A/N: I freely admit that I snagged the idea for this one from an old short story I recently read. In my defense, I will make the claim that I'm pretty sure the same story is one of the inspirations AWM used for the whole TV series, he just mixed it up a bit more. Anyway, the thought occurred to me … what if he had followed it a bit more closely? What would our show look like then? Well, here is what I imagined.
(Note that since this is an entirely AU re-imagining of the series, I will be changing details - both technical and characters - as I find it necessary so no need to tell me when canon gets thrown into the wind or someone is OOC. Also, this is unbetaed, so any mistakes were made by my own careless self - feel free to point them out.)
Also, I have a little challenge for all you readers. The first person to correctly identify the story that spawned this idea can give me a prompt, any prompt (well, any prompt for a series I watch), and I'll write them a story. Meanwhile, enjoy this one.
Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it.
Rick Castle, Richard A. Castle to his readers, and simply Rick to most of his friends, turned over in his bed, roused by a stray noise coming from his living room. Given that he had no pets, although he supposed you could say that his mother sometimes fit into that category, and that both she and his daughter, Alexis, were currently out of town, he was reasonably sure that the only noises he should be hearing at this hour of the night were the muted ones from the street outside his building. This was not one of those.
He heard it again, and now that he was awake, he was able to identify it as the shuffle of feet across the wood floor of his loft. Feet that were trying to be stealthy and not entirely succeeding. In fact, as he held his breath and listened, whoever was making the sounds bumped into some bit of furniture which scraped across the floor, and that sound was accompanied by a hushed string of curses that would have made a sailor blush.
It seemed that he had a burglar and a careless one at that.
Perhaps the smart thing to do would have been to call the police, but Rick Castle was not known for being sensible, and besides, he had a professional interest in the situation. He was a writer. More specifically, he was a writer of crime stories - mysteries, thrillers, tales of the con - and the opportunity to actually witness a crime in progress was far too tempting to pass up, especially since he had been experiencing a serious case writer's block during the months since his last novel had been published. No, there would be no police, at least not until he had scoped out the situation and recorded it for further study and inspiration.
Thanking the childlike acquisitiveness that made him buy every cool gadget he came across, he grabbed his low light capable camcorder from his bureau and crept out through his office in search of the intruder. He felt a cold breeze ruffling his hair, and a quick glance towards the french doors that opened onto a small balcony showed the busted pane that must have provided access to his abode. He had no doubt that, in better light, he would also see the dangling wire that connected the door's magnetic switch, circumventing the alarm. Because he was home, and prone to nocturnal wandering, his motion detectors were not armed, but he knew that a knowledgeable B&E artist could jumper all but the most sophisticated security units as easily as tying their shoes. His research had taught him that while alarms were great for dissuading the casual smash and grab perpetrator, they were no more than a speed bump for those experienced felons who were sometimes referred to as second story men.
Had his mind not been fuzzy from his rude awakening, he might have noticed the odd incongruity of an experienced burglar breaking into an occupied residence and then making noise. But he was either too sleepy, or too engrossed, for that thought to penetrate, and he slipped up to his office door, pointing his camera out towards the living room.
As he watched through the screen, he could see a slim, indistinct figure, clad all in black and wearing a knit cap, working his way through the room. Various small objects found their way into a pouch strapped around the figure's waist as gloved hands explored shelves and rifled silently through drawers. The burglar's progress was taking him further and further into the loft ,and Rick had to edge out of the doorway to keep him in view. Unfortunately, Rick was even less stealthy than his intruder, and the combination of the darkened room and his focus on the camcorder made him bump into a small table, dislodging a book that he had carelessly left resting on the table's edge.
The resulting thump echoed through the room like a rifle shot and the burglar made a dash to escape. Rick would never know what crazy impulse made him try to stop the thief, but he dropped his camera and sprang into action with no weapon but his bare hands. Thank goodness, the intruder was similarly unarmed.
He had a moment's shock when he first tackled the figure and felt the surprisingly insubstantial frame, but he didn't have time to process that thought because no sooner had they tumbled to the floor than an arm was pressed across his windpipe and he felt fingers clawing for his eyes. He managed to roll them over, the burglar's light weight allowing Rick some advantage despite his lack of fighting experience. His blood thrumming with the heat of battle, he drew back his fist, and with the luck of the novice, landed a resounding blow before his opponent could launch another, more formidable, defense.
He felt the figure go slack underneath him and sat up, scrubbing a hand through his hair and panting hard. It was only now that his imagination allowed him to grasp just how foolish he had been, but he was not one to dwell on the negatives of a situation so he simply reached for a light and decided to take advantage of his dangerous escapade.
What he saw in the lamp's pool of light made him gasp. The thief's cap had been dislodged during the struggle and pouring out from under it was a mass of curling, chestnut hair. His burglar was a not a him, but a her. And despite the bruise darkening her cheek, for which Rick felt a rather implausibly chivalrous regret, the face was a very attractive one, if a bit too angular for classicists. He put her age at late twenties or early thirties, and despite her apparent occupation, her face showed no sign of the hard living or dissipation that might be expected.
Then, as he stared, the thief opened her eyes and her visage was transformed from merely lovely to absolutely ravishing by the green eyes that were spitting anger in his direction. She tried to scramble to her feet but fell back with a moan, obviously still dizzy from his blow. He felt his gut recoil at her distress - he was not a man who was prone to assaulting women, no matter the circumstances - and found himself bending down to lay a hand against her shoulder.
"I'm sorry I hit you so hard," he apologized incongruously. "Lie still a moment longer and maybe you'll feel better."
She gave him an incredulous look before subsiding back to the floor, although it was unclear whether it was his words, or just her current incapacitation, that made her comply. "Goddamn, fucking fansite. I should know better than to believe anything I read online," she muttered.
"I … wait … what?"
"Well, you didn't think I just broke in here at random, did you? You weren't supposed to be home," she said as she gingerly pushed herself up to a sitting position.
"I was burnt out - cut my book tour short. Do you usually rob celebrities and get your information online?"
"Don't flatter yourself," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"You're not a celebrity, not really. And no, I don't usually go after high profile targets but circumstances …" she paused, shaking her head ruefully. "Never mind, it's a long story."
His eyes lit up, long stories were just what he wanted. He extended a hand to her. "Here, let me help you up to the couch and then you can tell me."
She regarded him suspiciously but took his hand, her legs wobbling a bit before she settled herself into the cushions. He looked at her anxiously. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to hit you that hard. Well, I did, but at the time, I didn't know that you were you, and you know, a woman."
"I broke into your house so you can stop apologizing. Besides, it's not my head, I just haven't slept in a few days. Or eaten. That's why I was making so much noise. If I was working at a hundred percent you would never have known I was here. Of course, that might have been because I wouldn't have been here in the first place. Jesus, what a week." Her eyes were glistening as if she might start to cry, but she buried her head in her hands before he could tell for sure.
"At least let me feed you."
She looked back up at him, her eyes shiny but dry. "Why would you do that?"
"It wouldn't be an entirely free meal," he told her with a grin. "I'd expect you to tell me your story while you ate."
"Look, right now I'd be very grateful if you didn't call the cops and just let me leave and forgot all about this. No feeding necessary."
"Uh uh. You aren't getting off that easily, and anyway, you can hardly stand up right now. I think a story or two is a small price to pay for the chance to recuperate."
She gave him a searching gaze, sure that there was a trick hidden somewhere in his offer. "Why do you care?"
"Call it professional curiosity. I'm a crime writer after all, and you're a source." At least that was what he was telling himself. That was all he wanted, and his insistence had nothing to do with the way her fierce, yet fragile, demeanor was tugging at something inside him.
Her stomach gave a loud rumble, betraying her, so she nodded her assent. "Fine, what are you offering, because right now I think I could eat a horse."
A few minutes later, she was seated at his kitchen counter, trying to conceal her childish glee as she guzzled a glass of chocolate milk. She had asked for a beer, but after a sharp look from him, had settled for the more nutritious beverage while he busied himself at the stove reheating some pasta. Once her plate was filled, he sat down opposite her and watched while she shoveled the food down, small noises of pleasure escaping her while she ate.
Eventually, the motion of her fork slowed and she looked up at him. "So, what do you want to know?"
"Everything," he said breathlessly.
She laughed. "I'm afraid that would take a while."
He grinned back. "Let's start with the obvious question: What's a nice girl like you doing in a job like this?"
"I don't think most people would call me 'nice,' but the answer is easy - it's a family thing. My grandfather knocked over banks, I've got an uncle who specializes in long cons, my father was a second story man, and I guess you could say my brother and I inherited the family talents."
"Where are they all now?"
"My father died, must be ten years ago now, and my uncle is in the pen out in Michigan," she said before breaking off with a pained look.
"And your brother?" he asked gently.
She took a deep breath before answering. "My brother was murdered two weeks ago. That's how I ended up in this mess."
"My God. No wonder you're not up to your usual standards. What happened?"
"That's the thing; I don't really know. He went out on a job and never came back. The next thing I knew I was being called down to the morgue to identify his body. The police say it was a random mugging but I don't believe them."
"Did they investigate?"
"Not very well, but I guess I can't blame them. It's not like they were playing with a full deck - I couldn't exactly tell them what Frank had been up to, could I? I decided to try asking some questions myself and that's when the shit hit the fan."
"The next thing I knew, I kept feeling like I was being followed, which was bad enough, and every time I went out to case a joint the police would mysteriously show up and I'd have to walk away. That put a serious crimp in my income. Then there were the phone calls. When I got the first one an electronic voice warned me off, but they kept coming at all hours of the day and night. There was never another message, just this creepy silence. I knew I should stop answering, but somehow I couldn't, and now I can't remember the last time I got a good night's sleep. It got so bad I decided to leave town, you know, not give up, but maybe let things cool down a bit before I looked into it again. I just needed one decent heist to give me the money to split. That's where your job came in. At the time it seemed like a good idea."
"You were right; I wasn't supposed to be home. But what made you think of me in the first place?"
She glanced away, her lower lip pressed between her teeth in an expression that he read as embarrassment. "I might be a fan," she finally confessed. He couldn't help himself, he let out a whoop and pumped his fist, making her look at him as though he was some sort of nut job. "It's no big deal, I'm sure you have plenty of fans."
"No, seriously, you don't get it. The New York Times bestseller list is great and all that, but there are two groups of people who are the ultimate readers for a mystery writer: cops and crooks. After all, they're the ones we write about, so if they like it we must be doing something right."
"Okay," she said, drawing out the word with a tone that said she still thought he might be better off with the men in white coats. "I never thought that a life of crime would make someone consider my opinion an asset, but whatever." She rolled her eyes and went back to her story. "When I was stuck in my crib trying to figure out how I could plan a heist despite someone being determined to keep me all bottled up, I spent a bunch of time surfing the web and ended up on your fansite. The news about the book tour gave me the idea, and when I managed to figure out that your mother and daughter were also gone for the summer, I thought I had the perfect mark."
"Wait, how'd you know my mother and Alexis were gone?" he asked, a little worried that so much information was online.
"Really, you need to be careful what you say. It was that New Yorker interview, the lifestyle piece where they asked if your book tours were a hardship because you were a single dad, and you just happened to mention that this one wasn't a problem because your mom was whisking Alexis off on a tour of Europe. I mean, you might as well have laid out a welcome mat. The article even had pictures of your loft - it practically did my job for me."
"Jeez, I never thought …"
"People seldom do. If they did, my job would be much harder. Anyway, I wouldn't normally use that information as more than a starting point, but given my circumstances, it didn't seem like I had a choice. I crossed my fingers, waited until dark, and snuck out of my apartment hoping I could net enough from you to get out of town. I knew I was breaking every one of my father's rules and look at where I ended up."
"Hey, I resent that," he said with mock indignation. "Thanks to me, I think you landed on your feet."
"What, I should be turning cartwheels because you're so freaked out about hitting a girl that you decided to play Prince Charming, feed me, and forgo the usual 911 call. Not that I'm not grateful, but I still can't go back to my apartment, I'm still flat broke, my brother is still dead, and I still don't have any idea why. But I guess I'm not in leg irons, so I suppose I should thank you for that."
"I could help you, you know."
She gave a disbelieving huff. "How? You're a writer; you don't have any place in my world."
"I beg to differ, but to start with, I could give you a place to stay."
"Oh no. Absolutely not. You may be one of New York's most eligible bachelors and I may be just a thief, but a thief is all I am, so you can forget any other ideas you might be having. I'm not that kind of girl, and in fact, I think now would be a good time for me to leave." She pushed back her chair and got up, heading for the door. "Thanks for dinner and all that, but I've made it this far on my own and I plan on continuing … alone."
"Wait!" he called after her, rising himself and hurrying across the room in her wake. "I didn't mean it that way." When he reached her, he put a hand on her arm to restrain her but she shook him off. "I was just offering a room. Please, I need you to stay."
That stopped her for a moment. "You realize you're not making thing much better," she said, but he gave her a look that reminded her of a Labrador puppy, so she sighed and turned to face him. "Why do you 'need' me?"
"Being a fan, you will have noticed that I killed off my main character, Derek Storm, in my last novel."
"Kind of hard to miss, and a rather stupid move if you ask me."
"That's what my publisher said, but I didn't care. I did it because I was bored. Writing him had become a chore and I wanted to go in new directions. The problem is, until tonight, I didn't have the slightest idea what direction, and I haven't written a word since I finished 'Storm Fall.'"
"What changed," she asked suspiciously.
"You. I want to write about you."
Her reaction was immediate. "No way. Don't you get it - I'm a crook and the last thing a crook needs is notoriety. Find someone else, I'm out of here."
"I wouldn't use your name," he pleaded. "And it wouldn't really be you, you'd just be like a … a muse."
She shook her head. "Muse or not, I'm not interested. Thanks for the meal, and especially for not calling the cops, but I'll figure out what to do on my own." And with that, she left, closing the door in his still eager face.
She hurried down the hallway to the elevator, still shaking her head at her experience tonight. There had been many people in her life who wanted her to be many different things, but a muse was a new one, and despite the way she had shot him down, she was strangely flattered. Not enough to take him up on it, but flattered nonetheless.
The lobby was empty when she reached it, so she took the opportunity to scan the streets before she left. It didn't look like anyone was there, so she slipped out quietly and walked around the corner to hail a cab. She had just enough cash on her for the fare back to her apartment, and although she really didn't want to go back, she didn't have any other choice. Her current finances would not extend to a night in a New York hotel.
When she finally reached her building, she had the cabby drive once around the block while she looked for anything out of place. Despite her vigilance, she almost missed it. It was only the brief flare of a cigarette that made her notice the dark sedan parked just across from her apartment. As she studied the car, she realized that there were two men inside, and they both had the bored posture of people who had been sitting in one place for quite a while. A shiver went up her spine. It only took one guy to watch a target, the second guy meant they were there for something more than just observation and she had no intention of finding out what that something was.
Her mind spun as she evaluated her options before she finally sighed in defeat. "I changed my mind," she said to the driver. "Take me back to where you picked me up."
"Whatever you say," he told her, his curiosity blunted by innumerable fares far stranger than a capricious woman.
She didn't think that anything had ever stung her independent nature worse than returning to his door with her tail between her legs, but she didn't have a choice, not if she wanted to stay alive that is. Still, she stood for a long moment before she raised her hand to ring the doorbell, unable to shake the feeling that this turn of events was somehow far more momentous than it seemed. Finally, she shrugged - all she was doing was begging a room for a few days, nothing more. It was no big deal. She'd tell a few stories, maybe fend of a few of his cheerful advances, and then as soon as things cooled down, she'd be on her way. With her mouth pressed into a thin line, she stabbed the button with her finger and prepared to eat crow.
It was nowhere near as bad as she anticipated. When he opened the door and found her outside, he was so happy and relieved that it was hard to stay angry. Not that she shared his enthusiasm, but when she couldn't find even the slightest trace of "I told you so" in his manner, her gut unclenched just a little.
"So," she said hesitantly. "Is your offer still open?"
"Of course it is. Food, housing, and whatever help I can give you for the low, low price of letting me pick your brain."
"I just want to get a few ground rules straight."
"Absolutely." He was practically bouncing with excitement and would have agreed to anything.
"This is strictly a business arrangement. It doesn't make us friends and it certainly won't involve any hanky panky."
"Right. Got it."
Somehow, she doubted he respect that rule but at least it was out there. That way she wouldn't feel bad when she kneed him in the nuts someday in the future. "You can ask me anything but I don't have to answer. I have boundaries and if I shut you down, I expect you to respect them - no wheedling, no whining."
"I can live with that. Everyone has to have secrets."
"Exactly. And speaking of secrets, don't expect me to reveal all my tricks. You'll get plenty of general information, but trade secrets are going to stay secret."
"But …," he started to object.
"No buts. It's non-negotiable."
He sighed. "All right, whatever you want."
"Good. Now, do you have any questions?"
"Just one," he said with a grin. "What's your name?"
She felt a pang of trepidation. If he knew her name, it would be harder to disappear when this whole ridiculous scheme fell apart. "Would you believe me if I said it was Jane Smith?" she asked.
"Not a chance," he said with a grin.
She bit her lip for a moment, then decided to give in. "Beckett … Kate Beckett."
"Nice to meet you, Miss Beckett. I'm Richard Castle, which you already knew, but you can call me Rick."
"Rick, huh?" she said, then thought for a moment. "I think I'd rather call you Castle. More businesslike that way."
"If it makes you happy, I can call you Beckett," he offered.
"I think that would be a good idea."
"Then it's settled, and now I think I should show you to the guest room so you can get some sleep."
He beckoned her on with a flick of his wrist and started up the stairs, a bounce in his step. She followed more sedately, sure that more than a few days spent with this man, who resembled nothing so much as a nine year old on a sugar rush, would have her running into the arms of whoever was stalking her. She still thought she was crazy to do this, but right now the prospect of a warm, safe bed was too attractive to turn down.
He was waiting for her at the end of the hall and when she reached him, he swung open a door to reveal a pleasant room decorated in greens and golds and complete with one of the most luxurious beds she had ever seen.
"It's all yours," he said. "The bathroom is next door and there are towels in the closet. Just help yourself."
She tamped down her misgivings enough to thank him, but when he stayed in the doorway, smiling at her inanely, she gave him a significant glare. "You can leave now."
"Oh, right," he said and disappeared from the doorway only to stick his head back in a moment later. "You know, Beckett," he said with a ridiculous attempt at a Bogart impersonation, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
She frowned at him. "What did I tell you about friends?"
"I know, but …"
"Don't get your hopes up, Castle," she warned him.
He just gave her one more smile and closed the door.
And so ends the first episode of Commas, Crooks, and Confessions. I envision treating each chapter like an episode of a non-serialized TV show, able to stand alone. This means that updates, while long, will be infrequent, but don't worry, there will be more as the inspiration strikes me. And don't forget about my little challenge - I'm dying to see who figures out where this came from first.