charisma in person.

"You went to see him last year, right? I remember Alexis talking about it."

"Yes; I got front row tickets for us and Mother when he was in Atlantic City. He was amazing," Castle enthused, still a little stunned around the edges. "They loved him. Well, Alexis wasn't much impressed with the whole Gothic punk motif, but even she couldn't explain half the tricks he pulled. Like the one with the electric chair- or the panther pulling him out of a hat- or the one where he burnt himself up in mid-air." He shuddered. "That was just... well. If you haven't seen him perform, it's kind of hard to explain. Of course it was all illusions, or he'd have been dead half a dozen times over, but it seemed so real. I could have sworn I felt the heat and heard the crackle of the flames."

"Yeah, well, I don't think he'll be magicking himself out of this one," Kate said, shaking her head as the elevator door opened and they stepped out onto Mr. Stone's floor. "He was found dead by his personal assistant this morning, when she arrived to let the manicurist in for the emergency appointment he'd called about the day before."

"An emergency manicure appointment?" Castle's normal interrogative skepticism returned at that, and he fanned out his own fingers, glancing down at the bluntly curved, unpolished nails. "What, he couldn't wield his own emery board?"

Ryan was waiting for them outside the heavy, metallic-looking doors into the apartment proper; at Castle's question, he shook his head, referencing the notebook in his hand. "Not according to the assistant. I guess he just takes his grooming that seriously."

Castle snorted. "I wonder if he hired a manscaper, too," he said, dryly.

Kate rolled her eyes at both of them as she stepped through the half-open portal. "Frankly, it scares me that the pair of you even know what an emery board is." The doors were a dull bronzish color, not quite gold, but well polished, with intricate etchings carved on the inner face. "Were the doors open like this when she got here?" she asked, changing the subject.

Ryan shook his head. "The doors to the hall were closed, though the internal doors to the balcony were open. That was partly why she thought it was a robbery at first. There's a lot of disarray, especially in Mr. Stone's study; two chairs are missing from the Persian rug, some of the wall décor has been pulled down, and there are loose papers on the desk that she didn't recognize. The fire's on, too; she says he only ever has it lit when he's having guests, and never overnight, because it apparently gives him nightmares."

He walked right through the entryway to toward the study as he spoke, paying more attention to his notes than where he was walking. Clearly, he'd already been inside, because Kate just had to stop and take a moment to appreciate the blunt instrument that was Stone's decorating style before she went any farther.

To the right of the doors, a large painting of a young man with bleached, bristle-blond hair took up much of the wall; it was done in a mock heroic style, with a warrior's musculature exposed by the casual drape of a red tunic, an eagle-headed staff in his right hand, a black panther crouched under his left, and a large medallion on his chest. A nubile young woman stretched up in the foreground to reach for his face, but the painted magician wasn't paying her any attention; his eyes were fixed on the viewer instead. To the left of the painting, on the wall directly across from the doors, a variety of posters from Stone's live shows clustered on the wall above a low shelf displaying his awards to every guest who entered.

Castle whistled lowly. "Man certainly had a healthy ego," he said, sounding bemused.

Kate and Ryan both turned to look at him, raising their eyebrows.

"What?" he added, with a puzzled, distracted frown.

"Nevermind." Kate shook her head with a smile and followed Ryan further in, glancing around at the dramatic contrasts of glossy black marble, cream colored plaster, and accent pieces in shiny gold, blood red, and forest greens. There were several other uniforms already inside, dusting for prints or busying themselves around a body slumped on the floor in front of the ostentatious gas-fueled fireplace.

She stopped by the curled form, frowning at the dark length of hair fanning out from under a white cap. That wasn't Drake Stone. "Lanie, what do we have? Do we know who she is?"

The M.E. looked up from her examination and shook her head. "No. No ID on her. Just the costume, some kind of historical outfit; the fabric's rough enough I think it might be authentic. She's young, though- too young to be hanging out in the apartment of a guy in his late twenties."

Ryan chipped in again at that. "The assistant didn't recognize her; the only person who did was the doorman downstairs, who said he noticed her leave sometime last evening and return a little while later with a young blonde woman dressed like a college student. Jeans, scarf, and so on."

"A blonde woman? Is there surveillance footage? She could be our killer," Castle said. "Maybe Drake was planning a new illusion with this girl, and switched the roles at the last minute. Blondie was angry at being replaced and came back to take revenge."

"We did pull the footage; but it's not that simple," Ryan told him. "There were a lot of people through here last night, at least three others the doorman hadn't seen before: a boy, maybe twentyish, and two older gentlemen with, quote, 'very eccentric fashion choices'. And the entrances and exits don't all match up; some of them arrived but never left, and some left that he hadn't seen arrive."

"More costumes," Kate concluded, frowning. Curiouser and curiouser. "Something strange was going on here last night. What else have we got, Lanie?"

Lanie pursed her lips. "I'm not sure yet. No obvious wounds: no blood, no puncture marks, no signs of bruising except for this..." She brushed some of the dark hair away from the girl's neck- she really was painfully young, now that Kate had a better look at her- and slid a hand under her shoulder to turn her slightly. Her other hand smoothed over the back of the girl's neck, where a slight, purplish line cut across where a necklace chain would lie.

"She was wearing a necklace," Castle noted the obvious. "Someone grabbed it; must have pulled on it pretty hard. Was she strangled with it?"

"No signs of that," Lanie shook her head. "I can't give you a very accurate TOD yet either, beyond 'sometime last night'; lying by the fire for hours has distorted her readings. I'll have to take a closer look before I can tell you much more."

Kate nodded. "All right. Get me a report when you can. What about Stone?"

"What about him?" Lanie looked up at her again, frowning. Then her expression cleared. "Oh! You haven't heard? Didn't Ryan tell you?"

Kate turned to Ryan, raising her eyebrows incredulously. "Tell me what?"

"Oh!" Ryan blinked, looking startled. "I thought, when you were talking about him when you came out of the elevator, that you'd already heard. He's still alive."

"What!" Kate and Castle said, simultaneously.

"When the assistant found him slumped at his desk, it didn't look like he was breathing, and he felt kind of stiff when she touched his shoulder. Then she noticed his favorite ring was gone, the one he insisted on wearing in every single performance," Ryan filled in. "Given the other disarray, she immediately assumed that he'd interrupted a robbery in progress. So she ran back out to the hall and called the cops. Unfortunately, she was hysterical enough that all she'd say on the phone was 'Drake's dead, someone's killed him'. She didn't even mention the girl. The first responders were the ones who discovered he still had a faint pulse."

"Drug overdose, maybe? Party gone wrong?" Castle speculated, then frowned down at the corpse again. The girl had been maybe his daughter Alexis' age, or a little younger; Kate could imagine what was running through his mind.

"No evidence of any mind-altering substances at the scene, but if there were other parties here, they could have taken it," Ryan shrugged. "No visible wounds or bruising on him, either."

"So he's at the hospital, then," Kate sighed. "Esposito?"

"Yeah," Ryan nodded. "He went along to collect evidence. They left as much of the scene intact as possible, though; and one of the uniforms got a few pictures before Stone was moved."

She nodded, then started walking toward the desk in question. "Show me."

He handed her a digital camera as he followed, and she turned it on, bringing up the memory to check the most recent photos. Stone certainly did look dead on the tiny screen, his dark vest, brightly patterned short-sleeved silk shirt, and snakeskin leather pants standing out starkly against too-pale skin. Without the outsized personality to animate him, he looked uncomfortably young, like a teenager all dressed up for a costume party- but still not as young as the guest in his parlor.

She zoomed in on the image, noting the positioning of his tattooed arms and the direction the chair had been oriented to get an idea what he'd been looking at before his collapse. Then turned to the desk itself and handed the camera back to Ryan. There had to be a clue somewhere amid the clutter to what had nearly killed him.

Castle sidled by her as she hovered her fingers over a notated map of the city, frowning down at the heavily circled image of Battery Park. "Hey, isn't that where the brownout started last night? I heard on the radio there'd been some pretty extensive vandalism. Statues knocked off their pedestals, wires wrapped around lampposts, fountains shattered, that sort of thing."

Kate raised her eyebrows. "They were talking about that at the precinct this morning. One of the witnesses said there was a brown-haired woman in a lavender dress standing in the fountain when it exploded; but some of the other stories mention the Charging Bull statue actually living up to its name, ball lightning floating around in the park, and some kind of gigantic metal eagle landing in the street; they hadn't managed to patch together a coherent story of events yet."

"Might want to have someone check YouTube for cell phone videos; I'm sure someone had a camera," Castle shrugged. "But it sound to me like some pretty hefty illusionary work went down there. Drake Stone isn't really the street performer type, but maybe the other folks the doorman saw were competitors of some kind trying to show him up in his own town?"

He paused to glance up at the painting over the desk, another full-length image of Stone: this time in moody blues rather than dramatic reds and blacks, with the magician dressed in modern attire and posed as if he were about to cast a spell. "The man obviously worships at his own altar, and he has a lot of fans. That kind of fame and ego usually brings enemies with it."

"I suppose you would know," Kate said, then grinned to blunt the edge of the remark as she gestured to a large 'Magic the Gathering' prop with Drake's face on it. "Though I have to say; I appreciate the fact that you don't actually keep any of your life-sized cardboard doubles. It's distracting enough every time you publish another book; I keep thinking I've seen you in the window of every bookstore I pass by."

"Aw, jealous?" he smiled, wryly. "I could have the publisher save you one next time, if you want."

"No, one Castle is quite enough for me, thanks," she smirked.

"Aw, c'mon. We could pose it next to the coffee machine in the break room, see how many people get in line behind it and try to hold a conversation first thing in the morning." Ryan smirked.

"Oh, that's mean," Castle said, grinning appreciatively.

Kate bit the inside of her cheek to keep from echoing him. "Mmm. Well, since you seem to have so much creativity to spare, Ryan, why don't you go hook up with the investigators pursuing the vandalism? See if anyone recognizes the descriptions of the strangers the doorman saw. I'll have Esposito join you after he's done with evidence collection at the hospital."

Ryan groaned, but agreed, and Kate turned back to her perusal of the desk.

It was hours later, most of them spent in tedious evidence collection- there were a really obscene number of shiny surfaces in the penthouse, many of which had picked up fingerprints since the last time the cleaning service had been through- before the team gathered back at the precinct again. They'd identified the college-aged boy and girl from the security footage at the penthouse as Dave Stutler and Becky Barnes, students at NYU, but neither one had been seen in their usual haunts that day, and the other three visitors, the dead girl and the two older men, remained completely unidentified. No one had any idea who the woman in the lavender dress might have been; they were still drawing a blank on any kind of documentary footage of the incident in Battery Park.

One of the strange men photographed at the penthouse looked strangely familiar to Kate, though; she could have sworn she'd seen the man with the shaggy, shoulder-length blond hair, leather trenchcoat, and fingers covered in rings at some point in her past. But she couldn't recall where she'd seen him, or when; just a vague impression that it had been a long time. She held her peace on that as they filled in what they knew on the murder board, hoping it would come back to her eventually.

She attached the last photo to the whiteboard with a clip magnet, then stepped back and shook her head. "None of this makes any sense. The two incidents are obviously connected, and the destruction in the park definitely happened after the Jane Doe and Mr. Stone were attacked in his penthouse, but we still don't even have any conclusive proof of how they were attacked. According to Lanie, the best she can do for COD until an expanded tox panel comes back is 'cardiac arrest of unclear etiology'; if it weren't for the other unexplained elements pointing to a burglary, we might not even be able to prove there was any foul play at all."

"So basically... Jane Doe's heart stopped, and we have no idea why," Castle said, frowning. "That's... unhelpful. She was what, fifteenish?"

"About that," Kate nodded. "Mid teens, and completely healthy otherwise. No preexisting conditions."

"Then whatever happened to Stone was probably the same as what happened to her," Esposito added. "Since there's absolutely no evidence there, either. He went into arrest a couple of times on the way to the hospital, and he's been unconscious since they stabilized him, but there wasn't any evidence of injury or any drugs in his system, unless maybe he took one of those party drugs with an extremely short half life. He had no known or previously undiagnosed medical conditions that could have caused it."

"He didn't seem the type for drugs," Kate tapped a finger against the descriptive information written in green under Stone's picture. "He's known for his way with the ladies, but not for wild partying, which seems... unusually wholesome, given the rest of his image."

"Quite the puzzle," Castle shook his head. "So our lead right now is what, those kids from NYU?"

Ryan nodded. "We've been by the Stutler kid's apartment; his roommate says he hasn't seen him since late last night. Apparently, he'd attached a Tesla coil to a car?" He screwed up his face at that.

"A Tesla coil?" Kate echoed him. Her degree hadn't exactly been in physics, but she'd had one of those novelty plasma globes in the 80's that threw streams of colored light between the inner electrode and the outer glass insulator, and she was pretty sure a Tesla coil was what powered those things.

"Yeah, and not one of those pretty seven-inch ones in a glass ball, either," Ryan replied, reading her mind. "He didn't ask too many questions. Given the reports of a 'lightning strike' at the park, though..."

"Stutler was definitely involved." Kate frowned. "What about Barnes?"

"No dice," Esposito shook his head. "Her roommates haven't seen her, either. They said she's been more distracted than usual the last few days; they didn't recognize Stutler's photograph, but they did say Barnes had mentioned meeting an old friend tutoring her Intro to Physics class, and one of her co-workers at the campus radio station had seen him recently. Apparently, he came in with her to help reset the antenna after it was... wait for it..." he pointed at Ryan.

"Struck by lightning?" Ryan snorted.

"Bingo," Esposito nodded. "Weird, huh?"

"Stone was spotted on campus, too, earlier in the day," Kate said, writing another line under the magician's picture. "Someone saw him go into the bathroom after Stutler; then both of the older men went in after them; then Stutler and the one in the leather trenchcoat came back out. Stone and the one in the twill coat with the fur collar stayed in there for maybe half an hour longer."

All three guys made faces at that. "Well, to each their own, I suppose," Castle quipped.

"And on that note," Ryan added. "I talked to his personal assistant, manicurist, hair dresser, all the rest of the staff- they all said he's always had eyes only for the ladies. Until several days ago when several of them were at the penthouse discussing new show ideas with Stone- this guy shows up, makes a couple of dry remarks, and Stone goes all gaga over him. He called him Maxim, some last name starting with an H that sounded quote, 'kind of Eastern European'. Then he kicked the rest of them out; and that's all they know. Haven't seen either of them since."

Kate made a rude noise. "None of this makes any sense. Stutler, Barnes, and Stone led completely separate lives until the last week, and then suddenly they're all three tangled up with these two ciphers? Who are they, and where did they come from?"

"Maxim," Castle tapped his chin. "Sounds like a stage name to me; it's from the Latin Maximus, meaning 'the greatest'. I wonder what the other one calls himself?"

"Don't tell me, you considered legally making that your middle name instead of Edgar," she snorted. Richard E. Castle was his nom de plume, not the original; his first name was the only one that still matched his birth certificate.

"Alas," he sighed, theatrically, confirming her guess. "It just didn't have quite the right ring to it."

Esposito and Ryan shared a look. "Plus, everyone would have assumed you named yourself after the magazine," Esposito said, grinning.

"That, too," Castle smirked. "Anyway. Barnes is easy enough to explain; she and Stutler knew each other as kids, had a meet cute in Physics, and were dancing the dance of the newly reinfatuated. No way was Stutler going to let her out of his sight for longer than absolutely necessary. Stone, though..." He shook his head. "No idea. Anybody find out where Stutler's lab is? If they were planning whatever that disturbance was downtown, they'd have had to practice for it somewhere."

Kate checked her smart phone, then plucked up a dry erase marker and wrote an address under Stutler's picture on the whiteboard. "225 Washington Place. I just got the email from his faculty advisor; it wasn't an 'official' lab, but the professor had access to an old subway turnaround, and I guess Stutler's project is kind of... on the dangerous side."

"Nice," Castle started bouncing on his heels again. "All that amazing old brickwork, bolts of electricity flying around... maybe I could use it in the next Nikki Heat. 'Heat Spell', what do you think?"

"I think we should go see if Stutler and his girlfriend are holed up in his lab," she said, rolling her eyes. Then she put down the pen. It clicked against the lip at the bottom of the whiteboard...

... and that plastic-on-metal sound was the last concrete memory she had of the investigation.

The file said she and the team had visited the lab and found Barnes and Stutler in residence, engrossed in tests of a massive Tesla Coil project that resonated with the campus radio station.

The file said Barnes had been invited to the penthouse suite by the deceased (whose name, apparently, was Abigail Williams); that the invitation, and Stone's visit to the campus, had something to do with an idea for a campus radio show; that Stutler had showed up to fetch her, which was why the doorman had seen him; and that everyone had been alive and well when they'd left. They remembered a Maxim Horvath being present, but no specifics about him. They'd been testing the Tesla Coils that night when the power went down, and had no idea anything more serious had happened.

The file didn't say anything about the dark-haired woman reported in Battery Park. All of the witnesses reported forgetfulness when a uniform went back to confirm the sequence of events.

The file said Stone had woken on the second day after his 'death' and reported being 'injected in the neck' with something by a man who'd claimed to be Maxim Horvath: a known associate of the professional magician who'd first taught Stone. He'd wanted Stone's secrets, and his ring, which apparently held sentimental value. He'd taken something from Williams as well: the missing necklace. Stone had had two visitors- Stutler, and Trenchcoat, who'd given his name as Blake- before signing himself out AMA and refusing to talk to anyone else about the incident.

The file said nothing else. And Kate... didn't remember it. Not investigating it, not reporting it, not letting it lapse into a cold case, not any of it. Not clearly, at least: she could pull up a few distorted images if she concentrated, as though the whole experience had taken place under water, but that was all.

Castle reported the same effect, when she thought to ask him; though he seemed unconcerned about it, in strange contrast to his earlier excitement. Ryan, Esposito and Lanie, too. And the Captain completely ignored any reference Kate made to the case.

Puzzled, Kate kept making herself notes to go back for a follow-up; the vagueness, and the nagging familiarity she'd felt upon first seeing the picture of Blake, kept bringing it back to her thoughts. Days later, she'd find the notes again, remember she'd meant to investigate- and immediately forget about it again, until she wrote another note, and forgot that one. Ad nauseam.

It was maybe a month after the initial case that she returned home from work, yet another note in hand, to find Blake waiting for her on the stoop of her apartment.

"You're persistent, Detective," he said, hands folded mildly together as he looked down at her from under the brim of a worn brown hat. His eyes were paler and more intense in person than they'd looked in the security camera footage. "I admire that about you."

Kate felt that familiar lurch of déjà vu at the sound of his voice, and shook her head. "Do I know you?"

"You've asked me that every other day for most of the last month," he said, one corner of his mouth curled up a little. "I tell you every time: I've been out of state for the last ten years."

"Every other..." Kate drew in a sharp breath as her persistent forgetfulness suddenly made a little more sense. Was this man drugging her somehow? The fact that she hadn't been more alarmed about the blurry spaces in her thoughts suddenly seemed very sinister to her now. "You've been making me forget, haven't you? You're doing something to my memories!"

"Yes; and I've been quite thorough about it, too," he said, tilting his head at her curiously. "And yet, you keep remembering that there's something to remember. Never let anyone tell you you're not in the right line of work, Detective Beckett; you have a remarkably strong will."

She took a step back, dropping a hand to the butt of her weapon, ready to draw at the slightest hint of provocation. All her nerves were prickling up at the blandly phrased, impossible things he was saying, and for some reason her eyes kept straying back to the yellow-green jewel adorning the ring on his dominant index finger. "What are you covering up? Why have you been doing this to me?" she hissed.

He lifted both hands, palm out, giving her a better view of the multiplicity of rings he wore and the arm warmers covering each arm from mid-bicep to the base of the fingers. "Because Horvath is my concern," he said. "Drake Stone is no longer a threat. Dave and Becky are innocents. And if the police attempt to interfere any further, there are going to be consequences."

"More than erasing my memories?" she said, sharply.

"Oh, I'm not going to try that again," he shrugged, nonchalantly. "Clearly, it's not working."

"Then what the hell are you here for?" she asked. "And who are you to say who's a threat and who's innocent? If this Horvath is going around killing people with undetectable designer drugs..."

He shook his head, the gesture clearly a refutation rather than a simple denial. "It wasn't drugs, detective."

"Then what?" She objected, throwing her free hand up in the air. "Something related to the lightshow in Battery Park? Lanie didn't find any evidence of electrocution."

"Something like that," he replied, with a slow smirk. "Do you believe in magic, Kate? Do you mind if I call you Kate?"

"My name is Detective Beckett to you, and does it look like I believe in magic?" She thumbed the badge attached to her belt. "I believe in what I can see, and hear, and prove. If you're just going to give me some cock and bull story to try to fob me off, let me tell you, mister, you have another think coming."

"It's Balthazar Blake, not mister," he corrected her, gently. "And there's no cock or bull in my story- unless you count the statue. Though there are a dragon, a Chinese urn, a thirteen hundred year old necklace, a lost inheritance, a magical nesting doll, and a few other elements you might call 'unbelievable'."

She snorted, still unable to believe the gall of the guy. "Sounds like a story you'd find in a book in one of those dusty old curio shops. Like the one my dad took me to when I was..." She trailed off, his face suddenly clicking in her memories, and gasped. "When I was ten! That was your shop, wasn't it? I went back a few years ago, and it was gone."

"Being missing for a decade will tend to do that to a man's possessions," he shrugged, philosophically. "No matter. Yes; I owned the Arcana Cabana. You were a very smart little girl, then. You still are."

She remembered backing away from him when he'd offered her some kind of coiled-up looking ring, and sticking close to her daddy's side for the rest of the visit. Maybe he meant that bit about the 'lost inheritance'; maybe someone had finally taken the creepy thing off his hands. But the rest?

"Yeah, well if I'm so smart, then how do you expect me to believe any of that?" she pointed out.

"Because you do believe in what you can see, and hear, and prove," he replied, mildly. Then he raised his eyebrows at her and clapped his hands in front of him. "Come and see."

Light flared out from where his palms touched: an iridescent rush of flickering green that swallowed her vision and rushed over her skin in a prickle of intense heat. When it faded again, they were someplace else entirely, a wide, arching underground vault that matched the description of Stutler's lab from the file.

"What the-" she began to object, reaching for her weapon again.

It floated straight out of the holster between her grasping fingers, snapping to Blake's fingers with a metallic snick like the sound of that weeks-ago marker dropping to the base of the whiteboard. "Now, now, you'll have no need for that here."

He took a step back and to the side, revealing a circle carved into the brickwork floor, lit with the same green flames that had accompanied their impossible transportation. A young man sat in the middle- Dave Stutler- legs folded under him in meditation.

If you could call it sitting, when his butt was hovering several feet off the floor and a captive plasma bolt sparked inside the cage of his fingers.

"Detective; I believe you've met my apprentice, Dave Stutler. As I said, my name is Balthazar Blake; I'm a sorcerer of the 777th degree. I am not here to disrupt the workings of your city. But if you're going to keep noticing our efforts to keep our two worlds apart, I thought a few demonstrations might be in order."

She swallowed, completely at sea; she was starting to wonder if she was dreaming. "Why? If the point is to scare me off when making me forget didn't work..."

"Actually, no," he shook his head at her again. "What we're hoping you'll take from all this is that there are things in this world your guns and laws are no match for, and that you'll be willing to leave their maintenance to us. In return, we'll contact you any time our activities cause disruption in the mortal world, as a courtesy. You wouldn't be able to officially note anything in your files, but I thought it might help to know when one of your witnesses is actually seeing things, and when magic might have been involved."

"And I suppose you want me to keep this all a secret from my team?" she rallied, skeptically. That was one of the first things cult leaders and con artists always asked; and there was just no way...

"No way!" a cheerful, irrepressible voice echoed in the chamber, accompanied by a familiar heavy tread somewhere above her. "This is amazing!"

The smirk was audible in Blake's voice as she snapped her head up to look for the speaker. "Actually, no," he repeated himself. "That's the other reason we decided to speak to you tonight; your Mr. Castle showed up at Drake Stone's penthouse again, and Drake called us."

The other half of that 'us' being a woman in flowing slacks and a lavender blouse, with large, dark eyes and brown hair that matched the descriptions of the mystery woman from the fountain: she was descending a metal staircase just ahead of Castle, laughing merrily at whatever they'd been discussing.

Castle looked up then, as if he felt Kate's eyes on him, and his smile brightened even further. "Beckett!" he cried. "Can you believe this?"

Kate couldn't help but smile back at him. Then she turned to Blake and sighed. "I suppose I have no choice," she said lightly, inexplicably relieved.

"We always have choices," he replied mildly... then extended his hand, offering back her weapon.

"But for the record: I believe you're making the right ones."