Disclaimer and Introduction: The characters aren't mine, and I claim no rights or interest in them. For those parts of what follows that are original to me, they're mine.

Notwithstanding my story Schrödinger's Kate providing an explanation for Castle's behavior following the confrontation with Beckett in her apartment during Always (S4 finale), I've never been able to reconcile to my satisfaction Castle's complete lack of action after leaving Beckett's apartment, with Castle being fiercely protective of his family and those he loves. Though it's 'over' and he's 'done' with Kate, Castle totally walking away when he believes she's in a war, only makes to sense to me if you know how Always is going to end. With that in mind, this story is an AU path for Castle in the aftermath of that argument.

This is the first time I'm starting to publish a story without it being completely written. I hope to publish a chapter once a week or so, but don't hold me to that. I'm not a fast writer, and real life has a nasty habit of intruding.

Again, thanks to my beta reader for her time, feedback, and encouragement. Her name has been withheld to protect the innocent. All errors are mine.

Chapter 1: Graduation Morning

Alexis' phone alarm woke her at the same time it did every school morning, and she went through her normal morning routine. Today's schedule, however, was anything but normal. There was no school today and she had been up late into the night, working on her valedictorian speech to be given later that day. Still, the maturity and discipline that were often the target of her father's persistent but gentle teasing hadn't allowed her to deviate from her routine. While getting ready, she mapped out her plan for the day, scheduling plenty of time to practice the delivery of the speech and to do some final polishing. She also planned for a nap so that she'd be ready for the all-night party following graduation.

"Oh!" Alexis exclaimed, "sorry Grams." Alexis was looking at her phone while exiting her room, and so almost ran into Martha, who was already in the upstairs hall, headed downstairs. On any morning it would have been rare, but Alexis knew Martha had been up almost as late as Alexis had been. Last night after reaching a finishing point with her speech, Alexis had gone downstairs to get a late snack and found that the rest of her family was also still awake. When she had hit the landing at the bottom of the stairs, Alexis saw that her father's office was fully lit, his large touchscreen television on, and heard him and Grams talking. That had been about 1:30 am. Ten minutes later, when Alexis headed off to bed, the office lights and television were still on but things were quiet, and Grams bedroom door was shut by the time Alexis reached the top of the stairs.

Alexis and Martha exchanged good mornings and as they descended the stairs, Martha addressed her son, who they could hear working in the kitchen. "Well, what was so important that you woke me this early?"

Martha got a visual answer when they reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner. The dining room table had been fully set, juice and water had been poured, and a fruit plate and a serving tray filled with bacon were both positioned between where the three of them were to sit. Castle was standing over the cooktop, simultaneously working an omelet pan and a griddle. Alexis stomach rumbled with the unexpected smell of chocolate chip pancakes.

Martha was the first to react. "Ah, how marvelous! To what do we owe this all of this? A much too-early celebration of Alexis' big day?"

Alexis followed up, after surveying the spread. "Dad, how long did this take? Have you even been to bed?"

Castle glanced up and spoke, his voice a bit raspy. "I had a lot to do last night, but I got some sleep. Good morning to both of you. Please, let's sit down and eat before all the food reaches room temperature."

While Martha and Alexis shared a pleased but perplexed look, Castle opened the oven to retrieve warmed plates, filled them with food, and carried them to the table. He turned around quickly to retrieve the coffee carafe from the counter, so that he could fill coffee mugs on the table.

Martha reached her seat as Castle was pouring her coffee, and was happy to reach for a favorite that was already waiting for her. "This being a celebration, I would have preferred a mimosa, but the Bloody Mary will do." Taking a sip, Martha's look of anticipation turned into one of disappointment. "A virgin? After my short night, I need something with a bit more oomph."

"Sorry, Mother, any morning but this one," Castle replied as he finished pouring coffee for Alexis.

"Dad, this all looks delicious. Thank you. But why didn't you say something last night about this?" Alexis asked as she sat down.

Martha's eye tracked Castle as he moved around the corner of the table to sit at its head. "Yes, Richard, a bit of an explanation is in order here, don't you think?"

"Please, let's eat."

Martha and Alexis didn't move. Castle picked up his fork, and impatiently gestured to them with a slight wave of his fork. After they had begun eating, Castle also dug in. After washing down his first bit with a sip of coffee, Castle looked up, "After you were both in bed, I invoked the Alas Babylon Protocols."

Martha stopped her fork in mid-flight to her mouth, and set it on her plate. Her expression had turned from questioning to concern.

Alexis' reaction was an eyeroll aimed at her father. "Really Dad? I listened to the radio when I was getting dressed, and there were no reports of a zombie apocalypse. If this is some joke about preventing me from graduating and going off to college . . ."

"I wish it were zombies, that would make the whole thing simpler." Castle spoke between mouthfuls, obviously intent on having a hearty breakfast. "Do remember that subject I told you never to mention?"

Alexis fixed him with a stare. "You need to be more specific," Alexis deadpanned. But Martha already knew what Rick was talking about in light of their conversations the day before.

"Point taken. It's about Beckett's mother."

Alexis' fork clattered to her plate, and her face hardened. "Please tell me you're kidding." Castle knew that whatever fondness Alexis may have once had for the detective, had been eroded away in the last year. Alexis had always been concerned about Castle's shadowing of Beckett, but then her mother's case had become prominent and people around Beckett had started dying. Ever since Alexis had witnessed her father try to take a bullet for Beckett at Captain Montgomery's funeral, Alexis had wished he would walk away from Beckett and the 12th. Overhearing her dad and Grams talking about 'Mr. Smith' and the role her dad was taking on to keep those who had killed Montgomery, from killing Beckett, had left her with a persistent knot in her stomach and the conviction that her dad was in way over his head.

What Alexis didn't know was that after the last few days, Castle had begun to have the same thought.

Martha responded, obviously more up-to-speed than Alexis. "What changed since last night? Did you talk to Katherine after I went to bed?"

Castle ignored Martha's questions, and summed up the situation for Alexis. "Alexis, the man who shot Beckett is back. He killed a man who broke into Captain Montgomery's home, we think to steal some files and an old laptop. Beckett pulled the case before we knew about the connection, but now she knows it's her shooter. Last night I went to her apartment to try to get her to stop her investigation." Castle paused to take another gulp of coffee. "It didn't go well."

Alexis erupted angrily. "Yeah, like you couldn't see that coming. So Beckett's going to do what she wants to do, like always, and you're going to be right there, like always, except maybe this time you do get to take that bullet for her! You're not a cop, Dad, it isn't your job."

The calm, smooth tone of Castle's reply didn't reflect how he felt. "There won't be a 'this time,' or a next one. Last night I told her I was done."

Alexis had other thoughts she had angrily been readying to make, but her dad's announcement knocked the air out of her and she fell silent, as she digested that surprising news.

However, it wasn't news to Martha, who had peppered Castle with questions after he returned from Beckett's last night. "So what's changed since I went to sleep? You didn't say a word about Alas Babylon last night."

"When you went to bed, I was totally out, done. But then I realized that I can't be, not yet." Castle raised his hand, palm out, to stop the objections he could see Alexis and his mother forming. "I'm responsible for all of this. If I'd left everything alone years ago, honored her wishes and not dug into her mother's case, Beckett would have stayed away from the case, and she'd still be safe. But I didn't, and she's not." Castle left unvoiced the guilt he carried about Montgomery being killed and Beckett being shot, all because he couldn't leave it alone.

"I walk away now, it'd be like leaving her to die. She won't quit, and that means neither will whoever had her mother killed. I only see that ending one way." Castle paused, glancing between Alexis and Martha, to make sure Alexis and Martha understood the stakes, and then continued. "Beckett and I may be over, but that doesn't mean I can stand by and let that happen when I can prevent it. And there's Espo and Ryan to think about too. So I'm going to Captain Gates, to get her involved. She'll stop Beckett, and see that the NYPD takes over the investigation."

"Which is way past time," Alexis huffed. "But Dad, why Babylon? Why do we have to leave?"

"Call it an abundance of caution. I don't think there's any real danger, but we think Beckett's shooter is working on tying up loose ends. If he - or whoever hired him – catches wind of the NYPD's involvement, I have no idea what they might do. Best to disappear for a few days, than wish we had."

Alexis had been quietly considering how difficult it must have been from her father to walk away from Beckett. Alexis had known for months that her father was in love with the detective, and that he'd been waiting, taking what she would give him, enough that it made him happy, but always hoping that he'd get the chance for a relationship where his feelings would be reciprocated by the detective. Alexis had seen her father stay no matter the hurt he endured for that hope, due to both the actions and inactions of the detective, so much so that Alexis had begun to consider the detective his obsession. But he said he'd ended the relationship last night. Watching and listening to her father, she wasn't sure that whatever he had planned wasn't just a way for him to walk back from walking out.

"So when are we leaving?" Martha inquired.

Castle stared down at his plate and replied, "Ah, well, this morning."

"What, now!? Dad, tonight's my graduation, and they're counting on me to give a speech during the ceremony! And then there's the party with my classmates. Please, please tell me it's tomorrow morning . . ."

Castle met Alexis eyes. "I'm sorry Pumpkin, but you're leaving after breakfast."

"That's completely unfair!" Alexis exclaimed. "High school graduation marks the end of a big part of my life, maybe the last time I'll see some of my classmates. And now I don't even to that good-bye, to have closure from the ceremony and the celebration after? This has to wait until tomorrow." The challenge in Alexis' questions wasn't lost on Castle.

Castle's tone was apologetic yet firm. "Alexis, you know if I had choice, I would wait. But I can't control this thing with Beckett's shooter, and the more I've thought about this, the more I've concluded that I don't have much time here. Last night I told Beckett about Mr. Smith, and that the deal to keep her safe meant she had to stop, and she refused to quit investigating . . ."

Alexis heatedly interrupted. "So I've become yet another victim of Detective Beckett's obsession. Great."

"You know I've always relied on your maturity, more than I should have asked from you. I need to again, no matter how unfair all of this is to you. I can't keep Beckett safe without maybe putting you two at risk. I have to make sure all of you are safe. So you and Mother go to Babylon, and I get Captain Gates to keep Beckett safe."

Martha suddenly looked very concerned. "Richard, you don't think we're in any danger, do you?"

Castle used some of the acting skills he'd picked up, being his mother's son and growing up around the theatre, to convey the most sincere façade that he could as he dismissed her question. "No, there's no reason to think that. But I need to be absolutely sure the two of you are safe and secure."

Alexis began to object again. "But . . ."

"Just in case, Alexis," Castle interrupted, shaking his head. Alexis could see how badly her father felt over the turn of events, and what Alexis would be missing after four years of hard work. She could also see he wasn't going to budge on his decision.

"You're not coming with us." It was a statement from Martha, not a question.

"Don't worry about me. I'm pulling Gates in right after you leave, and you know she'll play it by the book. The full resources of the NYPD will be working on this shortly."

During the discussion, Castle had continued to eat and had finished. He began to stand and pick up his plate. "You two have about 30 minutes to finish eating and to grab your bug-out bags."

Martha had lost much of her appetite, and had begun to turn her attention to the day and trying to make Alexis less unhappy. "Well, neither Alexis nor I have been to Winchester, so the two of use will just treat this as a dress rehearsal in case we have a real need some day."

Castle had first beefed up the loft's security after Scott Dunn. Then 3XK came along, and Castle had contacted Agent Gray, his old CIA contact, looking for a recommendation for an elite security team. At the time, Castle wondered if being tied up and completely at 3XK's mercy was causing him to over-react. He wasn't sure, but the need to keep his family safe won the day and he began to plan and prepare with the help of the security firm he'd hired. When Beckett was shot, finalizing his family's security became his priority, and he and the security firm had spent hundreds of man-hours continually refining plans and preparation as issues and potential scenarios had arisen. Martha and Alexis were aware that Castle had been working on a family safe house in Winchester, Virginia, but had been purposely kept in the dark about certain specifics because, as the security firm had harped, 'operational security had to be maintained.'

"You'll be going straight there. Sorry to hurry you along, but you need to be ready to leave when the team gets here. I think it's going to be a busy day."