A/N: This story takes place a little over a year after Beckett graduates from the Police Academy. If I've got the timeline right, that makes it around 2003 - four years after her mother was murdered. I might be a bit off, but it's close enough. It also makes Alexis around 9 years old. Again, close enough. This story assumes that Beckett is no longer working with a Training Officer, and I haven't touched on that topic at all. I may have made a few assumptions along the way, but it's for the sake of the story so hopefully they're not too far off. I'm not entirely sure just how long this story will be. I have two endings in mind - one for a shorter story, one for a longer story that involves more of the murder case Beckett is working on. Feel free to weigh in on which direction I should take.

I highly value and encourage feedback so please review away!

Disclaimer: Unfortunately I don't own Castle and I'm saddened every day because of it. My highest praise goes to the writers, cast and crew at Castle and I hope that I capture the spirit of this fantastically addictive show. I love Mondays :)

February 2003

It's quiet. Too quiet, Castle thought pensively as he sat at the desk in his study. This was both his favourite and least favourite time of day. Alexis was expected to bound in the front door at any minute, which was good, but she had not yet arrived home and he had nothing to do but wait, which was bad. He smiled as he looked down at the picture of them on his desk. It's his favourite one – Alexis, only four years old, is reaching up to hold his hand as they walk through Central Park. The green of the leaves on the trees is muted, out of focus, but it provides a stark contrast to the flaming red of Alexis' hair, caught aglow by the summer sun's rays.

He sat reflecting over the last five years since that picture was taken realizing just how much she had changed, how much he had changed, how much she had changed him. He's so proud of the young lady that she is becoming, but really he can't believe that in a couple of short years she'll be a teenager. He's nervous about all that will bring and hopeful that it won't be as bad as some of the horror stories he's read about. But really, why is he worried? This is Alexis, and Alexis is perfect.

Somehow, despite a single father upbringing, her overly dramatic mother caught by the trappings of a flashy Hollywood lifestyle, Alexis had turned out just fine. She's the best of both her parents, probably even surpassing their bests, a responsible, insightful and fun-loving child.

Castle had never regretted his choice to raise her on his own. He knew even before he married Alexis' mother, Meredith, that she was not someone who could be bound by responsibilities and commitment. She was a free spirit, and it was best she be allowed to be a part of Alexis' life on her own terms. Rick had made sure that Alexis wanted for nothing and that she always felt loved, no matter what.

He looked around the room, thinking about the direction his life had taken. He was thrilled that his career had taken off, that his mystery novels were so well received by both fans and critics. Most of the time he simply just enjoyed all the bounty that his writing skills had made accessible to him, but once in a while, in quiet moments like these, he thought about how truly lucky he was to have been given this gift. He loved to write, he loved the way he could manipulate the words on the page to incite emotion in both himself and others, and he was so happy that he could make a career of this passion. Partly it fulfilled in him a sense of completeness, of self-actualization, and partly, he revelled in the joy of getting to be at home whenever Alexis needed him. He loved their time together more than anything else in the world, and he was the first to admit that being good at writing allowed him to have more fun than any one person should have the right to.

Rick leaned back in his chair and glanced around the room at some of the perks his success had allowed him. The room was stylishly decorated, not garish or boastful, but simple and well appointed, as one might expect of a famous, best selling novelist's private writing cave. Too much flash would distract him from the requirements of his chosen profession, while not having enough of interest could hinder his creativity.

He displayed many items throughout the room, some evidence of his fame like the pictures he had taken with celebrities, professional athletes and politicians, and some evidence of his love of family, such as the tiny ceramic hand print from Alexis' first birthday party and several of her childhood drawings. Hundreds of books lined the many bookcases that separated this room from the more public living space just a few feet away, all of which had somehow or other inspired him to weave masterful tales of suspense and intrigue. Tombs of fiction ranging from classic Edgar Allen Poe to the British spy novelist Ian Fleming, biographies of famous people of all walks of life, manuals for everything from how to arrange flowers to how to fire a grenade launcher, were all a testament to just how much research he had done over the course of his writing career.

The furniture was tastefully selected – professional and stylish, but suitable for a father with a young child. Two black leather club chairs sat in the centre of the room atop a warm grey shag area rug, a blend of masculinity with a hint of softness. The two chairs faced the large, solid wood desk where Rick now found himself sitting. The large surface usually covered with papers, books and partially drained coffee cups was starkly bare, begging for someone to give it purpose. But Rick had just finished his most recent work, sent the final draft to Gina, his publisher, several days ago, and as such was in the painstaking phase of research he frustratingly titled 'searching for inspiration'.

Looking behind him at the hugely enlarged photograph of an almost endlessly curving stairwell, he found it mirrored the feeling of his endless search for that next great idea. He kept going around and around in his mind not knowing when, where or why that next idea would strike him, all the while praying that it just would. His greatest fear as a writer continued to be that he would hit a wall, that supposed never-ending staircase finally reaching its termination in a blank drywall barricade, that there would be no more ideas. The thoughts brought up flashes of panic, despair and fear, none of which helped his creativity. He knew in his rational mind that simply walking away from these imaginings was the best course of action, but his irrational mind often convinced him that if he didn't keep thinking about it, he never would find inspiration. And thus he travelled in endless circles in his mind. Like the singing lady in the Harry Potter novel awaiting the vengeance of Sirius Black, Rick Castle was caught in his painting, condemned to travel down those stairs for all eternity. Those stupid stairs.

Finally his rational mind won over. Get up. GET UP! It commanded, and he did. He walked dejectedly into the spacious living room and wandered unfocussed and distracted until he reached the kitchen island. Mechanically he approached the stainless steel refrigerator and opened the door. He looked in with vacant eyes seeing through the contents as if they weren't there. The cool, crisp air that had been sealed so tightly within, rushed to escape its captor and as it hit his face, Rick felt a wave of energy start to build in him. It was small at first but slowly increased as he pushed his face further into the space.

Not cold enough, he thought.

He raised his hand to pull open the freezer door to his left and immediately craned his head as far into the opening as he could without causing his nose to inadvertently get stuck to anything inside. He breathed deeply feeling the cold push out all of the self doubt and anguish that he had earlier allowed to creep in. His eyes blinked rapidly as they watered from the frost, but he remained locked in position feeling his mood lift and his spirit revived.

It was here that Alexis found him several minutes later when she walked into the loft apartment. She always insisted on walking home from school alone, her independence a source of concern for her father at times, but secretly he loved that she was willing to take on anything that might scare her, and she loved that he was always waiting for her on the other side of that door.

As she closed the door quietly, she watched her father standing motionless, half in the freezer, breathing deeply. She silently walked around the kitchen island sidling up beside him.

"Finding your inspiration?" she asked smiling that big innocent but knowing smile.

Castle literally jumped at the unexpected sound of a voice. "Ahhh!" He yelled out, eyes wider than when they watched that zombie flick a few nights ago, and his breath sounding just as ragged. "Oh my god, Alexis! Oh my god, you scared me. I didn't hear...when did you? Oh, you're home!" Breathlessly Castle encircled his daughter with strong arms and held her close. She could feel his heart racing as he gripped her tight to his chest.

She pulled her arms around him and squeezed back, reassuringly. "Hi dad. How was your day?"

Castle continued his hug, still trying to regain some sense of control in his mind and his body.

"Dad?" Alexis looked up at him as best she could, but his grip seemed to have intensified and she was barely able to move. "Dad? It's a little tight."

"What?" He asked finally regaining his focus. "What did you say? Oh, I...sorry." He finally released her from his grip and smiled down at her, put a hand on either shoulder and placed a kiss on her forehead.

"Hi," he said sheepishly, embarrassed by his overreaction to her arrival.

"Hi," she replied back. "Are you okay?" She giggled a bit as the colour rose to his cheeks.

"Me? What? Pfft... Yeah sure, of course I'm okay. Are you kidding? I knew you were there the whole time. I was just...excited that you're home..." Castle tried to play off like he hadn't just had the wits scared out of him to save face in front of his little girl but she wasn't having any of it and laughed at him to show she wasn't being fooled.

"Sure dad," she replied her tone letting him know that she clearly did not believe him.

The two spent a few minutes sharing the stories of their days, Castle trying to convince his little girl that he had lots of new story ideas, when really he had none, and Alexis regaling him with the antics of her day spent at school. Rick very quickly revived from his previous growing melancholy listening to the animated story teller that his daughter was becoming. A proud smile crept onto his face. Chip off the old block, he thought to himself.

"So, Dad? What do you think?" Alexis asked reviving him from his thoughts.

"Think? I uh..." Castle realized that his mind had wandered and he had no idea what she had been talking about. Alexis' face looked on him with anticipation, waiting for his answer as he quickly formed what he hoped was an appropriate response. "Um, yeah, okay." He hoped that was the right answer.

"Really? Are you sure? I didn't think you'd say yes so easily! I had a whole speech planned out and everything. Thanks Dad this is so great!"

"Um, wait, Alexis? Um...Okay, what did I just agree to?" Apparently paying better attention would be a good idea, Castle thought. Who knews what he had just gotten himself into.

"My school camping trip Dad, at Camp Noisy River. They need one more chaperone and since it's a boys and girls together trip, you can come! I wasn't sure if you'd be able to fit it into your schedule though. With your new book finished, I thought maybe you might be too busy." She looked down, hoping that he wouldn't change his mind. Alexis often was so responsible and mature for her age that sometimes Castle had to remind himself that she was only nine.

"Alexis, I'm never too busy for you. Of course I'll come on your camping trip." He smiled down at her and she beamed back at him.

Wow, she's beautiful, Castle thought. How on earth did I get so lucky?

"Oooo, does that mean we get to have campfires, and make s'mores and oh, oh, do we get to tell ghost stories? Oh, please tell me I get to tell ghost stories!" Despite not totally loving the idea of camping with a bunch of nine-year-olds, Castle was getting increasingly excited about the prospect. He was a story-teller and camping, and campfires especially, were all about telling stories, especially ghost stories. His face was absolutely beaming.

"Dad, you can't embarrass me! Not in front of my friends! Please, you have to calm down," she urged.

"Oh, come on Alexis," Castle said teasingly, "your friends have known me for so long now I'm sure nothing I do will surprise them. At this point, is there really anything I could do that would embarrass you? I'm pretty sure I've done it all." He wiggled his eyebrows over his sparkling blue eyes.

"You'd think that would be the case, but I'm not so sure. Plus some of my teachers will be there. Oh Dad, please don't embarrass me in front of my teachers!" She begged him not really sure what he might do if she didn't convince him now to just take it easy. She loved him for his silliness and his sense of humour, but not everyone would get it, she knew.

She was just starting to reconsider her request of him when his face dropped and he looked dejectedly back at her. "Okay, fine, you win." She smiled, perhaps a little too much relief showing on her face. "But can I maybe just tell one or two ghost stories? Come on Alexis, I won't make them too scary." He looked up at her, hopeful. Sometimes she wondered who was really the nine year old in this house.

"Okay, Dad, you can tell two ghost stories," he nodded vigorously with excitement. "But I get to approve them first," she added trying to close any loopholes to her agreement.

"Oh, but then you'll know what's going to happen and it won't be scary for you."

"Dad," she warned.

"Ok deal," he agreed and stuck his hand out to shake on it. She stuck her hand into his and squeezed, pumping up and down once to seal their agreement. He winked at her and smiled a goofy wide grin that made her heart melt. "Good. Now that our business is concluded we should eat. How about a snack before dinner? There's some Rocky Road in the freezer with our names on it."

Alexis rolled her eyes at him. "How about some carrot sticks now, and Rocky Road after dinner?" She asked, far too responsible for her own good, or his anyways. "Wouldn't want to spoil our appetites right?"

Again Castle looked down dejectedly and pouted, "Okay fine, spoilsport. But I'm putting whipped cream on the ice cream after dinner and you can't stop me."

She laughed as she moved to open the fridge and take out the carrot sticks and some ranch dressing. "Deal," she replied mimicking his earlier sentiments.

Castle watched her as she moved around the kitchen preparing their snack and pouring two glasses of juice. He knew that sometimes he acted more like the kid in the house than the parent, but sometimes she was just so serious that he wanted to make sure she knew it was okay to have fun too. There had been times in their life together that had required him to be more serious than he would like, but he knew when to be the parent and when Alexis was okay with him, maybe even needed him, to be fun.

And sometimes he really couldn't help himself. He was, in fact, just a big kid at heart and he loved that she allowed him to be himself no matter what. They were good for each other, both allowing each other to be who they were without judgement. They seemed to be able to recognize just what the other needed, and spared no effort to give it to them. He sighed with contentment as she took their snack to the couch and plopped down in front of the TV.

"You coming dad?" She called distractedly over her shoulder. "I want to watch some cartoons."

Yep, he thought, chip off the old block.