A co-authored story by chezchuckles and International08.


A narrow space in between the wall and some kind of statue. He could just squeeze himself behind it. Mark wouldn't find him here. And even if he did, the other boy and his friends were too big to fit back there.

He pushed as much air as possible out of his lungs, making his body as thin as he could, and slid into the gap between the wall and whatever the thing was that stood in front of it. A sarcophagus, maybe.

Oh. It was hollow, at least partially. On tiptoes he could swivel his head into a small space, look out through a grate in the mouth of the figure.

Could they see him? Didn't seem like it. Abernathy was now standing right in front of the thing, but there was only curiosity on his face, not the usual malice it held when he glared at Richard.

Not that Richard didn't deserve it. He *had* humiliated the other boy in front of the prettiest girl in their class. Still, the kid was a jerk who liked to throw around his daddy's money and poke fun at Richard for having neither.

Something tickled at his nose and then his throat, and he felt the muscles beginning to twitch. He must have stirred up some dust when he slid back here.

Mummy dust. Gross. And cool.

Still. Inconvenient at the moment.

He tried, he really did, but he just couldn't hold it in. Would have put his hands over his mouth, but there wasn't enough room. It was just too tight it his little spot.

So he sneezed.

And Mark Abernathy jumped nearly a foot in the air.

Oh. Ohhh.

Awesome. That was a deep, booming sound. And suddenly Abernathy was staring right at him, still with absolutely no recognition in his eyes.

"Hey!" Richard called out, a man's low bass echoing through the room. His voice was changing yes, but there were none of those embarrassing squeaks this time. Whatever he'd found here distorted his voice until it was unrecognizable.

"Is that your face, or did Picasso come back from the dead?"

Mark Abernathy flushed pink at the insult as his half-wit lackeys stepped up to flank him.

"When you go to a mind reader, do you get half price?"

Richard grinned to himself, unseen. He liked that one. Abernathy reddened further and the other two boys tilted their heads in puzzlement.

"I heard some monkeys escaped from the zoo, but I didn't believe it until I saw you."

Abernathy looked ready to throttle someone, but just then, an oddly-dressed old man stepped up behind the three boys. He set a hand on Mark's shoulder, but the young man shrugged it off, whirling around with fists up.

"Wonderful invention, isn't it?" the old man commented. Richard felt a knot of dread form in his stomach. Would the old man give him up?

"It is designed to hurl insults at anyone who stands in front of it," the man continued. "Quite ingenious, really."

Huh. Well then.

Abernathy's face slowly regained its usual color, but shook his head when the man asked if he and his 'little friends' were interested in anything in particular within the shop.

Richard watched carefully as the old man led them away, and he stayed in his hidden alcove, catching his breath.

A cough a few feet away drew his attention.

The old man stood, one foot tapping, in the space just beyond Richard's hiding spot.

Uh-oh. He really didn't need to get in trouble again. Not when he was already skating on very thin ice with his mother and her boyfriend of the moment.

But as he squeezed himself out and stood in front of the man, the stern expression melted away, a delighted grin replacing it.

"What's your name?"

The young man shifted from one foot to the other.

"Richard," he finally admitted. "Richard Rodgers."

The man held out a gnarled hand.

"Frederick Drake," he said regally. "Proprietor of this fine establishment."

Richard shook Mr. Drake's hand. His mother, even if she didn't always pay attention to him, had at least taught him good manners. Besides, the old man with the tufts of white floss hair looked like he had a story. And Richard was always interested in a good story.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Drake."

The man's smile grew, and he inclined his head in a little bow.

"The pleasure is mine, I assure you, Mr. Rodgers."

He wasn't used to adults treating him this way. To Mother, he'd always be a little boy. To the stagehands, actors, and other theatre personnel, he was at best, a talkative kid. At worst, he was a nuisance. The boyfriends? He didn't even consider them.

"You have quite a way with words, Mr. Rodgers," Drake said. "And while I generally oppose the derision of others - I find kindness to be a much better tool - it did seem as though they might deserve it. Three against one - well, that's rather cowardly."

Richard found himself drawn in. Mr. Drake cocked his head slightly to one side, giving the young man the uncanny feeling that he was being turned inside out and thoroughly examined. Finally the man spoke again.

"Maybe we can find a few things that will help them understand that trifling with the likes of you would be…unwise."

Richards's ears perked up.

"What kind of things?"

Mr. Drake laughed, the sound a little dark, a lot mysterious, sending a shiver of anticipation and wonder up his spine.

"Oh, Mr. Rodgers," he said in a low, secretive voice. "This is a magic shop. The possibilities are endless."

"When do you expect them?" Kate asks, brushing the hair back from her eyes as she opens a package of ground turkey.

Castle shrugs. "Honestly, I didn't expect either of them to be gone this long." He slices the cabbage quickly, shredding it really, and she can't help but watch for a moment, as if entranced.

"What do I do now?" she asks finally.

"I just need to brown it first. Pot's on the stove already." He gestures with a nod, his hands full of vegetables, scraping cabbage into a bowl.

Kate dumps the meat into the pot, comes back to the sink to wash her hands. Castle flips on the water for her, squirts soap into her palm, all without asking. Probably without thinking too. As Kate washes her hands, she wonders if his automatic help is an old habit, if he let his daughter help him cook and went through this same little routine for her as well.

She pushes the faucet off, her hands dripping in the sink, turns her head to look at him, the solemn face and focused eyes. It's not even a conscious thought, not even a decision, but she slides closer, bumps her hip into his, and when he glances her way, she flicks water at him with her fingers.

He laughs, a little surprised gasp, even as he flinches. She laughs back, feels the too-wide smile on her face.

"Didn't know I would need to set ground rules for helping me in the kitchen," he grumbles, but it's all over; his eyes are too delighted, his mouth too grinning.

"I should warn you. I've never been one to follow the rules," she smirks, moving back to the stove to turn up the heat. Even as she does, she feels his eyes on her, realizes how close to the line she's brought him; she searches for a safer topic, a way to bring them back.

"Here," he says, and she takes the plastic spoon from him, mashes it into the ground turkey, willing it to cook faster.

"So. What's your mom been up to lately? How's her school going?" she asks, knows that it's too bright, too shiny, but can't help it.

He's silent for so long that she risks a glance at him, sees his fingers perfectly still on the cutting board, his face absorbed. And not by her, she thinks, which is different. Not bad, no, just. . .

"Castle?" Is it his mom?

"No. Yeah. She's good," he says, rousing at her call, turning slightly unfocused eyes back to her. "I think she's at a play that one of her students is in, something like that. Or maybe they're just rehearsing for it."

"So she might not be coming for dinner?" Kate prods.

"Oh. That's. . .true." He gives her a weak smile, shrugs, then reaches for a drawer and pulls out a can opener. He attacks the tomato paste with it, prying off the metal top, starts adding the paste to the mixture in the bowl.

Okay, so Martha might be out.

"Where did you learn how to cook?" she asks suddenly, watching him with his concoction.

He lifts her a crooked smile. "Why? Making you nervous?"

"Little bit," she admits, giving the smile back.

"Taught myself."

"Thus your more. . .interesting. . .recipes," she murmurs, abandoning the meat to move closer to him.

"I'm serious, Beckett, chocolate syrup goes on everything," he says, dredging up an old, way old, conversation.

She shakes her head, can't help the way her hip brushes his. "So it's not Martha's fault if your cooking is rather unconventional?"

He doesn't laugh this time, just shrugs the shoulder she finds herself leaning against. "She was rather uncoventional in the kitchen as well. As in, she was never in the kitchen." He does laugh at that, but it doesn't sound right to her, doesn't sound like the man who jokes about his mother's predilections with fondness.

"So. Self-taught man," she murmurs and feels herself, as if from a distance, draw her fingers down his forearm and circle his wrist, light, not restraining, barely there.

His hand flips under hers and his fingers squeeze.

Richard laid the book flat on his chest and listened intently.

No. Right kind of sounds, but not the right person. Not his mother.

He went back to his reading, Captain Nemo claiming the South Pole, bidding the sun to set over Antarctica, but he kept an ear out for the key in the door.

It was one in the morning when he rolled over for a better position, propping the book up against the wall, an arm over the bottom of the page to keep it there. He raised his head and glanced to the window, but it was never truly dark in this section of the city.

The neon sign went through its regular motions, illuminating the bar's name in a shining orange and yellow progression, then culminating with the final green olive in the martini glass.

He got out of bed and shuffled to the window, glanced down. The bar was busy, but of course, he never recognized anyone. A man in a suit leaning over the grate in the sidewalk, steam from the subway wafting up; it couldn't smell good, but the man didn't move away. Two women lighting up cigarettes before they went inside, the one on the right holding the door open.

He wouldn't see his mother down there either. She didn't drink in bars; he'd never had to worry. Her friends brought her home, most of the time, a great loud group of them stumbling down the sidewalk together, singing current Broadway showtunes. They'd take over the small apartment, fill it with fun, and noise, and stories; Richard had long since stopped doing his homework at home.

Just too much going on here. Too many things, interesting people, life experience. He made notes, stupid as it was, kept having to run back to his room to scribble down things like: four runs in Chicago but it was the last one that did him in, or baby boy, you ain't seen nothing like it, or you know what they call this? sex on the beach.

He made sure he woke long before the boyfriend - whoever he was, and got himself out of the apartment before the awkward breakfast.

Mother wasn't home yet, but it was the Friday show of their last run and they always stayed to strike the set before the cast party. He couldn't imagine his mother returning any time before four.

Richard went back to his library book, settled in for the adventures of Captain Nemo, the man enamored of the sea.

He found it right, and fitting, that Nemo meant no one in Latin.


She was shaking when she came into the kitchen. Richard glanced stupidly at the wall clock.

"Mother. It's seven in the morning."

"On a Saturday no less," she groaned, waving it away. The familiar gesture made him grin; he cracked eggs into a bowl, threw away the shells. He'd watched Trent Murphy's mother do this last Saturday when he'd spent the night working on a project. Omelette, she'd said. You could add any ingredient you wanted.

"I need a drink," Mother moaned, sinking to the small kitchen table and putting her head in her hands. "Richard. You know where everything is."

"No!" he gasped, mock denial. "I have no idea where you hide your alcohol, Mother. I never touch the stuff." He'd taken one of her bottles of vodka to Trent Murphy's house, 'doing a project,' then watched Murphy's smoking hot mom make them brunch the next morning.

His Mother snorted. "Don't be clever. It doesn't suit you, darling."

He laughed and poured milk into the eggs, added salt, pieces of deli ham, celery he'd chopped up, then put the whole thing into a pan, wishing he had something good and creative to add in there, like marshmallows. Or gummy bears. At what temperature would gummy bears melt?

"I wasn't kidding," his mother muttered from the table, her head pillowed in her arms.

Richard glanced up at her with a laugh, but she really wasn't kidding. He abandoned the eggs, stepped through the short, galley kitchen to touch her shoulder. "What do you need, Mother?"

"Bloody Mary. It's-"

"I know how to make it," he said.

She did lift her head at that, shot him a baleful look, but he just shrugged. Couldn't live around her and not know how to make a Bloody Mary.

"Go back to bed. I'll get it."

"Oh, Richard, darling, you're a lifesaver," she moaned and patted his cheek. He took her by the elbow and pulled her up from the table, but she shook him off.

"I can make it to bed under my own steam." She rubbed at her head and exited the dining nook, heading back for her room. "Barely. Be a good boy and stay quiet today."

When she had disappeared back into her bedroom, he stood by the table for a moment, staring at the space where she'd been.

And then he made her a Bloody Mary and himself an omelette.

Next time. Gummy bears.

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