Disclaimer: I don't own Castle (rather boring for a first Castle disclaimer, I do think).

Spoilers: None.

Setting: Alternate universe; set about three to four years before the start of the series. Kate and Castle meet under different circumstances. This still takes place in New York, but I neither live in nor have been to New York, so anything geographically specific in this story is actually more of a 'best guess' scenario. Please allow me some leeway :P

Enjoy!

-Soph


Incidental

Kate Beckett's heels skidded harshly against the stoop of the doorway leading into her apartment building, making her careen into two tightly wrapped-up individuals standing cramped under the tiny porch.

"Oh, s-sorry—" she began to mumble, but her apology died on her lips as she took in the face of the taller figure before her. Blue eyes; brown hair peeking out from under a damp raincoat; angular face with a crooked smile painted on it. Richard Castle, her brain supplied helpfully, even as he spoke up with the reassurance that no harm was done.

She swallowed.

No, that was not possible.

She looked away, and her gaze brushed past the little girl accompanying him—and then she froze again and stared at the little girl. A shock of red hair framing the palest face she had ever seen. Idly, a tiny corner of her mind reminded her that Richard Castle had a daughter of around that same age.

She shook her head and turned her key in the lock of the main door, prepared to enter and just shut it behind her. She was losing her mind. That had to be it. It could not be that he was here, because that was the Richard Castle, best-selling novelist, plus daughter. It did not make sense that they would be standing on the stoop of her apartment building—of all places—on a rainy Saturday evening and looking as if it were a perfectly normal occurrence. It was surreal.

They had to be a mirage; a figment of her imagination.

Or maybe it was just a case of mistaken identity.

Pushing away her thoughts, she opened the door and stepped inside. Upon the threshold she paused for a moment, and the dark-haired man—clearly seeing his window of opportunity—spoke up.

"Do you mind if we wait inside? It's just, Alexis—" he patted the head of the carrot-haired little girl, "—she's shivering, and I … I'm not really sure when the storm will die down, and my phone died, so…"

So, they were unable to get home, she concluded.

"Oh, sure," she assured him quickly, having previously taken in the ghastly white countenance of the trembling little girl. The man breathed out his thanks and hustled the girl into the hallway; the door shut, and Kate was left to stare in semi-darkness at the two figures.

"Uh…" the man stuttered awkwardly.

"Right," Kate murmured, as if he had said anything that warranted a response. She cast another glance at Alexis. "Actually, you know what? Maybe you two … would like to come up to my apartment for hot chocolate?"

"Oh, we couldn't impose—"

She waved a dismissive hand. "Your little girl looks like she could use something to warm her up."

"Yeah…" He looked worriedly at Alexis. "On second thought…"

Kate smiled. "This way."

xoxo

Alexis had remained silent for the entirety of the conversation in the downstairs hallway and then the trek upstairs to Kate's place, and it was not until Kate had wrapped two thick towels around her small frame and handed her a cup of hot chocolate that she voiced what had apparently been on her mind.

"You're a cop," she observed, making Kate freeze in the middle of sinking into an armchair. Kate's eyes darted reflexively to the man, who was now looking at her with interest.

"I'm sorry," she stammered. "I usually put away my badge and gun when I come home—"

"It's okay," he interrupted. "Alexis knows what badges and guns are. She's exposed to it."

Kate raised her eyebrows despite herself.

"In purely fictional form," he hastily clarified.

"Oh." She sat heavily.

"'Cause I write fiction," he continued.

"O-oh." This was not happening. Not. Happening.

"C'mon," he wailed, morphing from responsible father into what she could only describe as a man-child in the split of a second. "You can't tell me you don't know who I am."

"Dad!" Alexis chided at his elbow.

"She has my books! All of them—even the ones that didn't sell!" he whined.

"I know, but that's rude!" his daughter returned. Kate stared at them, mouth agape and breath caught in her throat, as the daughter continued to scold the father.

So, he was Richard Castle.

She had Richard-freakin'-Castle sitting in the middle of her living room.

Seriously. Richard Castle.

And to think she had not even believed it until they had gone on to confirm it for her.

Was this a prank? she wondered blindly. Her head spun a little, and it must have shown outwardly, because they suddenly turned to her with similar expressions of concern on their faces.

"Are you okay?" Alexis asked anxiously, and Kate nodded numbly.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm f-fine," she croaked, her throat suddenly parched. "Just caught off-guard, that's all."

Castle frowned. "Sorry…?" he offered, sounding more confused than apologetic.

"Is this a prank?"

The man gaped at her. "What? Why would it be a prank?"

"It's just…" she floundered helplessly. "… Not possible. What—why—what are you doing here?"

"You invited us up," he pointed out.

She clicked her tongue in irritation. "Not that."

"Daddy was showing me around," Alexis piped up. "We don't usually come to this part of Manhattan, but he wanted to show me Little Italy. He says we'd been once when I was younger, but I don't remember. Anyway, we were walking back when it started to rain—we usually walk for a bit until my legs get tired—and we couldn't find any cabs. So, we took shelter under the porch of an apartment building, and here we are."

Kate cleared her throat sheepishly. "Oh. Oh, that makes sense."

"What were you expecting?" Alexis asked curiously.

"I just didn't think you'd be standing on my doorstep, of all places," Kate admitted softly, realizing belatedly at Castle's Cheshire-cat-like grin that she should probably have phrased it in a different manner.

He started, "In the interests of looking after young ears—"

"Daddy!" Alexis interjected.

"—I won't dignify that comment with something salacious," he continued. "But well, surprise! Now, where would you like it?"

"I—What?" Kate spluttered in offended bewilderment.

"Autograph," Castle explained patiently. "Would you like one? Actually, I might need to borrow a pen—"

"No, thank you," she replied stiffly. "I don't think I'll be needing one."

Her stomach rolled against her will.

"You made her mad, Daddy," Alexis said quietly, and Kate mutely concurred.

Because for so long, she had hoped to meet Richard Castle.

Castle's books were no literary masterpiece, Kate knew, but they were the one constant in her young-adult years—in the years since her mother's death—and she had relied heavily on them to get her through tough times. On really bad days, his books were her comfort. Her safety. In some ways, her salvation.

And it killed her to realize the man was so far from anything she had hoped him to be.

Castle, to his credit, looked quite penitent. He did not apologize, though. "Okay," he said instead, shrugging. "No biggie."

Kate bit her lip.

"Dad's not the best of communicators," Alexis informed her gravely. "He goes overboard with the humour, but he means well."

Kate chuckled lightly, trying to shrug off her disappointment. "I suppose you would know the most about that, huh?"

Alexis nodded vigorously. "He's been on my bad side before, too."

Castle pouted. "Alexis…"

"You deserved it, Dad," his daughter chastised sharply, but then tucked her small hand into his. "C'mon, let's go. I think the storm's dying down."

Kate glanced out of the window.

She did not think the rain had lightened in the slightest bit, so perhaps Alexis thought that the faux pas in manners meant they had very much overstayed their welcome. Impulsively, Kate held up a hand instead.

"Actually," she said, halting their movements to leave, "maybe you would like to call a cab? You could borrow my phone."

Castle's eyes brightened. "Ooh, could we?"

She nodded, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket and unlocking it before handing it to Castle. He eyed it for a moment, and she held her breath, prepared to snatch it right out of his hands if he started digging through her photos. To her relief, he merely dialled a number and put the phone to his ear. She relaxed and melted back into her chair only to find Alexis staring at her.

"What?" Kate asked.

"What do you do?" the little girl asked softly.

Kate frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, do you work in Traffic? Or Homicide? Or Vice? Or Nar-Narco…tics? Or something else?"

Kate merely blinked at the little girl, mildly disturbed by the detailed knowledge the youngster appeared to have. "How do you know all this?"

"Daddy taught me about them."

They both glanced at the man by the window, whose phone conversation seemed to have run too long for him merely to be calling a cab. Kate rubbed her temple absent-mindedly.

"Are you sure your dad would want me to answer this question?" she asked.

"I don't think he'd care."

"No?" Kate's eyes sought out Castle's tall figure again. "No," she conceded, "he probably wouldn't. I work in Vice."

"Oh."

"I'm not really prepared to share on this topic, Alexis."

"Okay," the girl agreed easily. Her father arrived back on the scene at that moment. He handed Kate back her phone with a quick thanks and, in a single fluid motion, scooped up Alexis only to deposit said daughter into his lap once he had taken up the space he had vacated her from. Alexis protested loudly—Castle vehemently insisted that it had been his spot before he had gone to make the call—and Kate laughed to herself as she watched on.

Okay. Maybe Castle as a father was not so bad, after all.

xoxo

Ten minutes later, they were once again in the ground floor hallway and waiting for the taxicab to arrive. As they waited, they listened to Castle spin a fantasy tale of dragons and princesses who rescued their own selves; Alexis was enraptured, and Kate watched with fond amusement as the little girl constantly interrupted him with suggestions of how the stories could turn out.

The father/daughter pair was really something else.

It reminded Kate of her own father, a recovering alcoholic much too young to have suffered through the tragedy he did. Jim Beckett had not yet hit fifty when he lost his wife and Kate lost her mother in what the police had ruled—wrongly, Kate would insist with her every breath—as random gang violence. Stab wounds all over her body—Johanna Beckett had died tragically. It was no surprise that her partner lived on tragically. Kate knew there were still days when her father was tempted to dive head-first into the bottle without regard for anything else, and she lived with the fear of his succumbing every single day.

But, no matter.

It did not matter how scared she was. It did not matter how inadequate she felt, trying to cope with something for which she was ill-equipped. Jim was her father. She would save him even if it cost her—and it did not; of course it did not—because nothing would ever be too much for the man who had filled her childhood with dragons, princesses, and fantasies of every colour right up to the moment his own world became grey.

She startled at the feeling of small, cool hand slipping into hers and looked down to see Alexis staring up at her. "You weren't listening to Daddy's story," the little girl said. "He figured that out when he tried to put you in the story and conveniently forgot to give you clothes, and you didn't even yell at him."

Kate did not know whether to be embarrassed, utterly scandalized, or overcome by a sudden case of hysterical giggles.

"Castle," she settled for sighing.

"Ooh, I like my name that way," Castle said with a grin, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Everyone calls me 'Rick', 'Richard', or even 'Mr Castle'. Never just 'Castle'."

"Sorry," Kate murmured. "Force of habit."

"S'okay," Castle said, "and as I was telling Alexis, I didn't 'conveniently forget' your clothes. I just didn't describe them."

"Please, Daddy," Alexis retorted with a cynical tone. "I may not be a teenager yet, but I'm not stupid."

The taxicab very fortunately chose that moment to pull up.

"They grow up too fast," Castle grumbled melodramatically as he pulled the door open. He greeted the man outside—the driver of the cab—and retrieved something from the man's arms. Then, he stepped into the hallway again and presented the large, rectangular box to Kate. "Ta-da!" he pronounced with a grand flourish that made her frown in confusion.

"Chocolates?" she asked.

"You … don't like them?" Castle questioned hesitantly.

"No, I do," she answered quickly. "But why…?"

"A thank you gift," Castle announced with a proud beam, "for the warmth and the hot drinks. And the phone call, as well, though the phone call dragged on because I was ordering—"

"Thank you," Kate cut in with a light chuckle as she took the box. "That's very sweet."

"I always am." He gave her an exaggerated bow and rubbed his hands together when he straightened. "So … I guess we should go. Might we possibly see you again, Miss…?"

"Beckett," Kate answered shyly. "Kate. And I don't know: I doubt our paths would cross again anytime soon. Manhattan is home to more than a million—"

He wiggled his eyebrows. "Well, I know where you live."

"That isn't creepy at all," she deadpanned.

"It's not," he assured her, "Not when Alexis is coming along. And we could use a playdate. Right, Alexis?"

"Right!" the girl crowed. "But you should come to our loft. Oh, I haven't inducted you into the laser tag competition yet."

Laughter spilt unwittingly from Kate's lips. "What?"

"It's a Castle thing," the blue-eyed author explained. "But for now, we bid you adieu. Sleep on the idea. Say 'yes' when I call you—to the playdate, I mean. Laser tag remains to be seen. It's pretty intense; you might not be able to keep up. But for now, we wish you the best evening."

"G'night!" the girl chirped before slipping out the door and fluidly into the cab, clearly eager to get home now that the option was available.

Castle's eyes lingered on Kate for a moment before he followed his daughter.

"Wait!" she hurriedly stopped him. "Do you think—Maybe I should give you my number?"

"No need," he answered smoothly, winking at her. "Peter, my driver, has your number. So! Until tomorrow, Kate."

Her eyebrows shot up so high that she was sure they touched her hairline. "Tomorrow?" she echoed with disbelief.

Castle did not miss a beat. "Yup. That's when we'll be scheduling that date."

And with that, he was out the door.

Kate gaped after them. The cab pulled away from the curb and made its way down the street; she bit into her bottom lip to suppress a giggle, but failed to reign in a smile.

Oh, well.

There were worse things in the world than smiling over a little girl and her eccentric character of a father, Kate supposed.