A/N: What the freak is wrong with me? Why am I starting another multi-chapter fic when I'm not even close to done with RELAPSE?

I just couldn't help it. I was rewatching old Castle episodes to bide my time until Monday, and when I was watching 3.08 "Murder Most Fowl," I remembered that there was an AU storyline based on the story that Castle tells about Alexis getting lost in a mall that I'd been wanting to write. So here it is.

This is AU. Massively so. I've had to alter ages and dates to fit the timeline correctly, but I think you can figure out what I've changed based on what I reveal in the story. If you're curious, I have a list of things changes at the end of this chapter. I still recommend that you read the chapter itself first, though, if only to get the context.

Also, I'm experimenting with shorter chapters to see if that'll help me update more quickly. Starting this fic does not mean that I'm not working on Relapse. I think the change of pace might actually help me write both better, but we'll see.

EDIT 6.19.12: You know how I said this is massively AU? Turns out it's more like a different time-line AU with echoes of canon thrown in. Funny how that works.

Disclaimer: Castle and all affiliated people, places, things, and events are property of Andrew Marlowe (and company) and ABC Studios. I simply borrow the fruits of their genius from time to time to indulge my whimsy. I make no monetary profit from these brief excursions into the land of "what if."

I'm also not affiliated with The Westchester, Starbuck's Coffee, or Nathan's Famous in any way. I'm just borrowing the the names and places for the sake of adding authenticity to this story.

Lost and Found

Chapter One

For the life of her, Kate Beckett couldn't figure out why she'd agreed to spend her rare day off at a mall of all places. And not just any mall. She was at The Westchester in downtown White Plains.

As if she could afford to splurge on buying Christmas gifts from The Westchester with her lowly cop salary.

In general, Kate didn't like malls.

That wasn't to say that she didn't like shopping (which, incidentally, she loved), nor was she all that aversive to the large crowds that always seemed to think that the best days to flock to the malls were the days Kate happened to be there. One didn't live in New York without developing a tolerance to thick, milling crowds.

It was simply that Kate hated the commercialized feel of malls—the impersonality of it all, if you will. If she was going to go shopping, she'd rather be doing it at specialty shops in SoHo or Little Italy or something like that.

And now, instead of being home relaxing her fatigued mind and exhausted body with a nice, long bath and a good book, her best friend Lanie Parish had roped her into spending the day with her at the mall.

She really hated Lanie sometimes.

Especially since said "best friend" had ditched her to flirt with that hot piece of hunk sitting two tables away.

She couldn't find it in herself to be too upset with the overworked medical examiner for taking the rare opportunity to flirt it up, though. If Kate thought she had it bad as a detective for Vice, Lanie had it three times worse. At least with Vice, Kate had a relatively regular and predictable schedule. Lanie, though, was always on call. People just didn't have any sense of timing when it came to dying or killing someone off.

Oh jeez, Lanie and her morbid sense of humor were really rubbing off on her. Kate imagined it would only get worse once her request for transfer to Homicide went through.

Kate shook her head and busied herself with finishing off her grande skim latte with two pumps of sugar free vanilla and the bear claw that she'd ordered when Lanie had finally decided to take a break from their (window) shopping spree. She eyed the Nathan's Famous sitting across from the Starbuck's she was currently situated at and debated the merits of hot dogs versus coffee pastries.

She was just about to text Lanie to tell her that if the ME was going to ditch her for Mr. Pretty-boy, then Kate was going to get that hot dog and then go home for the bath she'd been drooling after for the last month when a gaggle of mall security personnel led by a clearly distraught man suddenly stampeded past her table.

Her cop instincts blaring, she stopped one of the security guys to ask what was going on.

"Dad lost his kid shopping. We've been looking all over for the girl for an hour at least, but no luck so far."

Kate braced herself against the back of her chair the moment she heard the words lost and kid.

Images of a pale, doll-like face framed with dark locks flooded her memory until all she could see was the vacant stare of beautiful blue eyes dulled by death.

It'd been more than a year since that case, but even now, the failure weighed a heavy pit in her stomach and stabbed a stake in her heart.

She forced herself to breathe, to tuck away the memory of that poor, beautiful boy into a treasured box to be opened when she could finally face it without breaking down. By the time she came back to herself, the security guards were gone and so was the commotion wreaked by the irresponsible dad.

Kate jumped a little when Lanie came up beside her to put a hand on her shoulder. Kate glanced over and smiled at the sight of the short but filled with sass black woman who more often than not kept her grounded to the here and now.

"You okay, girl?" asked Lanie in that soft, touched with just a bit of Southern comfort voice that could go from soothing to downright frightening in a blink of the eye. Kate had been at the receiving end of Lanie's lectures (usually they were some variation on the theme that Kate needed to go out and live a little) often enough, but right now, Lanie's chocolate brown eyes were filled with compassion.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Kate said after taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry for cutting this short, Lanie, but I think I'm gonna go home now."

The shorter woman cocked her head at her. Kate always felt like the ME was seeing straight through her soul whenever she got that look on her face. It had been unsettling at first, but now Kate understood that it came with the territory of having an all-too-insightful and intelligent woman as her best friend.

"Alright," Lanie eventually capitulated. "You owe me later though."

With that Kate rolled her eyes and scoffed. "Please. You're the one who was ditching me for hunky-hunk over there."

She gestured over at tall, dark and cut like a male model, and Lanie smirked. "He is all kinds of delicious, isn't he?"

"You can tell me all about it tomorrow. Actually, don't. You give me way too many details about your sex life as it is."

"That's because I'm being a good friend by making sure you live vicariously through my misadventures since you won't have your own. Not since Mr. Feebs, anyway," Lanie pointedly added.

"Let's not make this another talk about Will, please."

"I'm not. I'm just saying that it's been over six months since he left, so you should get your skinny behind out to the clubs with me again."

Kate shook her head. "I told you, I'm over Will. I've just been busy."

"Oh honey, how much b.s. do you think you can feed me?"

"Apparently, never enough." Kate cut Lanie off before she could go on another tirade. "I'm going home now. Call me later, and we'll see about the clubbing thing."

Kate didn't bother looking back when Lanie called after her. "We both know that means you're not going!"

Kate ignored her. What could she say when it was true?

It wasn't that Kate didn't like going out for a drink and dancing her heart out every now and then. It's just that she really was busy with Vice and working on passing the necessary written exams to get into Homicide. And ever since she'd applied for the Academy, she'd known that she simply had to be Homicide.

They were all pieces of her endgame.

Get into the Academy.

Make detective.

Transfer to homicide.

Solve her mother's murder and put the bastard who did it behind bars for good.

This game wasn't turning out to be as fun as she thought it would be. In fact, this game was getting kind of scary.

Alexis Castle looked around at all the big people, but not one set of those tall people legs belonged to her daddy.

She just wanted her daddy.

At first, she was bored because Daddy was trying on all these hats when they were supposed to be Christmas shopping. So she thought it'd be fun if they played hide-and-seek. They played hide-and-seek when they were at home all the time, so it shouldn't be too different here.

She waited until her daddy looked away, and then she snuck off with a suppressed giggle. Daddy wasn't going to find her so easily this time. She was going to find a really, really good hiding spot.

After ambling around the store for a while, she finally found a rack of winter coats that would be perfect to hide in. So she climbed onto the rack and sat still as she waited for her daddy to find her.

But she waited and she waited, and Daddy still didn't come for her. Daddy always found her.

She waited so long that she fell asleep. But by the time she woke up, Daddy still hadn't found her yet.

Frowning now, Alexis scrambled out of the rack and looked around. There were so many people, but none of them were her daddy.

Alexis didn't like to cry. But she couldn't help it when tears started to fill her eyes.

She wanted to go home. She wanted Daddy.

"Hey, sweetheart. What's wrong?"

Oh wow, that was a pretty voice. Alexis stopped crying just long enough to peek up her head to look at who was talking to her.

Her little mouth dropped open and her watery eyes blinked wide in awe. Alexis had never seen such a pretty lady before. Sure, Mommy was beautiful and Daddy's pub-publi-publi-something was really pretty too, but neither of them were pretty like this lady. She had the kind of long wavy brown hair that people on TV have, and her eyes were this really cool brownish green that kept on changing colors.

The lady crouched down so that they were about eye-level, and she looked at her like her daddy did, not like other big people. Other big people always looked at her like she was too little to know what they were talking about, but Daddy always said that she was pre-ko-shiss and that meant Alexis was really grown up for her age.

The lady looked at her like she also thought that Alexis was pre-ko-shiss.

"Where are your parents, sweetie?" asked the lady.

Alexis wanted to answer her, but she didn't want to get in trouble.

"Daddy said I'm not s'posed to talk to strangers," Alexis whispered and hoped that Daddy wouldn't be mad at her.

The lady nodded. "That's very good of you to listen to your daddy. But you know what?" The lady reached to get something at her hip. She pulled it out and handed it to Alexis. "That's called a police badge. That means that I'm a police officer. Do you think you can trust me just a little?"

Alexis took her time examining the shiny metal set in leather. She'd never seen a real police badge before. Daddy will be so jealous that she got to see it, and he didn't.

Alexis smiled shyly at the pretty lady and handed her the badge back. "I think it's okay to talk to you if you're police."

The lady smiled really big, and Alexis couldn't help saying, "You're so pretty, lady."

The lady laughed, and her brown-green eyes twinkled. "Thank you. You're very pretty yourself, sweetheart. My name is Kate. Can you tell me your name?"


"That's a beautiful name, Alexis. Now, do you know where your mommy and daddy are?"

Alexis wrinkled her nose. "Mommy lives in Caluhfornah. And I can't find Daddy."

"I see." She paused like she just thought of something. "Does your daddy have brown hair and blue eyes that are just a little darker than yours?"

Alexis nodded eagerly. "Yes."

"I think I've seen him. Let's go talk to the nice security guards and see if we can find your dad, okay?"

"Okay." Alexis hesitated, then bravely asked, "Can you…can you carry me?"

The lady—Kate—smiled again, and Alexis thought that Kate looked even prettier when she smiled. "Of course."

Alexis held out her arms to wrap around her neck, and Kate lofted her up to sit at her hip.

"Alright, let's go find your dad."

A/N: List of changes:

1. Alexis is four, as per Castle's story in 3.08.

2. Kate is 25-26 and is a detective in Vice. (I'm following the logic given in the Castle Dustjacket that Kate started out in Vice [based on things she'd said in Season 2] and transferred to Homicide.)

3. Castle is in his early thirties and the divorce with Meredith was finalized two years ago. He never married Gina.

4. I guess we could say that this starts out in December 2011, just because I'm too lazy to figure out how the timeline would work if I tried to set it earlier. Honestly though, I don't think the year will make a big difference other than as a frame of reference.

Those are the big things for now. If I think of anything else, I'll add it then. Thanks for reading and I hope you liked it!