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Stranger Than Fiction

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Old City Sanctuary, Pacific Northwest

The explosion that rocked the Sanctuary knocked several pieces of art off the walls, decorations off tables, and even a few residents off their feet and out of their beds. Anyone who hadn't been been woken by the noise, was soon roused by the alarms. Outside, the blaring of car alarms added to the chaos. Power in Old City was knocked out for several blocks in all directions.

Henry Foss fell out of bed in surprise, shifting into his werewolf form as adrenaline hit his system. He looked around, ears and eyes swiveling at every sound. Footsteps pounded down the hallway. Henry shifted back, once again becoming the slightly-scruffy techie. His boxers had been shredded by the sudden change, but the irritation was brief. Henry grabbed a non-ripped pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. Dressed, he rushed into the hall, tugging the hem of his shirt as he walked.

A few doors down, Will Zimmerman was looking around, evidently just getting out of bed as well. He wiped his eyes then slipped his glasses on as he stepped out of his doorway. Other residents were looking out of their doors, and speaking to one another in confusion.

As Magnus' second in command, the former FBI profiler took charge. "Everyone stay here. We're going to check it out. Just stay calm and we'll let you know what's going on," Will said, raising his voice so it would carry. Once the crowd had begun to show signs of actually following his instructions, he jogged over to Henry. "What the hell was that?" his voice was low. In the distance, thunder rumbled, giving everything a more ominous tone.

"I don't know," Henry said, running a hand through his short brown hair, "but I'm gonna find out. Sounded like it came from the labs below." He began to trot in the direction of the steps.

"Tesla? Magnus?" Will asked, joining him. He shrugged on his own shirt, his tousled dark blond hair becoming more so, and hopped a few steps as he put on shoes.

"Dunno. Let's go see." He doubted that their boss, Helen Magnus, would have done something that might have caused such a huge explosion. Well, as reckless as a woman who seen more than a hundred and fifty years could be. The more likely culprit was Nikola Tesla; inventor of radio, university classmate of his boss, vampire, and currently a pain in Henry's ass.

"Hey!" Kate Freelander called out as they got to the first floor. "The hell happened?"

Henry shook his head. "No idea."

"Maybe Tesla blew something up?" Kate smirked as she fell into step with them. The Indian woman wore a messy pony-tail, tank top and long, comfy-looking pants. For once she wasn't adorned with her typical assortment of bracelets and bangles.

Henry and Will gave one another a look, and then shrugged. They raced down the hall and took the stairs since the power was out. The emergency lighting came on as they approached the main lab. The lights flickering on only high-lit that they'd been dark before and that - that shouldn't happen. Henry mentally vowed vengeance on Tesla if he'd been the one to fry his servers, before the scene in the main lab registered and he stopped short.

"Woah."

"Damn."

"Wow."

The electronics in the main lab had been blown apart by the force of whatever blast had occurred. Smoking debris littered the area, and the wires hanging from the ceiling sparked and smoked. The stone floor was warm and Henry, in bare feet, was surprised by the heat. It wasn't searing, but it was noticeable. Apparently they were the first on the scene.

 

Or at least the first people who hadn't been there for the explosion, Henry thought grimly.

There were significant scorch marks on the walls and the huge glass panels on the surrounding enclosures were cracked. In the water enclosure, Henry could see Sally drifting, unconscious, on the current of her tank. Steve's glass sported a spider-web of cracks, but it seemed to be otherwise intact. Kate let out a low whistle. Will returned with emergency flashlights from a nearby stash. He also held a medkit in one hand.

There was an impact crater in the center of the lab.

Huge chunks of glass lay haphazardly over the rubble of broken stone floor, fallen equipment and monitors. His security robotics smoked and hissed, and at least one had been half melted. Henry was already not looking forward to fixing this mess. The glass hadn't come from the enclosures. Henry looked up and confirmed the glass had fallen from the skylight. That wasn't going to be fun to replace either.

The sprinkler system kicked in. Unfortunately pieces had been blown away, and it's coverage was spotty. Kate grabbed for a fire extinguisher but the heat of the explosion had melted it into it's holder and it was still warm. She jerked her hand away then ran off for another one, further down the hall. She came back with two, and Henry took one with a nod.

Water from the sprinklers was flowing towards the center of the crater in dirty rivulets. A rough edge of broken stone had lifted and separated, making a ragged ring. The water smelled stale, adding to the smell of ionized air, burning stone and metal. The smells made Henry's sensitive nose itch. Tracing the cracks toward the center, Henry peered through the dust to see what they were dealing with. Some small fires in busted equipment, but they guttered as water hit them intermittently. His jaw dropped as he realized that the shiny surface across the crater wasn't wet stone but glassy slag.

"Look!" Will pointed at the center of the crater.

There was something in there. A person? Had Magnus been caught in the explosion? Tesla? Henry had no personal love for the vampire, but it would be horrible if Tesla had blown himself up. The guy could be a dick, but no-one deserved to be blown up so...cataclysmically. Magnus had been like a mother to him and losing her? He couldn't even comprehend it. Not this soon after losing Ashley to the Cabal.

"I see." He began picking his way across the floor. Stone shards maybe a foot long stuck up from the ground, which was hotter as he got closer to the center. "Hey if you find any shoes, let me know," he called back.

"Henry!"

Henry looked up to see Magnus across the way. She'd thrown on some quick clothing and had likely been asleep as well. Henry smiled in relief. "Doc!" So it wasn't Magnus in there.

"What is-" Helen cut off and raced for the center of the room.

"Doc?"

"Get the backboard!" Helen ordered.

Henry exchanged a look with Will and they both ran back to get it from the hall.

"Heinrich?" Tesla staggered down the hall, looking slightly scorched, so maybe he'd caught part of the blast. His normally well-kept clothing was covered in soot and there were some rips in the fabric. He didn't look injured that Henry could see. Perhaps the spiky hair was a bit deflated and his ego bruised.

"Tesla! Are you okay?" Will asked the vampire. Tesla was extremely tough, but there were things that could do a number on him.

"I can't hear a thing!" Tesla answered, gesturing to his ears. "I caught the edge of the explosion and was rather forcibly thrown into a wall!" He rubbed by his ear and looked around. "Do we know what happened?"

"No idea, dude," Henry said, shaking his head to get the idea across. He pointed toward the main lab. "Who was in there?"

"What?"

"Who? Never mind." They didn't have time to chat. Henry and Will took the backboard into the main lab, Tesla trailing behind.

Kate had been putting out fires and by now Biggie had joined Magnus in the center of the room. Steve had come out of his enclosure. The lizard man leaned heavily against the wall, hunched in his favorite bathrobe. Cliff Janus, the two-faced man, sat by his feet, looking a bit dazed. Sally the mermaid had regained consciousness and floated in her tank by the window, fingers hovering by the glass as if she wanted to press against it but didn't want to risk it.

"We got it," Henry said, sliding a bit on the smooth glass. It wasn't quite the burn of hot sand now.

Magnus looked up from her CPR as the figure under her gasped weakly, coughing. It took a moment for him to understand what he was seeing.

"Ashley?" Henry questioned, almost dropping the backboard as he stopped in his tracks. He hadn't been present for the explosion that had killed her two years ago, hadn't been able to make himself watch the security video footage. All he knew was that his oldest friend had been killed by teleporting through the heavy EM field they'd thrown up around the Sanctuary, saving them all from the last of the Super-abnormals the Cabal had sent. She'd been herself in that moment according to Magnus, had gone out in a literal blaze, taking the threat with her.

"Woah," Will said as he looked around Henry and saw Ashley.

Her skin was burned in patches, but her face was almost entirely unscathed save for a blackened, red area on one side. She was mostly naked but parts of the outfit she'd disappeared in clung to her body in a charred mess. Some of her hair had been burned away but the rest, while tangled, was pale untouched gold that spilled over the ground. She was breathing rapidly and shallowly now, a raspy sound. She looked pale where she wasn't burned, her eyes sunken with dark circles under them.

Biggie had knelt by her head, the huge Sasquatch holding it steady with gentle hands, Magnus knelt by her side.

They dropped the board and helped Magnus carefully position her on it. The moment the restraints touched her she screamed. It was an animal sound, full of fear and pain. She thrashed, one hand tensing into extended claws. Will jumped out of the way, catching the very tips. Tesla stepped into the gap, grabbing her hand with vampire strength. Ashley twisted and hissed at him. Tesla growled back, eyes becoming completely black.

"Hold still, young lady!"

Her eyes were wide, red like they'd been when she'd been under Cabal control, but she didn't seem to really see anything. She continued to flail, obviously panicked and trying to get away.

"Ashley," Magnus said, touching her face gently, ignoring the personal danger. "Ashley, we have you. It's okay." She waved Tesla off and continued to touch Ashley's face and murmur soothing things. Ashley's breathing was still disturbingly fast and shallow, but she focused on her mother's voice. The claws retracted back into her nails slowly, her eyes shading to their natural blue, focusing.

"Mom?"

Magnus, stroked her finger's over Ashley's cheek. "Shh. It's okay. I have you." She smiled down at her, eyes watery. "It will be okay. I have you."

They managed to coax her back onto the backboard, though without the restraints. Will took over holding her head steady as they carried her to the infirmary. Once there Magnus and Biggie cut away the remains of the burned clothing to examine her.

Ash looked frail lying under the light sheet on the infirmary bed. Her cheeks were a sunken and the dark circles under her eyes stood out more in the emergency lighting. She seemed to be healing, the burns less angry than they had been. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking. She'd passed out on the way to the infirmary and hadn't regained consciousness again.

"How can I help?" Henry asked. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, instincts driving him to protect his family, his pack. He didn't argue with the wolf this time. Where had she been?

"Make sure we don't lose power," Will said for Magnus.

Henry set his jaw and nodded once. He grabbed the former ex-vampire by the elbow. "Come on, we've got some emergency repairs to do."


Will found Kate directing traffic in the main lab hours later.

"Okay," she said, holding up a hand, "on the count of shove. One. Two. SHOVE!"

At her command, some of the residents shoved a large piece of fallen masonry onto a heavy work-load dolly. The piece thumped into place. They all exhaled in effort and Steve sank to the floor.

Nodding to herself Kate finally looked at Will. "How's Blondie?"

"Stable," Will said, rubbing at his neck. "Malnourished and unconscious but she doesn't have any weird drugs in her system and her heart rate's gone back down. We've got her on antibiotics because of the burns, but they're healing quickly."

"Well, cleanup is underway, and nothing in lockdown is going to escape. I gotta run." Kate nodded then headed off in another direction, her pace brisk and businesslike.

It sunk in as she turned to walk away. She was going to leave, to run. With Ashley back, maybe she thought her place had been usurped. "Oh, no," he said hurrying ahead of her. "Look, I am tired and kinda freaked out right now, so why don't you and I go upstairs and see if we can't get some coffee and talk like rational adults."

"What?" Kate stopped. "Look Z-man, I have places to be."

Will hurried after her. "Kate, you can't go."

Kate eyed him. "So you're gonna help Biggie downstairs then? Cool. I'll go see if Hank needs help."

"Wait, what?"

"What are you talking about?" she asked. She looked him up and down. "You feeling okay? You hit your head falling out of bed or something?"

"Uhm, I-" Will eyed her. "You're not going to leave? Skip town?"

Kate crossed her arms, body language slightly confrontational, but mostly the pose she used when she thought he'd just said something particularly silly. "Are you here to make me?"

"What? No! I just." He huffed out a breath. "I just thought maybe you'd be feeling a little...uneasy."

"Why, because Blondie's back from the dead?"

"Yes," Will nodded, feeling a bit silly.

"Well, if she has a problem with me, she and I can discuss it like big girls, William. Until then, I've got plenty of fires to put out here. You know, literal fires. The kind that burn." She made a face and added, "and nearly open cages of hordes of inviso-rodents."

Will felt the blood drain from his face and his stomach drop. "They-"

"Nah," she waved a hand. "Biggie and I blasted them with some of this crazy stuff Magnus made. It's like expanding foam in a can, but it's cold. It's for surgery or something." She shrugged.

"So, you're not going to leave."

Kate set a hand on her hip and gave him a smirky look. "The pay's not that great but the bennies are decent and the food's good." She then gave him a pointed look and made an exaggerated gesture, as if looking at a watch.

Will studied her for a moment. She was teasing, relaxed. She didn't look like she had when she'd first been living here. Will found himself smiling slightly as he nodded. "I'll see about getting some breakfast started," he nodded at her wrist. "Waffles?"

"And eggs. And bacon."

 


Helen watched the rise and fall of Ashley's chest. The hand Helen held was thin. Her daughter appeared to be out of the woods, but Helen hadn't expressed that hope aloud, as if by speaking the dream would shatter and she'd wake up in her room.

Two years, Helen thought. Where has she been? In all that time, Helen had been learning to let go, to live again in a world without her daughter. Ashley wouldn't have wished for her to dwell. She hoped that was true.

Helen had sent a private note to James Watson, her dear friend and Head of House in London and his second, Declan MacRae. She hadn't wished to spread the news much further. At least not until she knew more about Ashley's condition. Helen wasn't certain how the other heads of house would take the news of Ashley's unexpected return. Tensions had been high and tempers had run hot during those days. She'd also sent word to John, but he was out on one of his rambles and hadn't answered the phone. She'd left him a voice-mail.

Ashley shifted on the bed, making a sleepy sound of discomfort. Reminded of her as an infant, Helen found herself smiling. She touched her daughter's shoulder, relieved as Ashley finally woke once more.

"Mom?"

Helen stroked Ashley's hair out of her face. "Welcome home, dear heart."

"What-" she closed her eyes and swallowed, "What happened?"

Helen continued to gently soothe with soft touches. The burned patches on her face and scalp were healing well. Quickly, but not with the near-instant speed Helen had witnessed when she'd been a puppet. "I don't know, but you're home again. You've been gone a long time." She leaned up and placed a kiss on Ashley's forehead. "You've been missed."

"Sorry," Ashley murmured. She frowned, eyes fluttering as she fought to sleep.

"It will all be okay," Helen assured her. She tucked the blankets around her just a little more. "I'll be here when you wake."

Ashley smiled faintly then fell asleep again. Helen stroked Ashley's hand and felt some of the weight lift from her shoulders.

"Doc?"

Helen realized she'd fallen asleep. She looked around for Ashley and found her sleeping on the bed. Relieved it hadn't been a dream, Helen held out a hand to Henry. "How is the rest of the house, Henry?"

The slightly scruffy werewolf ran a hand through his hair. It stuck up in all directions as it dried. Henry's eyes kept sliding over to Ashley. "We boarded up the skylight and threw a tarp over it so the rain won't come in," he said. "Power's finally back and the storm is passing." He stopped on the other side of the bed and watched Ashley sleep for a moment. "It's really her."

Helen nodded. She'd confirmed it with tests as soon as Ashley had been stable. A tentative smile appeared on Henry's face. He and Ashley had grown up together, thick as thieves. Losing her had been hard for him as well.

"You think it was the storm? She's been," he gestured vaguely, "Stuck in the EM field where we couldn't find her?"

"I don't know," Helen admitted. "To an extent, this evening, I don't care."

"Yeah," Henry agreed.

"Helen."

John stood in the doorway, coat and bald head still glistening with rainwater. "My God, she is alive." He took a step forward, then a second. His blue eyes were intense, challenging. Helen knew he wouldn't apologise for the retaliatory slaughter of the Cabal. He hadn't been there her entire life, but Ashley was his daughter, too.

Helen nodded minutely. She wouldn't ask because as much as she hated to admit it, she'd wanted that slaughter visited upon them. And even if Ashley was here, the Cabal would have just gone on killing and maiming. Sometimes a dangerous creature had to be put down, and John had become frightfully good at killing over the past hundred years.

John let out a breath as he watched Ashley in silence for half a minute, then nodded to himself. "Is there anything I can do to help here?" he asked, politely. She could hear the undercurrents of emotion behind the polite facade.

"No," she shook her head, eyes silently offering that he could stay.

John gave her a little half bow. "Then with your leave I'll see about making myself useful. I noticed the main lab is in a frightful state and I know how much you dislike an untidy lab."

Helen smiled briefly, remembering simpler times in Oxford when they'd felt they had the world at their feet. She inclined her head. "Thank you."

John nodded and withdrew.

"Yeah. I should, go help too," Henry spoke up.

Helen nodded then resumed her vigil.



New York City, New York

Richard Castle, award winning, New York Times chart topping writer extraordinaire, weaver of words and builder of worlds, entered the kitchen and considered a matter of grave importance; breakfast. Did he want an omelet? Or perhaps some bacon and toast? Something warm; definitely not cereal. The storms that had swept in from the west coast had been pounding New York for almost three days straight. Cold mornings called for a warm breakfast. Pondering his options, he realized he wasn't the only one up this early on a Saturday.

"Hey kiddo," he greeted over his shoulder. "You're up early." He did a double take, "You okay?" he asked as he took out what he wanted; some of the bacon, some eggs, some green onions and a red pepper.

Alexis had dark circles under her eyes, her red hair pulled into a messy tail. She had a hoodie and sweats on and she was nursing a tall glass of orange juice. She offered him a weak smile.

"Hey dad. I'm fine. Couldn't sleep again."

Again? Richard began to heat a pan for the bacon then sat across from her. "Something on your mind?" He asked, tentatively. Alexis was wearing her brave face, the one she wore when she was miserable, but either in denial or trying to hide it. "You feeling okay?" Maybe she'd caught something with all the cold, torrential rains that the city had been hit with. There had been more than a few sniffles down at the Twelfth.

Alexis rubbed the back of her neck and worked her jaw. "Couldn't sleep. I have this headache and just-" she broke off and shook her head. "You ever have one of those nights where your mind just keeps going and things just-" she gestured with a hand, "just spin out, going from one thing to another and suddenly it's six-am."

Richard patted her hand. "Absolutely. I think everyone has those. Anything in specific?" He handed her a cutting board and the veggies.

"Not really," his daughter said, frowning slightly as she took the hint and began cutting. "Maybe it was the coffee I had after dinner."

Richard got up and began to make scrambled eggs while the bacon cooked. Nothing better for a Saturday breakfast after a long night. "Could be, but you know you can tell me anything."

"I know that, Dad."

He could hear her roll her eyes. He smirked at the eggs as he beat them into submission.

"Thanks anyway,."

"What I'm here for," he said.

"Can I have mushrooms?"

"If we have them," he said, nodding at the fridge. He heard the door open and close then the industrious sounds of chopping. Soon he had a board full of veggies at his elbow. "Thank you sous-chef."

Alexis smiled and got a couple plates out of the cupboard. Richard's phone rang.

"Mind getting that?"

"It's Detective Beckett," she said, reading the caller ID.

"The murders started early, too." He handed the spatula to Alexis and answered the phone. "Richard Castle's breakfast nook, today's special is scrambled eggs with bacon and veggies."

"You might want to hold off on that breakfast," Beckett said over the line.

"Messy?"

"Very."

"I've seen crime scenes before, Kate."

There was a significant pause on the other line. It wasn't very long by normal standards, but Richard had learned to read Kate's cues. This was serious then. Not that murder wasn't ever not serious, but the hesitation was an unusual twist. It set off warning bells in his head.

"Not like this," Beckett said. There was a hint of strain in there that Richard wasn't used to hearing.

He let out a breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. If it was that serious, well, someone out there was very bad and needed to be stopped. That was Kate's job. She couldn't run away from it. So, while he could, he wouldn't. Because he was her friend and the least he could do was stand with her in the face of so much darkness.

"It sounds like there is someone very bad we need to get off the street," he said, matching her seriousness.

Beckett gave him the address and hung up. Richard looked at his phone for a moment then thumbed it locked.

"Case?" Alexis said, looking up from her plate of breakfast.

Richard nodded and gave her a genuine smile. She'd never have to deal with this kind of terror because of people like Beckett. "Yeah. I'm afraid the eggs are all yours." He pocketed his phone and kissed her forehead as he walked by. "Seeya kiddo."

"Be safe," Alexis said.

"Always." He smiled at her as he put on his coat and headed out the door.


It was a bad as Beckett had said.

He smelled the room from down the hall. At first he thought it was just the building; a run-down tenement in one of the less affluent neighborhoods of the city. The smells in such places could be...memorable. It got worse, far worse, after he flashed his consultant's badge and was allowed past the yellow tape.

There was a white-faced rookie leaning against a wall, another uniform holding his shoulder. The officer, Ramirez, Richard thought her name was, nodded to him as he passed. There was an unspoken warning in her eyes. He braced himself.

The room was spattered with gore, but it wasn't the bloodbath he had expected. Then he saw the victims of the double homicide. Two bodies, entwined together as if they'd been huddled against the onslaught of whatever had attacked them, faces twisted in terror. It looked like something had exploded out of their stomachs.

Lanie's eyes were hooded, lips pressed into a thin, grim line, as the ME wrote her on-site report. She nodded to Richard then bent down to examine the darker of the two young men. They were maybe a few years older than Alexis. College kids. Richard swallowed back the rising bile. He closed his eyes to the horror for a moment then let out a slow breath. He could feel Beckett's presence as she stepped closer. Her long, dark hair had been pulled back and while the leather bomber looked nice on her, Castle let the motorcycle jacket pass without comment; now was not the time for levity and their usual almost-flirting.

"What happened?" he finally asked.

"Not sure just yet," Beckett said, tone distant, detached. It was her Cop voice. "Neighbors complained to the super about the smell. Super came in and found them this morning."

"Not the best wake up call,"

Beckett shook her head.

"Where's Esposito?" Castle asked, not seeing the usual third member of Kate's team. Asking after Javier helped him avoid the bodies for a few moments longer.

"Taking statements from the neighbors." She looked up as Detective Kevin Ryan straightened from a pile of clothing on the far side of the room. Despite the early hour and the gore in the room, Ryan looked as impeccable as always. His eyes held a steely anger as well as a softer bit of sorrow for the slain. Ryan was a good man.

"Find anything?" Beckett asked him.

"Two wallets. No cash, no cell phones," he said, carefully picking his way across the blood-spattered floor. "We have Darnell Washington and Alejandro Klugman." Ryan's face darkened as he held up a picture. "We might have a hate crime on our hands."

The photo was of a wedding party on the steps of some official building, possibly San Francisco's city hall, or maybe someplace in Massachusetts. The two decedents were smiling, arm in arm, looking dapper in their tuxes. They were surrounded by friends and their immediate family. Everyone looked happy to be there.

Beckett made an angry sound as she examined the picture. She nodded once, businesslike. "Let SVU know."

Ryan nodded, sealed the wallets into evidence bags and pulled out his cell.

"Poor guys," Lanie said, "Just starting their lives out together and this happens."

"Cause of death?" Beckett asked.

"I won't be sure until I get them into autopsy, but my lead theory is disembowelment."

"Time of death?"

Lanie's lips compressed into a thin line. "I couldn't take a liver temp reading, but based on the rigor mortis, I'd place time of death at 4am this morning."

"Why couldn't you take a liver reading?" Richard asked, mouth running ahead of his mind. He came to the answer about the time Lanie began to speak.

"No liver."

Richard winced. "I suppose it's less helpful when it's been...removed." he gestured vaguely to the far wall.

"Actually," Lanie said, "I'd need to run a test to be completely sure, but that's blood and I think skin tissue. The internal organs are completely missing from the abdominal cavity."

Unable to stop, Richard peered inside the late Mr. Klugman for a moment. His brain rebelled at the sight and the next thing he knew, he was leaning against the wall where Ramierez and the rookie had been. Beckett stood close by, speaking on her cell. When he was finally able to breathe again, Richard stood up.

Beckett closed her phone. "Higher ups have decided that the SVU will handle the case." She pursed her lips, not entirely pleased. The scene in the other room haunted her too, Richard could tell. "You okay?" she asked.

"Not really."

"Probably means we're human." Beckett shook her head. "Just got off the phone with Detective Benson who's on her way in. She and her partner are good cops. They'll catch these guys."

Richard nodded. "So that's it for homicide?"

"Unless they ask for our help." She eyed him. "Look, why don't you go home, maybe have a stiff drink."

"I'm-" He wasn't fine, how could anyone be fine after seeing what was in the next room. "I can hold the wall up for a bit longer. Buy you and the guys coffee once you've briefed the SVU detectives. Maybe some shots at The Old Haunt."

Her smile was tight but he saw the genuine emotion. "Thanks, Castle."

 


He shuffled inside, like a weary wolf returning to a favored den. The Old Haunt enfolded around him, the scents and sounds welcome after the horror of the morning. He had a quiet word with the bartender before herding his group of cops toward the back.

The four of them piled into the rear-most booth, shoulders and knees touching. They didn't strictly have to, the space wasn't that small, but there was something reassuring about simple human contact. A shudder ran through him as he recalled the scene.

The glasses arrived, already filled with the best whiskey the bar had on hand, the bottle left on the tray. It was on Richard's private tab; a perk of being the owner. Richard passed them around and the others took them somberly. Kate played with her glass, carefully turning it in circles. Richard considered what might be said. What could be said?

Richard held his glass up, not far, no need to make a production, not now. "To the departed. May they have peace."

The others lifted their glasses with subdued murmurs of agreement. The shot went down with a smooth, spicy heat. He set the glass down, the noise loud in the immediate silence.

"Do you have to go in to the station?"

Kate shook her head. "Only if we're called in again. SVU's handling the case now."

Richard nodded.

"They'll get 'em," Esposito said, anger underlying his voice, and perhaps there was frustration from his inability to act as well. "They're good cops."

"I don't doubt it." Richard poured a second round of shots, since no one had to be back at work immediately. He lifted his glass and looked at each of them very seriously. "To New York's finest. May they always get their guy."

"Amen," they agreed in chorus.

Richard drank and settled back in his seat, fingers tapping on the table. "What are you all doing for dinner?" He asked before the thought had really taken hold.

Kate blinked at him, startled by the sudden turn of conversation.

"You should all come over to my place. We'll have some good food, maybe some wine. Bring Jenny and Lanie. Josh," he offered looking at Kate, hoping she'd understand. "Maybe play some poker. Alexis and Mother can beat us all at wii sports. You know, just have a nice evening with friends." The more he spoke the better the idea sounded. The best way he'd found to combat the real horrors of the world, was to surround himself with friends and try his damndest to make the best memories possible. If the good always overcrowded the bad, then the dead of night didn't seem so bleak.

Kate was wearing her cop eyes, the ones that gave no hint of her emotions. It was a reaction, he knew, to situations just like this. A little bit of distance to protect her from the full impact of what she'd seen. She'd been wearing them since he'd greeted her that morning. The cop eyes were always accompanied by a stiffness in her shoulders, a tension in her face. Her body language was an invisible nigh-impenetrable armor. Very slowly, she lowered those defenses, the tensions seeping away and replaced with a weariness he could wholly understand. She nodded.

"That'd be nice."

"I think Jenny would be up for that," Ryan said, rolling his shoulders. "Thanks Castle," he said. Esposito nodded agreement.


Mother was in her element, entertaining and distracting their guests. She'd managed to pull a little out of him, but he'd spared her the full story. Sometimes imagination could fill in the details and make it worse. It was an old theater trick that had served them both well on stage and on the page. This time, however, was different because of the incomprehensible violence of the crime. It was just as awful as one could imagine.

Richard had taken a third shot once he'd returned home, the image still burned in his mind. He'd turned to his laptop, spending most of the day writing out a short horror story. Slowly, surely, the demon was chained in neat turns of phrase, exiled by prose. Writing couldn't banish the memory, but the act of writing seemed to lessen the presence it had in his head. It was at if he could purge some of that evil from his own body by inflicting it on his hapless word document.

Alexis had shuffled off to her bedroom sometime after he'd left, and had come downstairs with a thick stack of books a little after he'd returned home. He'd never tell her what he saw, and he hoped to heaven that she'd never have to deal with it herself. If, god forbid, she did, he hoped she'd be surrounded by friends as well.

Now, hours later, Richard set his glass of iced tea on the railing and watched the rivers of light, red and yellow-white, flow beneath him. Mother and Ryan's fiancée Jenny were in the kitchen, discussing something wedding related. The others were taking turns with the Wii. As reigning household champion of Wii fencing, Alexis was currently trouncing Ryan, though her match with Esposito had been close.

He heard the door open and close behind him. Kate joined him at the railing.

"Sorry Josh couldn't make it." If Dr. Motorcycle-boy was going to be a continuing part of Kate's life, he wanted to maybe get to know the guy. Despite whatever nebulous thing there was or could be between them, Kate was his friend. Alienating a friend because they had a significant other was so high school. He was at least up to college level immaturity.

She shrugged a shoulder. "He said thanks. He also said to say he liked your book."

Richard arched a brow.

Kate glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes and grinned into her coffee. The little Cheshire grin could have meant any number of things and never failed to intrigue him.

"Oh?"

She nodded. "He does the audio book thing when he goes to the gym."

"Tell him thank you. Which one?"

She pursed her lips, repressing a memory of annoyance. Richard knew that look well, knew there had been teasing. Knew which book it was before she spoke. "Nikki Heat."

"So what does Dr. Josh think about Nikki Heat?" He leaned in, grinning and waggling his eyebrows.

Kate rolled her eyes at him, which just made his grin deepen. Oh yes, he could get to like this guy. There was still the small pang of what could have been, but wishes and horses and all those other cliches. It was much more important to enjoy what one did have in life.

"He liked her just fine," she said, primly. She sipped her coffee, obviously determined not to continue the line of conversation.

Richard just grinned, waiting, willing her to continue. He knew a part of her wanted to continue. It was just a matter of timing.

She let out a small huff. "He liked that one scene-"

"Ah, ha!"

Kate rolled her eyes. "I think it's my turn at Wii." She pushed away from the balcony wall and went inside.

Richard grinned after her.



Sanctuary, Old City

It was strange to watch her mother gear up for a hunt and know she wasn't going with her. But dealing with the strange was what they did here, Ashley firmly told herself. It hadn't changed while she'd been gone, and it wouldn't change because she was back. She'd deal with this.

It wasn't like she actually felt up to a hunt. Walking up here had been tiring. Aside from the physical, the idea of violence, even on TV or video games, left her feeling sick and tired right now. Deep down, Ashley Magnus knew she'd help hunt again, but for right now? No. She wasn't sure which thought scared her more.

"Would you lend a hand?"

Ashley stepped out of the doorway and helped her mother adjust the shoulder holster. Satisfied, her mother settled the business suit jacket over the holster and buttoned it. Facing Ashley, she took her daughter's hand.

"Are you well?" she asked.

"It's weird watching you go out without me." She wanted to have her mother's back. The new girl was okay, way better with a gun than Will or Henry actually, but Ashley worried anyway. It was also, if she was being honest, hard knowing that her mother had done this the years Ashley had been elsewhere.

Her mother pulled her into a tight hug. So much visible affection was new for them. Her Mad-Scientist, Victorian-born mother hadn't exactly been the cuddly type, for that matter neither had she. Ashley found she didn't mind it. At least not right now.

She was better than she had been, but she was utterly exhausted most of the time. Ashley could heal far faster than a normal human still, but without the Cabal drugs in her system keeping her hyped up and going despite the pain and injury, she was paying the cost for such rapid healing. Most of the past few weeks had been spent sleeping off her injuries and whatever remained of the drug cocktails the Cabal had been using.

"I'm so happy you're home," Helen murmured, kissing her temple.

Ashley hugged her back. Her mother smelled faintly of lilac and jasmine, of home.

"Perhaps I should stay."

"No, you should go," Ashley said. "I'm just going to sit around and fall asleep trying to watch Avatar for the fifth time." As much as she wished she was well enough to help, even Ashley had to admit she wasn't.

"You are doing remarkably well, but this will-"

"Take time, I know." Ashley sighed. "I'm sick of being sick."

"Well, if it's any consolation, that movie ends like you'd expect it to end. Very pretty but not terribly well written." She kissed Ashley's forehead. "I should get going."

Ashley nodded. She followed her mother down to the driveway where Will, Kate and Henry were loading gear into the vans they'd be driving. Going down three flights of stairs was way easier than going up had been. Helen squeezed Ashley's hand and hopped into the driver's seat of one of the vans, Will taking the other.

Henry waved out of his rolled down window as the van passed.

"Have fun storming the castle," she told him. Henry grinned broadly and gave her a final wave.

Ashley watched them go, worried and maybe a little envious.

"Hey." Biggie put a hand on her shoulder. "C'mere. Wanna show you something."

Ashley followed the Sasquatch downstairs. He opened an old door she'd always ignored before, revealing a well-lit, and well stocked, room.

"Woah." She looked around as she entered. "I never knew this was here."

"Was built during prohibition," the Big Guy said, moving over to a cabinet. He pulled out a bottle and two glasses, pouring for them both. "There was even some working equipment." He handed Ashley a glass and settled into a well-used seat. Ashley perched on the end of the beat-up couch.

"Hey, this used to be in the media room."

Biggie grunted assent. "It fit the decor," he gestured to the mis-matched, comfy furniture of the little den.

Ashley smiled and sipped the drink, almost gagging as it hit the back of her throat and burned all the way down. "That's- That's some kick."

"Good right?"

Hours later, Ashley wasn't drunk. The same could not be said of Biggie or Cliff Janus. Ashley had been keeping up with Biggie, drink for drink. She felt only very mildly buzzed while the Sasquatch was well into the drunken slurring. The two-faced abnormal who'd joined them had looked at Ashley and almost left before Biggie had pulled him inside. Now the pair of them were laughing drunkenly, sprawled on the comfy chairs.

"You know, you're not that scary," the two faced man said. The face on the back of his head swore something under its breath. "I mean sure you're a teleporting weapon of mass destruction, but you're ours I guess." He giggled drunkenly. His second face began a bawdy song and the dominant face/personality lifted his glass and began to sing, badly, in counter-point.

"I think I should get going," Ashley said. She set the drink down. Biggie called after as she made her escape, but she pretended not to hear him.

Ashley pulled the hood up and stuffed her hands in the pouch of the hoodie. She took the elevator because it would help her get away faster. She left the main house, heading for the gardens. The plants were just beginning to bud, but they were still mostly skeletal. Her shoes crunched on the gravel path as she left the pavement.

She'd been her mother's boogey man before the Cabal. Then the bad-guys had been the ones who'd been afraid. She'd been okay with that. Dangerous people knew to stay the hell out of her territory. Regular folks just trying to get by didn't have to deal with the shadier abnormal drug dealers, mobsters or unsavory types.

That was before she been taken, tortured, enslaved, and turned into- into a better living weapon. She'd become aware that some people were afraid of her now, people who hadn't been before, but no one had actually said anything to her face.

A drop of spring rain fell on her nose. Of course. Ashley glared up at the sky and went inside, avoiding the halls most of the residents used. Maybe she'd just go up to her room. Or the gym. The weights were just down the hall. It wouldn't, she realized, take much for her to become exhausted again, but she didn't care. It would keep her mind off-

"Hey!"

Ashley stopped. "Henry? When did you get home?"

"Just did," he said jogging up to her with a grin. Ashley couldn't help but find it a little infectious. A genuine smile did a surprising job of making her feel a little less shitty.

"Oh man Ash! You wouldn't believe the crazy that went down."

Ashley walked with Henry as he told about their pickup in animated detail. Apparently the shipment hadn't handled the cage with enough care and they'd had to hunt down the Balyconix through some sewers. Kate and Will had drawn the short straws and were currently in the decon showers, her mother was putting the specimen away in it's enclosure. Henry had gotten lucky and had finished putting his gear away quickly.

Ashley listened with half an ear as she followed Henry through the house. She wondered what everyone else would think when she started going out again with her mother. She'd heard about the trouble with the New York Sanctuary and the other Heads of House in the network. Truthfully she couldn't remember everything that had happened while she'd been under the Cabal's...care. What she did remember was enough to give her frequent and recurring nightmares. But she doubted anyone else had a gap in their memory. Will wanted her to talk about it, but she really didn't want to hear any of it.

"And then the flaming weasles in my pants broke into show tunes."

"Wait, what?"

Henry wagged his eyebrows at her. "Welcome back to the conversation." He lost the smile. "Hey, you okay?" Henry put a light hand on her arm. He was warmer than other people because he was a werewolf. The familiar touch made more of the funk she was in go away.

"Yeah."

"Ash?"

She didn't want to talk about it, even with Henry. Maybe even especially with Henry. She didn't want to see that he was afraid too. "So you were saying Will had to climb through raw sewage?" she asked, heading for the media room and hoping he'd drop it.

Henry studied her for a moment then followed. "Yeah. Ash, stop for a second."

"What?"

"You feeling okay?"

"I'm fine Henry. Maybe I'm a little tired." She brushed her hair out of her face and slumped onto the couch. She sank into the deep cushions and hoped Henry would drop it.

He studied her for a moment, as if she were some interesting technological puzzle he had to solve. Finally he smiled. "I've got an idea. How about I grab some popcorn and we watch Sherlock Holmes." He winked at her. "Come on, you know it'll be fun. We can get Declan to help us Skype Watson." He grinned broadly then, eyes dancing in mirth, as he wagged his eyebrows at her.

Ashley found herself smiling too. "Okay."

The movie was good, the company better. Settled on the couch beside her oldest friend, Ashley felt a little better. He'd always been a rock for her and she was glad he hadn't been hurt while she'd been gone. She rested her head against him and he put a friendly arm around her, not minding that she was using him as a pillow. Ashley ended up falling asleep on Henry's shoulder for the last half hour of the movie. She blinked awake some time later.

"Hey." Henry nudged her gently. "I paused the movie for you."

"Sorry."

"It's cool. I have a Dr. Who marathon. New guy's not bad." He pulled her closer with the arm around her shoulders, resting his head against hers. "Glad you're home, Ash."

Ashley smiled a little and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. Well, at least there were a few people happy she was back. She could be content with that.



New York

"So I just heard something interesting," Detective Kevin Ryan said, sitting down in one of the chairs across from Beckett's desk. Javier Esposito rolled over so he could hear as well.

Kate looked up from her paperwork. "What?" she arched a dubious eyebrow.

Kevin got it and hurried on with his story. "Remember that gay couple a few weeks back? The ones that exploded?"

Kate frowned. That had been a hard case to forget and she'd only been on it briefly. "Yes."

Castle shuddered. "Did they finally catch the killers?"

Kevin shook his head. "No, but here's the thing. Someone in SVU was talking about the case with a detective who used to work over in Jersey in the sixties. SVU took it to cold cases in their off time? This has happened before. Well, the victims weren't entirely the same, but it was a couple in an empty apartment or abandoned house, and their insides had been...removed in the same way. "

It was both amusing and disturbing the way Castle and Esposito sat forward in their seats. She caught herself in mid-motion.

"You mean like a serial killer?" Castle asked.

"Or some kind of twisted master apprentice thing?" Esposito posited.

Castle snapped his fingers and pointed at him. "That would be cool plotline for a book."

Esposito buffed his nails against his shirt, "Maybe it could be solved by a dashing young Latino from New York."

"Gentlemen." Kate closed her eyes and counted to three. She looked over at Ryan. "So what's going on with the case now?"

"SVU's still looking into it, but they've come up with nothing. It might go to SI or Cold Case. No one's sure what the brass has decided."

Kate's reply was cut off by her phone ringing. She listened to Montgomery on the other line, nodding. "We're on our way, Sir." She hung up. "We've got a case."



Old City

It wasn't a secret that they'd hired someone while she'd been...gone. Ashley let out a breath and tried not to be angry. The weights went up. She'd been dead. Her mother and Will had spent a great deal of time reassuring her that she hadn't been replaced. Except she kinda had been. The weights came down.

She let out a breath and pushed against the weights again. Nights were hard sometimes. Without other people around to distract her, remind her she was okay, she'd dwell. She knew she wasn't supposed to, but it was hard to shake some of those thoughts.

After tossing and turning for a bit, she'd slipped out of her room. Workouts had always managed to tire her before she'd been taken. If she could wear herself out, she could catch at least a couple hours rest. At the least she'd focus on the workout, and not on how easily she'd been replaced by the first person who came along.

The weights had been too easy on their normal setting, so she'd increased the pounds. Then again. They were still on the easy side, but she'd been hesitant to increase them more than just over double her usual. Mom had her practicing, but had cautioned her from trying new things out without supervision to make a record.

Ashley controlled the fall of the weights then pushed again, focusing on her form. She heard someone at the door. Smelled him too, oddly. That was another weird thing. She hadn't remembered her home being this...pungent before. How did Henry deal with it all? Ashley gave Biggie a small smile.

Biggie grunted at her from the door. "Your mother know you're up?" He had his reading glasses perched on his nose, a novel tucked under one arm.

"No," she said, pushing against the weight. "Was hoping some exercise would help me get to sleep." She continued to do reps at a decent pace.

Biggie shuffled over and began to spot her, though she didn't really need it. "Want me to make you some herbal tea?" he offered.

Ashley looked up at him from the bench and shook her head. "Thank you, no."

He grunted an answer that could have been anything and watched her continue to bench-press.

"Reading anything good?" she asked.

"New Richard Castle mystery. Third Nikki Heat book."

"Really?" Ashley set the bar down with a small clack. "Wait, third?" She let her head fall back onto the padding with a sigh. "Something else, I missed, huh?"

"I think Kate was done with the second book, if you'd like to borrow it. Why don't you ask her?"

Ashley closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see his expression. "I haven't actually talked much with her yet." Their introduction had been brief and Ashley had still been coming out of it. They'd seen one another at meals and when Henry dragged everyone to see a movie in the den, but they hadn't really talked.

He made a disapproving sound. "You've been home for awhile now." He nudged her legs with a hand, urging her to sit up and make some room. She did and he sat beside her. "You know-"

"I wasn't replaced. I know. You guys needed another gun." She winced. "Sorry. I didn't mean for it to come out that way."

"Then how did you mean for it to come out?" he asked, gently cuffing the back of her head.

Ashley gave him an annoyed look but she couldn't hold it. She sighed and leaned into his shoulder. Bigger draped an arm around her.

"Come on. Out with it."

She whined, just a little. "On the one hand, I'm glad mom finally hired another competent gun."

"But-"

"But it wasn't me. It still isn't me."

"Ah," he rumbled, rubbing her arm. "Do you want to come back?"

She looked up at him. "You're the first person to ask me that, you know."

"Am I?"

She nodded and resumed staring at the far wall. "Mom hasn't brought it up. Henry assumes I do and is telling me about all the equipment he wants to make. Will's danced around the subject, like he's not sure what he should say. I haven't brought it up either."

"What do you want?"

She thought about that for a little bit. In her heart she knew, had always known. It frightened her. "What does it say about me that I do want to go back into field work?"

"I think it says you're not going to let this change who you are."

"Hasn't it? I'm benching twice what I could do on a good day and I'm not breaking a sweat."

He made a thoughtful noise. "Physically. Doesn't change this," he said tapping her head with a gentle finger. "Or this." He pressed tow fingers against her breast bone for a moment. He chuffed a laugh. "And I think Kate would be happy to have someone else to help. You wanted the help when you were the only one, remember."

She made a sour face. "Hell of a way to get Mom to hire additional muscle."

Biggie snorted in good humor and squeezed her shoulder. "I like her."

"You do, huh?"

"She watches Operation Paranormal with me."

Ashley snickered. "And reads pulp fiction."

"Yep," he chuckled. "I'm going to bed. Don't stay up too late. I'll be reading for a bit so If you can't fall asleep, come find me and we can try the tea."

Ashley leaned up and kissed his cheek. "Thanks."

He grunted back and nudged her shoulder on his way out. She watched him go and decided she'd had enough with the weights. She reset all the equipment and wiped down the bench on auto-pilot before heading to the kitchen. Maybe she would try some tea, but she didn't need to bother Biggie with it.

She set the tea kettle on the stove and began to browse the selection of decaffeinated teas. Down the hall she heard muttered cursing and the sound of excited claws on the wood flooring. It didn't quite sound like a dog, there was quite a bit of fleshy flapping involved, but whatever it was was chuffing and snorting as it capered around on the floor.

Ashley leaned over, wondering if something had gotten loose and who'd caught it. Freelander was balancing a carton of milkshakes and few bags from Burger Master. A... Good god was that a Stenopelohablis?

The steno was getting tangled in a thick leash, obviously excited and happy if the rapidly wagging tail was any good indication. The wriggling great dane sized creature stopped, took one look at Ashley, bounced in place, then bolted.

"No! Ralphie!" Freelander called out as about two-hundred pounds of steno launched itself at Ashley.

Ashley dodged but got tripped up in the leash. The huge creature bounced and wriggled and cuddled up into her, his entire rear wagging. Gravity won and Ashley went down. The steno leaned in and began to lick her face and hands, clearly excited that she'd decided to get down on his level to be greeted properly.

"Gyah," she said, pushing the tongue, and rather large saber teeth, away from her face. "French-fry kibble breath!" The steno strained against her hands for a second before sitting down, his rear end still wriggling, his front paws dancing.

"Hi there," Ashley said, laughing. She gave him scritchies behind the floppy ear and the steno's eyes rolled as he leaned into it. He leaned so far he slumped to the ground and rolled on his back. Ashley scratched his belly and one of the steno's legs began to kick. "Aren't you just the cutest thing!" she said scratching back up behind his ears again. The steno's tongue lolled out to one side and the rear-end wriggled, paws waving in the air.

"Huh."

Ashley looked up. Freelander was still balancing the bags and drinks. She stared at the steno with an expression of bemusement.

"You need a hand?"

"Nah." She ditched the drinks on the nearest counter with a shake of her head.

The steno got to a sitting position and then shuffled into Ashley's side, nose nudging her hand for more scritchies. "Okay, okay," she said, giving in. "Geez, what are we feeding him?"

"Magnus has him on Science Diet." She shook the burger bag. "Mama's got burgers though."

The steno was up and across the room, begging for what was in the bag, in a second. Ashley laughed at the fickle affections. The steno practically inhaled the burgers Kate set on the ground for him.

"You know," Freelander said to the steno, "you could at least taste it."

The steno looked up at her for a second, scaly tail thrashing wildly, before he turned back to the last of the burgers.

Ashley got back to her feet and looked over the food.

"There's an extra milkshake if you want," Freelander offered.

"Oh hell yes," Ashley said, turning off the burner under her water.

The other woman smirked and handed her an extra large milkshake. She gave the whining steno a stern look. "You had one."

The steno licked his chops and gave Ashley huge, hopeful eyes.

"Sorry," Ashley said, taking a sip. "That's exactly what I needed."

Freelander held up her own drink in silent toast. "So, uh, you wouldn't mind not mentioning this to your mom?"

"Mention what?" Ashley asked. "That you were nice enough to bring me a milkshake at oh dark-thirty?"

"Thanks."

Ashley shrugged and began to put away the tea kettle she wasn't going to use now. The silence stretched out a bit, a little awkward.

"So do you want all the embarrassing stories from when you were gone? Like the time Z-Man was possessed by Kali and broke into Bollywood." Kate's smile was sly.

Ashley grinned. "Pics or it didn't happen!"

"Oh Blondie, I have better than pictures. I have video."


New York

The impact on her side was like taking a hit with a jackhammer. It was a shock. Castle's lunge was another. The sky was so bright, so blue. Time slowed down and somewhere between when she felt Castle tackle her, and when she hit the ground, Kate realized she'd been shot. She couldn't breathe. Something heavy was sitting on her chest and she couldn't catch her breath. Pain began a slow burn. Was someone calling her name?

"Kate. Stay with me, Kate."

Kate forced herself to focus. She'd been shot. She needed to focus, stay awake. Needed to-...Focus. Focus on Castle. Stay with Castle and get the bastard. Ignore the burn, her greying vision, the tunnel-sounds of chaos around them.

"I love you, Kate."

I think I love you too, Castle.


 

She couldn't be gone. Not that fast, not like this. What did he do? He knew this. He'd researched this? Compression! Find the wound and compress it, get medical help. Her blood was hot, so hot and coppery. He knew the smell, but the heat? He'd known it intellectually. Feeling it terrified him. He pressed his hands over the wound. It was at her side, not a shot to the heart, thank God and anyone else listening. He pressed harder and looked around.

"Help!" Kate needed help. She needed medical help. "Lanie!" Richard looked around. Everyone was shouting. There were uniforms and civilians running around. "Lanie!" A uniformed cop bent beside him. It took a moment to realize it was Esposito. Lanie, God bless her, dropped to her knees a moment later.

"Let me see," she said, pressing her fingers against Kate's neck. "Where's the wound?"

"Here!" Castle said, nodding to his fingers. They were bloody. God above. "Her side."

"Keep the pressure on, that's good Castle," Lanie said, voice rock-solid.

"We've got a bus incoming. Two minutes," Esposito said.

Castle found himself nodding. "Help is coming Kate. Stay with us."


It happened fast. Alexis knew it was happening fast, the moment her father had tackled Beckett, she knew what had happened, but then everything seemed to slow down. People were yelling and screaming around her, her grandmother grabbed her arm. Yet all movement and sound took on a dreamlike sluggishness.

The bullet had come from a sniper rifle; nothing else would have travelled that far. Beckett had been hit in the chest, but perhaps to the side because her father had tackled her. Given how tall Beckett was (five feet nine inches - one point five meters) that meant that the sniper was likely- the math came to her mind instantly, figuring the answer. The sniper would have been a hundred meters away, slightly to the side. And he would be escaping at an average of fifteen miles per hour, or twenty-four kilometers per hour. Alexis turned to look for the shooter, perhaps she could point him out. There were many cops here; one of them would be able to catch this guy. They had to catch him.

Her grandmother's grip pulled her down and Alexis cried out, falling in slow motion. If she yanked hard enough she might be able to break free and turn, except she was going down and the force applied to her arm plus the constant of gravity, and the fact that everyone had been taken by surprise meant she was badly off balance. She had perhaps a forty percent chance of seeing anything. Maybe the sniper wasn't sprinting away - instead walking at a sedate pace to escape. Did she have more time? If she went down, then she could see under the chairs, except everyone else would be down, too.

Alexis, grabbed the chair beside her, wrenching herself up even as she was being pushed down. She had to see. She couldn't let the monster just walk away. Her father had perhaps a sixty percent chance of becoming the next target. Unless he knew more about this than he was letting on - which he likely did.

Another hand grabbed her. Detective Ryan. He'd been sitting beside her. His fiancée was already on the ground.

"No!" she shouted, the word oddly slow. She twisted, trying to see between the panicking cops and civilians. Alexis knew what direction the shooter had been in - it was such a simple application of physics and geometry.

There he was.

Beckett's assassin was walking away at a brisk pace. He'd be gone before the crowd could get its wits back. Alexis grabbed Ryan's arm. "Five Eleven. Buzz cut. Brown trench coat. Probably walking with a bouquet to hide the gun. Right there!" She pointed at the back of the man walking away, completely out of place with the surrounding confusion.

Ryan blinked, turning too slowly to see.

Alexis shook him. "He's getting away!" She felt like crying.

Ryan's face darkened, eyes narrowing. "I see him," he said, rising up to step onto the chairs and over them.

The slow-speed of the world abruptly ended and everything came crashing in at once. Her knees hit the ground, her Grandmother's panicked voice trying to reassure her. Ryan's fiance called after him, hand reaching as if to stop him. Detective Ryan had grabbed two uniforms from the back of the crowd and was sprinting after the man in the trench.

"Lanie!" Her father's cry had a ragged edge to it that shook Alexis to the bone and made her feel ill.

Alexis turned to see what had happened to Beckett. Her father was covered in blood and the Detective wasn't moving. Dr. Parish was there and Detective Esposito was covering them, expression a darkening thundercloud. A cluster of uniforms was beginning to form a ring around the civilians and Detective Beckett. Everyone was shouting, people were screaming and crying, there were cell phones out and cops were on their radios. Alexis clung to her grandmother and began to cry.

Her grandmother's voice shook. "It will be okay dear. It will be okay."

Alexis wasn't sure either of them believed that.


Kevin grabbed the two closest uniforms, and ran. He didn't know how Alexis had managed to finger the guy, but no one walked away from the chaos of a shooting. He was far enough away Ryan might have missed him, they all might have. Castle's kid could have been wrong, but- Ryan decided not to question his gut. The other officers pounded down through the soft grass of the graveyard, the sounds of chaos and screaming dropping away behind them. Ahead, the man in the trench turned a little, then began to run.

Kevin ran faster. His grandmother probably wouldn't have been too happy with him vaulting over grave stones like hurdles, but then she wouldn't have been too happy about a hard-working detective being shot at another officer's funeral. Lungs and legs burning, Kevin knew if he didn't end this soon, he'd lose the guy.

Gritting his teeth, Kevin pushed himself, throwing everything he had into a final, desperate sprint that became a diving tackle. He grabbed the man by his trench and that slowed him. Kevin hit the ground, the wind knocked out of him, but he held on. The man went down to his knees then began to scramble out of the coat.

One of the other officers collided with him, bringing him down. The other kicked the gun out of his hands. The weapon skidded away across the slick grass in a burst of flowers and wrapping. The man went down with a fight, but few things, Kevin thought with pride, could match pissed off cops facing someone who'd hurt on of their own.

Kevin gasped, drawing in a breath. He got to his knees and took the cuffs held by one of the other officers.

"You're under arrest," he gritted his teeth, "for assault and attempted murder." He refused to believe Beckett was dead. "You have the right to remain silent," he continued, reading the man his rights.

The man looked at him, and there was nothing in his eyes. No fear, no pain, no remorse, no shame. But there was no triumph either. The man had dead eyes. Flat. Black. He closed those eyes and gritted his teeth.

Too late, Kevin understood.

"He's got a pill or something, get his mouth open!"

Kevin fought the man but his jaw remained obstinately clenched. Just as he thought he'd gotten the right pressure point, the man convulsed. Full body tremors that twisted and pulled inhumanly. White, bubbling foam squeezed from between the man's lips.

"Get a bus!" Kevin ordered. The cop holding the man's right pulled a radio, but it was already too late.

The man gave one final convulsion then lay still. Kevin touched his neck, searching for a pulse, but couldn't find anything.

"Shit."

Kevin, stood, looking back at the ruins of the funeral. The blaring sounds of more cops and paramedics were in the distance, coming closer. The lights crested over the hill, the driver making their way to the scene. Kevin looked down at the dead man at his feet, then back at the ambulances screeching to a halt.

"Shit."



New York City

Something every great writer did was research. Richard Castle had always aspired to be a great writer, so he'd become a student of the world, learning everything, every detail he'd need to truly and honestly give life to his books. When he'd researched gunshot wounds while working on his Derrick Storm novels, he'd never thought he'd be this close to one. When he'd first begun working with Kate and the others in the Twelfth, it had been something he'd considered more seriously. If he was truly being honest with himself, he'd tucked the thought into a little box and studiously ignored it. These weren't just cops anymore; these were his friends.

Despite his careful research, or maybe because of it, he was completely unprepared for the torrent of emotions following the attempted assassination of Kate Beckett. Attempted. He held on to that fact, gripping it like a man caught in a flash flood might cling to a branch. She couldn't die.

He wore scrubs. The nurses had pulled him aside before he could get to the waiting area. Apparently standing around covered in blood wasn't something they wanted other families to see. He'd stripped, washed, and put on the scrubs he'd been given. Then he'd rejoined his family, both those he was related to by blood, and those he was bound to by something just as strong, if harder to define.

Lanie had joined them soon after, also attired in scrubs, looking like five miles of bad road and other metaphors. She'd sat down across from him with a quick word that Kate was in surgery and Richard's careful years of research had given her as good a shot as any. Then she'd quietly cried with Esposito for a few minutes, hands shaking when she accepted the cup of coffee Castle brought over. He'd gone downstairs and bought the good stuff for everyone.

Richard looked down at his hands. They were clean. He'd scrubbed them, then again and again. The memory of the heat of Kate's blood was something he couldn't wash away. Out, damned spot!, he thought. If only he'd been able to shove her aside just a moment sooner, well, he hadn't wanted to be hit any more than he'd wished for her, but maybe she wouldn't be in such a precarious situation now.

Alexis was finally asleep. He thought perhaps the nurses might have given her something. She'd been quietly but intensely hysterical when he'd finally seen her. His mother looked like she'd aged ten years. She had one arm around the sleeping Alexis, the other held Jim Beckett's hand. If his mother had aged ten years, Kate's father had seen the rough side of twenty. Jim had stoically accepted the coffee, then sipped mechanically at it, though it probably had been too hot at first.

Ryan and Esposito bookended their row of seats, Jenny and Lanie between them. Pensive and brooding respectively, they waited in silence. The last update had been- Richard checked his watch only to realize it was in a baggie in his pocket, waiting cleaning. He looked at the clock. The last update had been a little more than an hour ago. It felt like days.

The automatic doors down the hall opened. Everyone awake looked up, but it was just a pair of nurses. Richard settled down again. In the background, Conan was doing his opening monologue, the TV's volume set to low.

The doors opened again and this time, it was a doctor in solid, light-blue scrubs. Richard's heart stuck in his throat when he recognized the man. Dr. Motorcycle boy. Josh. He stood; Lanie followed a second later with a small gasp.

"Josh?"

"She's out of surgery," Josh said, his voice weird in a way Richard couldn't identify. "She'll live. There was a lot of damage and a lot of blood loss, but we got her in time."

Tension in the room broke into a nearly tactile wave of relief. Richard sank back into his seat. She'd live.

"Josh-" Lanie spoke up. "You- Oh. God."

Richard's hand snapped up. Lanie was directing the surgeon into her chair. He still looked pale, his hands clenching and un-clenching.

"There wasn't anyone else," he told her."She needed someone right then and I wasn't in surgery."

"Oh honey," Lanie soothed. The rest of the room crowded around Josh, offering silent support.

"You-" Richard's mind had blanked for a moment. "You worked on-" Josh looked up, expression tortured. He nodded. Richard winced. "You need a shot?"

"Two," Josh ground out, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. "She's in the ICU right now and they won't let her have visitors for a few more hours," he said, voice dropping into that weird, distant mechanical tone again. "GSW to the upper chest. Collapsed her lung. Missed her heart by a few inches. Fractured her rib then lodged in her scapula. We got it and some bone fragments out. She got lucky it didn't-" He broke off.

Richard swapped seats and gripped the other Josh's shoulder.

"You did good, man."

Josh nodded, staring at his hands. They'd been bathed in Kate's blood too, had touched her open wounds, healed them. He'd been inside her body, repairing damage.

There was, Richard had been told, something grotesquely intimate about surgery on another person. The surgeon he'd been interviewing had been close to retirement, but a well respected member of his field. Richard had been close enough to be allowed to stand among the residents, carefully out of the way, as the man performed a bypass surgery. He'd honestly been a little nauseated by the whole thing, but had stuck it out in the name of research. Seeing inside another human like that...it was wrong, humbling, fascinating, amazing, visceral.

"I can't even begin to imagine what you're feeling right now," he told Josh, honestly.

"You're a good writer, I'm sure you'd probably be able to imagine something close," Josh answered, lips quirking just a little. He closed his eyes, face wearing a momentary expression of pain. "I was supposed to fly to Rio in a few days. Actually I was supposed to have already flown out. Delayed the trip. Kate told me not to, but I didn't listen. I wanted to be here for her after the Captain's funeral." He looked at his hands. "How is it that I can be both glad and not, that I was here?"

"For what it's worth, I'm glad you were."

Josh let out a long, quiet sigh. "Me too."

Lanie returned with a glass of water. Ryan passed Josh a flask. He took a shot of that, wincing against the heat of the whiskey, then accepted the water with a nod of thanks. Then he sat to wait, with the rest.


Kate woke up, which was a pleasant surprise. It took a second to recall where she was, and why she felt like she had an elephant resting on her chest. She felt like hell, but she was alive, which meant she'd get the bastard who'd shot her. Unless her guys had done it.

"Hey there, Katie."

She managed a small smile for her father. A doctor was there as well. He told her a lot of things which were probably important, but she only remembered that she'd be down, recovering for a long while.

"Get 'em?" she managed to ask. The look on her father's face she took to mean they hadn't, except that was a wrong assumption.

"The sniper took a pill of some kind. Died on the scene after Detective Ryan ran him down."

"Damnit," she spat, which hurt. She gritted her teeth. People like that...the implications were scary.

"Don't think on that right now," her father suggested, voice gentle. "What's done is done, and you need to focus on healing." His touch was light on her shoulder.

Kate fell asleep shortly after that. She knew the guys were outside, but she was asleep before her father could usher them all into her room. She woke again and her father was there, quietly snoozing in a chair. The nurse checking her vitals smiled softly, offered her a few soft words of encouragement, then just as quietly left.

She blinked and might have fallen asleep again. This was getting old. Another blink and Josh was sitting beside her, looking at his hands.

"Hey," he said, smile not reaching his eyes.

Kate grunted a greeting. He helped her sip some water and she mumbled thanks. The blankets felt like they weighed a ton, and new pains appeared when she moved her head or shoulders or breathed.

"Coming to check up on me?" she joked when the silence dragged on a beat too long.

Josh nodded. "Yeah. I was the surgeon when you came in." He sounded miserable and Kate wondered why for a moment before she got it.

"Jesus."

He nodded, eyes suspiciously moist.

In the end, Kate understood. They'd been in a nebulous place, neither entirely what the other needed, but enough they could try to stick it out, see where it went. It was sad, because Josh was a wonderful man. It was a relief, because they'd been at this edge for awhile now. Neither of them was comfy with what had happened. Before, Kate might not have felt that way, but knowing he'd been inside her in a way that was too intimate...It was best to part as friends.

Josh had kissed her forehead, Kate had managed to turn her head enough she could kiss his cheek. Then he'd sat with her, because they were friends, and she'd been shot, and he'd had to fix the damage. He wasn't there when she woke next, but that was okay.

"Hey girl."

Lanie was there. Kate cried for a little bit, because with Lanie it was okay. It wasn't about the failed relationship or at least not entirely. She cried too because it was all just too much. In the end she didn't feel better so much as she felt a little bit lighter.

Lanie leaned in and brushed Kate's hair away from her face. She took Kate's hand and her expression became very serious.

"I want you to listen to me, because I am only going to say this once. Now, you are going to get better. You are going to do your physical therapy on the schedule that your doctors tell you and not on some accelerated one you think you can do. You are going to get back to work when you are ready and not a moment before. But." Lanie held up a warning finger. "Life is too short for the little dances you've been doing. There is a man out there who loves you, and I think you might feel the same way. You were willing to give it a shot before, and I want you to give it a shot now. We don't get too many second chances in life." She squared her shoulders. "I've said what I needed to say."

"Okay."

"Okay? No arguments about how you're dangerous to be around? No denials that you and Richard Castle have been doing a tango around one another for the last three years? No brush-offs or changing the subject? Just okay?" Lanie studied her for a moment.

I know you crawled inside your mother’s murder and didn’t come out. I know you hide there the same way you hide in these nowhere relationships with men you don’t love. You could be happy, Kate. You deserve to be happy. But you’re afraid.

Kate smiled, though she thought it might be a bit weak. "I think." She cleared her throat and that hurt because everything hurt right now. Lanie gave her a sip of water and that hurt too, but it was better than feeling parched and sore. "I think I'm not afraid anymore. I think there are some battles I'm done fighting."

"Smart woman," Lanie said. "Saves me and Javier from having to lock you two in a room together."

When she woke again, Lanie was there and so was Castle. He looked about as bad as she felt. She was relieved that he was there and unharmed, but something inside her gut clenched because she'd caused that expression.

Kate smiled at Lanie and gratefully accepted the glass of water with a straw.

"We chased your dad out. He needed to get something to eat," Castle told her. His voice was gentle and he winked, but she knew him too well not to see the little flash of guilt. She watched as he slowly became more animated, though the fear always just under the surface.

"Thanks for watching out for him."

Castle's hand found hers. "Anytime." She shivered a little at the touch, at the husky quality of his voice. She knew he was talking about more than her father.

"Of course I don’t want anything to happen to you. I am your partner, your friend…"
Is that what we are?

"I'll go see if I can't find him," Lanie said, rising. She gave Kate a broad smile, then left.

Kate turned her head and winced as something pulled.

"Do you need more morphine?" Castle asked, holding up a little clicker, instantly concerned at the slightest look of discomfort. "The nurse said to give this to you. Press the button and it will give you another dose."

She hit the button, because the pain was increasing, making it harder to think. She had questions, but the doctors and nurses had been telling her to take things one step at a time. And the pain was really, really bad.

"Rick?"

She regarded her partner and friend, and felt a sort of peace settle over her body. Despite all that might happen and in spite of all that had, she found herself smiling. Parts of her ordeal were blurry. The doctors had told her what she already knew: some of it might come back, maybe not all. Kate remembered though. The important parts at least.

This was a very large battle she was in, and an idiot fought a war on two fronts. Something like that. These drugs were powerfully good. The pain was seeping away.

And if you’re very lucky, you find someone willing to stand with you.

"Kate?"

"I love you too."

The drugs hit her system then, and she felt wonderful and floaty. She fell asleep, smiling at Castle's utterly poleaxed look of delighted surprise.


She woke again and it was afternoon. Someone was tapping at a keyboard to her left. Kate was unsurprised to see Castle working at his laptop. She watched him work and it occurred to her that she rarely saw him writing. He'd disappear for a few days at a time, sending the occasional goofy video to her phone, or the odd text. Then he'd show up at the precinct with that smug writer's smile, the one that proclaimed he'd had a good few days at his regular job, and was here to invade hers.

He was focused as a writer, eyes intent on his screen. He smirked to himself as he wrote down some witty pun or one-liner. He wrote without interruption, fingers tapping at a regular cadence without the backspacing or mouse-clicking that she used while editing her reports. The tapping of the keys had a soothing quality, like rain on glass. Kate let out a breath. The drugs must have been the good ones, she sounded like Castle.

"So what's Nikki Heat investigating now?"

"Kate. Hey." He set the computer aside and pulled his chair closer.

"So?"

He frowned in confusion. "So?"

"Nikki Heat. Whose ass is she kicking?"

Castle broke into a tiny smile, eyes sparking, exactly what she'd wanted to see. "Are you asking me to tell you a story?"

She thought, sure, why not. Captive audience here. Isn't that every writer's dream? But banter was tiring, so what she said was "Yes."

"Kate." Emotion hung in his voice, like motes of dust suspended in the air. Wow, she really must have been on the good drugs; Castle's literary-ness was rubbing off.

His hands wrapped around hers. They were warm. It felt good. She smiled. "You pushed me out of the way."

"I wasn't fast enough."

"I'm pretty sure you have to be from krypton to be faster than a speeding bullet," she told him. "I haven't seen you leaping any tall buildings in a single bound lately." She let her eyes fall closed because keeping them open was hard. Her chest ached with every breath, but it felt like it was wrapped in cotton. Definitely the good drugs.

"Be still my heart, Kate Beckett, you're making Superman references."

She smiled. "Layers and layers."

The silence dragged on too long and she knew what he was thinking - that it was somehow his fault. "Hey." She squeezed his hand. "No one to blame but the guy with the gun." If she was going to lay aside her fear and resistance, she sure as hell wasn't going to let him be the one to start tossing up barriers.

He nodded silently and once again she'd managed to make him speechless. She loved doing that. It probably wasn't healthy, but she had the sneaking suspicion he kinda liked it too. A shrink would probably have a field day with the pair of them.

"Kate," Castle began, "I meant what I said. I love you."

She found herself smiling. "Meant it too," she said, eyes sliding closed. "Would've kicked your ass if you got hit."

She could feel the low chuckle as much as she could hear it. "I don't doubt that."

"'M tired."

"Get some sleep," he said, lips brushing lightly over her knuckles. "I'll be here when you wake."

"I know."


Kate had been told to expect physical therapy to be exhausting. She'd nodded at all the right moments as the doctors explained the hows and the whys, and had been anxious to get it all over with. Everything still ached, but she itched to take a more active role in her own recovery.

She just hadn't expected it to be soexhausting.

"Easy there Katie," her father said, helping the nurse help her into bed.

Kate sighed and sank back into her pillows with a grateful sigh. She'd conquered the early milestones which included walking to the bathroom with assistance and taking a shower of sorts. She'd just conquered the rather small hallway outside her room. The nurse assigned to her PT care was a petite Indian woman who could completely kick Kate's ass - possibly even if she'd hadn't been laid up with a gunshot wound. Castle had liked Kamala immediately. So had Kate for that matter. She just wished the woman wasn't right every damn time about Kate's limits.

"Don't frown so hard," Kamala said, smiling slightly as she settled Kate back into the pillows. "You're doing well. The trick is not to overdo it and set yourself back."

Kate grunted assent. Intellectually she knew that too, she just was utterly done with being laid up.

"Mr. Castle is lurking at your door. Want me to let him in or kick him out?"

Kate smirked, catching Castle's eye as he hovered by the door. She didn't doubt that Kamala, all of five-four, could kick him out. The PT nurse, Kate knew from personal experience, had developed a lot of strength from lifting and moving patients all day.

"He came all this way. Might as well let him in."

"As you like. Mr. Beckett," she said, nodding at Kate's dad. She waved for Castle to enter and he bowed graciously as she left, chuckling.

"And how is the patient this evening."

"Very well," her father answered.

"Impatient to be on her way," Kate added through gritted teeth.

She rolled her eyes as they laughed, but it was good to hear the sound. She drew in a breath, happy it didn't hurt so much anymore, and let it out slowly. Her father began to collect his things.

"I should be on my way." He leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"Actually, Jim, if you've got a few minutes,"

"Oh?"

"Well, I've been thinking and Mother, Alexis and I wanted to open our apartment to you both. I've been doing research-"

"There's a shocker." Kate smirked.

A smile flashed across his face. "I've been doing some research and you're going to need some helping hands for awhile, even after they let you out. It just so happens I work from home."

She caught her father's look. Kate was certain Castle caught it too, but he didn't comment. Kate and her father had been discussing her aftercare, Kate insisting she wouldn't need the help, her father insisting he'd move in for awhile because she would. Her apartment would be small for two people, and her father's cabin, while a bit larger, was well out of the city and Kate didn't really want to leave New York - it felt like further exile.

Then there were the security concerns. Her new boss had assured her they'd be assigned protection.

"You don't have to make a decision tonight, but I just wanted to throw it out there," Castle told them. "My building is very safe and there would be plenty of room for both of you. And- Any anyone else who might need to stay close."

"Thank you, Richard," her father said. "We'll have to discuss it, but that's a generous offer."



Sanctuary, Old City

Henry smiled to himself as he made popcorn. He and Ashley were going to watch another of the movies she'd missed. The others might show up, but what was important was that they'd get to spend some time together. Losing Ashley, especially the way it had happened, had made him rethink some priorities in his life. Spending time with people he cared about was one such priority.

Now Ashley was here, and it was still mind-blowing many weeks later, he made sure to include her as well. It had been a little awkward at first, but then they'd fallen back into the old familiar routines shared by close friends. It wasn't exactly the same, but it wasn't bad. It made him feel good watching her smile a little, maybe laugh, and generally forget that she'd been hurt. He wasn't qualified to handle any real therapy, but he thought this helped. Henry poured the corn into the pan once the oil was hot enough.

Ashley seemed to have finally shaken off the overwhelming exhaustion. Seeing her like that had worried him since she'd always been a spitfire. He'd come to live here when she'd been a baby and she'd been active and about as long as he could remember. Usually she'd be the one to haul him away from his computers to go out for a movie, or for a hike, or to play paintball. Once she'd even convinced him to go paragliding.

He hummed to himself as he shook the pan to make sure all the kernels popped. He'd add some season-all to her half of the popcorn, just the way she preferred it. He made a double amount for them since he imagine she'd probably worked up an appetite. The Doc was having her find some of the extents of her new powers, which gave her her a good workout. Having been through similar training, he knew she'd want snacks.

He took the popcorn off the heat and split the kernels into the two huge bowls they'd used since they were kids; salted for him, and seasoned for her. Henry knew Ashley had mixed feelings about her new abilities, but a taste of home would probably be welcome. It had been for him. He'd denied his abilities as a Hyper-accelerated Protean, a werewolf, for most of his life. Ashley had grown up without any abnormal abilities, but it was close enough.

It was another reason why he'd been trying to keep her busy with things like movie nights; giving her a place where she could be normal again was a way he could help one of his best friends. Soon she'd be back in the field and he had some great new toys for her to test. He snagged a couple cokes, grabbed the popcorn and headed for the den. He was a couple minutes late, so Ashley was probably already there.

"Ready for some- Ash?"

Her shoulders were hunched, hands held together, elbows on her knees. Worry and hurt rolled off her in waves, the scent heavy in the air, irritating like burned jalapenos. Henry set the bowl down and sat beside her, pulling her into a hug. She was crying? Why was she crying? Ashley never cried. He felt a fierce flash of protective anger at whomever had made her cry. Was something wrong with Magnus? No, he would have heard something.

"Ash, hey." He pulled her closer. She didn't make any noise, but she shook in his arms. Henry held her until the shaking stopped.

"Sorry."

"No way. Nothing to be sorry about, Ash." He let her sit back a bit, but kept her close. "What happened?"

She shook her head. "It's really dumb."

"I highly doubt that," he told her.

"I was going to ask mom if she wanted lunch. I overheard her arguing with some of the other heads of house." She shrugged a dismissive shoulder, red eyes not quite able to meet his.

Henry swallowed, the bottom dropping out of his stomach. He could guess where this was headed. He'd heard some...things. Not everyone had been upset Ashley had died. Apparently died. He could understand the anger in the moment, but Ash was a victim as much as anyone else was.

"They were arguing. About me. About what I'd done." She looked away, blinking. "Sorry, I thought I'd gotten over it." She offered him a weak smile. "I didn't want to miss the movie with you."

"I'm pretty sure none of this is the kind of thing you just get over, Ash." He pulled her closer again, tucking her into his side protectively. She leaned in, which angered him more. Ashley only drew close to people when she was very sick or very hurt. "It wasn't your fault. They'd been planning on using what you knew about the Network. They were controlling you."

The Cabal had used that knowledge ruthlessly, and what's more, had forced Ashley to be the one to do most of it. Henry suppressed a growl. "Who?"

"Doesn't matter."

"I want to know anyway." So he could quietly seethe at them. Maybe send them the crappy hardware next upgrade. Or something.

"Hong Kong. Rio. Tokyo." She shivered. "Not that I can blame Tokyo."

He wondered how much she remembered of that, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know. The Tokyo Sanctuary had been decimated, by far the worst of the blitz attacks the Cabal had made using Ashley and the others as living weapons.

"Ash-"

"They want me to be locked up."

His chest clenched at the fear in her voice. It was a primal thing that resonated with his own need to be free. He rubbed small circles on her back, soothing her worry away. Magnus would never let that happen to her again. He'd never let it happen. "You don't need to be locked up."

"But I can do these things. I could be so bad Henry."

He looked her in the eye. "You won't though."

"You don't know what. What if I snap?"

"You won't," he said, giving her shoulders a squeeze, "Because I know you Ash, and the thing that attacked everyone? That wasn't you." He sighed heavily. "And I've learned a thing or two about being able to do scary things. Your mom isn't going to lock you up because someone who doesn't know you is afraid of what the Cabal did. You were a victim."

Ashley wiped at her eyes. "You sound like Will."

"Well, Will's a smart guy."

"They want me to be interviewed by the telepaths."

"Okay, they're kinda creepy but why not if it gets these guys to shut up?"

"What if- What if they find something?"

"Like a sleeper personality or something like that?"

Ashley frowned. "That too."

Henry understood. "Ash. They aren't going to find out you secretly want to destroy the world. I know you and that's not happening. Not. Happening." He playfully "beeped" her nose with a finger. She didn't respond with her normal swat at his hand.

"I don't want to be like-" she broke off.

"You're not," he reassured. They'd talked a little about her father, John Druitt. Jack the Ripper. Her father. Ashley was very, very good at violence, had always been very good at the hunting and tracking and beat-down part of her job, and suddenly she'd discovered why.

"Yes, you're good at the shooting thing. But you're not cruel or heartless. What attacked the Sanctuaries was not Ashley Magnus."

"I'm not the same though, Henry." She rested her head against his shoulder, her grip still a little desperate. He continued to stroke her back, trying to get her to relax, to see that she was loved here. "I'm more like- like, Tesla."

"Are you currently mocking me?"

"What? No."

"Are you plotting to rule the world?"

"No? Why would I want to do that?"

"Are you bitching about Marconi and Edison?"

"No-"

Henry sniffed authoritatively. "Then you're nothing like Tesla." That got him a little laugh so he counted it as a win. "Why? Is he bothering you?"

"Not really bothering. He keeps reminding me that if I want to "Learn how to be a proper vampire" then he's willing to teach."

Henry could hear the eye-roll and chuckled, hugging her close. She'd ended up practically in his lap and it was nice. Really nice. He hadn't held anyone since Erica had left. It was Ashley and he was pretty sure she didn't want him in the same way Erica had, but still. It made him feel good to connect in a tactile way. He idly wondered if it was a werewolf thing, or if it was just because it was Ashley.

"I don't think I want to learn any of that."

"Then don't" Henry told her, resting his chin on her head. "He's not a real vampire either, and anyway I heard they were jerks." He felt her laugh more than he heard it. They restarted the movie and sat for awhile, watching it in companionable silence. When the movie was over and the credits had begun to roll, Henry switched the channel to Dr. Who.

"Henry?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't like people being afraid of me."

Henry hugged her. "They'll get over it Ash. I think they're less afraid of you, and more afraid of how badly the Cabal was able to get at us. That kinda scares me too Ash. They took you. They knew how and where to hit us."

Her grip tightened around him. "I was afraid they'd make me kill you, or mom, or Declan or Will or Biggie, or someone else I knew really well." She shivered, looking like she was about to say something before she decided against it. Finally she said, "I was afraid they'd take you. Make you do things, too."

Henry held her. "It'll be okay now."

"I hope so."

"Hey," he gently got her to look him in the eye. "I know so."

She studied him for a moment before smiling a little. She hugged him close. "Thank you for being you."

"What I'm here for Ash." What he'd always be there for.


New York, New York

"Welcome home," Castle said as he and her father helped navigate her wheel chair over the threshold. She hated being in the chair, but it was better than the bed had been. The transfer from the car to the chair had been exhausting. Kate had been warned of that, but there too, the reality was a different story.

"Now, you're sure this is no trouble?" her father asked.

"Darling not at all!" Martha insisted. "We have plenty of room here and the building is secure and you know Richard would just be over at Kate's all the time anyway," she clucked as she bustled around the apartment.

It looked much the same, except the glass walls of Castle's personal office had tasteful dividers set up in front of them.

"You turned your office into a room?" Kate asked, arching an eyebrow at Castle.

He shrugged. "Easy enough to move the desk. This way you don't have to go up and down stairs all the time. I can work on the recliner," he said gesturing to an overstuffed lazyboy. "I do most of my work there anyway." He winked and began helping move her things into the apartment from the dolly in the hall.

Kate watched them set up her life for the next few weeks and felt aggravating helplessness. She couldn't even move her chair out of the way when they brought in her smaller dresser. Alexis set her bags down and helped move Kate out of the way. She sat beside her quietly.

Kate eyed Alexis, taking in her slightly tense body posture, the far-off look in her eyes. "Alexis?"

Alexis focused on her. "Yes?"

"Is this okay?"

Alexis blinked owlishly at her, face changing ever so slightly as a number of emotions passed across her features. Finally she just looked sad. "He'd be wherever you are anyway," she reasoned. "If you're here, I can keep an eye on him. Excuse me." She got up and hurried over to move some things out of the way of the movers. It was a retreat, a well executed one. Kate frowned slightly and wondered if maybe she shouldn't have just stayed in her apartment.

Dinner was family style and Ryan and Esposito showed up with Lanie and Jenny. It was good to finally eat something other than hospital food, but she was beginning to feel run down by the time Martha got up to serve dessert.

Kate woke a few hours later. She'd been transferred to the plush leather lazyboy and it took a moment for her to get her bearings.

"Hey." Castle set his laptop aside and sat forward on the couch. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Kate looked around. "Sorry I fell asleep." The guests were still seated around the cleared dinner table and by the conversation, Alexis and Lanie were trouncing her father, Ryan and Esposito at some sort of board game. Martha and Jenny had their heads together, wine glasses in hand. Castle had camped out on the couch. The clock on the wall showed it was still early.

"No, don't be sorry. It was a busy day. The night nurse should be here in a little bit." He got up and sat in the chair beside her, hands fidgeting.

Kate reached out and took one before settling back into the chair. His hands stilled. Kate closed her eyes and smiled. There was a lot to do, but she was too tired at the moment, and it felt like forever since she'd sat in a home with the sounds of family around her. She looked over at Castle.

"Alexis okay?"

"With what?"

"With you letting my father and I move in for a few weeks." Kate arched an eyebrow. "You did ask her, didn't you?"

"Well,"

"Castle-"

"She seemed to be okay with it." He lowered his voice further. "Between you and me, she seems a little shaken still."

"You tackled me," Kate reminded him, voice soft. She swallowed. "You were right there too."

"Don't remind me," he muttered, jaw clenching.

Kate blew out a breath. "If she isn't okay with this, dad and I can move into my apartment or an extended stay hotel or his cabin or something."

He gave her a look. She eyed him long enough for him to know that she wasn't going to let this drop, then nodded.

"So what is Nikki Heat up to now?" she asked, changing the subject, more to get his mind off of the trauma than anything else.

Castle smiled, bravely hiding his concern beneath the jovial facade. "So glad you asked," he said, picking up the lap top with one hand and settling back where he could read. "Now, it's still a bit rough-"

"Just read, please."

He grinned. "As you wish."

Kate smirked at the Princess Bride reference and settled in to listen to him read. He gave the characters voices, accents, life; no doubt performing the book as he saw it in his head and, likely because of Martha's influence, doing it well. The game at the dinner table ended and Martha and Jenny finished their conversation so they could listen. They found seats around the couch and pulled over chairs, Esposito taking a spot on the floor.

Somewhere in the middle of a quiet, introspective section, Kate found sleep pressing against her like a heavy, comfortable blanket. She smirked at mental metaphor, and fell asleep.


Walking into the Twelfth was odd. Montgomery wasn't there, but the memory of him hung like a specter even these few weeks later. Life went on, but there was a conspicuous hole that everyone seemed to be shuffling around, a subdued quality to the industrious case solving.

Kate wasn't there either. His eyes, as always, had gone to her desk first. It was neatly ordered but vacant of her. Even though he knew she was safe with her father and a hand-picked officer from New York's finest, he still felt a little aftershock of fear, a flip of his stomach, a chill up his spine. He paused perhaps half a step, but continued forward, coffee secure in the cardboard drink carrier.

Yes, there was a very nice cappuccino machine in the break room, but the gesture of bringing the coffee was a sign that they would continue as they had. They would not be bowed or broken by loss and fear. Breakfast: a symbol of new days and beginnings. Coffee was eternal. Doughnuts a doughy, icing and sprinkles covered bulwark against terrorism and doubt. Richard was a God of morning, dawning with each new day, bearing cups overflowing with magical- Okay maybe he was going a bit far.

"Gentlemen," Richard said, holding up his carrying carton of coffee. He'd already left a cruller and a medium mocha for Lanie.

"Hey!" Esposito greeted, clearing a space on his desk for the coffee.

"Castle," Ryan extended a hand and Richard shook it. "Welcome back to the Twelfth. We've missed you around here."

"You just missed the coffee and," he paused for dramatic effect as he held up a bag and waved it gently, "bear claws." He handed the bag to Esposito and took an empty chair.

Esposito smirked and pulled out a pastry. "How's Beckett? She around?"

"Her father took her to physical therapy. Officer Ramirez is assigned to her detail at the moment. Nice girl." Richard said casually, looking around before leaning in close. "I'm here on recon. What have you figured out?"

Ryan and Espositio looked at one another and huddled in. Ryan removed a USB drive from his pocket. "This is everything we know about her case so far," he said, voice low. He passed the drive over and Richard slipped it into his pocket. "The New Boss is taking point. I think she wants to chat with Beckett."

The announcement hadn't been made official yet, but the folks in the trenches all knew. Kate had received calls from several other officers.

Richard's eyes slid over to Montgomery's office. Or what had been his office. The decor had changed subtly in the few weeks since Roy Montgomery had died. There were awards and commendations on the wall, pictures of the current mayor and president as would be expected. A ladies jacket hung from the coat rack and the picture frames that graced the desk had changed. A purple orchid now sat on the edge of the desk. The lettering on the office door read "Capt. V. Gates."

"Captain Victoria "Iron" Gates. She moved up from IA," Kevin supplied. "She runs things on the straight and narrow, sharp cop, doesn't take much..." Kevin looked uncomfortable as he gestured vaguely at Castle.

"Ah." He'd half-expected something like this, but the confirmed reality didn't feel wonderful as it settled around his shoulders. Well, he'd just have to turn on the Castle charm and prove himself to the new boss.

"We found out the name of the perp," Espositio said, brining Richard's attention back to the case. Esposito's lip was curling. "He's an ex-Marine sniper. Drummed out after the Gulf for conduct unbecoming." As a retired military man himself, Espositio took a dim view of soldiers who sullied the uniforms they had once worn. Richard nodded in silent understanding.

"Anyway, we found a money trail, but it came from the Caymans and-" Esposito trailed off, shaking his head. "We're trying to track down known associates, trying to see who this guy might have worked for or worked with. They might know something."

"That's all we've been able to find out. The- The captain," Ryan began, pausing just a bit on the title, "Thinks we're too close so she's handling it with Sorrenson and Grady. They're good guys, but-"

"But Kate's on your team," Richard concluded gently.

"We did get a case though," Esposito said. "It's a bit familiar. The victims this time were a middle-aged couple out jogging. Last seen in the city, but found right at the border."

"Jurisdictional nightmare," Ryan muttered. "Jersey cops finally handed it over to us."

"Another? Like that couple?"

"Just like," Espositio said, face grim. "We've got a couple leads. Disgruntled tenant, an ex-husband with a record." Espositio didn't look convinced.

Castle nodded. "Tenant? What about those kids? Any connection there?"

"Tentatively. Waiting to hear back," Ryan said. "Got the voicemail of the building super the last couple was found in. Few others I'm waiting to hear on too, but the most recent couple own a number of properties around town. Rent 'em out."

"What about the cold case?"

"Not much," Esposito said. He held out a folder to Castle, it smelled stale, like an archive room. "Four pairs over as many months, then nothing."

"Pairs?"

He nodded. "The third set was two brothers driving home from a beach party. They were initially classified as being unrelated to the other cases, but all the other facts match. I interviewed the primary detective and he pointed me at the file. I-" Esposito paused and straightened in his chair. "Ma'a- Sir."

Ryan stood, back straight. He and Esposito looked like they'd been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

The new captain wasn't an especially tall woman, but she somehow managed to fill the space and give the impression that she was looking down on them all. She was perhaps a few years older than Montgomery had been, and plenty of grey was threading its way through her black hair. Her dark eyes focused on Castle, missing nothing.

"Sir," Ryan said, "This is Mr. Richard Castle. Castle, this is Captain Victoria Gates."

Castle put on his most disarming and charming smile and held out a hand. "Enchante," he said, bowing over the hand as he'd been taught; gallant, a bit of humor but not mocking, flattering but not obsequious. Uncle James would be proud, he judged.

Captain Gates arched an eyebrow, then dismissed him completely the moment he let go of her hand. "Ryan, Esposito, I want an update in fifteen."

There was a chorus of "yes, Sir", and then the captain turned her attention back to Castle. It was heavy, weighted. "Mr. Castle." She made the barest of nods then turned on her heel.

Richard followed the clear summons with a single backwards glance. His friends' expressions were sympathetic. Gulping, Richard followed the new captain into her office. The door shut behind him and he flashed back to many visits to the Principal's office.

Captain Gates leaned on the edge of her desk and eyed him for a moment. Richard, never knowing what to do in these sorts of situations, stuffed his hands into his pockets. She gestured to a chair and he took it, folding his hands in his lap so it wouldn't fidget.

"Mr. Castle."

"Sir," he said, having noted Esposito's near-misstep.

"As Detectives Ryan and Espositio have probably told you, I don't put up with a lot of shenanigans in my office."

Richard nodded once. Suddenly his tie felt a bit tight.

"That said, your record has been a positive one. However."

Richard's smile died as it was beginning.

"You're still going to have to prove to me that you're not more of a distraction than you are a help to my detectives. And," she held up a hand, "you're going to have to prove to me that you can handle yourself in the field. I don't want my people to be distracted and I'm sure you don't want to see your friends hurt."

Richard nodded again. "Agreed."

"So until we can schedule some time for official evaluations, you are not to accompany any of my officers into any field situation."

"Ma'am, with all due respect-"

"Sir."

"Sir, with all due re-"

"With all due respect? Mr. Castle, you may have an eye for detective work, but at the end of the day you are a civilian. The only reason I haven't revoked your consultant's pass is because Roy Montgomery, god rest his soul, was a good man and a good cop. I trust his judgement, but he was willing to play it a little bit fast and loose. I want to be absolutely sure you know the proper way to handle yourself so you don't get intro trouble or cause problems for any of my people. They're good cops and they're mine now. I will not throw you into the mix with them until I know you're not a liability. Those are the conditions. If you don't like them, then the NYPD appreciates your contributions and there's the door."

Her expression and tone brooked absolutely no argument. Richard felt his jaw clench in defiance, but he wasn't a twenty-something anymore so he held his tongue. It was better than outright expulsion from the Twelfth, and he could see her point. They'd just lost Montgomery and someone might still be gunning for Kate. If she wanted to run him through some sort of trial program, well, he could see her reasoning.

He let out a breath and nodded. "I understand. Sir, you won't be disappointed."

"I know I won't be. If I am, you're gone."

Richard nodded. It was her show now.

Her tone eased up a bit. "Evaluations run on a quarterly basis. Roy didn't make you attend the more physical ones because he didn't think you'd get into it." She shook her head. "I think you and I can both agree you've been in the thick of it."

He nodded mutely and looked at his hands. Kate's blood had been so hot... He looked back up. "What's involved?"

"Basic self defense. I want to see you checked out on firearms and field procedure as well. You've managed to survive this far, but this is my department now." She eyed him. "If it helps there are a couple PIs who are going to be re-certified to work with my detectives as well. That's just how I work."

"I respect that, Sir."

"Good." The stern demeanor broke subtly and her expression eased. "How is Detective Beckett? As a friend, how's she holding up?"

Richard found himself smiling. "She's already itching to come back, but her doctors are telling her to give it another month before she even thinks about desk work. She-" His phone began to vibrate, indicating an incoming call. The silence between them stretched awkwardly as his pants buzzed.

"Why don't you answer that," Gates suggested, lips quirking in a hint of a smirk.

He smiled cheekily, "Yes, Sir." He fished out the phone. "Castle."

"Mr. Castle, this is Dr. Holding. It's about Alexis."

"One moment." Castle held a hand over the phone. "I'm sorry Sir, but it's my daughter's school. I have to take this."

She nodded and gestured for him to go ahead. "We'll finish this conversation later."

"Thank you," he said, making his exit. He waved off Ryan and Esposito as he walked, grabbing his coat as he passed. "Dr. Holding? What's wrong?"

 


"I'm fine!" Alexis insisted. She threw her bag onto the couch and stalked into the kitchen. Castle shucked off his coat, missed the rack, and had to retrieve it before he could follow.

Kate looked up from her eReader and tracked their progress. Alexis looked peeved. Castle had that adorably helpless "Oh God, I'm the father of a Teenage Girl," look. Again.

"Alexis you fell asleep in school!"

"I knew the material," she protested. She grabbed a glass and poured some water, her movements sharp and angry.

"Yes, but this isn't the first time. You're teachers are worried." He'd cornered her in the kitchen, body leaning forward in an anxious line. That wasn't going to go over well.

"I'm fine!" Alexis finished her glass of water, set it on the counter with a loud bang, then stalked upstairs.

"Alexis!" Castle called after her, but she didn't stop. Upstairs there was a door slam then resounding silence throughout the penthouse.

"What happened?" Kate asked.

Castle looked quietly devastated. "I don't know. Her principal called me. Apparently she's been falling asleep in class, acting up, getting short with her classmates and teachers alike."

"That doesn't sound like Alexis," Kate mused. Castle's daughter was usually the most adult one in the family.

"I know!" Castle said. He sat across from her. "Her grades are amazing, which just means that the principle is worried she's," he shook his head, "I can't even say it, it's so insane."

"They think she's abusing something."

He nodded. "She insists she's not. We didn't even accuse her and she started to fill in all the things the Principal wasn't saying. Then she starts rattling off these statistics about drug usage, and starts holding this really intense debate with herself about the pros and cons of legalized drugs. It was the damnedest thing. It was like...It was like she couldn't stop once she got started." He sighed. "I know you didn't work narcotics, but does that sound like anything?"

Kate shook her head. "No. Kevin might have heard of something like that."

The door opened and Martha walked in, setting her bag down with a sigh. "Well, that was a day." She gave them broad smiles as she untucked her scarf and draped it over the coat rack by the door. "Richard. Kate."

"Hello mother," Castle said, rising to greet her.

"Hello darling." she kissed his cheek then leaned down to greet Kate. "How are you feeling dear?"

Kate clasped hands, wincing as the movement pulled on already sore muscles. "I'll live." She smiled through the pain because it wasn't that bad all things considered.

Martha chuckled and patted her hand then looked between them. "Why the long faces? Has something happened."

"I had to pick Alexis up early today," Castle explained, laying out the situation.

"Well that doesn't sound like our Alexis," Martha remarked when he was finished with his explanation.

"I know! She's usually on the straight and narrow."

There were grumpy sounding footsteps on the stairs and Alexis came down, having changed out of her school clothes. Kate was familiar with that slumping walk. She idly wondered if the mature and adult Alexis was finally entering into a more typical teenage phase.

"I'm sorry," she said, walking over to them. She did look tired, Kate decided, with dark circles that stood out against her pale skin and red hair.

"We're just worried," Richard said. He gave her a hug.

Kate felt like an outsider for the family drama. She looked up at Martha, voice kept low as not to disturb Castle and Alexis. "I'll be over," she made a vague gesture at the little nook the family had given her while she stayed with them. She couldn't help but wonder if she'd contributed to Alexis' stress, either because she was here, or because she'd been shot within touching distance of her father. Perhaps it was both reasons.

"Oh no," Martha said, waving her to keep her seat. "You're convalescing, you need to sit tight and rest." Leaning closer she said with a knowing look, "and you might as well know everything you're getting into here, hmm?" Smiling at Kate's dropped jaw, she turned and refocused all her attention on her granddaughter. Taking Alexis' hand, Martha pulled her down to the plush couch. "Now, dear, what's going on."

"Nothing," Alexis complained, rising to her feet. She began to pace behind the couch. "I'm just tired. I'm not on drugs, I'm not sick, and I'm not stressed. My grades are fantastic!" She gestured broadly with her hands. "I just can't sleep. I keep trying and it's like my mind won't shut off, and one thought leads to another and then another."

"Anything on your mind? You know you can tell me anything," Castle said, sitting across from her. "Anything at all."

Alexis closed her eyes and shook her head. "It's not any one thing. Maybe it's everything," she said, misery coloring the plaintive tone of voice. She stood. "I'm just going to do my homework and go to bed."

The helpless look Castle gave her as Alexis retreated upstairs broke her heart. He came back and plopped down on the couch. Kate reached over and took one of his hands. Martha put a hand on his shoulder.

"If it helps, I was much worse," Kate told him with a small smile.

 


Martha found Alexis sitting at the kitchen counter later that evening. "Can't sleep?"

"Hey Grams. No."

Martha got up and began to fix some ice cream. "Why don't you and I have a late night snack, and you tell me about it."

Alexis sighed then nodded. "The closest I can find on the internet is racing thoughts. And I know the internet isn't a good place to get information but I looked at the reputable sources and then did some research. But my symptoms don't track with that. I'm not depressed and I don't appear to have a depressive state so I'm not developing bi-polar disorder as far as I can tell. They're not obsessive OCD either since they don't repeat. It's like," She gestured, "It's like my brain goes into hyper-drive and the rest of the world is left behind. Everything sort of gets slow around me and answers come so easily. Maybe it's that flight of ideas thing I was reading about. But I don't think I'm ADHD."

Martha paused a moment then continued to serve the ice cream. She set the bowels on the counter. "And everyone around you just isn't getting what you're talking about?"

"Yes! Yes that's exactly it! I know I shouldn't be short but it's just all getting to me." She began to eat her ice cream. "I think if I can just get some more sleep, I'll be fine."

"How is school, otherwise?"

"It's okay," Alexis said. "A lot of my friends were complaining about Mr. Burton's physics test, but I think I'm really getting it. I looked at the page and it all just seemed to click. Same with AP Calc. You know Ashley was saying how hard it was but it's really not that bad at all. I think taking AP physics has actually helped. Which, you know, kinda makes sense if you think about it."

"Mmhmm," Martha watched her eat, a growing suspicion in her mind. "And English?"

"We're doing Crime and Punishment, which I've read already because, duh. But at least it's better than the last novel we did. I think I knew what was going to happen by the end of page five and the text was so florid," she made a disgusted sound. "But we're going to be working on in depth research reports after this and I was thinking I might do an in depth study of the Poetics as they apply to the Times top ten."

"You know, you're father's on there right now."

"I know!" Alexis smiled over her ice cream. "It's so cool. I think his last Nikki Heat book was a real step forward for him as a writer. Most mystery authors wouldn't have the guts to subvert tropes when and where he does. He actually got me on the last one."

"He did?"

Alexis nodded. "You know dad, he lives mystery and drama." She smirked. "Gee where do you think he got that from?"

"Granted," Martha said, raising a hand in surrender and conceding the point.

"Anyway yeah, he got me. Dad can be surprisingly twisted when he wants to be," Alexis complimented.

Martha watched Alexis efficiently, and animatedly, begin to dissect her father's works. Her comments were intelligent and well reasoned, but as she spoke, the words seemed to flow, eloquently like a river and just as unstoppable.

Martha had seen that before. Richard could do almost the same thing when he got going. He always had been able to do it, though it wasn't quite a torrent. But Alexis...this was something else. Something she'd only seen once.

Martha cleared her dish and kissed Alexis on the forehead. "You're a brilliant and wonderful girl, but I'm afraid it's too late for me. Try to get some sleep."

"I'll try Grams."


Martha went up to her room, taking care not to wake their guests or Richard. She closed the door and opened her cell phone. Richard had insisted he transfer her Rolodex to the phone's memory so it only took a moment to find the number she was looking for. She stared at it, wondering how her family would react when the truth came out. Almost four decades and she still didn't know the right things to say. Martha let out a slow breath to calm her racing heart. Alexis needed her; silly fears would have to wait.

Martha checked the time. The late hour would work for her in this case. She pressed the call button and waited.

The phone rang and a young man answered the phone. "Sanctuary, London."

"I'm looking for Doctor Watson. It's an important matter."

"I'm afraid Dr. Watson isn't in his office at the moment. May I ask who's calling?"

"Martha Rodgers in New York. He'll want to hear about this."

There was a pause on the line. "Ms. Rodgers, if you'll give me a moment I'll fetch him directly."

"Thank you."

Martha waited then there was a soft click as the call was transferred.

"Martha?"

Martha smiled. His voice was as rich and cultured as it always had been. It hit her in the gut and sent tingles down her spine. "Hello James."



Old City

Blondie, Kate had to admit, was good. She was quiet on the hunt, was a sure shot with her weapons. She knew how to track (possibly better than Kate, but she wasn't gonna admit that), didn't over-complicate things with new gadgets like Hank, or try to fill the silence with chatter like Will. Damn but it was nice to work with a professional. She'd started the night out tense, probably expecting Kate to evaluate her or something. Well, Kate was but it was one professional to another. She'd relaxed as they'd gotten down to business.

The creepy Kobold things were bagged, tagged and hauled away by yet another group Magnus seemed to know. This left Kate and Ashley standing in the street, watching the van drive away. Blondie, Kate noticed out of the corner of her eye, didn't know what to do with herself. She shifted her weight, anxious.

Magnus was expecting them home as soon as the job was done. No doubt she'd cluck over Blondie like a mother hen. Will would probably drag her into his office and have her talk about her feelings or some other such psychiatric bullshit.

Kate eyed her a moment, pondering what she would and wouldn't like if their positions were reversed. She decided the last thing she'd want was to be escorted home by the same person who'd been doing her job while she'd been dead. Blondie didn't need a babysitter anymore than Kate did. They'd get home when they got home and if Magnus got mad about it, well, that was her problem.

"Hey," Kate said, rolling her shoulders to ease out the kinks. "I need a beer."

Blondie looked over in her direction, studying her with a guarded expression. Her shoulders eased a tiny bit and she took the invitation for what it was. "Joe's is about a block over."

Kate adjusted the bracelets and settled her coat. "They have burgers?"

Blondie nodded.

"Awesome." She made a gesture for Ashley to lead on then fell into step with her.

"So, you've been doing this sort of thing since you were how old?" She had a general idea but hadn't asked the specifics of the Sanctuary crew for obvious reasons. Kate had heard rumor and hearsay about Blondie from the people who ran in the same circles they did. Kate had been curious to see the truth, maybe even looking forward to it. For once the rumor and the truth were spot on; she kicked just as much ass as advertised.

Blondie shrugged. "Fifteen. Solo since eighteen. Well," she smirked, "officially anyway."

Kate nodded. "First real solo hunt?"

"Wargs in the sewers."

"Wargs, huh?"

"Mom thought it was something else." Blondie's grin was fierce, proud. "She didn't expect me to haul home four adults and a litter of pups. I was seventeen."

Kate let out a low whistle. "Nice."

"Wanted to keep one of them."

"Mom didn't let you?"

"She did. For a week. Then it got loose and chewed Biggie's favorite pair of slippers."

"She banned a warg for that?"

Blondie winced a little as she turned the corner. "Well, it also got into Henry's server racks. Blew out a lot of systems gnawing on everything and making a nest in there, so I had to send Fluffy to one of the northern preserves mom has an agreement with."

"Fluffy."

Blondie eyed her, daring her to make something of it. "Yeah."

"You named a warg pup, Fluffy. Wargs. They get to be big? They're vicious, huge hyena-wolf things? Those wargs?"

Blondie arched a brow. "You named a steno Ralphie," she countered.

"Point," Kate conceded. "But that was kinda 'cause I wanted to tweak Hank." She caught Blondie's brief smirk. "You too, huh?"

"Him and mom, actually," she admitted, shrugging a shoulder. "I thought it was funny. Huge thing with teeth named Fluffy?"

Kate grinned. She liked this girl's sense of humor.

The bar and grill was busy on a Friday night, the sound washing over them as they entered from the street and made their way toward an empty booth at the back. Two women in biker leathers caught the attention of several people but Kate put on a mask of studied disinterest and ignored them.

She was mildly surprised that the booth Blondie had chosen allowed them both to put a back to the wall. From the corner they could see everything else. She eyed her, wondering if this was typical or not. Blondie was studying the crowd out of the corner of her eye while pretending to peruse the menus on the table. The waitress took their drink orders and disappeared into the crowd again before Kate spoke again.

"Hey?"

Ashley looked up at her, expression once again guarded.

Kate tilted her head slightly. The beers arrived and she took a long pull. Monster hunting was thirsty work. Blondie downed her beer in a single pull then motioned to the waitress and ordered another.

"So," Kate said, setting her beer down. "Looks like you needed to get out of the house as much as I did."

Ashley sighed, relaxing marginally again. "Yeah," she admitted, studying the table. She drew little designs with the condensation from the glass. "I just needed some space to breathe. Thanks."

"For?" Kate asked, sipping her beer. It was a decent local micro-brew she'd come to know thanks to Biggie.

"I know Mom and Will have you babysitting. They'd be more obnoxious about it."

Ah. The direct approach. Kate shrugged a shoulder. "Like you need babysitting," Kate scoffed. She shook her head. "They'll get over being mother hens."

Ashley downed her second beer then just sent the waitress away with an order for a pitcher and a monstrous burger. Kate ordered the same thing, minus the pitcher of beer.

"Your mom ban you from the good stuff?" Kate asked, eyeing the empty stein.

Ashley sighed and gave her a look that was equal parts wry humor and misery. "Biggie invited me to kill a bottle of his home-brew while you guys were out last week. Was sober as a judge and he couldn't see straight."

Kate set her glass down. "The," she made a vague gesture.

Ashley nodded and slumped a bit. "Yeah. I metabolize it too quickly or something. It's not just beer, it's everything. Painkillers, antibiotics, alcohol."

Kate winced in sympathy. "Well," she said, trying to think of something positive to say, "you still heal fast, so there's that."

"Yeah," Ashley said. The corner of her lips quirked a little. "And I'm alive," she added, voice dropping to a level that was hard to hear over the bar noise. She sighed and leaned forward.

"They're looking at me. Talking about me." Ashley said, nodding minutely to the rest of the bar. "Lot of our types come through here. I was dead. Now I'm not. Well. As far as they know anyway. Hell, I don't know where I was."

Kate shrugged. "Let them talk. They're glad to have you back. The guys."

"Will's gone all professional on me. He's not a newbie anymore. Well, not as much of a newbie." She sipped her beer. "Henry's," she trailed off. "He's more serious on the job than he was."

"From what I could gather, he took it pretty hard. He kinda threw himself into being a better field guy. Hank's pretty good now. For the guy in the van."

"Hank, huh?"

Kate smirked into her beer. Blondie closed off again. That was interesting.

"Hell, I'm kinda glad you're back," she said.

"Yeah?"

Kate had been thinking it occasionally. Hank was in a much better mood. Magnus was positively giddy, well, for Magnus at least. It was good to have someone with similar skill-sets around.

"How did you deal with being the only chick with the guns, anyway? I mean if your schedule is anything like mine is, it's not exactly cake."

Blondie shrugged. "Nothing I couldn't handle."

Kate felt herself bristling a little. "I didn't say I couldn't handle it. I'm just saying that in other organizations, hell, other Sanctuaries, they've got two or three people handling the load."

Ashley eyed her then shrugged. "Mom's cheap."

Kate made a sound of agreement into her beer.

"I remember this one time," Ashley grinned off into space, one of the few real smiles Kate had seen. "Henry really wanted a new computer. This was when he was like fifteen or something. He begged and pleaded and mom agreed to go in halfsies with him." She smirked, eyes dancing with wicked humor. "At the end of the summer, he had almost two-thousand dollars. Uncle James and Biggie wouldn't let her back out of the deal."

"Way to go Hank," Kate mused. "So he got a computer for four k?"

"I think Uncle James talked him out of spending the full amount. He ended up putting the the rest into savings."

The food came. Blondie tucked in and Kate grinned before attacking her own meal. Kate was halfway through the monstrous burger when she slowed down to sip her beer.

"So Hank-"

"Why do you call him that?"

The chilly snap in her question caught Kate off guard. "Huh?"

Her eyes had flashed red for just a second and then Kate got it. Blondie liked the guy. High school, "Liked, him liked him" even. "I give everyone nicknames, Blondie," she drawled. "Nothing to read into."

Ashley made no comment but resumed eating.

Kate poured more beer for her and signaled the waitress for another pitcher. "So you and Hank?"

"What about Henry?"

Kate leaned an elbow on the table. "You've known him for awhile, huh?"

"Almost all of my life." She shrugged as she sopped up some burger juice into a fry. "Why?" The popped the fry into her mouth, expression flat.

Kate grinned. "So what kinds of trouble did you get into when you were kids?"

She blinked, surprised by the change of conversation. Kate waited patiently for her to adjust to this new tactic. She could see her working out how Kate was to use it, but she couldn't find the angle. There wasn't one. Not really. She'd see how Hank felt and tease the hell out of him. Blondie would get hers later, but right now it felt sore. Kate decided she had too much respect for all she'd gone through to pick at something like that. At least now.

"Well? Come on, I showed you Bollywood Zimmerman. You gotta give me something I can use on Hank. Or maybe Biggie? Or the Boss?" She winked.

Blondie smiled slowly. "Well," she started, smile becoming a grin.

 



New York

Martha sank onto her bed. She imagined she must be making quite the image with her silk robe pooled around her, positively swooning at the voice of an old lover over the phone.

"It's wonderful to hear your voice," James said.

"And yours," Martha admitted. "I think the last time we spoke is when you told me about poor Helen losing her daughter." She'd sent a card expressing her condolences. "You must admit that while letters are eloquent, it isn't quite the same as hearing the voice of a loved one." She pictured him sitting in his private study surrounded by stately leather and dark wood paneling.

"True," James admitted, "But a phone conversation is hardly the same as seeing a loved one, is it?"

She imagined his dark eyes must be glittering in good humor. "Darling you really must get with the times. Allow that young man who answered the phone to introduce you to the remarkable video conferencing programs that exist these days," Martha chided. She'd love to see those eyes again, that aquiline nose.

James snorted.

"Oh he has?" She smirked. She'd love to see that sly smile, too.

"Among others. Oh, Martha the most miraculous thing has happened. Ashley's been found!"

"Found? My God, what happened?"

"It's a rather long story and only happened recently. I was able to see her a few days ago using video conferencing. Helen's only just begun to allow her to leave the house."

"That's wonderful news!" She smiled slightly, "and I'm so glad you decided to break with tradition and actually availed yourself of modern technology.

James laughed. "Helen's still working out the legal issues so she couldn't come visit me directly. Suspended Passport and all that. I'm afraid Declan and Mr. Foss conspired against me. Speaking of Declan, he mentioned you were calling about a matter of some urgency? Is everyone well?"

"It's Alexis," she told him. "Her thoughts are racing a mile a minute and she's begun to lose patience when her friends and teachers can't keep up. She's always been talented but now school's become laughably easy for her." Martha sighed. "Sound familiar?"

"Quite," he agreed, tone grave.

"Richard is worried. I think he imagines it's just Alexis being something resembling a normal teenager."

"I take it you believe this is beyond the ordinary?"

"I know it's not." She smiled ruefully. "We dodged that bullet with Richard, but I'm afraid Alexis caught it."


Old City

"Wait," Kate said, "you've never had deep dish? Real honest to god, Chicago deep dish?"

"I've never actually been to Chicago for more than a layover," Blondie said, balancing on the thin railing of the bridge. She wobbled a bit, probably because they'd finally managed to get her drunk.

Kate leaned back on the opposite side. "That's criminal."

Blondie hopped down from her perch, wobbling a bit on the landing. She clung to the railing to remain upright. "Is it that much different from the deep dish pizza here?"

"Is it- Oh Blondie, you haven't lived," Kate said, taking a step forward. This girl had been dead before she'd really lived! Clearly Blondie needed some mentoring. Life wasn't all about beating up monsters for mommy.

"So let's go."

"Seriou- Wait, what?" Kate leaned heavily against the railing. Below, the little stream that cut through the park babbled.

"To Chicago." Blondie was pulling out her phone and tapping the screen. "What's the name of the best place?" She leaned back against the railing.

"Giordano's."

"On West Jackson?"

"Yes?" Kate leaned in to see what she was typing. "There are a bunch. What are-"

Blondie put a hand on her shoulder and suddenly the world spun around her in a confusing full body sensation. When the world stopped its simultaneous moving-not-moving, Kate staggered a step, batting Blondie's hand away.

"What the hell," she ground out, doubling over and fighting the urge to puke up dinner and all that beer. "Oh god," she moaned, taking a knee. "Warn a person."

"Ow," Blondie replied, putting a hand to her head. "Ow. Ow. Ow. Okay doing that drunk wasn't a good idea. Oh god."

"Serves you right," Kate muttered. "Oh god, I am not cut out for teleporting." She looked around. They were a little ways away from Giordano's, in Chicago, in a small side street that smelled faintly of garbage and rotting produce. The smell wasn't helping her roiling stomach. God, she hated teleporting.

"Come on," the blonde demon said, pushing herself away from the wall. "Pizza should be just down the street."

"You can eat after that?" Kate whined.

"Come on it's not that far."

"If it's open," Kate said, staggering after her. "Seriously. Warnings."

"Yeah, yeah." Blondie waved a hand. "So I shared, what was your first?"

"Ehn?" Kate asked, looking at her askance.

Blondie was rubbing the side of her head as she made her unsteady way down the street. "Abnormal. God, this place better have bottled water or something." she looked around, "You see any convenience stores? I think I need some painkillers."

"Oh. So not-"

"Eh? Oh! No. No. Job stuff."

"Right. Right. Salamander."

"For real?"

"Yeah. The guy was late with the payment so I took it home."

Blondie fell behind her then jogged to catch up. "Wait, what?"

"Client was late with the payment so I took it home."

"You took a Salamander home. And kept it where?" Blondie laughed.

"My oven. I gave it a carton of Chinese and half a bag of Kingsford and it was happy as a clam. Kept the place warm too," she mused. "Was kinda sad when the guy paid up. Best roommate I've ever had and I didn't have to pay for heating."

Ashley laughed the rest of the way to the pizza shop. It wasn't as late as Kate had feared and there was even a little wait to order. Blondie's phone rang with the blaring the chorus "Rule Britannia."

Kate burst out laughing at the ring-tone, then slapped a hand over her mouth to be quiet.

"Hi mom!" Blondie answered, perhaps a bit too brightly. She was still pretty drunk.

"Where are we? Uh, we're getting pizza." Blondie bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud. "Chicago style. Want anything?"

Kate walked a few steps away so Magnus couldn't hear her dying of laughter. It was funny, but Blondie's expression was priceless.

"No, no, I'm fine. Ah, ha. Love you too, bye." She snapped the phone shut, quickly ending the call. "This place have a meat lovers for me and a supreme for mom?"

Kate grinned.



Old City

"Blondie?"

"Eh?"

"I am never drinking with you ever again."

Ashley grinned. "Consider it payback for the rocket launcher," she joked.

"Damn, I thought you'd forgotten that."

Ashley winced as she passed another cheerfully bright window. Morning had come way too early. "Trust me, getting hit with your own holdout launcher is pretty memorable." She pushed open the door to her mother's office, shielding her eyes from a particularly bright beam of light reflecting off the highly polished table by the window.

"See, I knew we were gonna get along," Kate mused, shaking her head. "Not too many people think about having a holdout rocket launcher. It's like they're not even paying attention to this business."

Ashley slouched into a seat beside Henry with a small whine.

He studied her for a moment, sniffing delicately. "Dude!"

"Not so loud, what?"

"Are you hung over?"

Ash's eyes flicked over to Kate. She looked about as bad, but then she hadn't quite consumed the same amount that Ashley had. Stupid metabolism. Shouldn't it have worn off by now? "Maybe a little."

"What'd you'd guys do last night anyway? I thought you had a mission."

"We finished then we went for burgers, then pizza," Ashley answered. "Do you know what mom's called us in for?"

"Not sure, but don't change the subject. Burgers, pizza, and how much beer?"

"Morning," Will said, entering with a cup of coffee. He sat on the couch and smirked when he saw Kate and Ashley in matching states. "Late night?"

"Shut up and give me that," Kate said, taking the coffee from him.

"Hey!"

"Don't shout," Ashley complained, rubbing her temple. She had a throbbing headache. Maybe it took twice as long to wear off since it took twice as long to get her drunk?

"You got her drunk?" Will asked.

"Who's drunk?" Biggie asked, entering.

"I'm not drunk, I'm hung over," Ashley said, sinking down further on the couch. The sun had risen, bringing the reflected light into her eyes again.

"You got her drunk?" Biggie asked Kate, sounding a little impressed. "I tried but-"

"Yes I did," Kate said proudly, at the same time Will and Henry said, "Wait, you tried to get her drunk?"

"Shh!" Ashley hushed them.

"Good morning," her mother said from the doorway, instantly silencing everyone. That was just fine with Ashley.

"Ehn," Kate grunted a minimal greeting.

Ashley waved vaguely. "How was the pizza?"

"Oh, it was delicious." Her mother crossed her arms and looked sternly at her then Kate. "And then I noticed how very authentic it was for Chicago deep dish."

Ashley sank into her seat a little bit, but she also couldn't quite stop the grin. She cleared her throat and shifted. "Yeah. Impressive huh?"

"You brought Doc pizza?" Henry whispered, giving her puppy eyes.

"Yes? Sorry?"

"In fact," her mother said, "It was so authentic, it had a Chicago area code printed on the box."

Henry made a little sound. His green eyes were wide. "You went to Chicago for pizza?"

"No, we went to Chicago for really amazing pizza," Kate corrected.

Mom cleared her throat and fixed Ashley with a stern look.

Ashley met her eyes. "I had fun?"

Helen let out a long sigh then took her seat. Ashley was sure they'd "discuss" it later, but it seemed she'd be spared a full ass-chewing in front of everyone else. Not exactly how she pictures her first staff meeting back on the job would go.

Her mother opened a sealed file folder and passed her a small booklet.

"What's this?"

"Your new passport," Helen told her. "And your reinstated drivers license. The other documents are back where they were in the safe, should you need them."

Ashley opened the passport and found her license between the pages. Both had the pictures they'd had before, but the numbers were updated. Kate had driven them around last night because of Ashley's complicated legal state. She held up the license, remembering the day the picture had been taken. Sunny. Summer. Her first license in the over twenty-one format. She'd gone after her birthday and had been a little hung over that day too. Henry touched her shoulder. She jumped a little, surprised, but smiled at him when he frowned in worry.

"Thank you," she said, tucking the license away. It was weird. The pictures were the same, she looked the same in the mirror, but she didn't feel the same. Despite that, it was good to have something so normal once more.

"Since Blondie's legal again, that mean she's back to work?" Kate asked what everyone else had been thinking.

Helen nodded. "Not full time yet, I want you to take it easy," she said, addressing Ashley. "We're going to start with some training, which is why I've asked you all here this morning. We're going to New York. Director Bahur has asked for Ashley and Kate specifically, but we decided that Will and Henry would have valuable tasks as well." She smiled at Biggie. "I hope you won't mind holding the fort."

"Not at all. Too many people in New York."

"What do they want with us?" Ashley asked.

"Director Bahur has been...evaluating her staff since she was elected. She's dismissed those that did not seem comfortable with the new direction of leadership."

"So she cleaned house of Wexford's toadies, pun intended," Henry summarized.

Mom nodded. "I wouldn't put it in those words, but yes. She has a number of entirely new people and others are new at their positions. We spoke at length and we decided that the coastal enmity between the North American Sanctuaries is finished." She fixed each of them with a stern look.

"Your counterparts are particularly green," she said, indicating Kate and Ashley. "And given- given the situation, we felt that joint training would be beneficial for both our Houses. Ashley's worked with us the longest. Kate has extensive knowledge of things out of our network. It will be a good opportunity for you to work together as well as to bring the New Yorkers up to speed and build a working relationship with them. They are our closest neighbor and it's silly to continue avoiding one another."

And, Ashley thought glumly, it'd bring her up to speed as well.

"Henry will be ensuring their IT infrastructure is properly set up and up to spec with the rest of the Sanctuaries and Will will be assisting us with any interpersonal difficulties that might have arisen. I expect you will all be on your very best behavior."

There was a chorus of assent and Mom looked pleased. "Pack for a week. Our plane departs at four, we'll be at the airport at three. I imagine you have much to do before then. Ashley? Stay a moment?" The others got up at the clear dismissal and left, Kate and Henry giving her sympathetic looks. When they were gone, her mother sat with her on the couch.

Ashley hadn't expected that, nor the light fingers brushing her hair behind an ear. She'd expected a lecture. "Oh, what am I to do with you. With the both of you, really." Her mother laughed, voice low. Her mother tugged her close and Ashley leaned her head on her shoulder.

"Huh?"

"You and Kate. Will thought you two might have hated one another, you know. Henry bet you'd have gotten into a fistfight then gone out for ice cream. I've always thought you'd have gotten along with her." She squeezed Ashley's shoulder. "Working with her was very hard for those first few months, knowing that here was another friend you'd never make. I find I can't really be angry you went out and enjoyed yourself last night. Maybe enjoyed a little too much?" she leaned back and eyed Ashley.

"My head hurts a little," she admitted. "Tylenol isn't working."

"I'm afraid you're just going to have to endure. Drink something with electrolytes. If it doesn't go away we'll evaluate things. I'm surprised you managed it given how you metabolize everything else."

"Makes two of us," Ashley muttered.

Her mother laughed again. "I take it you and Kate are getting along?"

"Kate's cool."

Her mother laughed and drew her into a hug. "Please be careful. I know I can't keep you locked away in the house forever, but please be careful. I can't bear to lose you again. I can't go through that."

She nodded and hugged her back. Neither spoke for a few minutes, content simply to be. It had been a long time since Ashley had been at peace so often. She needed more though. "So you're really letting me into the field again?"

"If that's what you want. A part of me hopes you'll want to spend the rest of your life on some very sunny, very safe, beach someplace, but I think we both know that's not who you are."

Ashley snorted. "If you banned me to the beach I'd probably take up shark riding or something."

Mom squeezed her shoulder. "Whale sharks are rather pleasant creatures, you know. Docile."

"Mom? Do you want me to come back?"

Her mother rested her head against hers. "It probably makes me a bad parent, but yes. I miss having you out in the field with me. I miss sharing the adventure with you. That was always the very best part."

Not that she missed Ashley's talents as a field agent, but that she missed her. "The best part," Ashley agreed, unable to make her voice much more than a whisper or it would crack. "I'd like to see Rome again. I was kinda...not in the mood the first time."

"I'd love that. Anywhere else?"

She thought about it for a minute."I've never been to Machu Picchu. Could we visit there?"

"I don't see why not." She brushed Ashley's hair with her fingers. "We have two birthdays to catch up on. I'd like to see Angel Falls, how about that while we're down there? We could hike the tepui."

Ashley smiled. "Sure. You know," she said, sitting up. "Technically, we could, just," she made a little hand gesture. "Go I mean. I could take you there?"

Her mother's smile was sad. "I know you could, Dear heart. Henry and Nikola have been working on something for John, but I think it will help you until he's ready for it." She touched the back of Ashley's hand. "We don't yet know how to safely remove the energy elemental from him. Nikola and Henry believe they've found a way to repel another. I'd like you to keep the teleporting to a minimum until we've been able to test their device better. I don't want you to suffer the same problem."

Ashley nodded. "I'll try to keep it down. It's- It gets itchy if I don't. I only really noticed it after you had me practice the other day in the courtyard."

Her mother sighed. "Your father had that problem too in the beginning. I don't want his problems to become yours as well." She smiled at her for a moment, then straightened and became more businesslike, but her eyes glittered with emotion; humor and a wistful sadness all at once. "Which is why we're flying to New York. So go pack. Be sure to include some nicer outfits. If those haven't been aired out from their time in storage, we'll just have to go shopping."

Ashley smiled and nodded. "We flying coach?" she asked.

Her mother's smile was almost a smirk. "This time, no. We're flying first class."



Sanctuary, New York

Henry lifted the last of the bags out of the taxi and set them on the sidewalk. He sniffed the air experimentally. Cars, people, the chilly smell of spring rains, the hard smells of unyielding concrete and steel; New York smelled busy. It wasn't bad or good, just different. It wasn't home. The smells of his pack were, even as much as Old City was.

Will hadn't been here before and was looking around with an air of bouncy, light-green optimism and curiosity. Kate was more wary and the cool deep-purple caution scent that surrounded her was mixed with the heady awake smell of the espresso she held. Magnus' scent was deep, wise, soothing. Until recently, New York's Head had been one of her biggest antagonists within the network. She smelled a bit of the purple waryness, though as she spoke with the girl with bright green hair, there was a shimmering Hope scent, like spring rain. The girl from New York smelled of woodlands and fresh-cut grass, with an underlying static-y nervousness. She looked and smelled like she might be a dryad. Ash's nervousness was shot through with electric orange. She'd crossed her arms and was leaning against the corner of the building, eyes darting around.

Henry stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned against the wall beside her. "Hey."

"Hey."

"You okay?"

She nodded slightly at the windows. Henry looked out of the corner of his eye and saw some faces watching their arrival.

"Yeah?"

She shrugged a shoulder.

"Come on, Ash. They asked us here."

"The director did."

"Yeah, and she's the one who booted out all of Wexford's guys and she's the one who's in charge." He nudged her shoulder. "Ash, you came back from the dead after two years. They're probably just curious. Even for our typical weirdness, that's not a common thing."

He smiled and nudged her again. "You're out of the house. You and Kate will get to train the new guys how to kick ass and get to run all over town. I'll be stuck with a bunch of script kiddies in a server-room, bored to tears as I install software upgrades." Ashley smiled a little. He grinned, feeling better that she felt better.

She let out a long breath and some of the tension eased out of her shoulders. "Want me to come bust you out?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "Only if you have the time, but yeah, I'd like to get out a bit. See the city. Hey, we could hit the Museum of Modern Art."

"You hate art museums," she reminded him.

"Yeah but you don't." He elbowed her again. "Bet Kate would be shocked to know her new teammate, the infamous Ashley Magnus, is also an art nerd."

Ashley rolled her eyes but she was still smiling. Henry decided it was a win. "Besides, I don't mind going when I'm with someone who can tell me what the heck I'm supposed to be looking at."

She snickered as she followed the rest of the group into the Sanctuary. Henry gallantly held the door open for her then fell into step beside her. He was blasted by a whole array of scents and sneezed.

"You okay?" she asked.

He nodded. "New York is weird. It kinda smells like home but not."

"Going to be a problem?" she asked, "the-" she gestured to her nose.

"I'm cool," he said. "Been learning how to deal. Mostly it's just a lot of enduring stuff and keeping spearmint gum on hand."

"Gum?"

Henry grinned. "All I can smell is the gum and it keeps me from having dog-breath," he said with a wink, earning another laugh.

"Would you two lovebirds care to join the rest of us?" Kate called back, more amused than annoyed. She was holding the security door open

Henry scowled but they both hurried forward. He cast a glance Ashley's way, but she'd become quiet again, the- well it wasn't worry. It was a fuzzier smell. Anxious? He wondered for half a second before he became aware of a large predator nearby. His focus immediately fixed on the huge being behind the squat desk.

Director Tiaa Bahur was a sphinx, an appointment which had made the non-humanoid beings in the network very happy. The previous Head of House, Terrence Wexford, had looked exotic, but he was a regular, run of the mill biped. While this made some things much easier for a head of house, the Abnormals who couldn't pass in "normal" society felt they weren't getting fair representation. To their credit, it was totally true.

Unlike sculptures or paintings, a real sphinx didn't look like a winged lion with a human head and breasts attached - not really. While she did have the latter, her face was far more feline. It was elongated, with wide-set leonine eyes. The bridge of her nose was broad, ending in something that wasn't quite lion and wasn't quite human. Her lip was "split" like a cat's and her high ears swiveled independently to face them.

She smelled of cinnamon, heat and sand and the old, wise oak smell that seemed to follow Magnus and Watson. She was also huge, easily out massing their entire group put together. His inner wolf was guarded and wary, though Henry knew the new Head of House was a rather pleasant person. Still, when the better part of a ton come at you with teeth bared, even if it was a smile of welcome, it was something that made one pause.

"Helen!" Bahur trotted over, non-retractable claws clicking lightly on the wood floor of the office.

"Tiaa," Doc greeted, letting out a small "oof" as the new Head of House hugged her, sitting on her haunches and wrapping massive paws around Magnus' shoulders.

"I am so very glad you were able to make time," Bahur said, releasing the Doc, who staggered half a step. "And you!" she practically scooped Ashley up. "Gods girl, am I happy to see you where you belong." She released Ashley in much the same way. Henry took a step out of range and the huge abnormal gave him a playful pout. Kate and Will exchanged a look and followed his example.

"You are?" Ashley asked.

"Of course," Bahur said. She lowered her voice, more serious. "What was done to you was awful." She set one paw on Ashley's shoulder. "I will not condemn someone for something they could not control." She sat back and her entire demeanor brightened. "Now, I'm afraid I have some rather green personnel in your field. I'd appreciate if you'd teach them the way of things." Her toothy grin was impressively sharp, but it wasn't malicious, filled instead with a feline puckishness.

Ashley nodded. "Sure. Oh. This is Kate." She hauled Kate forward a few steps for a proper introduction.

Henry grinned and stuffed his hands back into his pockets, amused as Kate and Will were both subjected to the enthusiastic greeting. Yeah, this would be a good trip. Introductions out of the way, the group moved toward the main lab.

"I have that laptop James requested," Bahur said. "My IT guy has assured me that the program James' people sent has been installed properly."

"Thank you Tiaa," Doc said. "I know we're all anxious to get started, and we will, but I do have a quick task for the two of you tomorrow morning," she said, looking at him and Ashley.



Castle's penthouse, New York

"Oh, Alexis dear," Martha said, waving her granddaughter over when she came down to breakfast. The computer had arrived that morning, delivered by a pretty blonde woman and classically techie man a few years older. The scruffy gentleman had given her a brief rundown on how to operate the system. The blonde had relayed it was important Alexis didn't know how she was really being tested. "Come have a look at this."

"Hey grams, what's up? Is that a new computer?"

"Yes I needed something a bit more modern for the school." She tapped a nail at the edge of the case. "I'm trying one of those online tests, you just to see how well the old noggin is doing."

"Aw grams," Alexis said, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. "Those things aren't really scientific."

"This one is!" Martha said. "This one is being developed by a colleague of your Uncle James'. See for yourself!" In a way, it was indeed the case. Helen had many areas of study and the towering intellect of James Watson was but one.

"Oh cool! How are you doing?"

"I'll have you know I'm fit as a fiddle, mentally speaking." She turned the laptop, clicking to restart the program. "Here why don't you give it a try."

"Oh, I dunno." Alexis said, eyeing the computer dubiously.

Martha knew she was rarely one to back down from a challenge. Alexis just needed a little push. "Come on, humor an old woman."

Alexis sighed dramatically and took a seat. She turned the computer her way and began to answer questions. Martha watched for a moment then, with a small smile, turned to do the dishes so she'd be around while Alexis tested. More importantly she'd be able to chase off anyone who'd interrupt her.

Dishes finished, Martha found a paper and began reading the day's news to keep herself occupied. Every so often she'd look up to check on Alexis. The girl appeared to be utterly focused on the test, which was good. It would give Helen and James a good preliminary view of her abilities. Martha wondered if Alexis would be as burdened as James was, of it this was merely a teenage phase.

Richard and Kate came home perhaps an hour later. "How was physical therapy?" she asked, rising to intercept them at the door.

"Tiring," Kate sighed. The detective had dark circles under her eyes and moved a bit stiffly, but her color was good.

"But she pulled through like a champ."

"Lovely, well how about you two settle on the couch and relax a bit. Oh perhaps you'd like a warm bath," she suggested to Kate. "And you probably need some quiet time to work on your latest novel," she patted Richard's hand.

They exchanged a look.

"Is something going on, Mother?" Richard asked.

Martha held up a forestalling hand. "Alexis is doing a quick test."

"At home?" he asked.

"On a Saturday?" Kate followed up.

"That's a bit much even for Alexis. Is she in trouble? Did she miss something in school?"

Martha checked to see that Alexis was still engrossed in the test then ushered them into the hall, closing the door behind her with a small click.

"Mother, what is going on?"

Martha put a hand on his arm, her touch light. It was an old grifter's trick she'd learned from James. "Richard I need you to trust me for the moment. It's best she not be interrupted."

"What exactly is she doing?" Kate asked, frowning in concern.

"She doesn't know, I told her it was an online quiz testing mental fitness. It's actually a test of how smart she is."

"Mother, we know she's smart." Richard made a small attempt to move but the light touch kept him in place for the moment.

"Richard, you and I both know she's becoming well beyond simply "smart". Even for her."

Kate shook her head a little. "And a test is going to help? Where'd you get it?"

"Two very good, very old, friends of mine. Dr. Helen Magnus and Richard's Uncle James. She's in very capable hands. They," she paused, "They deal with exceptional people on a regular basis, and I trust what they have to say on the matter."

Richard's expression split into a grin. "Uncle James? I haven't heard from him in a few months. How is he? I didn't know he was still doing research." He turned to Kate. "He's not really my Uncle, he's one of Mother's friends. He is the very essence of a proper English gentleman."

"I can't recall if you met our friend Dr. Helen Magnus, but she is very involved in this sort of research and she sent a computer preloaded with a special test for Alexis."

"Did you write him?" He turned back to Kate. "I keep bugging him to email me more often but he hates using it. He sends the most beautifully crafted letters. Not just the prose, but the art of his penmanship is amazing."

"I called."

"And he answered? Mother last I knew he was still sending telegrams."

"They still have those?" Kate asked, bemused.

"I know, right?"

"Richard. Kate." Once she had their attention she softened her voice. "Please, just don't bother Alexis until she's done. If we have some idea of how smart she truly is, we should be able to adjust her schooling accordingly." She touched Richard's shoulder. Her smile was small and, despite her intentions, a little sad. "I'm worried about her, and this is the best way I know how to help."

Richard studied her for a moment then nodded. "We'll be quiet as church mice." He took her hand and kissed the back of it gallantly.

Martha felt her heart lurch a little. The courtly gesture wasn't too far off what his father might have executed.

Alexis either hadn't heard or had been ignoring them as she completed her test. Kate and Richard cast looks in her direction, but they were true to their word, and found quiet things to occupy themselves with.

An hour later, Alexis pushed back from the counter with an accomplished sigh. "Done!"

"How did you score, dear?"

"Pretty well, I guess," she says pointing to the fat ninety-four percent on the page.

"That's excellent!" Martha enthused. She felt both happy also a little afraid. Towering intellects often found themselves...in towers. Alone. Isolated. She'd been told that the test would give them a ballpark figure. Anything above an eighty percent was exceptional and Alexis should come in to the New York office.

"Yeah, you know it was kinda strange?"

"What was strange sweetie?" Richard asked. "Woah. That's a big number." He grinned at her proud, and totally ignorant of what it truly meant.

"It's not perfect," Alexis said, shrugging a shoulder. "But at the end it was almost like I was talking with someone for some of those questions. Their AI is really, really good!"

"Isn't it amazing what they can do with technology these days," Martha said, closing the computer.

"I know. One day you're pulling high numbers on online intelligence quizzes and the next," Richard trailed off.

"Skynet." Alexis and Kate said at the same moment. They looked at one another and smiled tentatively.

Richard sighed in a moment of reflective contentment. "On that note, how about Terminator?"

Alexis smiled and hopped off her seat, headed for the cupboard."I'll make popcorn, Dad. Kate ,do you like butter?"

Kate got up to help. "Thank you, no."

"I'll be down in a moment," Martha said, waving them off to the couch. "Feel free to start without me." She swept up the stairs, computer in hand.

Upstairs, she stowed the laptop then unlocked her phone. She called the number given to her by the blonde woman. It rang a few times before someone answered.

"Magnus."

That was a voice Martha hadn't heard in a very long time. It took her a moment to collect herself and respond. "Helen?"

"Martha!"

"I didn't expect to get you directly. How are you?"

"Doing well! I was taking care of some business on the east coast when James contacted me. He tells me your granddaughter has been showing some signs of ability? Did she take the test yet? I asked Ashley and Henry to drop off the computer this morning."

"That was Ashley? Oh good heavens! She's grown to be a lovely woman, Helen. You must be so proud."

"More than you know."

"James told me she'd been found. I was so happy to hear it."

"I- Martha I hope you never have to experience something like that." She was quiet for a moment before speaking up again in a more business-like tone. "So, to the matter of your granddaughter."

"Alexis finished the test just a little bit ago."

Martha could hear the tapping of computer keys. "Ah, Declan's just emailed me the preliminary report. Oh my. That is exceptional."

"I know," Martha sighed, sitting on her bed.

"Is she well? What's the matter?"

Martha winced in the empty room. "I worry she'll have some of the same troubles James often had with us mere mortals."

"Martha-"

"No, Helen, you know he does. I know you love him too, but you cannot deny that sometimes he tends to forget and can get so impatient."

There was a sigh on the line. "True enough. Given what you've described and how far she's come in just a few months, I think it would be wise to do more thorough testing."

"You're in town? Is there any chance you could conduct whatever it is you might need to conduct? Helen, I would feel so much better if it were done with someone I trusted. Everything you do is going to be shock enough to my family." That was partially her fault. Mostly her fault.

"Of course. It will be okay Martha. It may seem difficult now, but it will be okay."

"I want to believe it but I know how difficult it will be. Still," Martha sighed, "Alexis is a good girl. And a smart one and very level headed. Richard and I will be there for her."

"Hold on one moment," Helen said. Martha heard a muffled discussion then Helen returned. "Martha?"

"Still here."

"James is on his way to New York! He's making arrangements now."

"Oh," she said, swallowing. "is- is it that serious?"

"He'd like to help me conduct further tests in person," Helen said, "nothing to be alarmed over. In fact, he was on the other end of Alexis' test part of the time."

Martha smiled a little. She'd wondered after Alexis' comment. "I hate to impose on you, but it is Alexis."

"I understand, Martha. Believe me I do. I have just been informed that James should be in late tonight. If you could come by the day after tomorrow? Give us a day to collaborate?"

"I imagine that would be fine." Martha let out a long breath. "The one part I don't relish is what Richard may think when he learns the truth."

"I've had some recent experience with that. It's not easy, but the truth is the best."

"Oh?" Martha shook her head. "You know what? It's none of my business."

"You may as well know. Everyone else does at this point. It was in regards to Ashley's father. I'd believed him dead and when evidence was presented to the contrary, I didn't tell her the truth." There was a poignant silence on the line for a moment. "She was very cross with me. It strained our relationship and then she was gone."

Martha closed her eyes, remembering the look on Kate Beckett's face as she fell, the spreading crimson darkening her uniform, and her son going down with her, right in the line of fire. "Thank you Helen. May we both come out of this into happier days."

"Indeed. I look forward to see you again."

"And you," she said.

The call ended and Martha paced to her window. She hadn't seen James in person in years. Funny how a person could both dread and anticipate something.


The lighting was low this late at night. After a Terminator marathon, Alexis had crawled off to bed. Martha had gone up soon after. She'd looked very tired to Kate. Castle had pulled her aside after the dishes were done. His desk had been set to one side when he'd converted his office into a bedroom so she wouldn't have to climb the stairs.

"Here," Castle said, drawing out a box from a drawer. He pulled out a stack of letters, smiling fondly as he set them before her. "Look at this penmanship," he enthused, opening one of the letters on top with reverent hands, folding it before her on the desk. He had that little boyish smile, the one that seemed to say "I'm sharing a secret with you."

Kate arched an eyebrow as she studied the writing, holding the page carefully. It was elegant, timeless. He hadn't written with a ball-point pen, the letters were too shapely to have been done with anything other than an old style ink pen. "Wow."

Kate wasn't an expert in calligraphy, but she thought she might be an expert in Richard Castle. For all he wrote pulp fiction, he loved the art of writing. It had been another reason she'd not dismissed him immediately when he'd first entered the Twelfth. Kate respected those who respected and dedicated themselves to their chosen fields. She handed the page back to him, careful with the treasured item.

"Uncle James hates email. I keep telling him he could get properly scripted fonts but he just won't do it." He wasn't truly annoyed, Kate could tell.

"He lives in London?" she asked, noting the postmarks on the letters.

Richard nodded, putting one letter away and pulling another out to read over briefly. "Mother did six months of shows in London. Classic Shakespeare."

"Of course,"

He smiled at her. "Uncle James loved her Viola. They kept in touch after she moved back to New York. He's a researcher and they have a lab in New York. They were setting it up, or refurbishing it or something. He lived here for a year then moved back." He studied the letter again, reading it over once more with a fond smile.

"Romantic?"

"I'm honestly not sure. There are times when he pings certain radars and then other times," he shrugged. "I met him when I was four. He stayed with us for a month when I was five," he trailed off smiling as he read the letters. He tucked the one he held lovingly back into its envelope then picked up the next. "Mother and I invited him to both of my weddings."

"As her plus one?"

"The first time yes," Castle nodded. "Mother says he's also sent Alexis some college money. Uncle James is very big on higher education. Mother has handled it all, says it's a surprise when she graduates. He did the same thing for me. Oh, here! I wanted to show you this too." He got excited, eyes lighting up as he pulled out a plush box from another drawer. Inside was an engraved pen and ink set in sterling silver. It looked antique. "When I graduated from university he sent this. Told me to write often. I autographed and numbered the first fifty copies of every Derek Storm novel with this."

"And Nikki Heat?" she guessed. The copies the folks at the Twelfth had received were elegantly inscribed. Her copy was 4/50, the earlier numbers going to a charity auction, Alexis and Martha.

Richard smiled and nodded, "And Nikki Heat."

Kate's eyes found his. She reached over, curling her fingers around his hand. "Can't wait to meet him."


As it turned out, meeting Castle's Uncle James would be something that would happen sooner than she'd expected, thanks to Martha. There was a little bit of arguing and Kate and her dad beat a hasty retreat, leaving the family to deal with their disagreement. Lunch out with her father was pleasant. Then he dropped her off with Lanie for what the M.E. described as some much needed pampering. She had dinner with the guys and was brought up to speed on their cases, despite Lanie's stern admonishment that she do no such thing.

When she returned, things had settled down in the house. Alexis had finally agreed to go in and meet these specialists her grandmother knew. While Martha, Richard and Alexis made plans over the phone, Kate made herself quietly invisible. Ryan and Esposito had been able to give her enough details of the strange case they were working, she felt she could make some headway. It shared some similarity with the young couple who'd been found eviscerated in their apartment, and with some older cold cases.

While she didn't have access to any of her usual, official, fonts of information - and there was another indication that Castle was rubbing off on her - she did have the Internet.

Kate settled back in Castle's lazyboy and looked at the data. What connected these murders together? What was the pattern? The two young men had been students, but none of their finances tied in to anyone else. The couples had no social points of contact either since they'd been so different. She'd tracked down ownership of the buildings next. While the jogging couple had owned several properties, none of the murders had occurred in those buildings. Kate felt confident she could rule out a hate crime; while one couple in the cold case had been interracial, and the men had been gay, everyone else had been typical straight white middle-to-upper-middle class. Castle could have called the outliers red herrings, something to set a cop like her onto the wrong path. While this wasn't a novel, it wasn't necessarily an incorrect line of thought. If the people weren't connected, perhaps the hunting grounds were.

The sites of the murders were spread all over. One close to LaGuardia, a few of the older ones in Hoboken, one one the Lower East Side, another near the Holland tunnel, and one in the Upper West Side. What connected these places together? They were varied in socio-economic status and population. They weren't especially close together and her attempts to draw patterns using google maps had resulted in nothing more than misshapen spiderwebs and awkward blobs.

She rubbed at her temples and sighed. It was late and she'd been at this for hours. Kate didn't know which ached worse, that spot between her shoulder blades, or around her scar. She sighed, shut the computer down and set it aside. Time to move.

Very carefully she put the recliner back into a sitting position, then took a few minutes to carefully get out of the plush chair. While it was the most comfy place to sit, it was hell to get out of. Gingerly she got to the edge of her seat.

"Kate?"

"Hey Alexis," she smiled, a bit tightly due to the constant ache in her chest. "I thought you'd gone to bed?"

"Couldn't sleep," she said. "Need a hand?" she asked, coming over to offer.

"I got it," Kate said, gingerly getting to her feet. She let out a huff of air. Not too bad. "So," she said as she walked a bit stiffly over to the kitchen. "You doing okay? Martha convince you to go see the specialists?" She walked over to her dresser and picked up her comb, intending on brushing out her hair before bed.

"Yeah," Alexis said, drifting behind her. "It's- weird."

Kate winced as she lifted the hairbrush. She waited for the pain to abate before trying again. "Did speaking with them over the phone help?"

"A little. Are you okay?"

"Fine," she said, attempting to lift the brush again and letting her hands fall down. She'd get it next time. "This has been an education in gross anatomy. lifting my arms still hurts a bit."

"Would you like me to help?" Alexis asked.

Kate let her arms fall after a third try. This and washing her hair hurt like hell. Alexis hadn't been cold to her, but she'd been guarded. Maybe it was because of the shooting or because of the personal issues she was dealing with, Kate didn't know. She smiled and offered the brush handle first, because she did know an olive branch when she saw one.

"You're a lifesaver."

Alexis smile and nodded at a chair. "Grab a seat."

Kate settled in with some care and leaned back. Alexis was gentle with the brush, working out the knots the wind had blown in her hair while she'd been out that day.

"Sorry I've invaded your life like this," Kate said at length.

"Like I said, if you weren't here, Dad would be at your place all the time. So. What are your intentions for my father."

Kate winced a the businesslike tone. "I don't want him to get hurt," Kate told her seriously. "The- The funeral was too close for comfort."

Alexis snorted. Kate had to concede the unspoken point.

"My new boss might not even let him out in the field with us anymore."

"And aside from work?"

"Would you be okay if we saw one another socially?"

Alexis paused briefly in her brushing, then asked, "What would you do it I said I wasn't okay with that?"

"Then I'd step back and let your father and you discuss it. Whatever was decided, that's it. I'm not going to come between you. I'd rather the two of you were okay with one another even if it means your father and I remain just friends." She'd done a lot of thinking while she'd been in the hospital.

Alexis was silent as she continued to brush Kate's hair. When she was done she pulled up a chair beside Kate's and sat down. She wore a thoughtful frown.

"I'm going to college soon. Well, I was."

"It sounds like school isn't a problem," Kate reminded her. "I doubt anyone is going to tell you that you can't go." If anything they'd want her more than ever. There was something else here. Kate reached over and touched her shoulder. "Hey," she offered.

"What- What if they find something. What if I'm...sick."

Kate thought about that for a moment. It was a possibility she'd not considered before. "Well, she said, drawing the word out. "It's better to know earlier if it is something like that. In which case I'm very glad you're going to speak with these people your grandmother knows. You mean the world to your family," she said, squeezing her shoulder. "If you're sick, they'll take care of you and find a way to fix it. But between you and me, it doesn't sound like that."

"Why else would Grams be freaking out like she has? She called in Uncle James. He's not exactly a normal doctor."

Kate hadn't considered that. "Did it sound like they thought you were sick?"

"I- I don't know. They seem to have some idea about what's going on, but they just kept saying things like "we'll have to test to see the extent of your condition," and "We have the very best facilities for dealing with what you may need," and stuff like that."

Well, that did sound ominous. "So, what kind of doctor is your Uncle anyway?"

"I- He runs a research facility." Alexis frowned. "I've never thought about it before, but he's never said specifically. If he's familiar with whatever is going on with me...then I don't know. Maybe it's a think tank?"

"Well maybe it's researching exceptionally gifted people. In which case it doesn't sound so much like you have some kind of tumor making you super-smart."

"And irritable," Alexis groused. "That's the most annoying part. I always feel so bad when I lose my temper. That's not me, Kate."

Kate reached over and rubbed her back. It hurt to reach, but Alexis needed an outside opinion. Beyond Kate's nebulous status with her father, Alexis was a good kid and if she needed a friend, Kate wasn't going to leave her in the cold.

"I know," she said. "Maybe they'll know a way to help with that."

Alexis nodded. "It's- Can I say something kinda weird? Maybe silly?" She looked over at Kate, eyes a little bit watery.

Kate nodded. "Yeah."

Alexis' cheeks heated a little and she scooter her chair closer and dropped her voice to an almost whisper. "So, when I was in fifth grade they did the whole sex-ed class talk, thing. Gram had already pulled me aside and explained the biology. I'd already looked it up because I'd heard Dad and her talking about it and I was curious. But they kept talking about these raging hormones, and strange feelings and sensations. And the books and the class and grams and even dad once he got around to it, they kept talking about it. I never noticed it." She shrugged her shoulders. "I mean I noticed some of my classmates do stupider than normal things, but it never happened to me. The whole feeling like your body doesn't belong video they made us see? Never noticed. Like one day we were supposed to wake up different." She frowned, staring out the window as she thought. "This kinda feels like that was supposed to. I don't feel like me."

Kate found her hand and squeezed it. Alexis squeezed back and leaned in against her shoulder.

"I don't like it Kate. What if they can't fix it?"

"Hey, you're still you. Things- Things change. Life happens. But you're still you and your family is still going to love you no matter what."

"It's stupid-"

"No. Not stupid." She leaned her head on Alexis'. "Can I tell you something silly?"

"Sure."

"Sometimes I feel the same way."

"Really?"

"My body doesn't work the way it used to. I can't even brush my hair or get out of a chair without something hurting. The meds upset my stomach and taking the stairs leaves me winded. And-" she took in a breath and let it out. "There's a scar. It's...Big and ugly and it still makes me do a double take because it wasn't there before. I don't feel much like me right now either."

Alexis squeezed her hand and they sat in silence for a bit.

"Kate?"

"Hmm?"

"Would you come with us tomorrow? I think I need friend there. Someone not family who still cares. I mean-"

"I'll come," Kate assured her. Adding in a lighter tone she said, "and if you need me to rein in your dad or grandmother, just let me know. I'll try my best."

"Thanks Kate."



Sanctuary, New York

The towncar was a nice convenience, Richard thought as they drove toward the offices mother's friend Dr. Helen Magnus operated. It was a well maintained older style car, with the flip down seats that faced the bench seating and plenty of leg room. Magnus...He couldn't recall having met her, though the name rang a bell. She was a friend and coworker of Uncle James'. Mother trusted her.

Richard couldn't help but feel a little anxious, however. Alexis was his daughter after all. It had been becoming more obvious that what was happening to Alexis was more than the usual growing up. Kate's hand tightened around his minutely. He smiled and squeezed back. He'd been glad Alexis had asked her to come with them. He'd thought perhaps his mother was blowing everything out of proportion; mother tended to do that sometimes. It was good to know someone else was looking out for Alexis.

Director Bahur, who evidently ran this facility, had sounded like a pleasant woman on the phone when he'd spoken with her. Alexis' short conversation seemed to have put her more at ease. She'd tried to hide it. The fact that Alexis recognized something was going on had been what ultimately decided things for Richard. The cushy transportation had won Bahur some brownie points, though he wondered what the hell kind of operation had the cash for a classic limousine. His mother shifted for what seemed like the thousandth time.

"Mother?"

She examined her hands then looked at him. "Do you remember when James stayed with us?"

Richard nodded. "Of course." He smiled. "We had some great times."

"Do you remember the special zoo trip?"

"The one with the fantasy animals." He smiled, the memories coming back. He squeezed Kate's hand. "They had this amazing fake gryphon. You could have sworn it was real. I'm pretty sure PETA would have had the problem with the unicorn they had, too. But man, when I was a kid? That was the best trip ever."

"Was it shut down?" Alexis asked.

"It had to have been," he said. "I wanted to take you but I couldn't find it." He shrugged. "I figured twenty odd years later it just didn't exist."

"It does, and that wasn't a fake gryphon." Martha broke in.

Richard looked over at her, sure she was joking. She returned his gaze, hands folded neatly in her lap, though her knuckles were a bit white.

"Was it some sort of surgically altered lion or something?" Alexis asked.

Martha took Alexis' hand in both of her own. "No. I am saying that what your father saw, was a very real, very alive gryphon. You also saw a unicorn and bigfoot that day. He made you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

Richard chuckled. "I'd forgotten about bigfoot, but mother, that was just some sort of carnival trick."

"Richard, James lives in a very different world than the rest of us do." She made a displeased sound. "I should have prepared you better for this."

"Mother?"

"Just," she held up her hands, "Everyone, please try to keep an open mind."

"You're asking me to keep an open mind?" Richard asked, putting a hand to his chest. "Mother, you remember who you're speaking with."

"I think she's talking about Kate and me, Dad."

"Well, it is true that Kate is the Scully to my Mulder." He winced away from Kate's playful prodding.

"What I'm saying is that reality is far more complex than you might have thought it was."

Richard studied her face. She was a gifted actress, but this was real. She was utterly and completely serious.

"You're not joking," Kate mused, a hint of wonderment in her voice. Perhaps some curiosity as well. That was why he loved her. So many hidden layers to discover, so much more than what was immediately evident on the surface.

The car pulled off the main road and under an archway. The gaps between the buildings had been filled in, creating a continuous facility that wound around a central courtyard in a combination of the classic brick and the more modern steel beams and glass. The car pulled up in front of what was clearly a formal entrance.

They exited the car and entered the building. A young woman with a smart business casual top and brilliant green hair was seated at a terminal. She looked up and smiled as they entered. After quickly speaking into the phone she stood.

"Welcome to the Sanctuary. My name is Amanda. If you'll follow me please?" She had a pleasing, purring contralto. She looked over her shoulder. "Penny, watch the desk?"

A teen with casual clothes, dusky skin, and bright yellow contacts had entered from the door to the left. The girl shrugged and plopped down into the chair, propping her feet on the desk and pulling out her iPad. Amanda rolled her eyes and led them through the opposite door, swiping a card through a security lock.

The atrium they entered was surprisingly light and airy. The space had been built between three of the original older buildings and intricate ironwork decorated the switchback staircases that ran along the edges of the space. The skylight was supported by exposed steel beams that added to the airy quality. As Richard studied the architecture, he realized that the skylight actually was higher than the roof of the building which made up the back wall of the roughly rectangular area. A water feature surrounded by well tended plants rested at in the center of the space. There were trees on some of the upper levels of the stairs and some kind of garden was on top of the back-wall building. Something small and winged flitted through the air high above.

"Oh this is cool," Richard commented. "Kinda reminds me of the Bradbury building in LA," he whispered.

"This way please," Amanda said, gesturing for the group to follow her. She took the right hand staircase and led them down a walkway that overlooked a long, enclosed green space. She stopped, knocked then opened a double set of doors. "Dr. Watson?"

Richard smiled as he recognized the man standing at the balcony. "Uncle James!" he called.

James turned, smiling. It was...wow he didn't look a day older. He moved a little stiffly, but it was still the same James Watson. "Richard," he greeted warmly, before his eyes found Alexis and his mother. "Alexis. Martha."

"Oh," His mother exhaled and hurried across the room, heels clicking on the hardwood. She enfolded James into a hug. "James."

"I've missed you as well," he said, humor in his tone. "You should come visit more often."

"You have no idea what a relief it is to see you," she said.

James smiled and gallantly tucked his mother's arm into his and walked forward to shake hands and give Alexis a quick hug and a kiss. There was an odd whirring sound as he moved. He shook Richard's hand and he noticed the hard press of metal and the unusual cage of wire and metal bands over his fingers. He really hadn't changed much, physically though. Perhaps he was a bit thinner.

"It's good to see you, Richard. I rather enjoyed your latest work. That final twist was inspired."

He couldn't help but beam at the praise. Uncle James had always been encouraging of his writing. "James I'd like for you to meet my muse and very good friend, Detective Kate Beckett."

"Enchanté," he said, taking Kate's hand and kissing her knuckles. "You know I used to do quite a bit of detective work in my day." He tucked Kate's arm into his and drew her along as he continued to walk, collecting Alexis as well with a small but elegant gesture. Amanda followed after.

"Really?"

"Yes with Scotland Yard, though we did things rather differently in those days."

Richard watched him go and sighed. "Same old Uncle James. We're here thirty seconds and he's surrounded by beautiful women." He laughed and followed after, heading for the end of the walkway. Frosted glass windows and another set of double doors divided the space from the rest of the area.

"Helen was already in town when you called," James was explaining when Richard caught up. "But I was able to come immediately. I've been considering retirement you know, and it was a good opportunity for me to let Declan run things for awhile."

"Oh darling, I've tried it several times," his mother said, waving the thought aside. "But I always come back." She patted his hand. "People like us can try but we're never truly happy unless we're doing. We're do-ers."

James' laugh was as rich as he remembered, but there was a stiffness to his gait, and a thin-ness to his body that was new. Richard wasn't sure how old Uncle James was, but he was likely older than his mother.

"Well, retirement isn't something I've tried before. I've heard it can be quite fun and it would allow me the freedom to catch up with friends, see the world a bit."

"Uncle James?" Alexis asked, "what happened to your hands?"

"Age," he leaned over and kissed her head.

"But this isn't just on a glove. This is connected to your arm," she said, hand hovering over his thin fingers. "There's a super-structure on your arm as well."

James sighed and Mother gave him a look. "I warned you. Very little escapes her these days."

James nodded and dropped her mother's arm, drawing Alexis forward a few steps. "Your mind has been racing, at times it seems as if the world has become slow. You've felt your friends and even many of the adults around you can't quite keep up. Solutions to problems come to you nearly instantly, you hardly need to think in some cases. Studies which had once given you trouble have begun to come with ease, studies you understood well before are now laughable and school has become excessively tedious. It's terrifying and thrilling to see the mechanics of the world laid bare, just there at your fingertips. You have thoughts and ideas, sometimes so many it's hard to hold onto any one of them."

Alexis hung on his every word, drinking them in, eyes shining with...hope. Richard felt ill, he'd not realized how anxious his daughter had been. He'd realized she'd been...changing, but he'd not understood what she was going through. Which begged the question, how did Uncle James?

"Yes." Alexis closed her eyes and a look of utter relief came over her. "What's going on? I've looked at journals, and I've been to the library and nothing about this makes sense. People just don't become..."

"Super-intelligent?"

"Yes. People don't do that overnight."

"Actually, " James said, "that's not entirely correct. I did."

"How?"

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio," James quoted with a small smile. "My life's work has been the study of what we call Abnormals. Creatures that bend or entirely defy the rules most other living things seem to follow. They are the offshoots, the throwbacks, the evolutions, the history, and the future of our world." He pulled open the double doors revealing a well appointed office with a small sitting area. On the rug was a large dusky creature.

Richard froze in his tracks as the gryphon lifted its head. It was greying around its beak and its feathers had dulled to a somewhat dusty bronze with age. When it stretched and yawned, wings ruffling, it was slow. It got to its feet and made its way over on creaking limbs. It made an inquisitive "churring" sound at James and butted it's shoulder against him like a giant cat before sniffing curiously at Alexis.

"That's-" Richard gaped. "Is that?"

"I believe you've met Isaac before, Richard. Many years ago."

Isaac made his way over to Richard, sniffed, then bumped into his leg, looking piteously up at him like any number of dogs he'd met over the years. Richard reached down and scratched behind the ear tufts.

"I remember him being a lot bigger."

James chuckled. "You were much smaller then."

The gryphon's feather's fluffed and he continued to make a happy purring sound. Kate tentatively reached out and touched the beast with one finger, as if to see if it was real or not. Isaac turned so he could butt his head against her hands, clearly begging to be petted.

"As I said," James continued, "We run a rather special facility for interesting and unusual creatures." He opened the curtains at the rear of the office, revealing a space like - and unlike - anything Richard had ever seen.

There was a very large open area and along each wall were what looked like glassed-in animal enclosures like one would see in a zoo. There were two floors of these such spaces, and here, the roof's skylight was much smaller than in the grand areas they'd walked through. A few people stood on the main floor, consulting with large monitors on arms that hung from the ceiling. A very large creature sat beside the group of people and it took his brain a moment to understand what it was seeing. Richard blinked, not quite believing even though there was an elderly gryphon at his fingers.

"Open minds," his mother reminded them gently. "Open minds."

On the floor, the woman in the dark business suit and dark hair turned and lifted a hand toward James. She spoke to the people around her then turned for the stairs. The creature rose to its feet, all four of them, and launched into the air on huge wings. He found his jaw dropping as the creature flew up and landed on the balcony. Suddenly the need for so many huge doors was rather terrifyingly apparent.

The creature folded her massive sandy and black marked wings against the lion-like body. It was sleek and powerful, with short velvety fur the color of wet sand. The head sat on a long neck and resembled something between a lion and a woman, with a high cranium and a slightly elongated face. Her eyes were slitted like a cats and the teeth he saw when she smiled, were very pointed and very sharp. She had a mane of hair which was dreaded and pulled into some semblance of order by an ornately woven cord with little bells on the dangling ends. She also wore a smart-looking business jacket which covered a rather impressive bosom. A blue-tooth phone headset rested in one leonine ear.

"You're a sphinx," Richard blurted.

The sphinx gave him a look of mock surprise. "I am! Good god when did that happen? James! Did you know I'm a sphinx?" She turned and looked at the woman ascending the staircase. "Helen! You didn't mention I was a sphinx!" Her voice was a deep contralto and she had an accent he couldn't place. It took him a moment to tune out his hind brain's insistence that he turn and flee from the very large predator, and realize she was teasing him.

"Don't give the boy a hard time, Tiaa. He will have enough to work through."

The sphinx sighed theatrically. "Oh very well, since you asked so nicely." She focused her amber eyes on Alexis. "You must be Alexis. We spoke on the phone. I'm Director Bahur. Welcome to the Sanctuary."


"Helen."

"Martha, it's good to see you again."

Dr. Magnus had to be closer to Kate's age than Martha's, but the way Martha had spoken about her, she'd expected someone older. Actually, Uncle James seemed to be closer to her age than Martha's, and he had to be Martha's age or close to it.

"Why, you haven't changed a bit."

Kate watched as Martha embraced Dr. Magnus. She stepped closer to Castle, and eyed the huge creature and the office and the...whatever it was.

"What's going on?" she asked in a whisper. There were monsters out of fairy tails in her city and Martha Rodgers seemed to be on speaking terms with them. The gryphon had decided he'd had enough of the attention and had found a warm sunbeam to fall asleep in.

"I have no idea," Castle said. Kate looked up and sure enough, the little boy grin was growing on his face. He grabbed her hand. "I have no idea but I cannot wait to find out." He looked at her with a suddenly mock-serious expression. "Urban fantasy is so in right now."

Kate couldn't help the tiny smile. It helped lessen the tension, ground her.

"Shall we take some seats? This part of the tour always takes some explanation," the creature, the director, spoke up. She stepped lightly past them into the room. It was more than a little disturbing to see something so huge move so easily. "Amanda? Would you please bring up some coffee? Oh and tea for the Brits."

"Right away, Ma'am. Ms. Castle, would you like coffee or something else?"

Alexis blinked at her and Kate totally understood. "Coffee's fine."

Amanda smiled and left to do her Boss' bidding. Kate watched after her and wondered for the first time if her amazing dye job wasn't any such thing.

"Kate, Richard, Alexis, this is my friend Dr. Helen Magnus," Martha introduced. "She founded the Sanctuary Network."

"Welcome," Dr. Magnus said, shaking hands with Castle. She had some kind of accent.

"Network?" he asked, intrigued. He leaned forward slightly, full attention focused on Dr. Magnus.

"There are more of these places?" Kate followed up, trying to hold down the alarm. How could she miss something like this? How could everyone miss something like this?

"Yes. We're a global network. We're something like a halfway house and a nature preserve to put it in the simplest of terms." British. The same odd offshoot as Dr. Watson, Kate decided.
There was a global network of places where fairy tales could live; she wasn't sure she liked that.

"Indeed, it gives people like me the opportunity to work for a living rather than eating lost tourists in the Sahara," the sphinx spoke up. She'd sat beside James and curled her tail around her feet. If one ignored the fact that she had a rather human-looking chest (and how bizarre was that?), from the neck down she looked almost like a house cat.

"Tiaa," Watson rumbled, disapproval evident. Magnus closed her eyes and sighed. Kate knew that sort of long suffering expression; she wore it frequently when Castle was being Castle.

The director heaved a sigh. "I'm joking of course," she said seriously. She then ducked her head and told Alexis in a stage whisper. "Besides I wouldn't eat tourists. It would destroy my diet."

Alexis giggled. Watson cleared his throat. The sphinx snorted and nudged him with a massive paw.

"Oh lighten up, Jimmy. You knew what you were getting into when you elected me Head of House." She gave them a smug smile and Kate had the distinct impression that she was showing off. If mythical creatures could be as impish as Castle, this was going to be interesting.

Watson let out a long suffering sigh. "I suppose if the Templars didn't change you, we haven't a prayer."

Bahur grinned. "You see? There's the famous Watson super-intellect."

"Shall we be seated? I believe Detective Beckett looks rather ill at ease," Dr. Magnus spoke up. Kate found herself blushing. She'd hoped she'd been hiding it better.

She followed as Castle led her over to a circle of chairs and couches. The director stretched out on a padded rug at one end, and the humans all took seats. Alexis ended up between Castle and Kate. Magnus, Watson and Martha sat on the opposite couch.

"I want to know everything," Castle said before anyone else could speak up. "Starting with how did you get here?" He turned and looked at the director.

She grinned, eyes glittering like a kid given a new toy to play with. "Well, when a mommy sphinx and a daddy sphinx love one-"

"Tiaa," Watson chastised, eyes rolling.

"Oh, I was handed that one. Victorian kill joy." She snorted in Watson's direction.

Magnus and Watson both gave her even looks and she shrugged.

"Well it's a very, very, very, very, long story best told over several drinks, which you'd buy, but the short answer is that after that rather surly little French Emperor stomped all over my homeland, my people started debating sending emissaries to the humans again. We'd finally reached a decision and I was one of the ones sent to make contact when Europe exploded into war. Again. I ended up meeting Helen and James. Oh that would have been what, nineteen fourteen by the common reckoning?"

"About then, yes," Helen agreed.

"October I believe," James added.

"And they haven't been able to get rid of me since," she concluded with a smile gesturing with a forepaw. "Fantastic sense of humor and all,"

"That was World War One," Alexis spoke up, coming to the date a bit faster than Kate could. "That was ninety seven years ago."

Unspoken was that neither Dr. Magnus nor Dr. Watson looked like they could be over a hundred years old.

"How-" Alexis broke off.

Martha looked like she was going to speak up, but Dr. Watson, covered her hand with his. "Let her work it out," he suggested gently. Martha looked unhappy but didn't say anything. Work what out? Kate watched Alexis.

She frowned a bit then her face went slack in shock. Finally she rose and held out a hand. Dr. Watson let her examine it and unbutton the sleeve of his shirt. There were tubes and metal encasing his arm. Maybe even going into the skin.

She studied it for a moment then looked up at Watson. "I want to know everything," she said, echoing her father.

Dr. Watson broke into a grin. "In due time."

"Care to share with the rest of the class?" Castle asked.

"They were there," Alexis said, rising to her feet. She began to pace. "This is a place filled with creatures from mythology and fantasy. A Sanctuary for them. There is probably a scientific basis for most of the old stories and they reason they're not around anymore is because they're either in places like these, or they're dead. There is a gryphon snoozing on a dog-bed in the corner. Director Bahur is a sphinx. Uncle James is a super genius. The suit, it's keeping you alive?"

Watson nodded, gravely.

"So he devised a way to keep himself alive which is how he was able to meet a sphinx in nineteen fourteen and also be here today. It also means that if Dr. Magnus is here she's either a time travelling abnormal, has found an alternate way to become immortal or," she paused, "or maybe that's what you can do that's special? And-" She broke off, eyes wide, jaw dropped.

"How do you figure that, kiddo?" Castle asked.

"Dad. It's obvious. Look around," she said, a faint smile on her face. If we're in the office of a living breathing sphinx, I'm pretty sure we can be having tea with an immortal."

"It's a bit more complicated in the details," Dr. Magnus spoke up, "but you're essentially correct."

It did make sense, a strange sort of convoluted sense; the same kind of sense Castle's wilder ideas made when he was really on a roll.

"Who are you people?" Kate asked. "What are you?"

"Detective Beckett," Alexis interjected. "Kate. It's okay. It's a little weird but I think it's okay."

"Open minds," Martha said. She laughed a little, ruefully. "It's a lot to take in, even now. Believe me I know what you're thinking. How can these things exist and the public not know? How can it be right there in front of us in so many cities and we're completely unaware. How can a person live for so long and see so much, and not have aged a day." Her smile was very sad. "In know because I asked all those questions myself, well, more years ago than I'd care to count."

The coffee and tea arrived, adding a bizarre sort of normalcy to the affair. Kate watched, fascinated as the director's bowl-sized mug was placed on a table. The huge handle was shaped to allow her rather dexterous paws to lift the mug.

"I attended Oxford, as I told you before, Richard. However I wasn't entirely truthful about the year." Watson had gone to a cabinet and retrieved some brandy as coffee was passed around. He poured the liquid into a glass as he spoke. "Helen and I attended Oxford in the Eighteen-eighties. Unwilling, well, unable, to conform to what society expected of her, she audited classes. One of the first women to do so. By eighteen eighty six, we were part of a research and study group." Watson explained with a fond look in Magnus' direction. For her part, Magnus' lips turned up in a small, wry smile.

"Eighteen eighty six," Kate repeated. She swallowed as Watson, Magnus and Martha all nodded.

"We called ourselves The Five, and we thought we were rather clever. We were pushing the boundaries of science, drunk on our own successes. Each new discovery only drove us to find more, to sweep aside that next curtain of ignorance and shine the light of knowledge. We weren't doing it for ourselves, but for humanity as a whole. Or so we told ourselves." His laugh was a little sad. He sipped at the brandy.

"My father," Magnus said, taking up the narration, "Was already involved in the study of abnormals. As we learned more, he allowed us greater access to his work. Part of that was telling me of the existence of a very rare sample in his possession."

"You've heard of Vampires?" James asked, gesturing with his glass, "Well, they existed. Not quite as the stories make them out to be, but for a long time their race dominated huge parts of the world. Their servants finally rose up and overthrew them, the church worked diligently to eradicate them and by the time we attended Oxford they'd been extinct for quiet some time."

"Vampires," Kate asked, dubious. "Vampires."

"They didn't sparkle," Bahur added with a derisive snort. "Bunch of egotistical, blood-thirsty maniacs. And I mean the blood-thirsty part in a very literal way," she added conversationally. "I was a cub when the last were put down. They didn't go quietly. My father lost both wings and half his tail." Her own great wings shifted in agitation.

"Their blood had rather extraordinary properties," Magnus said, before anyone else could comment. "I devised an experiment wherein a portion of this source blood was made into a serum." She shook her head. "We thought we were doing great works of Science. We were invincible, so we made a pact and we each took the serum."

"As you've correctly surmised, Helen became immortal. Her fiancée and my good friend John Druitt gained the ability of teleportation. Our friend Nigel Griffin's skin became photo-reactive. It allowed him to bend light around himself almost perfectly. Though he didn't know it at the time, Nikola Tesla had some vampire in his family tree. Those latent abilities were awoken in him."

"Nikola Tesla?" Castle asked, "The Nikola Tesla?"

Magnus made a small sound of resigned amusement.

Watson chuckled. "Yes. That Nikola."

"James' already considerable intellect grew by leaps and bounds," Magnus said, bringing the topic back.

"So when I say I know precisely what you are going through Alexis, I mean it," he said very somberly. "It is terrifying, I know. But there is such wonder in the world."

"Yes I- Wait," Alexis fixed James with a level look. "An immortal woman, the invisible man, a vampire, a guy who can teleport and a super-genius." She eyed them. "I think I read about that in a comic book."

"Well that would be the time period in Victorian fiction," Castle mused, wearing his own speculative look. "A super-genius doctor...Who worked with Scotland Yard...And your name is Watson."

James smiled humbly. "Arthur was a great friend of mine, but I was adamant he not use my name or follow my life too closely."

"He neatly solved that problem by splitting you in two," Magnus smirked

"It was embarrassing at first, but I can only look back on those conversations with fondness. Funny how time works."

"You-" Castle rose to his feet. "You're Sherlock Holmes."

James bowed slightly. "In the flesh, what there is left of it."

"Oh my god that is the coolest thing ever!" He whirled on his mother. "You knew? You didn't tell me?" He took a grinning step towards James. "You're one of the reasons I became a mystery writer. I want to know everything. Did those cases really happen like that?"

"Some," he admitted.

"You knew?" Castle asked his mother, a plaintive note in his voice and body.

Martha stood. "Richard it's not that simple."

"But-"

"Uh, hey, I don't mean to interrupt?"

Everyone looked at the blonde woman in the doorway. She held up a blackberry with an apologetic smile. "Sorry Uncle James, but Declan's trying to get a hold of you."

James sighed and set the glass down. "If it's important enough for him to call it must truly need my attention. I shan't be but a moment." He accepted the phone and excused himself to the balcony.

"Sorry," the woman said.

"Bad?" Magnus asked.

"I think so? Declan also asked if you could help Henry install a blackberry into his suit, so he couldn't conveniently forget his cellphone."

Magnus laughed. "I've threatened to do as much. Well, allow me to introduce you to everyone. This is my daughter Ashley." Magnus made introductions to the rest of them and Ashley shook hands politely.


Still reeling from the revelation that Uncle James was Sherlock Holmes, Richard listened to the introductions with half an ear. Sherlock. Holmes. Real. Alive! It was beyond cool. His mind was exploding with a thousand questions.

"You're Richard Castle!"

He blinked out of his reverie. Helen's daughter wore a bright smile as she held out her hand. "I am." He shook her hand with a winning smile, more on autopilot than anything else.

"I read Naked Heat on the plane from Old City. It's my friend's copy. He'd flip if you signed it for him?"

"Ashley-"

"No, it's fine," Richard, not offended in the least. "I'd be happy to sign it."

"Awesome," the blonde said, bouncing on her toes. "Oh man, I wish I had my copy."

"Well if you make your way back to New York I wouldn't mind-"

"Really? Wait right there-"

She disappeared in a cloud of red-gold sparkles.

"Jesus!" Richard took a step away, shocked.

The reactions from his family were varied and fitting, his mother breathing wordless surprise; Alexis, silent and wide-eyed; Kate on her feet, reaching for the gun she wasn't carrying. She winced and sank back onto the couch again.

"You left the field down?"
"Hmm."

The latter were from Dr. Magnus and Director Bahur.

The Sphinx shrugged. "Well, yes. You had her practicing this morning and, to be honest Helen, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to keep that thing off." The end of her tail flicked.

Magnus rubbed at her temples and muttered something. Richard only caught the word "grounded".

"I take it," he said as his heart rate began to slow back down, "that's normal?"

Magnus' lips pressed into a firm line. "It's new and it's dangerous. To her," she clarified.

"But she does it as easily as she breathes," James added from the balcony door. He walked stiffly back to the circle of couches. "We'll need to find something for her soon because she's just going to do it anyway, Helen."

"London?" Bahur asked.

"Selkie migration. Always a mess the same year it happens as the Swanmanes. The laird caused a ruckus and there was a bit of a dust up. Declan should be able to handle it now, but if he can't I may have to return home." He frowned then looked speculatively at Magnus. "As I doubt you'd allow Ashley to ferry me around, do you happen to know John's whereabouts?"

"Old City last I knew, drinking my good Scotch and tormenting Nikola. Though he may have left."

James snorted a laugh. "Well, perhaps he can abandon such noble pursuits and deign to grace me with his presence for an hour or two." He shook his head and clapped a hand on Richard's shoulder. "Like her father, Ashley is a teleporter. Among other talents."

There was burst of sparkles and Ashley returned, carrying two copies of Storm Rising and Heat Wave. She cast an abashed glance at her mother.

"Sorry?"

Helen heaved a sigh and gestured for her to continue. It had the weighty "we'll talk about this later," feeling. Richard knew it well. He gave her a sympathetic smile and set the books on the side table.

"Do you mind if we take care of this a bit later?"

"Oh! Yeah! Right." She nodded and took a few steps back to the edge of the circle. "Sorry. We're fans in my house."

"But you're surrounded by," Kate gestured vaguely to the Sanctuary.

"Well, yeah. Kinda makes a lot of genre stuff boring."

The phone in James' hand began playing the Cops theme song.

"Sorry," Ashley said, reaching for it. "That's Kate. The newbies are probably driving her up the wall." She took the phone and gave the room in general a smile "I'll just be going then. Nice to meet you!"

"Ashley."

She'd almost gotten to the door. She looked over her shoulder.

"Teleporting."

"Minimum. Right."

"We'll discuss it later."

She nodded.

"Ashley is new to her abilities too," James said, addressing Alexis. "She grew up in this world but never expressed either of her parent's abnormalities until a recent incident." He put a hand on her shoulder. "You're not alone, in this."

Alexis nodded. "So," she breathed out the word, her shoulders squaring, jaw lifting. "What do we do?"

"We can discuss what we've been thinking," Magnus said, rising to her feet. "And perhaps take a proper tour?"

"A splendid idea," Bahur said, rising. She winked at Alexis and Kate, "I love showing the place off. It's been a lovely home for me and my spouses for many years."

"If you wouldn't mind," Martha said, "Richard and I will follow along. I'd like to have a word with him first."

Alexis shot him a slightly fearful look. "I don't know mother," he said. "Maybe I should go with Alexis."

"I can go with you, Alexis," Kate offered.

Alexis looked between them for a moment then nodded. "Thank you. I'd appreciate that."

"Are you sure?" Richard asked.

Alexis hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. You should be able to catch up."

"I'll have a guide wait for you in the hall. We shouldn't be too hard to find," Bahur offered.

"If Alexis is okay with that, then sure," Richard said.

"Well, then," James said, gesturing towards the door. "Shall we?"

Alexis nodded. She gave a single backwards glance as she and Kate left with the group.


Richard watched the door close behind them. His mother hadn't moved from where she'd stood. The office was almost silent except for absurdly normal office sounds, like a small desk water feature and the hum of a computer's fan. The griffin slept silently in his sunbeam.

It was amazing. Fantastic. Beyond belief. It was real, and his mother had known about it. Had known and hadn't told him. Why not let him in on the secret? He'd visited as a child, though it was now just a vague memory.

Mother looked nervous. It was an unusual expression on her. The hands clenching her purse were nearly white and her jaw was set, ready to go on the defensive. He could have let it go, could have understood rationally, except Alexis was involved somehow. He tried very hard not to be That Parent, but she'd been so afraid. Now he couldn't go with her because his mother wanted a word. Well, he wanted a few words too. Best start at the beginning.

"Mother, you knew about this? Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's very complicated, Richard."

Richard glared. "Complicated how? How mother?" It all seemed rather straightforward; she'd known and hadn't mentioned it.

"How do you go back to the world after you've seen this?" She gestured toward the enclosures. It was a sharp gesture, matching her tone. "And- Richard, I did what I thought was best for you. You already had a single actress mother. You didn't need to add monsters and mythos to your life."

Richard looked at her, really looked at her. The nervousness was still there. It almost masked the- sorrow? The regret?

"That isn't the only reason. But why? If I were writing this, the mother would had to have kept a secret from the ruggedly handsome protagonist."

Mother laughed, trying to dismiss whatever train of thought he was explaining. That was another clue.

"It would have to be a big secret. Myths and legend and hanging out with Sherlock Holmes is pretty big," he mused, studying her, "but..."

She faced him squarely, chin lifted ever so slightly. Defiance? No. Pride? No. Well, perhaps. She wouldn't back down from this decision. It was personal. Griffins, while totally awesome, weren't personal.

"Personal. It'd have to be personal. Something with her relationship, some secret within the secret. A hidden past that is only revealed to her family now. She can't hide it any longer because her granddaughter has a special condition and she can't not help her. So she goes to her friends from this secret world, because they can help."

She regarded him steadily and nodded once. So serious, he'd rarely seen her so serious, and always in regard to people she loved.

"She knows they can help, because one of them already has that condition." He drew in a breath and let it out slowly. "And what is the biggest secret within our protagonist's family?" He felt himself choking up on the final word. "Mother?"

The mask broke, a single tear sliding down her cheek. Pain and regret, and relief, but mostly he saw pride. "You always had a knack for solving mysteries." Her voice was tight, forced out under control or she'd lose it. He knew because he felt the same way.

His shoulders slumped as he looked to her for answers. He didn't even know all the questions he had yet. "Why?" he finally asked. Years of wondering and wishing and torment were in there. It wasn't so much that he'd felt like an incomplete person, but that she'd not told him, that it'd been there all along. Uncle James was his father.

She swayed on her feet, as if rocked by the impact of his question. Crossing the space she held him close. "We'd broken it off before I knew," she explained, voice watery with the tears she now freely shed. "And I wanted you more than I'd wanted anything else in my life, but I was afraid. Not that he'd take you, but that he'd want to be with us and I knew that it wouldn't work. I just knew. I didn't want that life for you, with yelling and arguing."

"Mother."

"I knew we'd just separate anyway. I wanted to spare you that pain. Spare us all. And that life wasn't for me. It's lovely to visit but there isn't a place for someone like me in that world. I always intended on telling you, but you were so strong. You didn't need to know and you were so adamant about the pure possibility. Oh, Richard, I'm sorry."

He wrapped his arms around his mother and they held one another, crying.

"When- when he came to stay?"

"He knew about you before then. I- I couldn't keep it from him. I tried, but I couldn't." She smiled sadly, resting her head against his. "He held you when you were hours old."

Richard felt a lump forming in his throat. He couldn't seem to get rid of it.

"It was a wonderful thing to see. I'd made him promise me he would leave, made him promise not to ask me any questions we both knew we'd regret." She sniffed. "And he honored that promise. A small part of me still regrets that he did."

"Mother," he whispered.

"We- We tried anyway. When he was in town overseeing the renovations here. Knowing it was doomed, we tried."

"I remember."

"It- it didn't work."

"I remember that too. Why did you try?"

"Oh," she made a little dismissive gesture that was anything but honest. "Darling-" she paused, thinking. "Darling he's my deep fried twinkie."

Richard couldn't help but laugh. "I don't know I wanted to know that," he said. He'd referred to Alexis' mother has his deep-fried twinkie; something wonderful and amazing, but if you had to much of it, it would kill you.

She swatted at him. "Oh, you. Not like that. Well-"

"Mother-"

"He's...He's like you, He's charming, charismatic, entertaining, so very genteel." She cupped his face in one hand. "And such a kind soul. You remind me of the best of him."

Richard held the hand on his cheek. "Why didn't it work?"

"Because as much as we loved one another that couldn't change some things. He's- He's old, Richard. Far older than I. When I was young it was a bit thrilling to have all that experience in a single person. Intimidating, yes that too. But he's seen so much and you know how hard it is to get him to use the more modern things."

She grasped his hands in her own. "And then there were the drugs."

"The seven-percent solution?"

"Among others," she said, lips pressing into a thin line, her eyes becoming hard. "I won't deny I've tried some things in my day, but by the time I'd met James I'd seen the lives of too many of my friends ruined by addiction to drugs. I consider myself fairly tolerant but my threshold for that sort of abuse is very low."

Richard nodded, lips quirking into a smile. "I think my rear still hurts from when you found that joint in my room."

"The first one I let go without issue, you know. When I saw the second? I was not going to have you go down that route," she said, shaking a finger.

"Yes, Mother. Thank you for that."

"Yes, well. That was a point on which we disagreed quite bitterly." Her fingers tapped in a rhythm on his hands. "He tried for me, you know. Watching him go through withdrawal, even a carefully monitored and controlled one was...hard. I was there for him every moment I wasn't on stage. But in the end, even though he loved me, he couldn't kick the habit." She sighed. "I think he needs them. I think it slows him down so he can cope with the rest of us." A single tear slid down her cheek when she looked back up at him. "I don't want that for Alexis. James is a canny old goat, but that habit out of all of them could get her in serious trouble. She may not be able to outlive her mistakes."

"Well, we won't let it come to that. Heaven knows she's better behaved than either of us,"

Mother laughed, a slightly watery sound, but there was pride and joy in there as well. "Well that's for sure." She patted his hands. "He's a good man. He's just impossible to live with. He's so smart its very frustrating to live with us mere mortals. He's so old, his realm of experience is so vast he's set his priorities differently. It's hard to connect sometimes. But even now, I love him." She smiled up at him. "He gave me you."

Richard enfolded her in a hug. His chest felt tight but there was an odd energy there as well. His father was a good man, a kind man. His father was awesome. Flawed, yes, but that was human, real. It was exciting.

"I hope you're not too disappointed in me."

He squeezed his arms around her. "Never. I understand about deep fried twinkies, remember."

She chuckled then fell quiet. When she spoke it was quietly and he had to strain to hear her. "I worry for Alexis."

"So do I." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "But we'll help her with whatever she needs." He laughed a little. "Lots of parents think they have the smartest kid in the world. I know I do."

Her warm laugh filled the room.


After seeing a jersey devil, an aerie of thunderbirds, ducking a swarm of pixies, and exchanging pleasantries with a second sphinx who was also an archeologist, Kate's sense of surprise gave up. She was half-expecting to see Elvis, Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox behind one of the doors or enclosures that made up the Sanctuary. They weren't breaking any laws, but the secrecy made her feel itchy. She'd had enough of that recently, and it didn't sit well with her.

Alexis was taking it all well. Her eyes had only gotten wider as the tour continued. She'd also begun to relax. Seeing her at ease helped Kate feel a little better. Despite Kate's misgivings in general, if Alexis was feeling less like the world was falling down around her shoulders, she'd be willing to give the Sanctuary a little more leeway.

Richard and Martha caught up with them at the grand atrium. Richard pulled Alexis aside for a moment then they both rejoined the group to continue the tour. Martha seemed far less tense than any time Kate could recently recall. It was a startling how weighed down the older woman had been, now that she was back to her usual breezy self.

Richard walked beside her, hands stuffed in his pockets. His eyes were a tiny bed red, but he had a bounce in his step and the little grin was back on his face.

Nudging him, she asked, "Everything okay?"

He smiled at her and she found her chest tighten in response to such unbridled joy. What in the world had caused that?

Castle snagged her fingers with his own, giving her a squeeze. He leaned down closer. "I am going to Blow. Your. Mind." He straightened and swung their joined hands as they continued down the hall.

She arched a dubious brow and tugged him closer. "Today I met two-thirds of a pride of sphinxes, had to duck out of the way of some fey, and met a werewolf." Though curious, she silently dared him to try his best.

He continued to grin then did a double take. "You met a werewolf?"

"Yep," she said, smiling.

He tugged on her fingers. "No fair!"

"He's Magnus' IT guy."

"That is so cool," he said, the grin back in place.

Kate rolled her eyes. She squeezed his hand. "So?"

He slowed to they were at the back of the group, then leaned down. "Alexis is a super-genius because Sherlock Holmes is my father." He made a very small, very quiet, very giddy sound.

Kate looked between Castle and Watson then back a few times. "Wha- Does he?"

"Know? Yeah." He made a shushing gesture. "Keep it on the down low. I don't know how many people know that besides immediate family and you. I just found out." He looked a tiny bit anxious, excited but anxious all the same.

Kate let out a low whistle as they hurried to catch up to the group. "Consider my mind blown."


Ashley rubbed at her neck. The newbies needed a lot of work. Far more than she'd expected. Kate had declared it a lost cause and had gone in search of a much-needed shower. Ashley wanted one too, but she wasn't covered in the variety of unpleasant things Kate was. This time.

Her feet carried her to Henry's temporary den. Maybe he'd have some time to kill with her before they had to wash up for dinner. With the Castles, which was totally awesome. Hopefully they didn't think she was too much of an obnoxious fan after her little stunt earlier. She grimaced in memory. Mom was so going to ground her.

"Hey." She rapped her knuckles on the door and looked around for the local IT guys. Well, guys and one girl. Ashley frowned a bit at that. She'd been friendly in a "I want to get into your pants" kind of way. It wasn't her business, but she didn't like it.

Henry was thankfully alone. He smiled, dimples showing. "Hey Ash! How're the newbies?"

"God, were we ever that green?" she groaned, dropping onto the stool beside him.

He laughed. "Probably. Bad?"

"Worse. I wouldn't trust them to go with us let alone solo. How's IT?"

"Way better. Bahur's a gadget nut, so she treats 'em better than Wexford did. They have a budget and everything." He stood and began to massage her neck and shoulders.

Ashley moaned as the burning knot began to get worked out. "Thank you so much," she said, letting her hand fall away from her neck. "Magic fingers."

"Anytime, Ash."

She grunted acknowledgement, eyes falling closed. "You can stop anytime next week, okay?"

He laughed and she could feel it resonate in his chest. He was warm and solid, literally at her back. She smiled at that. IT-chick could poach someone else's magical werewolf; this one was hers. She sighed in pleasure.

"So," he cleared his throat and tried again. "Did you know Richard Castle is the new girl's dad?" he asked.

"Yes!" she said, looking over her shoulder at him. "Yeah and I made a total ass of myself when I met him."

"What happened?"

"I squeed like a fangirl when he said he'd sign my book, then teleported home for Biggie and my hardbacks."

"Hmm," he considered gravely. "Yeah. Total ass. Sorry Ash."

She gave him a dirty look and stuck her tongue out at him. "Anyway Mom's been too busy to chew me out for teleporting yet."

"She cares," he said, thumbs working at the spot between her shoulder blades. She arched her back into his thumbs. "We all care Ash,"

"I know," she sighed. "It just happens sometimes. I forget I should be afraid of it and I just go." She bit her lip. "Always had some impulse control problems, huh?"

"Well between you me and history, you get that from your mom," he said, trying to inject some levity into the conversation. His thumbs dug into her lower back and she leaned back into it. God, that felt amazing.

"I guess. Still I don't-"

"You won't end up like him." He gently took her shoulders and drew her back against his chest. Henry wrapped his arms around her in a hug, cheek against the side of her head.

Ashley hugged his arms closer, resting her head against his. "I don't want to hurt anyone else."

Henry gave her a squeeze, his nose resting by her temple. It felt good to be hugged, to be held. Especially by him. She didn't have to be "on" with him; she could relax.

"I know you don't, because you're protector, not a psycho. We're going to find a way to keep those kinds of creatures off you, and we'll find a way to get rid of the one on Druitt, too."

"You think so?"

"I may possibly have thrown down a gauntlet in Tesla's face."

She saw how serious he was under the smile. Hope fluttered in her chest. "Thank you."

He leaned in slowly and maybe it wasn't hope that made her heart beat faster. He rested his forehead against hers. "You're welcome."

Ashley licked her lips, finding them suddenly dry. He smelled nice. He didn't wear much in the way of perfumed things because of his nose, but he smelled a little woodsy; like home amid the tall redwoods after rain. He was warm and still holding her, his breath mingling with hers. If she leaned forward just a little, her lips would touch his. She wondered what he'd say. He'd probably put her down gently. And yet...

She pressed her lips to his, eyes closing. Maybe it was poor impulse control, or maybe it was the more confidant Henry; an improvement to something she already liked. It could have been because she'd already squandered enough of her life and this was her second chance. It was done though.

He wasn't kissing her. Maybe if she stopped before it got awkward she could pass it off as a friendly kiss. It wasn't like she was going for his tonsils. Maybe-

Henry's lips chased hers as she drew back, returning the kiss with the same gentle pressure; enough to know he was kissing her back, but not pushing.

They looked at one another as the kiss ended. Ashley found herself smiling a little, and tingling with warmth all over. Henry looked a little confused. Emboldened that she hadn't been rejected outright, Ashley kissed him again.

His response was faster. He turned her around on the stool so they were facing and one hand went to her hip, the other to her back. He stepped in closer and she wrapped both arms around his back.

He tasted faintly of the coke he'd been drinking. His lips were soft, contrasting with the scruffyness of his beard. His hands on her back and hip were there, but she could easily push them away. He held her gently rather than groping, but she wasn't glass in his hands. Ashley knew she could walk away if she wanted. She didn't want to though. Ashley opened her mouth a little, encouraging him, living a long-dormant teenage fantasy, or at least opening the door.

His grip became a little more sure as he kissed her, tongue making a small, hesitant sweep. She pulled him closer and he grew more bold, kissing her deeply. Pleasantly surprised, she sighed into the kiss, pressing closer to his chest. She followed his tongue as it retreated, kissing him as deeply as he had. She opened her knees and he stepped between so he could be closer. They broke the kiss for air, breath mingling in the small space they'd left between them.

His eyes were a deep, dark gold when she dared look up. She smiled a little, encouraged he wasn't already pushing her away or asking what the hell. There was no way that could be passed off as a platonic kiss.

"Ash?" His fingers flexed, his voice husky and low, nearly a growl. The gravely quality made her insides twist, centering a tension low in her groin. His nostrils flared and she could feel the subsonic growl in his chest, under her fingers.

She swallowed, licking her dry lips and the gold eyes focused on them. Feeling devious, she licked them again, slowly this time. The growl became audible.

"Ash?"

Her single shoulder shrug was tiny and she felt a blush creep up on her cheeks. "Always wanted to do that," she admitted. "I wasn't brave enough to say anything before. But now I've been dead. Kinda...puts things in a different perspectiv-"

He kissed her hard, hands firm on her back, drawing her as close as they could get. One hand was rubbing small circles on her back. She gave as good as she got, tongue sweeping, warring with his for dominance. One hand slid up into the short hair at the nape of his neck. Oh, she'd always wanted to do that, to run her fingers through that unruly hair and not be seen as an annoying kid-sister. He kissed her again, closed mouthed but intense.

Henry's eyes roamed over her face and he lifted one hand to tuck her hair behind her ear. He nuzzled the side of her face hesitantly, then wrapped his arms around her in a crushing bear hug.

"I wasn't brave enough either."

Her heart lurched in her chest, because she could have missed this, had already missed it the first time around. Despite that, she couldn't stop the smile. "Uhm," she bit her lower lip, still smiling. "Do you maybe want to do something, sometime. Go out I mean?" He was already nodding and she felt a giddy, bubbly feeling rise in her chest again.

"Yeah. Yes. Definitely yes. When? Tonight? Tomorrow? When we get home?"

She leaned forward and kisses his nose, bringing about an abrupt end to his stream of nervous words. "We'll figure some time out?"

"Okay,"

She focused on those lips and leaned forward "Until then," she trailed off.

"Until then," he rumbled, lips finding hers.


Alexis and Mother were settled with Kate and Dr. Magnus. James had gone to check up on the status of the London Sanctuary. The tour was complete but he'd not yet had a moment to speak with him alone. With Alexis settled, speaking with James had become a growing need. He excused himself and went in the same direction he'd disappeared, hoping that everything was fine in London and that he'd be able to stay for awhile. Richard found him at the balcony and paused a moment while he finished the call, watching from the doorway.

Wind made a low drone that rose and fell, catching at clothing which snapped softly in the breeze. The sound of traffic was a soft rumble. The hands on the railing were covered with metal braces as they always had been, but now he knew the reason for them. Despite the bindings, his clothing was neat and tidy, and he carried a stately air that didn't quite fit with the modern backdrop. He understood that as well, now. Today had been a day of many revelations.

Dr. James Watson was the better part of two centuries old. He was a man myths and stories had been based upon; stories he'd loved dearly as a youth. Stories he still loved. Watson had declined the spotlight, lending his name to the chronicler rather than the star, but it was evident there was much of him in both. He was a legend. But he was also a man. A man who'd been there, quietly, his entire life. He'd declined the spotlight there as well, and there too, he'd been quietly present.

His father.

Wow.

James turned, but Richard held no illusion he'd managed to sneak up on him; he'd never been able to as a kid. James was too observant. Because he was Sherlock Holmes. And a super-genius. And a hundred and sixty-five.

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Richard wandered out onto the patio, stopping beside him at the railing.

"Richard."

Castle let out a long breath, the idea finally fully settling on his shoulders. "Dad."

James bowed his head. "I must admit," he said after a long moment, "I find myself at a loss for words. Not for lack of trying, I assure you, but nothing I've ever been able to come up with has ever seemed adequate." There was pain and regret in the soft words.

"Good for us that I'm a writer then, huh?" Richard joked, voice equally quiet.

They stood in silence for another moment before James looked at him, a soft, sad smile tugging his lips, his dark eyes deeper somehow. "There have been times, many times, I regretted not defying Martha's wishes. And yet, I know in my heart things would not have been as wonderful as I'd wish them to be. You were-" he paused a moment. "So strong. So sure about your place, about how you didn't need a father."

Richard found himself nodding. "He could be anyone, so he could be anything." He'd learned to embrace the thrill of not knowing, of the fantasy. It had come from a place of sadness but he'd turned it, had owned it. He'd never regretted that, had learned he didn't really harbor a secret pain about it.

"Now you know," James said, voice hardly a whisper. "I do hope the revelation will not cause undue hardship."

Castle drew in a breath and let it out again. He studied James, seeing for the first time maybe a bit of his jawline, something in his own build, in the man beside him. "You know, I always wondered if I'd be disappointed if I found out?" he shook his head, feeling a grin spread. "My dad is Sherlock Holmes. That's pretty epic."

James chuckled. He regarded Richard steadily and Richard could see relief much as he had with his mother. Wow.

"I am very glad you know," James said, his voice quiet. "I also hope this means you'd be willing to endure more frequent communication? Visitations?"

"I would love that, but you're going to have to master the art of email if you're going to keep up with Alexis," he warned playfully. Wow. His father. That was going to take some getting used to.

James rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. "I suppose I shall have to conform to the barbarism of our time."

Richard put out a tentative hand out. "While I'd love to see you use email, I'd love to still get letters." He throat felt tight again. He'd always loved those letters, but now they meant so much more.

James smiled and nodded silently. "I'd enjoy that as well," he confided, his voice thick with emotion.

A soft rapping on the door drew their attention. Alexis smiled at them. "Dinner's ready."

"We'll be there in a moment," Richard told her.

She nodded and went back inside.

"Shall we?" James asked, gesturing toward the door.

Richard nodded. He looked askance at James, arching an eyebrow, and leaned in conspiratorially. "So, I guess you're not gay then?"

James laughed, the roaring sound echoing off the stone of the building. Richard smiled.


Ashley had gone to her room wearing a smile. She'd artfully ducked Kate's question by smiling more and closing the door on her face. A quick shower later, she was wearing something comfy for dinner and an evening in. The newbies weren't bad kids, they were just green. Anyway they'd invited Ashley and her crew to "hang". She'd been promised pool and air hockey in the rec-room, and possibly a movie to wind down with or something. That had sounded like fun before, but now having an excuse to curl up on the couch with Henry sounded fantastic.

She finished drying her hair when someone knocked. Figuring it was Kate, Ashley sighed and called out, "Come in!"

Henry poked his head around the door. He had a green henly that brought out the color in his eyes. "Hey!"

"Hey!"

They grinned stupidly at one another for a few seconds.

"Just finishing up," she said, setting the blow dryer down. "Come in."

He wandered in, not quite sure where to put his hands.

Ashley slipped her arms around his waist in a hug. "Hi."

His arms wrapped around her and he leaned down to give her a kiss. It started innocently enough; a tentative brush of his lips against hers. Maybe he thought that their previous conversation was all a dream. Ashley almost didn't believe it, except she remembered the flavor of his lips and the way his scruff tickled her skin. Henry was the person she could be the most relaxed around and it felt good. She hummed in contented pleasure as they kissed more openly, his hands running up and down her back. He smelled slightly spicy and she wondered if that was aftershave or just him. She swept her tongue over his lips, then against his. Under her fingers, Henry's chest vibrated in a small growl.

"Ashley," her mother called, rapping on the door. "I wanted to tell- Oh!"

Their kiss broke with an audible pop. Henry's green eyes were wide in surprise, his cheeks pinking. Ashley felt her own cheeks heat. Neither of them moved for a second then they turned to look at her mother.

Her mother blinked a few times, looking from one to the other. One of her eyebrows was climbing and Ashley held Henry more tightly.

"That's new," her mother commented, relaxing from her startled rigidity. "When did this happen?"

"Today," Ashley snapped back, feeling suddenly defensive. She hated when her mother made her feel like she was four.

Her mother smiled as she closed the door they'd forgotten about behind her. "Dearest, you misunderstand. I think this is wonderful."

"You do?" Ashley asked at about the same time Henry did. Ashley relaxed her grip on Henry.

"I was just startled. I hadn't seen anything while we were home."

"It- We ended up talking this afternoon."

Her mother was trying very hard not to grin. "Oh?"

Ashley flushed at the positively naughty implications her mother crammed into that one statement.

"I, uh, I'll let you talk. I'll see you at dinner?" Henry said, trying to beat a hasty retreat. She scowled for a half a second before she saw the huge, puppy-dog eyes he was giving her.

"Actually Henry, I'd like you to stay a moment."

Henry gulped. "I promise you doc, I've been a gentleman. Mostly. There was kissing, but nothing below the bel-"

"Henry," her mother cut him off, holding up a forestalling hand. "I'm not here about that. That is none of my business. You're adults and I expect you'll behave as such. I'm here about Mr. Castle."

"I'm sorry I teleported," Ashley said.

Her mother laughed. "Ashley I'm not here about that either. No, this is in regards to Alexis."

"Oh. She okay?" Ashley asked.

"Oh yes. Her abilities are quite remarkable."

"Watson gonna take her on as his padawan?" Henry asked. "Apprentice," he clarified when Mom arched an inquisitive eyebrow.

"Not directly. Alexis has no desire to move to London at least for the moment. No, I actually needed to tell you something a bit more private and personal about their situation." She took a moment to compose her thoughts. "Richard is James' son."

Ashley gaped. "No way!"

"Wow."

Her mother nodded. "James has always known; he and Martha had an arrangement. Richard just found out and Alexis was able to piece the information together earlier. I've been allowed to tell you two, Will and Kate. This will be a transition for their whole family to make and I'd hope you'd make yourselves available to assist them."

Ashley nodded. "Suddenly getting super-powers isn't easy." She grimaced. "I'll see if Alexis wants to vent." Henry found her hand and squeezed it. She smiled back at him.

"Thank you," her mother said. "I knew I could count on you. Now, I believe dinner is nearly ready and Henry? If you wouldn't mind I'd like to speak with Ashley for a moment."

"Uh, sure doc." He eyed her mother and kissed Ashley on the cheek in a daring move, before leaving.

Ashley crossed her arms and faced her mother, chin lifted.

Her mother waited until the door was closed again and rested a gentle hand on her upper arm. "I'm not here to yell at you."

Ashley uncrossed her arms. "Okay." She suddenly found herself in a tight hug. "Mom?"

"I just want you to be happy. You're my everything."

Ashley smiled, returning the tight hug. "I know, Mom."

"I know you'll make one another happy."

Ashley wanted to roll her eyes. "Mom, we haven't even had a real date yet."

He mother did that annoying "I know something you don't because I'm older and wiser than you are" smile. "I do have a point I'd like to bring up however," she said. "Your implant."

This time, Ashley did roll her eyes, her cheeks heating again. "I kinda figured that'd be a thing. I burn through everything else twice as fast, why not whatever is in the rod."

"Well, I'd like to be sure, and that may mean doing a lot of testing and giving you a new implant so we can monitor how fast you process the hormone."

"Fun," Ashley groused.

"And since it's now an issue-"

"Mom!"

"Well, a proper relationship includes a healthy sex-life."

"Mom!"

Her mother gave her a cheeky grin. "And Henry is a rather handsome young man."

"Mom!"

" Yes?" Her mother had affected a look of total innocence.

Ashley gritted her teeth. "We are not having this conversation."

"As you like," her mother said, relenting. "Come along. Dinner should be ready."


Alexis' mind whirled. She'd spent the past two days in what seemed like non-stop testing of her new-found intelligence. Her Abnormal intelligence. She couldn't turn her brain off after the testing and then her father wanted to know all about it, and Dr. Magnus kept hounding her about this or that test.

Ashley, her Ashley, had tried to call and she'd managed to get about five minutes alone with him before she'd been whisked away again. Her father had then explained some of what was going on to him, and that had been Her place.

At least Detective Beckett had told him off for that one.

The headache was caused by increased blood pressure as her brain built new connections. They thought. They problem was they weren't entirely sure about any of this. When Uncle- when her grandfather had this happen to him, they'd barely had electricity let along PET scans and MRI machines. And added to all of this some of the material she'd been given was reading comprehension and was really interesting. She kept thinking about the points in the article long after she'd moved on to another area of study. Even sleep wasn't a relief. Her dreams were vivid and disjointed. The dream journal she'd been asked to keep was filled with random images that didn't make any sense; but she kept trying to find the pattern.

"Alexis?"

"Sorry dad." She rubbed her temples. "Do you think I could take tomorrow off?"

"Alexis, you know that Dr. Magnus and your grandfather are only in town for a few days," her father said, pausing only a little on the new title for James Watson.

Alexis rolled her eyes and headed for the cabinet in the kitchen where she could take an Advil. Around her, Henry had the Sanctuary's Kate and Ashley setting up networking and cables. She'd be connected directly to their network this way. She also knew her father had asked them to beef up the security in their apartment because of the situation with Detective Beckett.

Alexis' eyes went to the trifold that contained information about Beckett's mother's case - the trifold she wasn't supposed to know about or have seen, but did anyway because she wasn't four. She wondered if she could solve that for them. But if she did then they'd go hunt down whoever the person in charge was, or they'd ruin her father's life. Or they'd just shoot him. Or they'd shoot Beckett again. She was sure she could figure it out, but did she dare?

"Alexis?"

"Sorry, it's been a long day. I just want to call Ashley, my Ashley I mean, and take a long shower."

"Well Dr. Magnus is here, so how about you work with her for a little while. I'm sure Ashley would understand."

"It shouldn't take long, and it will tell us a great deal-"

"Everything is supposed to tell you "a great deal"," Alexis snapped, mimicking Dr. Magnus' accent.

"Alexis-"

"No! I'm done for the day. The freak is going go upstairs to have a shower and then she is going to sleep."

She stormed up the stairs, stomping with extra force because it got rid of some of the fury and energy she was feeling.


 

Ashley watched Alexis' outburst and subsequent stomping. She arched a brow at Kate and nodded at the stairs. Working with the newbies had allowed them more time to read one another. We should probably go help her

Kate nodded. Totally.

"We got this," Ashley said, brushing past both a flummoxed Castle and her startled mother. "Might as well head home, Mom. We can get back on our own."

Her mother held her eyes for a second then she nodded. "I do hope Alexis isn't too cross."

"She'll be fine. Just needs some girl talk," Ashley said heading up the stairs, Kate following after. Ashley pushed open the door since it wasn't fully closed.

"Alexis?"

"What?" the other girl snapped. She winced. "Sorry."

Ashley stepped inside the other girl's room. It was mostly neat and tidy, but the stress of the past few weeks was showing in the small piles of half-completed projects. Uncle James' personal lab was like that.

Alexis sighed. "If you're here to get me to come downstairs: forget it. I don't want to deal with Dad right now." She disappeared into her spacious walk in closet.

"Let me guess, he doesn't get it?" Kate drawled.

"Hardly."

Ashley exchanged a smile with Kate. They could both hear the eyeroll.

"Mom wouldn't either," Ashley spoke up. "She's been an abnormal longer than she hasn't been one. She doesn't remember what it's like to be one thing and then suddenly be different."

"What happened to you?" Alexis asked as she walked out, wearing street clothes. "Well, if you don't mind talking about it." She sank down onto the end of her bed.

"It's really complicated." Ashley looked around. "We could go someplace and talk about it if you like. Get out of here for a bit and away from the parentals."

"That sounds like the best idea I've heard all day," Alexis said getting up. She grabbed her purse. "Where to?"

Ashley smiled at her then arched an eyebrow at Kate. Kate groaned and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Fine," she muttered.

Ashley looked back at Alexis. "If I told you we could chat almost anywhere in the world, where would you pick? Anywhere in the entire world."

Alexis eyed her. "Paris?"

Ashley smiled and held out a hand. Alexis took it. Ashley looked over her shoulder and Kate sighed, grabbing Ashley's arm.

"Hey kid? You're gonna want to-"

Ashley grinned wickedly and teleported them all to Paris.

"-Brace yourself," Kate finished. She staggered a step, looking green. "Seriously. You just had to do that. Ugh."

"Woah," Alexis squeaked.

It was evening in Paris, the setting sun washing the horizon in red and gold. The temperature was dropping as night arrived and the last of the day's tourists were strolling through the gardens. The Palais de Chaillot loomed behind them. Before them was the Seine, the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars beyond.

"Come on," Ashley said, heading for the stairs.

"We're in Paris," Alexis said, looking around. "We're in Paris and I don't have a passport!"

"Shh," Kate hissed. "Keep it down. We're okay as long as we don't do anything stupid and Blondie takes us home."

"But...We teleported," Alexis said, eyed wide as she followed them. "We were in New York and now we're in Paris. I saw it but...That just happened."

"Yep," Kate said. "Technically," she said, sotto voce to Ashley, "Aren't you supposed to be keeping that trick under wraps?"

"Mom said keep it to a minimum until Henry and Tesla finish that elemental flea collar or whatever they're working on," Ashley told her, keeping her voice low. "Alexis needed to get out of there, see it's not all sucky."

"I'm in Paris!" Alexis said, going from stunned to gleeful. She bounced a little.

"Well that's disgustingly adorable," Kate said under her breath. Louder she said, "Come on, let's get coffee."



New York

"Did you see Alexis and the girls leave?" Castle asked. Given that he as the only other person present, Henry assumed Castle was talking to him.

Henry looked up from his tangle of wires and cables. "No?" Magnus had left, but Kate and Ash hadn't come downstairs as far as he'd been aware.

"I thought I'd give her some time to cool off, but when I went upstairs... They're not in Alexis' room."

Seeing the panicked look, Henry abandoned his work and held up a placating hand. "She's with Ash, Mr. Castle. She'll be just fine."

"Where'd they go though? Did they-" His voice dropped, his face serious. "Did they teleport? Because I am torn between that being the coolest and scariest thing ever."

"Well if they did, then Alexis is with Ash and Kate. She couldn't be safer."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Where'd they go?"

Henry thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. He pulled out his cell phone, winking at Castle, and called Ash. She picked up after the third ring.

"Hey, Henry! What's up?"

Henry could hear talking in the background, and traffic. He could also hear Kate laughing uproariously.

"Uh, well, Mr. Castle kinda wants to know where you guys are. I told him she's safe-"

"She needed to get out of there Henry. We're talking about thirty-seconds from a full on meltdown and Mom wasn't helping."

"Okay fine, but where are you?"

"Paris. I got coffee for everyone."

"Paris?" Henry's eyebrows raised. He'd expected them to maybe go someplace in the city.

"Paris?" Castle asked, aghast. "But that's- That's all the way over in France!"

Henry put a hand over the receiver. "It's cool. Ash can parlez the français."

"Paris?" he asked again.

"Is her dad freaking out?" Ashley asked.

"A little bit."

"Is Dad freaking out?" Henry heard Alexis over the line.

"Little bit." Ashley told her.

"Scale of one to ten?" Ashley asked Henry.

Henry looked him over for a moment, then decided, "Gonna give him a solid seven on the freakout scale."

Castle gave him a sour look.

"Alexis says to say she's fine, the coffee and croissant here are awesome, and would he like one?"

Henry relayed the message.

Castle's jaw worked for a moment then he took a deep breath. "Yes please. Chocolate if they don't have raspberry."

Henry relayed this information, adding "He just went down to about a four," which earned him another resigned-yet-irked look from the author.

"Would you like anything?" Ashley asked. "Since, you know, I didn't get you pizza?"

Henry smiled. "You know what I like. Surprise me." He paused then added, "Just, be careful coming home? Don't pick up anything, okay?"

Ashley sighed. "Hey. I'll be okay. Mom said it took my Father almost a year to get nabbed by one of those things. Maybe they have to notice me. Its-" she sighed. "It's hard not to. It itches, like I have to go get rid of all this energy."

"I know, I just want you to be safe." He lowered his voice. "We still have to get coffee or something. Maybe go see a roller derby match and get food?"

"It's a date," she said, smile coming through in her voice.

Henry grinned. "Try not to stay out too late, Ash."

"We'll be home soon. I think a trip to the Louvre would be pushing it."

"Don't pout. We'll get you set with anti-evil-energy-creature deterrents and I'll go with you."

"Thanks, Henry."

"Come home soon."

"I will."

"Is this the part where we do the cutesy "no you hang up" thing?"

She laughed and hung up on him. Henry grinned and pocketed the phone.

"So...Yeah. Alexis, Ash and Kate F are together." He scratched the back of his head. "And between you and me, it's probably good for both Ash and Alexis to talk. They're kind of in the same boat. Ash knows her way around the Abnormal side of things though, so really, she's probably the best person in the whole network for Alexis to talk to."

Castle looked at him steadily for a moment then blew out a breath. "I need a beer. You?"

Henry shrugged a shoulder. "I wouldn't let a man drink alone. Sure." The guy looked and sounded like he needed someone to talk to, and Henry had promised Magnus he'd help.

He followed Castle into the kitchen and accepted the beer he was handed. Castle sipped his and leaned against the counter, looking thoughtful.

He regarded Henry and the mood around him changed slightly. "So you and Ashley?"

"Uh-" Now he recognized that mood. It was pure Watson at his most mischievous, which, Henry guessed, made sense.

"New?" Castle asked, taking pity on him and letting the glittering humor mellow into something a bit more sympathetic.

Henry studied the counter, feeling his cheeks heat. "Very. As in we haven't even been on a real date."

"Really? Wouldn't have guessed that."

Henry rubbed the back of his neck. "Ash and I are tight. We grew up together."

"Yeah? Fell in love with the girl next door, eh? Very Peter Parker."

Henry smirked. "Something like, but with less emo. The last tech guy adopted me after Magnus brought me home. She found me when I was little. My parents were dead."

"So you're a werewolf raised by humans," Castle said with poorly suppressed glee.

Henry gave him a look. "Heard it and every joke you can think of."

"Sorry, sorry," he said. "So you and Ash. No teenage romance then?"

"Nah. It- It didn't seem like a thing that could happen. Then she- She died." Henry frowned at his shoes for a bit. "She was my best friend and it was like a part of me was just gone. We knew my dad was going to go when that happened. He was older and ended up with pancreatic cancer. There's really not much you can do with that. With Ash, it was just so sudden." Henry looked up from his shoes. "And then suddenly she was alive."

"Everything was right again, because you could talk to her. Every breath a miracle. Hearing her laugh; sweeter than any music. The first time she smiled you thought your heart might just explode in pure joy?"

Henry's lips quirked. "I'm a science and tech guy, so there was more code and less, ah, words. But yeah, pretty much. You kinda know something about it, huh?"

Castle lifted his beer. Henry raised his and they clinked bottles.

"I reset a lot of priorities while she was...gone. I guess she came to some of the same conclusions as I did. Honestly, it hasn't quite settled in that she'd like to go get coffee with me in a non-platonic way."

"I know that feeling too. So what are you gonna do?"

"For the first date? I dunno. Probably something like take her indoor rock climbing then go to dinner."

"Indoor rock climbing?"

"No? Well I was wondering about the roller derby scene here in New York."

He gave Henry a disbelieving look. "Roller Derby? On a date?"

"You've met Ashley, right?"

Castle paused. "Okay, point. So she's not one for flowers and candle-lit dinners?"

Henry scratched the back of his head. "Ash is...Roses and semi-automatic weapons. I don't want to do something that would be boring and not her. I want to do something that says "I know who you are," you know?"

"So something like Alfredo's would be out?"

"Woah, now that'd be crazy talk." Ash loved Alfredo's. So did he. Alfredo's was the best Italian ever, with only a handful of restaurants in select cities. Reservations took months to get, sometimes even for someone with Magnus' clout.

Castle grinned. "You've been?"

"To the one in Old City, yeah." Henry nodded.

Castle's eyes danced in mirth. "So why not take her there? Plenty of other times you can go do a fun activity together, but you only get one first date."

"I dunno-"

"If she likes roses and semi-automatics, you have to remember to give her the roses and not be all about the semi-automatics."

"You seem awfully accepting of the semi-automatics part of this," Henry commented.

"You've met my Kate, right?"

Henry grinned. "Point. So where'd you take her?"

"Ah. Well. Technically, we haven't been on a date, date yet. The whole recovery thing."

"Right, right," Henry said, sympathetic to the other man's situation. "Geez, we're a pair aren't we?"

Castle snorted a laugh into his beer. "The other reason we're not rushing around is Alexis," he added, soberly.

"They don't get along?"

"They do, but Alexis has expressed that she isn't entirely comfortable with me being in the line of fire because I'm following a NYPD detective."

"The-" Henry vaguely gestured in the same location Detective Beckett had been shot, "freak her out?"

"Yeah. And with everything going on with her right now, I didn't want to add. I think she's okay with the personal relationship part. She invited Kate to come with us to the Sanctuary and that says a lot about how she values Kate. But-"

"She doesn't want you getting shot. Gotcha."

"She didn't bat an eyelash when I said I'd grabbed a table at Alfredo's for us and one of Kate's partners and his fiancée. I haven't told her yet, but they cancelled on us since Jenny's parents are in town this week. She might be more leery if she can't think of it as just friends having dinner."

"After Ash came back we were all a bit...hesitant to let her out of our sight. Alexis will come around, she's just scared and stressed right now." He had a sudden thought. "Hey! I can help you with the protection department, actually. The anti-ballistics vests we have are top of the line, and I've got a new stunner that looks like a typical taser, but it shoots a stun-pulse and has multiple charges."

"Cool!"

Henry grinned, shrugging a shoulder. "It's okay. The original design looked more gun-like but sometimes you don't want to look like you're carrying a gun around. Tends to make people nervous."

"That is so awesome. Tell me you have a working lightsaber."

"Not for lack of trying," Henry said.

Castle laughed. "Thanks. Hey! You know, what? You should come with Kate and me to Alfredo's. That is, if you don't mind a double date for part of the evening? You could take her someplace else and meet up with us at the restaurant."

"That's a generous offer. Thank you. I'd have to ask, but I can't see her really saying no to dinner. Might not feel like a date if, you know. No offense."

"None taken. That's why you should take her someplace first."

"Like where? A show or something?"

Castle sipped his beer, thinking. "Well there's that. There's also spending part of the day in central park, or maybe going to Coney Island or something. Maybe one of the museums? She was talking with Alexis about the new exhibit at the MOMA. She knew way too much for that to be idle chatter."

"Yeah!" Henry said, grinning. "I could take her there." She'd love it and he'd happily let her lead him around and explain everything. "And a museum means we wouldn't have to change for dinner."

Castle made a little flourish with his free hand and bowed. "If we can do this, then Cupid is no longer an archer; his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods," he said, quoting Much Ado.

Henry saluted him with his drink.

Castle's expression grew more serious. "Selfishly though, I'd get a chance to quiz you guys. You and Ashley grew up with this," he gestured vaguely, but Henry caught his meaning.

"Yep. It's...Different. It wasn't bad, but it's not what most kids grow up with. Her mom made us go to high school and I went to University, but... There's a gap when you know things and the rest of the world doesn't. Will grew up knowing something was out there and he ended up in job trouble because of it. Alexis is probably in the best position to deal with the weird and wacky as well as the normal."

"I hope so."



Paris, France

Alexis looked around. It was still hard to believe that she was in Paris and a scant hour ago she'd been in New York.

"You okay?" Kate Freelander asked.

"Yeah, fine," she said. "It's just a lot to take in. I mean we went almost six thousand miles in the blink of an eye!"

"Ugh," Kate made a face. "Don't remind me."

"You okay?" Ashley asked her. "Feeling like the world is pressing on you a bit less, at least?"

Alexis nodded. "Yeah. Sorry for being snappish."

"It's cool," Freelander said. "I'm going to grab refills."

"I kinda know where you're coming from," Ashley said, shrugging a shoulder.

"So, what happened?" Alexis asked, voice pitched low. "I mean, if you don't mind telling me. I know it's none of my business, but people were saying you were dead for awhile?"

The other girl nodded, her expression flickered through a number of emotions, none of them very good. "So...Okay, you've seen some of the weirdness that's my life right? My Mom's an immortal Mad Scientist. Her best friend is Sherlock Holmes."

Alexis nodded.

Ashley grimaced. "Well, it also turns out she dated Jack the Ripper. She didn't tell me this for obvious reasons. That was a complicated bit of family history, but the upshot is that my father could teleport. They found out recently that at some point, somewhere between here and there, this evil energy elemental attached itself to him."

"That's what caused the- In Whitechapel?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "I wasn't born able to do anything special. My mom told me my father was a really great guy who'd died before I was born. When I got older I figured he was just some guy who didn't have any special abilities, so it made sense that I didn't. When I found out who he was and what he could do, I figured recessive genes. I always got older and I couldn't teleport."

"Something turned it on, then. Something bad."

"There was a group called The Cabal. They wanted to take out the Sanctuary network. They're the types who'd like to see Abnormals either dead or working for them somehow. They knew all about me, even before I did. So they decided they'd use me to basically undo everything Mom had done."

Kate returned and set their cups down on the table. Ashley sipped hers quietly. Kate was also quiet, which said more than anything else. Alexis' impression of the other woman was that she tended to run her mouth.

Alexis listened carefully as Ashley told her about how she'd been drugged and mind-controlled and forced to steal for the Cabal. She felt ill as she realized the depth of the organization if it had known about Ashley's genetic background before even Ashley had known. Ashley told her about the brief moments of lucidity between sessions where they'd pumped her full of the same serum that had changed her parents. Finally the Cabal had imprinted her abnormalities on a small group of unusual humans who had no abnormal markers in their genetic makeup, effectively creating six individuals with the same powers.

Ashley paused in her retelling.

"You don't have to say anymore," Alexis said, sorry she'd asked. Ashley's voice was rough as she recounted the tale, obviously not sparing many details.

"No," she said, eyes blazing. "I do. Because you're part of this world now, and not knowing is what got me into trouble."

Alexis nodded slowly.

"We attacked the Sanctuaries. Tokyo-" she broke off. "It was the end of everything and I fought, but it wasn't enough. They drove us off in London, but then they send us to Old City and I almost killed my mother."

"That's when I hit her in the chest with a rocket launcher," Kate added.

Alexis gaped. "A rocket launcher."

Ashley nodded. "Was a good thing too. Snapped me back into control for just a moment. At that point they'd gotten the EM shield up. I stopped one of the others from killing Mom and I dragged her into the shield with me. That really hurt. The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of the main lab and everything hurt like hell."

"Blondie was a mess, Red," Kate said. "Burned to a crisp in the middle of an impact crater. We're still cleaning up the damage."

"So I can teleport and I heal faster and technically I'm a vampire."

"A vampire."

"Yeah."

"Yep, and she's dating a werewolf now. How's that for a cliché?"

Ashley smacked Kate's shoulder lightly, but the other woman dodged enough that the blow didn't land directly.

"So I know what the books say. What does it mean in reality?"

"Claws. Nasty snaggle teeth. I can change my eye color. Some blood supplement stuff that's really disgusting. Here-" She held her hand out and tensed her fingers. The nails darkened and extended into a claw a few inches long. When Alexis looked up, her eyes had changed from blue to red.

"Woah."

Ashley blinked a few times and they went back to blue, her hand resuming it's normal shape. "Yeah. Until I was twenty-three I was totally normal."

"Are they still around? The people who did this to you?"

"No."

There was a lot contained in that single word. Alexis wasn't sure she wanted to know; not today at least. "Thank you for being straight with me."

Ashley nodded. "So you've got our numbers now and Henry's gonna set you up with Skype. Anytime you need to vent, give me a call."

"Thanks-"

"No, really," Ashley said. "If some of the crap that happened to me can help someone else, then it sucks less."

Alexis thought she could understand that. "Thank you."



New York

Richard stared at the map of New York. Another explosive double homicide had occurred the previous evening and the NYPD was stumped. The leads that Ryan and Esposito had been following had turned up nothing. Captain Gates didn't blame them, but it was clear that she was getting pressure from the top to find answers.

Which is why they'd set up a murder board in his living room.

It was nearly one AM and the rest of the household was asleep. Esposito rubbed his eyes as he stared at the projected image of the murder board in the Twelfth. Ryan sipped at coffee and Kate's eyes were drooping.

"Maybe we should go to bed, Richard suggested. "You guys can bunk here if you want. Plenty of room."

They looked at one another and nodded. Richard made up a couple air mattresses, wincing when the pumps whined more loudly than he would have wanted. The guys took a blanket and a pillow each and were passed out almost as soon as they'd hit their beds.

Richard found Kate brushing her teeth as she watched her team settle in. He smirked at her and she rolled her eyes and finished up in the kitchen sink. She rinsed and spat with a dangerous look that somehow made her look all the more adorable.

"What?" she demanded.

He shook his head and rested a hand lightly on her hip. "Nothing."

"You smirking is never nothing."

She had a point, he supposed. "Aside from the unfortunate circumstances, it's kinda fun watching you watching over them while you're brushing your teeth. It's all oddly domestic."

Kate rolled her eyes and dropped her toothbrush into her glass. She picked both up. "Good night Castle.

"Hey."

When she turned he kissed her, a gentle brush of lips. She tasted like mint and smelled like the shampoo she'd used earlier. He loved that she was here, in his house. That she was well enough to look over the data with them and trade quips. He placed a gentle hand around her waist and kissed her because he'd almost lost her. The gentle kiss opened into something a little more heated as she opened her mouth to him with a small sound he was instantly addicted to. He touched her face, gently cupping the soft skin of her cheek. Their kiss ended in a small "smack" as they broke for air. Richard leaned his forehead against hers and held her as close and as tightly as he thought he could without hurting her.

She's almost died in his arms and yet here she was. He shuddered.

Her hands came up to his cheek and only then did he realize he'd actually begun to cry. Kate's eyes were watery. He rested his forehead against hers, for once without words. He hadn't really ever cried, he realized. He'd been too shocked and then he'd been too focused on the miracle of her being alive.

"I know," she said, her voice was rough with emotion. "I know," she whispered.

Richard held her and cried without shame or embarrassment, but with relief and gratitude that he could. His chest was wet and her shoulders shook. It was finally catching up to him now. Maybe with her as well; Richard couldn't recall seeing her cry either. He held her without judgement, humbled that she'd trust him.

Eventually the tears subsided, leaving the uplifting feeling of relief in their wake. They held one another in the kitchen in silence.

Esposito snored, a loud creaking sound that startled them both.

There was a beat and they both snickered.

"Good night, Rick."

He kissed her cheek and handed her the glass and toothbrush. "Good night, Kate."


In the morning, there was a piece of paper tacked on the board.

"Castle, you see this?" Esposito asked, pointing at the note.

Kate, Richard and Ryan all joined him at the board.

They're all within 4 blocks of the rivers. If you look there are large sewage lines running through those parts of the city which have old access connections to the rivers. Your killer might be an Abnormal. Talk to Gramps. Ashley and Kate F could probably take it down. Have fun at dinner, love you. - Alexis.

"What's an Abnormal?" Ryan asked.

"A very long story," Richard said, staring in wonder at the neat little grid Alexis had drawn before going to school, while they'd all been asleep.

Marked in red sharpie, were areas to check for their killer. Post-its were stuck beside those locations, each with the percentage chance they'd find something based on the time of day. There had to be twenty post-its on the board. How'd she do that so quickly?

Richard pulled out his cellphone and thumbed his father's number.

"Who're you calling?"

Richard grinned and wagged his eyebrows. "My dad."


There were a cluster of locations with the highest probabilities. The Sanctuary crew would meet them at a central location. Kate wanted to go, but everyone had overruled her. They'd compromised and Kate would chill with Henry who'd play coordinator in the van, and show the IT guys the finer points of something technical that had gone over Richard's head.

"So, how do you know Castle again?" Ryan asked Ashley. He was fishing for details, but Castle had wanted to explain things himself. A quiet word to the Sanctuary folks had assured he'd get to do it.

"Oh, you know, writers. Odd contacts," she said, winking. "Dino!" She called to one of the new guys.

 

"Yes, Ms. Magnus?"

Ashley rolled her eyes and made an annoyed sound. "That's my mom."

"Sorry Ms.- Ashley. Sorry."

Kate F. laughed, then harder when Ashley turned the glare her way. "Chris!"

"Yes Ms. Freelander?"

Ashley snorted a laugh. "What do you see newbie?"

"Uhm."

Ashley gave Richard a look. "This is gonna be a long day," she muttered

The apartment building was in an area undergoing a wave of gentrification. Most of the properties were in the middle of renovation, but there were a number of long-term residents still there. Ryan and Esposito were able to gain access thanks to their badges; the rest of the group was easy to explain as special "consultants" who were there to handle the animals their suspects were believed to have.

That had taken some selling on Richard's part. He'd not been able to give a full explanation, and the quick and dirty one he had been able to give had gotten him looks from the two cops. Only having Kate back him up had got them to go along with it.

"Hey," Kate Freelander said. "We're gonna take the newbies this way. You check down that way. If you see something, holler."

"Sure."


Esposito waited until they'd gone out of hearing range before asking again. "So how do you know these people?"

"And why were you talking about Bigfoot?"

"It's a really long story, but they deal with cryptids." He grinned at them. "Have I got a tour for you guys."

Ryan arched a brow at him then shared a shrug with Esposito.

"You'll see." He paused. "You smell that?"

"Yeah," Ryan agreed, facing the door.

Richard stepped back and let the cops do their thing. After there was no answer, they got the super who opened the door.

The apartment smelled bad to put it simply. The acrid smell of waste and rotting food rolled out of the open door into the hall like some hideous olfactory tidal wave. The apartment was filled floor to ceiling with stuff. Little paths wound around leading to the kitchen and bedrooms.

"Looks like a hoarding situation," Ryan said, looking around, a hand covering his face.

The super didn't look pleased. "This unit is supposed to be cleared. Let me know when you're out," he said, obviously not relishing the prospect of trying to clear out the trash.

Richard followed Esposito down one path. Ryan went toward the kitchen.

"Huh. Looks like this part collapsed," Richard mused, looking at where a stack of books had fallen.

"Maybe some kind of struggle," Esposito noted. "I don't want to climb over any of this."

Richard backed up because with all the clutter they had to move one at a time. They headed for the direction Ryan had gone.

"You find anything?" Esposito called out.

"Bathroom back here that's missing some parts of the wall," he called from somewhere on the far side of a pile of newspapers, books and what looked like old craft projects. "Kitchen is pretty clear."

They made their careful way over to the kitchen, frowning at the smell.

Ryan had a handkerchief out over his nose now. "I think it's coming from the fridge," he said.

"I do not want to look in there," Richard said.

The detectives sighed and without a word, threw rock-paper scissors. Esposito won.

With a grimace, Ryan reached for the door and tugged. The door didn't move. He tugged again with the same result.

"Little help here?"

Richard lost the rock-paper-scissors this time. He grabbed hold of the fridge door and on the count of three, they tugged.

What spilled onto the floor defied description, for no words could truly convey the utter IMPACT - caps and italics implied - of the sight and smell.

It was a mottled green-black organic mass that was swollen with decomposition, despite having been locked in the fridge. There were hard bits and a great number of soft, fleshy bits gone a putrid grey. It was slimy and filmy and there was some kind of organic membrane. It had an alien face and milky-white eyes. And then, with a fleshy burp, the meat-bag exploded, getting on Richard's chest, coat and the side of his face. The men fled, gagging, into the hallway. The putrid goo burned and Richard used his clean sleeve to wipe it off.

"What was that?"

"Oh God, some of it got on me!"

Magnus appeared around the corner "Hey you okay down- What is that smell?"

The men just waved inside the room, gagging, eyes watering. Magnus put an arm over her nose and mouth and retreated down the hall. The Sanctuary crew returned. Holding their breath, they checked the inside of the apartment then fled back outside, looking green.

"Out." Magnus pointed at the stairwell.

No one disagreed and they retreated outside, taking in deep lungfuls of air.

"Oh god what was that?" one of the Sanctuary newbies asked.

"You're covered in it," Ashley noted, giving Richard a once over. "Out of the clothes now. it get on your skin."

"Yes. It burns."

"Shit. Henry! Emergency decon!" the last she shouted into her radio.

The residents of the building began to stream outside, the super at their head.

Henry drove up and soon Richard found himself subjected to a cold chemical spray. The newbies held up a tarp and they made Richard strip to his boxers while they sprayed him down with some other cold antiseptic smelling solution. Henry tossed a towel at him and took his clothing with heavy gloved hands.

"Hope you didn't like these," he said, setting them in a clear area.

"Burn 'em."

"We are."

He laughed until he realized that Henry was completely serious and Freelander was already prepping a small torch.

Another IT guy gave him a set of what were clearly emergency scrubs and Richard put them on. When he emerged, Ashley was handling the super with Kate and one of their newbies in tow.

Half an hour later another van pulled up and Sanctuary types in full hazmat gear emerged. Dr. Magnus among them.

"What do we have?"

"It's dead," Freelander said. "Never seen anything like that before. Tentacles and fangs. Lots of eyes."

"It looked like someone killed a shaggoth," Ryan said, still looking green around the gills.

"Actually, that's really accurate," Ashley corroborated. "Mr. Castle got some of it on him when it exploded on them. We've followed decon protocol. No one else got hit."

"Yah that's me," he joked, "taking one for the team."

"Hey man," Esposito said, "I owe you one for that."

"Yeah," Ryan agreed.

"You okay?" his Kate asked, eyes quickly looking him over, assessing the damage.

"Face kind of itches a little," he admitted. "But it's not as bad as before they sprayed me down."

"Dr. Magnus!" Kate called out, then explained the situation.

Magnus looked him over and even peered into his eyes with a little pen light. He ended up using towel sized baby wipes on his face with orders to go home and shower.

"We'll have a look at what you found. I suggest you go home," she said, looking at Richard and the detectives. "Henry?"

"Sure thing, doc."

"Should we be leaving?" Esposito asked.

Richard and Kate exchanged a look. "I think Dr. Magnus has this covered."

"I hope this won't affect your date?" Richard asked, leaning up to speak privately with Henry.

"Nah. Ash'll be out of there in a little while if the Doc has some of Bahur's people in full Haz-Mat gear. No need for her and Kate to stick around if the thing's already dead."

Still eyeing the apartment building, Ryan and Esposito got into the van. Henry closed the door and started up the vehicle, pulling out of the small parking lot. Behind them, Richard's clothing went up in flames.


Kate winced as muscles pulled. It was an improvement though; she could brush her hair herself. The zipper on her dress was another matter entirely, though. She'd have to get Martha's or Alexis' help on that one. Or even Rick's. Provided of course he'd managed to get rid of the lingering stench.

Given the excitement of earlier, they'd decided to forego the movie part of the evening and just go right to dinner out. Kate knew that Rick was anxious to quiz the two further. Kate was interested as well. The Sanctuary people had arrived on scene well prepared, calm and with all the proper credentials to handle the situation. It made her wonder how often they did this sort of this. It wasn't a feeling she particularly liked.

Finished with her outfit save that damned zipper - which wasn't the easiest thing in the best of cases - Kate climbed the stairs looking for a helping hand.

Martha's door was closed and she didn't answer when Kate rapped on it, which likely meant she was out. Alexis' door was ajar and her light was on. She rapped on Alexis' door.

The girl blinked at her. "Oh. Right. Dinner."

"Is that okay?" Kate asked, suddenly worried it wouldn't be. After today Alexis might not be feeling so charitable.

At length she sighed. "You wouldn't have been where you were today if I hadn't left those notes, so I guess I'm to blame as much as anyone for that." Her fingers tapped on the door. "I just want him to be safe."

"I know," Kate said. It came out with the weight of knowing just how bad the world could be and how fragile life was.

Alexis sighed, resting against her door. Her expression was resigned but there was a touch of dark, wry humor there as well.

"Can't really predict random stuff like exploding rancid fridge corpses, huh?"

Kate shook her head, lips quirking.

"Can I ban you both from working on the case that got you shot?" she asked, completely serious.

The humor drained away. Kate opened her mouth to protest but Alexis spoke first.

"At least until you're better prepared to deal with whoever's on the other side? 'Cause..."

Brought up short, it took a moment for Kate to process Alexis' tone and body language.

"Just promise me you won't do anything overt until you've covered all the angles."

Kate nodded, lips pressed into a firm line. "If I've learned one thing from this, it's that they had their shot at me and they blew it. When I go for the person responsible, it'll be for keeps."

"I don't like the idea that people like whoever this person is, have so much power. I don't want my dad in the line of fire, but- Just be careful."

Kate nodded.

"Just try. I know you can't promise anything in a world where my grandfather is Sherlock Holmes and dead monsters explode on people."

"God, the smell," Kate said as the tension between them broke. "I was outside and I could smell it."

"Dad was on his third shower. At this point I think it might be in his head," Alexis laughed.

"Well that kind of smell is...Memorable," Kate said, finally finding a word that would suffice.

"That's for sure."

"Oh. Would you mind," she turned slightly so Alexis could see the open zipper.

"Oh! Sure. Still having problems reaching?"

Kate nodded with a resigned expression. "Yes, but this dress is annoying even without mobility issues."

Alexis chuckled and zipped up the dress, securing the eyelet at the top. "It's really nice. Red's a good color for you."

"Thank you."

"Alexis have you seen-" Richard opened his door and froze. He was half dressed, his shirttails hanging around his boxers, a pair of dark socks on his feet. "My tie," he finished. "You look amazing."

"Dad, you have no pants."

"Wow."

Kate shared an amused look with Alexis and did her best to saunter by. She sniffed the air around him. "Hmm."

"What?"

"It'll do."

"Hey!"

She lightly smacked his arm. "Hurry up and get dressed or I'm leaving without you," she called over her shoulder. If her exit wasn't as smooth as she'd have liked, it was an improvement over the previous weeks. The stairs weren't even all that bad going down.


Richard was fairly sure that even with his rugged good looks and natural charm, he wasn't a match for the stunning vision Kate Beckett made as they walked down the street. The day might not have been the best ever, thanks to the exploding whatsit, but it was looking up. He reflected on all the wonderful things that had happened to him in the past week. Sure there had been moments of stress and even some heartache, but over all, a pretty damn good week.

"You're happy," Kate remarked.

"I am going to have dinner at one of the best restaurants on the East Coast, I've had some absolutely amazing family revelations, and I'm on the arm of a beautiful and talented woman. I ask you, what's not to be happy about?"

"Well, when you put it that way," she chuckled. "Looks like they beat us," she said, nodding at the younger couple hanging out by the door. "They're adorable."

Mr. Foss had cleaned up well and wore a green shirt, suit pants and jacket. Richard doubted he was the sort to be comfy in such an outfit, but he looked venue appropriate. Ms. Magnus was wearing the archetypal little black dress under a leather coat. They were cuddled up to one another, wearing goofy smiles.

Richard grinned. "They make me want to write urban fantasy teen romance."

Kate gave him a surprised look.

"Oh come on," he said. "Geeky werewolf boy romancing his best friend the hot vampire chick? That is so in right now.

Kate's entirely expected response was to roll her eyes at him. She stopped mid-roll. "Wait, vampire?"

"Oh, you didn't hear that part? I'll give you the full story later, but yeah. She went through a pretty nasty ordeal according to Alexis. She was experimented on by a group that hated Dr. Magnus and her organization."

"Vampire."

"Alexis doesn't think she's very comfy with it."

Kate nodded. "Won't bring it up then."

The couple noticed them coming down the block and waved.

"Enjoy the museum?" Richard asked.

Ashley gave them a brilliant smile. "Yeah!" she said, animatedly rattling off the highlights as they waited for the Host to finish seating the group before them.

Richard noted the excellent, almost antique, manners both used as they were seated; Henry taking Ashley's coat and holding her seat for her. Richard smiled and gallantly pulled out Kate's chair for her. She rolled her eyes but went along with him. He ordered a bottle of wine for the table and the wait staff took their order.

Richard was dying to ask Henry how things had gone, but neither girl seemed inclined to go "powder her nose". Richard wasn't sure that they would have formed a feminine pack and gone together in any case.

"What?" Kate asked him.

"What, what?"

"You okay?"

"Was just curious how their date went."

Kate rolled her eyes and set her napkin on the table. "I'm going to hit the restroom." She nodded slightly in the correct direction.

"Might as well," Ashley said, following.

Richard and Henry waited approximately three seconds before scooting their chairs closer.

"So how'd it go?"

"I still don't know what I was looking at, but she really liked it. It was really great just seeing her smile."

"Well done," he said, putting out a hand.

"Excellent Idea. Thanks." They shook.

They scooted their chairs away again.

"So how long did it take you to get rid of the smell?" Henry asked, reaching for the basket of bread at the center of the table.

"After the second I just stayed in the shower for about another hour. I think it's gone but," he leaned in closer. "To be honest, my skin kinda tingles a little still. It kinda feels like a bad sunburn."

"I don't see anything."

"Neither do I. I haven't mentioned it to Kate though. I didn't want to worry her."

"We can get the Doc to take a look," Henry assured. "Girls are back."

The girls returned, chatting animatedly.

"Discussing the art exhibit?" Richard asked.

"Actually no. Ashley was telling me about her custom Jericho," Kate said, retaking her seat.

"And that would be a-"

"Gun," the others at the table answered more or less in unison.

"Ah. so-" He was cut off by Henry.

"You guys smell that?" He frowned and sniffed the air.

"Smell- Oh." Ashley turned her head in more or less the same direction that Henry had.

The room began to react, starting from the far side near the kitchens, and rolling across in a wave. It took a moment for the smell to reach their table. People on the far side of the room were reacting. The wait staff were buzzing around in confusion.

"That's from earlier today," Richard said. "Not as strong but-

The floor rumbled under their feet.

"What-"

Kate's exclamation was cut off by the explosion in the kitchen. People shouted and winced in their seats, a few others stood in surprise. There was a horrific, wet screech that only got louder as the doors were flung open The kitchen staff ran outside, screaming in terror.

A writhing mass of a creature flowed out on their heels. It had fleshy, questing bits that knocked over tables, and harder spiny protrusions. It was mottled black with greener and greyer patches. It flowed like some kind of amoeba from hell. It had too many eyes and very sharp teeth. A gaping maw opened in the center of the creature and it howled.

People screamed and went for the exit, climbing over tables and chairs and one another.

Richard was grabbed by Henry and hauled back, as Ashley and Kate scrambled out of their seats. The creature turned its head and focused right on Richard.

"Oh, shit!"

With a cry, Ashley flipped the table on its side. Henry hauled Richard behind the table.

"Oh, shit!" Richard turned wide eyes to Henry who was fumbling for his phone.

Ashley had kicked her shoes off and-

"You have a gun?" Richard questioned. He looked past her at Kate. "You have a gun? Where'd you put it?"

"Hammer-space," Henry quipped. "Hey Doc! We've got a problem here."

Kate and Ashley had both kicked off their shoes and held their guns ready. The restaurant had cleared out on that side and the creature appeared to be rooting around with its limbs. It froze and began sniffing the air. It turned their way and Richard ducked behind the table again.

Henry was giving rapid directions on his phone. Richard grabbed whatever he could reach from the ground. It wasn't much but it was something. A tentacle swept around the table. Castle stabbed at it with the knife.

Reeking black ichor oozed out of the wound and the creature screamed again.

Ashley shot at it, the bark of Kate's .22 following.

Richard's ears rang with the shots, but he could still hear Ashley's order to move.

Ashley covered their escape and Kate led the way over tables and chairs toward the front exit.

"I'm out," Ashley shouted. The creature squealed and bled, tentacle-like limbs flailing around. One side of its face was covered in ichor, blinded by the shots fired into its skull. It wrapped a leg around a chandelier and it lifted off the ground. A tentacle swung down like a scythe, but Ashley darted away. Another made a grab for Richard, but Ashley swiped a fork off a nearby table and stabbed it.

"I've got rounds," Kate shouted back, taking careful aim. She shot at the limb holding it aloft. The creature shuddered and the limbs retracted entirely into the body. Kate hit it enough times that it dropped to the floor again with a shriek and a squelching sound. She backed up enough to join the group. "I only have a few shots left. You have more ammo?"

"No. Henry? We getting back up?" Ashley asked.

"Doc's on her way. She's trying to get a hold of Druitt. Says we should get out of dodge."

"We can't let that thing escape!" Her eyes had gone red and her fingernails had lengthened into dark claws. It made a rush and she clawed at it. The creature retreated, making hideous noises. "And I think it wants to make friends with Mr. Castle."

Henry growled, a real honest-to-god growl; the kind of sound that primitive man had heard from creatures with sharp eyes and keen teeth. Henry shoved his phone into Richard's hands, shucked off the jacket and handed that to him as well. Then he kicked off his shoes.

"What are you doing?" Richard asked.

"Just don't shoot me," he said. He touched Kate's shoulder. "Don't shoot me."

He stripped off the nice shirt and flung it at the pile in Richard's arms. Then he changed; his nose pushed out, his teeth elongated into fangs. Brown hair sprouted over his body as his limbs stretched and changed. He shook himself all over.

"Cool."

Henry snorted in what was clearly amusement then bounded into the ongoing fray. Richard blinked. Ashley was darting around, slashing with those wicked looking claws and generally harassing the creature so it couldn't move forward and do something horrible; like kill Richard and Kate.

A tentacle-like limb flicked out and caught Ashley in the shoulder. She went flying into the tables near Richard. He rose, sure she was down for the count. She got up, pulled a broken flower from a centerpiece out of her hair, and ran back in.

"Woah."

"You said it, sister."

"I think Alexis will be okay with these people around her."

"Uh-huh."

They worked as a team, keeping the many tentacles writhing around, slashing them when they wrapped around the other or just got too close. The creature seemed to be inexhaustible, though ichor flowed from a hundred wounds.

Richard and Kate moved in front of the front entrance way. From here they could flag down backup and, if need be, Kate could use her last two shots as a final attempt to kill the creature.

"Henry?"

"We're in here!" Castle called out.

Dr. Magnus, Kate Freelander and a tall, bald man appeared. Freelander and Magnus carried heavy looking steampunk gun cannon things.

"What's the situation?"

"Shaggoth tentacle thing trying to eat me. Probably related to this morning."

Magnus nodded once, businesslike. "Detective?"

"Ashley unloaded a .22 into it. I have two round left on mine."

Magnus held out a third weapon. Kate secured her gun and handed it to Richard then accepted the weapon.

"Safety here. Stun pulse comes out this end," Freelander said, quickly going over how the weapon worked.

"Do I get one?" Richard asked, hopeful.

"No," both Kate's answered at the same time.

"Henry! Ashley!" Magnus called out.

"Busy!" Ashley called back, talons flashing out to neatly sever the end of one barbed tentacle.

"Get clear!"

Ashley swiped at another tentacle then snuck over to Henry who raked his own claws down the shifting, oozing sides of the creature. She put a hand on his arm and they teleported over to the entrance area.

"Ladies," Magnus said, lifting her weapon.

They spread out slightly as the creature got its bearings, having suddenly lost its prey. It focused once again on Richard and rushed out, flowing over tables, chairs and debris. The guns whined as they charged up and three pulses shot out and hit the creature. It reared back, not quite octopus, not quite amoeba. The central maw of the creature was surrounded by grasping limbs.

The guns fired again and a third time. The creature let out a full body shudder and collapsed to the ground. Freelander looked it over with a scowl then shot twice more for good measure. The smell of burned creature wafted through the air.

"Well," Henry commented into the resounding silence. "This was probably the second weirdest date I've ever been on."

"Second weirdest?" Richard questioned, in time with Kate Beckett and Ashley.

"Date?" the tall, bald man asked.

Henry froze. "Uh-"

"Oh, don't even start," Ashley snapped at the older man. In a softer voice she asked Henry, "Second?"

"Yeah," he eyed her askance. "Can we not go into my exes while I'm covered in goo and standing in my boxers with him giving me the hairy eyeball?" he jerked a thumb at the tall, bald man.

"Okay," she agreed. She looked down and her expression turned sly. "Nice boxers."

"Batman! Nice, Hank!" Kate Freelander teased.

"Uhm." Richard handed Henry his clothing. Henry accepted the bundle gravely.

"I believe I hear the police," the tall man added.

"Oh, yeah we should scram."

Kate had pulled out her badge when Richard wasn't looking. "Someone give me a story that doesn't sound crazy."

"Where did you get that?" he questioned.

She winked at him. "Like the man said; hammer-space." She regarded the utter ruins of the room. "Think my phone survived?"

Castle pulled out his own remarkably unmolested phone and called her number. Something in the wreckage began to chime.

"I've got shoes. I'll get it," Freelander said.

"So what was that thing?" Richard asked.

"Shaggolothicus erinyes," Magnus said. "I have a full report for you if you'd like, Detective. I believe these are the creature behind your killings. They're amphibious creatures which reproduce by laying eggs in the digestive tracts of their victims. Then the young eat their way out. They're rare and their life cycle is marked by periods of extended hibernation under water."

"I could have lived without knowing that," Henry muttered.

"Great." Kate Beckett looked around. "In about ten seconds a lot of confused cops are going to come in here. What do we tell them?"

"Swamp gas?" Henry spoke up.

"PETA tried to save the octopi?" Kate Freelander offered.

"Bad fish?" Ashley chimed in.

"Hallucinogenic mold?" The bald man suggested.

"Performance art piece gone terribly wrong?" Richard added.

Everyone looked at him.

He pointed at himself. "Writer."

Magnus smirked. "Detective, I believe you and I can handle this. We'll...come up with something plausible," she said.

This left Richard with the others. He turned to Henry. "Second? Really?"

Henry shrugged.

"I suppose I'll be needed to take you all home?" the tall man drawled. His accent was like Magnus' but he moved with a predatory air.

"And you are?" Richard asked.

"Oh. Sorry. Richard Castle, John Druitt. John Druitt, Richard Castle," Ashley introduced. "He's my father," she said to Richard. Turning to Druitt she jerked a thumb at Richard and added, "This is Uncle James' son."

Richard shook hands with Druitt who was studying him intently. It was more than a little unnerving. He wondered if this guy was secretly someone famous, too. He'd have to Google it.

"Nice to meet you."

"A pleasure," Druitt answered back, with the same proper, gentlemanly decorum as James.

"So you know my father?"

Druitt's smile was slow and dangerous. "We went to school together."

Oh. Oh. Right. Immortals. Mad Science.

"Rick?" his Kate called. "This is going to be awhile."

He nodded dumbly. "I'll wait."

"Well, I need a shower," Ashley said, picking at the remains of her dress. It was ripped and torn and covered in black goo, but she didn't appear to have a scratch on her.

"You guys go home first," Freelander suggested.

"I can take you," Druitt said.

"Thanks for the table," Henry said, shaking hands. "And the suggestion," he added.

Richard gave him a thumbs up then clasped hands with Ashley.

Druitt disappeared with them in a cloud of red-gold.


Showered and in the most comfy clothes she could find, Kate Beckett sat on the couch waiting for the popcorn to be finished and the pizza to arrive. Rick had set up an old classic he loved on his streaming connection and she was looking forward to simply sitting on the couch with him.

The paperwork tomorrow was going to be a mess, but tonight she needed a few hours to decompress. Neither of them thought they could sleep after what had happened at dinner.

The pizza arrived and the popcorn was soon done. Rick brought everything over to the living room table and sat beside her.

"You're going to love this," he promised as he fiddled with the many complicated remotes.

The front door opened and Martha glided in. Was her hair tousled? Kate arched an eyebrow.

"Hello darlings," she said, draping her coat and scarf on the hangers by the door. "You're home from dinner early."

"Mother it's nearly one AM."

"Oh. So it is."

Kate covered her mouth with a hand to hide her grin. She wondered when Rick would get it.

"Mother, are you feeling well?"

Martha sighed. "Never been better darling."

"Where-" He paused, eyes going wide. "You were out with James."

The look that crossed his face was part horror, part surprise, part disgust, part laugh. Kate couldn't help but laugh herself. He'd never had to deal with the idea of both his parents, together. The expression was adorable, and she felt zero pity. She reached over and patted his hand.

Martha sighed dramatically. "He's my deep fried twinkie, dear."

"Too, much- No! How does that even work- No! Goodnight Mother."

Martha smirked and winked at Kate. She gave her a little wave and went upstairs, humming.

Kate patted his hand again. "Just try not to think about it. That's what the rest of us do."

"Gyah!"


Ashley had disappeared into her room as soon as they'd arrived back at the New York Sanctuary. Henry hadn't really thought anything of it because he'd been making a beeline for his own shower. It was only after he'd washed off the ichor and accompanying stench that he began to question if that hadn't been the worst date ever.

Henry rinsed his hair. He'd also mentioned the ex and for the life of him, he couldn't recall what Ashley knew about Erica. Henry quickly towelled off. That could be bad. The breakup had been mutual because she wanted to travel and couldn't stand the thought of living in an institution, having had too much of that growing up. Henry's loyalty to the Sanctuary had only deepened, but then his situation had been very different from Erica's. Still, he'd thought about marrying her. Henry dressed fast, stuffing his feet into the first pair of shoes he found.

There was a knock at the door.

"Yeah?" he answered as he opened the door, intending to send whomever away.

It was Ashley. She blinked at his gruff tone.

"Hi?"

"Hey," he smiled, feeling like an idiot. "Hey. Sorry. I was just going to go find you."

She smiled. "Sorry for running off."

"I get it," he said. "Really. That thing was rank."

She smiled and leaned up, kissing him. "Thank you. I had a really great time."

Henry blinked. "You did?"

She nodded.

"Wanna do it again sometime? Minus the ghoul?"

She smiled brightly. "Yeah. You can drag me to something geeky."

"It's a date." He leaned forward and kissed her again.


Kate wasn't back officially, but she'd needed to go into the office to help settle some of the details as the officer on record for the incident at Alfredo's. Richard had followed along, intent on taking her out to lunch when her business at the precinct was done. He dropped her off then parked the car. They'd be in and out in an hour.

He stopped short on his way out of the elevator. His father was there. Kate was speaking with him, as was the new Chief and a few other officers. Once again he father was surrounded by women. The whole of the precinct had an odd wary mood, which he caught on to as he strode forward. Backs were tense and looks were furtive. It was the same sort of mood that happened when a truly dangerous criminal was being interviewed. Richard looked around and soon saw why.

Jack the Ripper, John Druitt, was also there.

He stood to one side and his hands were neatly folded at the small of his back. He wore an expression of bemusement, which Richard could see when the man turned in his direction, noticing him first. Druitt nodded politely in silent greeting. They might not have known who he was, but they were good cops, and reacted to something in his body language.

Richard swallowed and returned the gesture. His mother had given him more details when he'd finally gotten around to Googling the name. He probably wouldn't flip out and kill everyone. Probably.

"Hey, Castle," Ryan said.

James turned, smiling. "Richard!"

The crowd dispersed some as Richard joined them.

"I left off the important part of the introduction," Kate said, ducking her head in close so only he could hear."

"Thanks," he whispered back.

"We didn't know you knew any detectives besides us," Ryan said.

"Yeah, why're you holding out on us, buddy?" Esposito teased.

"Detectives Kevin Ryan, Detective Javier Esposito, Captain, this is Dr. James Watson. My father."

"Wow," Ryan said, holding out a hand. "Honor to meet you, sir."

He shook hands with the others. "Likewise. Richard and Kate have spoken highly of their colleagues. Now, if you'll excuse me a moment." He drew Richard aside.

"You're leaving?"

"For now. There's a situation at home that requires my presence."

"I kinda figured when I saw the express route holding up the wall."

James chuckled. "Just so."

"Uhm, I don't mean to be rude but-"

"There's a certain irony in him being here? In my continuing acquaintance?"

Richard winced. "Yeah."

James put a hand on his shoulder. "That is a very long story. I hope you'll allow me the opportunity to tell it?"

"Absolutely," Richard said, embracing him.

James held him at arm's length and looked him over. "You're a good man, Richard. For whatever it's worth, I'm very proud of you."

"Thanks, Dad."

"Now I'm afraid I'm off to London, but I'll be back soon. Until then, Helen and Tiaa should be able to handle anything with Alexis."

Richard nodded. "Thank you."

James smiled and turned to John. "Shall we, old boy?"

Druitt inclined his head and strolled with James toward the elevator.

"Hey, Dad?"

James turned, arching a brow.

"Email. It's the telegram of the 21st century."

James' rolling laugh followed him into the elevator.

Richard smiled.

"Hey," Kate said. "You okay?"

He looped an arm around her waist. "Yep."

~fin