castle_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif


Scene Title !gnaB
Synopsis Zachery returns home to find an unexpected visitor.
Date October 15, 2020

Bay Ridge: Miller Residence

It isn’t a normal evening in the Miller House. The lights are on in various places, a soft classical music plays on a stereo, Bach, by the sounds of it.

The kitchen has a warm glow and there’s this smell of some kind of meat and apples coming from the stove and chopped up vegetables on the counter top. In a blue dress that strikes a familiar chord, a figure that is much too tall to be wearing it moves about the kitchen, with a bottle of red wine cooling in a bucket of ice and a table set for two. The heels of the strappy shoes tap against the floor, adding another few inches to the too-tall-for-that-dress stature. The body at least, is thin enough, with the flowy blue fabric moving round unshaven and fit legs as they move around, the ribbon giving a hint of hips that aren’t really there.

The body is too tall, the hair too short, and very curly— and Castle hadn’t even bothered to shave off the dark stubble at their chin that showed this was definitely not the man’s wife in the kitchen cooking. It was someone else entirely. Wearing her dress. And a pair of shoes that— probably were not actually hers.

No, Castle brought their own shoes for this, before raiding the closet.

Six months ago, Zachery Miller would not have simply come home from work and entered this place without apprehension, given the telltale hints of something being off much like the wrong lights are on.

But it is not six months ago. It is, in fact, October of year 20-hell, and it is with upward slanted eyebrows and an expression of absolute defeat that Zachery makes his way through his own home, front door left open behind him as music spills out from whence he came.

With no energy left in him for fear or trepidation, he rounds the corner to darken the kitchen doorway with a hunting knife clearly but casually held at one side, and a leather bag slipping from the shoulder of his black coat on the other.

It hits the floor with a dull thud, confusion palpable on the only words he can think to hoarsely utter as he finds a fucking stranger wearing his wife's fucking dress.

"What. Is happening."

“I am cooking you dinner,” the figure says with a glance over the shoulder and a friendly smile. The voice is definitely masculine, despite the dress and— make up even. Mostly eye make up. And a little too much of it, really, but it highlighted the lightness of the eyes. The accent also seems— off. It sounds Russian, but not quite. As if it’s someone who lived in Russia for years, had experience with Russian speakers, but wasn’t actually Russian. The accent was close, though, definitely better than most people who just would fake it on the fly. Moving with delicate steps that sway, a hand opens the stove to look inside, the smell of meat and apples wafting out once again.

“Ah, almost done. Roasted duck with apples. You and your wife will love it. Paired with red wine. It will be a wonderful meal.”

The table is even set for the two of them, a nice little romantic dinner should they choose to accept the offer. At least whoever this person is, they aren’t planning the date to be with Mister Miller. “Sit, sit, you must have had a busy day, come,” they pull out one of the chairs, gesturing to it, and offering an arm.

Zachery follows the intruder's movements with a keen eye. Face. Dress. Face again. Oven. Back to face. He prepares a response in his head. His mouth opens to relay it.

No words happen.

He prepares a different response. This one is accompanied by a loll of his head to one side as though the world will make more sense in a diagonal configuration. Nope.

Armed with the knowledge that his breath apparently isn't going to be used for anything sensible, he sighs it out, and then inhales deeply to fill his lungs anew, and finally manages, "Is the aforementioned wife home?"

Suddenly words find him much more easily when a realisation pulls his fingers tighter around the grip of the knife, his back straight, and his attention back down the hall so he can call, much more loudly and without reservation, "Pip! You home?!"

The chair will have to wait, evidently.

“Coming!” The small voice belonging to Pippa Ryans chimes in from — presumably — her bedroom. A short while later, footsteps clomp down the hall. Not her typical hurried pace in how she responds to a summons, but slower, more plodding.

The reason for this becomes apparent when she appears in the living room in her current fancy dress (for practical reasons, Nicole only lets her pick out one or two at a time, owing to the fact that the girl is growing like a weed) of a shimmery champagne-colored tutu skirt with a black peasant-style top, a paste stone belt and what are definitely a pair of her mother’s black patent leather work heels on her too-small-for-them feet. Someone — probably not her — has gotten into her mother’s make-up. Pippa’s eyes are done up in a perfect black smoky eye, accented with gold shadow at the inner corners.

The little blonde stops and stares at Zachery with confusion. “What’s with the knife?”

“Oh dear,” the stranger says, pressing a hand against the cheek for a moment, but not trying to defend themselves at least. They stand there a moment and let him yell for his step daughter, until she prances down the hall and Castle beams at her. “You handled that marvelously, young Pippa,” they say in the same Russian accent, joy in their voice that she’d handled those shoes so and managed not to smear the make up at all in the last two hours.

“I think your papa feared I was trying to kidnap you or something. Understandable, understandable. This is an unsolicited house call, after all.”

With a sway of movement that’s almost too graceful really, like they are used to heels, they step over to grab a wallet left on the table and flip it open to flash a badge. “Agent Castle. This isn’t a wellness check this time. I read you and your wife’s files and your story…” pressing a hand against their chest, they look genuinely heart wrenched. “It positively moved me to tears. I just had to do something.”

The moment it becomes clear Pippa is not only here but part of the charade somehow, Zachery's alert state sinks right back into glassy-eyed, tight-jawed perplexity. He fails to answer his stepdaughter's question - or to show any signs that he heard her at all - only just vaguely looking in the direction of the badge before his legs start to carry him to the table.

Okay. He'll sit. Why not. Why not this.

It isn't until the Agent's last two sentences that he slowly shakes his head, drags an arm up over the table, and stabs the knifepoint directly into its surface, hand held in place. "I'm going mad," he breathes, eye finding Castle again. No. Correction— "I've gone mad."

Pippa wrinkles her nose and her brow furrows. “Zachery’s not my dad.” She darts a glance to him and sort of half shrugs. No offense. (Her mom does the same thing.) Her confusion only deepens as Castle introduces themself properly and expresses concern for the supposed plight of her mother and step-father.

She jumps with a little squeak when Zachery stabs his knife into the table. “Did you just— Did you stab Mom’s table?” Pippa looks incredulously between the two adults, the tension in the air obvious even to her. She lets out a nervous bubble of laughter. “Primal.

“Oh, I hope that wasn’t mahogany,” Castle exclaims, still speaking with those dulcet— yet still masculine— Russian tones, looking down at the poor table with a mournful sigh before moving about to pat Pippa gently on the shoulder. “I know he’s not your papa, but he married your mother, that makes him responsible for your well-being in many ways. And a father of sorts, even if not pop.” And that he had shown concern for the chitlin had won some points for the tall Agent, at least.

“You are not mad, good man, I promise, do not worry. I relieved your sitter of her child care duties by showing her my badge and then asked young Pippa if they would like to play dress up. And it would not be fair if only they dressed up, no?”

No it would not.

“I think Mister Miller is shocked. Don’t worry, I will replace your wife’s dress. I have a suit prepared for you and a dress for your wife when she gets home. Which should be in….”

Looking over their shoulder at the clock. “Not very long now, if my timing is correct.”

There’s a pause. “I do like that word. Primal.” It’s repeated with a grin, and the first time since they’d dressed up that they’ve broken their accent. Pippa has seen them speak in multiple accents at least— mostly American and this Russian, but that seemed to be part of the dress up game?

As he sits, enough of Zachery's wits return to him to allow for a harder stare at Castle, unblinking, the tension held in his slightly hunched forward position increasing with every controlled breath, the knife's grip held.

"Pippa." He starts again, his voice lowered to a tenuously level tone that contradicts the rest of him. "Could you please wait in your room until your mother gets home."

It's not a question. Nor does he have the patience to wait for her to answer or act, immediately adding to the Agent with the quiet fury on his words meeting the unsteadiness of tired desperation, "You clearly have rats in the attic, so you'll have to excuse me if I don't trust your opinion on madness. So - what is this, pity?" He sneers - or winces, or both, voice a little louder with every sentence that leaves him. "Why are you here? What could you possibly stand to gain?"

“You just called me out here.” Pippa squints at Zachery, but also now eyes Castle with a new wariness she didn’t have before. They were a friend of her mom’s, right? And it’s not uncommon for Zachery not to really seem to like Nicole’s friends, but he doesn’t usually impale inanimate objects over it. “Mom’s gonna be pissed,” she reminds Zachery before she backs up two paces, then turns back toward the hall.

Mom would be more upset if she heard that word come out of her daughter’s mouth.

Though the child retreats for the hall, her clopping steps stop the moment she’s out of line of sight. If Zachery had possession of his ability, he’d probably sense her little form huddled up against the wall, eavesdropping on the goings-on in the dining room.

Following Pippa with a smile, Castle watches her until she is gone, touching a hand to their chest for a moment before looking back toward Zachery with a shake of their head that gives their curls a shift. They fall onto their forehead for a moment. “I’m not looking to get anything out of this other than helping the two of you,” they say with a shake of their head, moving away and leaving the badge and wallet on the table where it can be more closely examined if the man so chooses to as they go to check on the roast duck again. Still has time to bake. The salads are all more or less ready, chopped up, the wine cooling—

Except now the table had a knife stuck in it, and the wife of the house still had to get home.

“This is my day off. “ The Russian accent finally starts to fade, moving more towards— Irish? The longer that they speak, the more it starts to sound American, though. “Is not pity so much as empathy. Have a bit of a soft spot for newlyweds. You two haven’t had much of a chance to even be newlyweds with everything that has happened to you, and not all surprises in your life should be terrible.”

With a gesture, they indicate each of said surprises. “Roasted duck.” The oven. “Garden salads with an apple vinaigrette.” To the chopped lettuces and vegetables. ”Red wine.” to the cooling wine bottle in ice. “Fancy clothes.” In the general direction of the bedrooms. “Dinner alone.” Back at the poor abused table. “I can call a sitter of your choice to take Pippa for the night if you do not trust me, or I can watch her myself, but either way, you have a free meal, free clothes and a young child with a smile on her face. And that smile is all I really wished to get out of it.”

As Castle watches Pippa go, so does Zachery — though his expression is a stark amount less pleasant. Only when she's out of sight does he turn his attention back on the agent.

He waits and he listens, pulling the knife slowly toward himself with a tiny crrck of wood grain before it's freed and pulled closer with fingertips left lingering atop. His free hand grabs hold of the wallet, but he does not yet look at it. The shift in accent - again - distracts him, but a failure to make immediate sense of it just deepens the lines confusion has drawn on his face.

"'Agent Toussaint'," his voice dips to a lower register for this name, the T and S's too sharp, but loses some of its edge when he continues, "'Agent Castle'. This is very impressive," is said flatly. "But surely we should be on a first name basis if you're cooking us dinner and interfering with—… " The sentence ends with a dry swallow.

Keeping Castle somewhat awkwardly in his limited peripheral vision, he picks up the wallet properly and flips it open while asking, "Do you realize my better half might well have shot you?"

As the knife abuses the poor table even more, Castle winces, but continues to prance around the kitchen more or less, readying a meat thermometer and other required instruments to get the meal finally ready in the end. The badge in Zachery’s hand doesn’t even have a first name, which is very odd really. Just “Agent Castle” and a picture and numbers, a fancy emblem for the Agency and a hologram image in the corner, no doubt for security purposes.

“Keep that up, I’m going to have to buy you a new table. Our paychecks are good, but I’m not sure they’re that good,” and sadly, they can’t chalk it up as a business expense this time. Cause like they said, this was their free day! “But thankfully, our medical is very good. And I’m valuable. I doubt they’d put up with me if I wasn’t,” that could be a joke, but really— could it be? Possibly not.

But there seems less concern with being shot really than there probably should be.

“Just Castle. That’s what they call me. Everything else is classified.” That bit is said with one of those winks that gets both eyes involved anyway.

Zachery will be the last to judge about a matter of eyes, even if the look he shoots Castle makes it abundantly clear that he is still clearly judging most everything else.

The badge is studied for a few seconds - the numbers in particular - before he slides the wallet wholesale back onto the table, pulls the knife into his lap, and pulls his phone out to lay it flat against the weapon.

Jaw muscles pull taut as he grits his teeth, considering his next question while thumbing at his screen. Valuable, that's a fascinating word to use. And yet. As he begins to casually tap a message out with his thumbs, he hears himself say with tersely delivered curiosity, "Why newlyweds, then."

Nicole's phone, somewhere else, receives a message. A badge number, followed shortly by—

Visitor. Agent.
Lock door behind you.

While Zachery is a sneaky texter, Castle has opened the oven and grabbed a long wooden spoon to stir up the contents around the roasting duck, looking in on it and checking to make sure everything was coming along nicely. It seemed to be the case, from the warm smile that they have as they straighten and close the oven door again, tapping the spoon in the sink before gently setting it down on the plate. All the utensils, it appears, they brought with them. Even the table settings don’t look like what Zachery was used to, really. But they all looked nice.

“Hmm.” They slip back into that Russian accent once again. “Who doesn’t have a soft spot for newlyweds, really? It’s supposed to be the beginning of a new life together as a unit. No longer just you and her, but both of you together. A chance to start over and start something new, to become something new, to reset. And then all this— “ Castle waves a hand, says something in Russian that’s obviously a swear word. “Happens to you. It is a shame. So I do this because I wish to, no other reason.”

The herald to Nicole Miller’s arrival home is the sound of her heels on the concrete steps leading up to the wide-open front door. The dark haired woman has one hand buried in her purse, like she was going for her keys when she saw there was no need. But she stands in what appears to be stunned silence in the foyer, studying Agent Castle’s form in her kitchen, darting only the briefest glance to her husband at the dining table in the more immediate foreground.


The door is nudged shut by her foot reaching out behind her without looking. “You aren’t who I expected,” she finally says, instead of offering a greeting. “Is Coleen still here?” she asks her husband without looking at him either, tilting her head slightly toward the hallway to indicate she’s asking about their sitter. Indirectly asking about her daughter. Her hand slides out of her purse and she reaches back to turn the deadbolt with a loud thunk, symbolic of the fact that it’s just them now. And whoever may be down the hall.

(Pippa. It’s Pippa still eavesdropping from the hallway.)

Castle's words reach Zachery the same way a noose might be strung around one's neck. Though the answer is exactly what he asked for, he still looks like he somehow expected something other. He searches what he can see of Castle's face and body language, frowning, waiting - for something more, for something to click into place and to make sense, or… to reveal itself as something other than kindness.

He doesn't even hear Nicole approaching until she speaks - but when he does, he rises from his seat immediately. She is a welcome sight, and both affords him the ability to breathe again and enough gladness to clear some of the frustration from his face, even if he doesn't look quite sure what to do. Standing, still, with a knife in hand.

"She went home." Disapproval could not weigh more heavily on these last few words, followed immediately by a firmer confirmation. "But Pippa's fine. Meet Agent Castle, who I may have been fully prepared to murder." He aims the knife loosely at their guest, before tacking on in an absolutely baffled exhale of— "Also, wearing your dress."

“I think it looks pretty good on me,” Castle says, resuming that Russian accent that still is too masculine for this particular appearance, turning to the side a little to show off the dress and their figure some, looking down. The shoes, thankfully, are not Nicole’s, which was probably a very good thing as those feet would have stretched her shoes more than they should have been. The dress that was chosen could adjust in size and wouldn’t actually mess up the material. It fit surprisingly well. It helped that Castle did not have particularly thick shoulders or overly large muscles. “The make-up I supplied, so we didn’t use up any of yours, but me and your amazingly darling Pippa played some dress up while waiting for the duck to reach the correct temperature.”

Despite all the baking, too, it looks as if they managed not to get a single bit of grease or anything at all on the dress. Amazing.

“I’ll have it dry-cleaned for you, do not fret, and I do not blame your beautiful husband for murderous impulses. You and your sweet child were at the forefront of his mind.” A hand is pressed against their chest, as if that made the Agent wish to swoon.

“Hm.” Nicole hums thoughtfully when Castle posits that her dress seems to suit them. It isn’t even the sort of thing she’d be inclined to argue. Coolly, she steps further into the house, around the table and where her husband stands, removing the visual barriers between herself and the other agent so she can get a better look at their form, seeming to appreciate the way her dress drapes over their frame.

“Might look better on you than it does on me,” Nicole concedes with a thoughtful frown. She reaches into her purse, and comes back with a butterscotch disc, unwrapping with a deliberate sort of slowness before popping it into her mouth. Rather than move to the waste bin, she just dips her hand back into the bag to leave the trash there.

Then her bag hits the hardwood floor with a loud bang.

No. That wasn’t the bag. It was the sound of the gun in her hand firing in Castle’s direction.

From the hallway, Pippa screams, the scraping sound of those too-large shoes over the floor betraying her position and the way she slides down to the ground, covering her head to protect herself instinctively.

Between the moment when Nicole’s face went emotionless and the gunshot, something changed about Castle’s expression too. It’s as if they realized they said something that struck a wrong chord. There was something, a shimmer of air for a second that got lost in the moment before Nicole reached into her bag the second time.

And the world— twists.

Reverts. Resets.

The bullet definitely left the chamber of the gun headed toward the blue dress wearing agent— but then something— happened.

Suddenly, it was as if the bullet never fired at all. Nicole and Zachery and Pippa and everything around them were back to where they were the moment before Nicole removed the weapon from the purse, the gun wasn’t even warm. It had never been fired, even if Nicole remembers feeling it fire. The sound still seemed to ring in their memories, but it didn’t hurt their ears like it should.

Castle, on the other hand had moved, having danced a few steps to the side at some point and grimacing as if in pain. Not from a gunshot, though, because they definitely were not shot. “Can we please not ruin the dinner I spent the last two and a half hours on?”

Zachery, having slipped the knife into his coat pocket the moment Nicole decided to step forward rather than question the situation—

—finds himself with the hunting knife, once more, in his hand. "Fuck," is the only thing he can think to breathe out, managing to understand what's happened the exact amount of not at all.

It's purely instinct that has him looking Nicole over, first, before whipping around when the memory of Pippa's scream seems too real to be fabrication. Rather than put the knife away this time, he simply adjusts his grip on it so he can flip the blade to be flush with his arm as he reaches both hands out for the girl to start hurriedly guiding her toward where he'd told her to go in the first place. "Come on, you're fine."

Nicole stands there in the nebulous space of the open floorplan between kitchen, dining, and living rooms. Her fingers are wrapped around her gun and she’s still feeling like there’s ice running through her veins. Did she imagine dropping the bag to fire on the agent?

Zachery’s muttered expletive tells her that’s not the case. She heard her daughter scream. Nicole turns slowly to watch Zachery disappear into the hallway with Pippa - who has tears in her eyes - in tow.

She’s trembling by the time she turns back to Agent Castle, confused and scared. “Who the fuck are you?” she whispers sharply. She lets her bag drop again, but this time, she just holds the firearm out in front of her in a two-handed grip. She doesn’t pull the trigger a second time.

Not yet, anyway.

Not yet, which is why Agent Castle is very much not taking eyes off Nicole anymore. Zachery had tried to warn them, but maybe they had been a little too flippant with the very good medical. Just because they have great medicine does not mean they wish to ruin a perfectly good dress.

“I’m just Agent Castle,” they say, no longer with any accents really, gesturing to the wallet on the table which has the badge. “That’s my badge there, if you want to examine it more closely. I’m with the Office of the Exterior, like I said before. Technically, this is my day off and I was trying to do something nice for you and yours, but apparently the only surprises you all have ever had must have been bad ones.”

Because that’s the only possible explanation for this turn of events. “But no harm done. Except for your poor table and startling your poor Pippa. It was just a game, dear one. I’m fine. Your momma did not hurt anything with that loud noise, I promise.” Except their ears. But only Castle’s ears, really. Everyone else just has to live with the memory. “The roast duck will still be edible. I can take my things and clear out and it’ll be like this whole thing never happened.”

After Pippa is guided off into the nearest bedroom with unpractised haste tightening the grip of his hand on her shoulder, Zachery shuts the door behind her quickly - staying on the other side and with deliberate care not to slam the thing. This will be an explanation and a half. But that's for later.

A few seconds pass where he is simply standing, listening to Castle. When another gunshot doesn't ring out, he begins to make his way slowly back to Nicole's side while lifting the hand with the knife to rub his knuckles against a temple, trying to figure out what the fuck is happening. Over her shoulder, Castle is fixed with an exasperated look.

His voice is steady, even if he holds himself too stiffly with underlying anxiety. "Surprises tend to threaten our lives, Agent Castle. They've taken lives." Some more recently than others. "And we don't get to…" he pauses, both to try and process the situation and to reach slowly - where she can see his hand coming - for Nicole's forearm so he can try and guide that gun downward just a bit.

"We don't get to turn that back."

Nicole doesn’t take her eyes off Castle. Doesn’t make a move to examine the badge. She doesn't need to. They've met, and Exterior means nothing good.

At first, Nicole tries to shrug off Zachery’s touch, wanting very much to keep her gun leveled on the intruder in her kitchen. But quiet persistence pays off and she lowers it finally, letting it point toward the floor instead. “I don’t know what fucking planet you think you’re from, but you do not show up to my house unannounced, dismiss my babysitter, and play dress up with my child.”

She can’t fathom what happened here — not precisely — but she can put together some educated guesses. Or she will later, when she takes the time to unpack this encounter. “I want your supervisor’s information. This is absolutely inappropriate and I will be filing a report.” Nicole does love her paperwork. This will require significantly less than if she had actually managed to shoot them, but she was prepared to deal with that as well.

While the husband and child were moving toward the bedroom, there was another shimmer of the air, as if something had been pulled back in. Nothing changed this time, no reset, and Castle didn’t move at all, but it happened. For a moment, Zachery may have even seen a slight haze in the air, like a green mist, before it faded away.

As for the requests, though— “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Ma’am,” Castle says with a grimace, voice taking on a more Irish lilt now, even as they keep hands where she can see them at the very least. There’s a beep of a timer suddenly, and they raise a finger in ‘hold on a second’. “And even with your position, you don’t have the clearance to have that information. You can ask your Director to file a report if you wish, but otherwise…”

With that, they gestured to the stove, “I need to get this duck out of the oven and onto the table so you and your husband can enjoy it later, and I’d strongly prefer if you not shoot me while I remove this bird, okay?”

The beep causes Zachery to exhale a breath he'd been holding for too long, a mixture of bitter amusement and annoyance pulling his lips into a thin line when he realises what's started him.

But it's the line about clearance that has him actually breathe out a startled, humourless chuckle, and he takes a step away from Nicole as if he suspects she might need more of the stage's space to work with for that particular subject. All yours.

If not for the fact that it’s already been proven that Nicole is unable to commit a murder in this situation, Nicole would probably commit a murder. “Don’t have clearance?” Yes, Zachery was right to back away and let Nicole have her space. To her credit, she engages the safety on her weapon and sets it down on the dining table with a loud thunk before she starts gesturing wildly.

“I am the assistant to the director of SESA-NY,” she states very clearly, in case Castle is somehow unaware. “You are barely out of diapers, you adolescent fuck!” Nicole snatches the badge up off the table and tosses it to her husband. “Take a photo of that,” she snaps at him tersely.

Nicole’s chest is heaving by the time she’s finished ranting, her anger — fueled by her fear — barely restrained, but slowly starting to cool. “Do you have any idea what we’ve lost? Someone broke into our home and took us.” Her voice quavers with the emotion of it. “They left my daughter here alone.” And while she’s grateful that Pippa was unharmed, it doesn’t change that her child woke up in the house alone, terrified that her mother and step-father were nowhere to be found. That her aunt had to show up to collect her and tell her no one knew what was going on.

“You can’t do this. Not to us.” Nicole shakes her head and steadies herself with a deep breath, looking down finally when tears threaten. “Do you understand that?”

“I know who you are, ma’am,” Castle says in a much softer voice, still looking as if they were starting to regret their decisions of the last few— hours. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but reading files was not the same as knowing people, or how they would react, even if their psychological profiles had shown that Nicole should have been the more amiable of the two. Not where her daughter was concerned, it would seem. As they speak, they move slowly to put on some oven mitts so they can remove said bird drowned in white wine and surrounded by fruits from the oven. All the while they continue to speak, “I didn’t hurt young Pippa, I promise, and while she was left alone a few times, it was just with doors while we changed, or when she was in her room while I cooked.” Which they didn’t think counted?

But that wasn’t really what had made Nicole upset, really.

“I know what happened to you was horrifying, I do, and I wanted to give the two of you something nice and fun and wanted to see Pippa smile and— A nice dinner, with wine and— “ For a moment, there’s another grimace, and they shake their head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not— great at— people. I guess. I thought it was a good idea. It apparently wasn’t. I’d very much like to take back the whole day, but I can’t.”


As the duck in the big platter surrounded by figs and oranges and apples is dropped on the table, wafting delicious scents into the air, they add, “I’m sorry.” While they didn’t try to stop Zachery from taking a picture of their badge, now they hold out a hand, “Can I have my badge back now?”

Zachery looks up from snapping said picture with what might well be an extremely alert version of regret in the slant of his brow, before slipping both his phone and the knife he was holding into a pocket. Where the latter sticks out awkwardly because it's not made for weapons.

"I will make you a deal," he says, the words leaving him calmly but clipped - as though he's holding back much the same fury Nicole was much more capable of displaying mere moments ago. "Drop by again, in one week, to pick up your things. Call ahead."

Only then does he offer the badge forward, but also an expectant stare and a raise of his eyebrows. "Yes?"

Nicole turns her head to look at her partner when he proposes his terms — their terms — then her calculating stare shifts back to Castle, but only from the corner of her eye. Apparently finding this acceptable, she turns back to the Exterior agent properly. “I want to believe you did this out of some sort of… misguided concept of what kindness looks like.” And, to be fair to them, it does look an awful lot like this. It’s just generally something that’s discussed ahead of time, or something that people who are close do for one another, not something a perfect stranger springs on an unsuspecting couple with trust issues.

“Why do you care?” she asks, bewildered. “You read our files and suddenly wanted to find some way to… what? Help us find five minutes of happiness?” To her, it doesn’t make any sense, but Nicole lives in a world filled with senseless acts. A world where no kind deed is done altruistically.

All of a sudden, something shifts in her expression, a confusion and realization at once, further signified by a sagging of her shoulders. “Zachery? Would you please go check on Pippa and leave Agent Castle and I to talk for a minute?”

Once the wallet is back in their hands, Castle twists it around to look at something on the reverse side of the badge, exhaling slowly as they do. They murmur something to themselves, quietly, before flipping the wallet closed again. For a brief moment they might see the back of the wallet, something solid and black and partially reflective, but it’s not visible long enough for details beyond that. “I don’t know what days I will have off next week, but— I’ll call ahead. When I know. It may be late.” If they ended up not having any days off.

Sometimes things came up. Especially these days.

There’s a long pause, as they watch Nicole for a moment, then they say, “Have either of you ever heard the story of Grace Gifford?” That irish accent continues, but they don’t wait, even if it’s possible that Zachery might know it, or even Nicole. “She was an Irish artist and cartoonist, very active in the movements of Irish rights along with her fiance, Joseph Plunkett. Joseph was a leader of the movement and played a role in the Easter Rising of 1916 and was scheduled to be executed for it.”

It’s a strange story to tell, perhaps, but. “When Grace found out, she bought a ring, got a priest and persuaded the military to allow them to marry, only a few hours before he was executed. They were— barely out of diapers, as you would say, ma’am.” Or perhaps more accurately close to Castle’s age. “She continued to fight for what they believed in for the rest of her life and never remarried. There’s even an Irish Ballad about her, called Grace. I’m a bit of a sap for a sad story. But I like happy stories better. Even if it’s just a little bit of happiness in the middle of everything else.”

It's not that Zachery doesn't hear Nicole - that much shows in the slow angling of his head and setting jaw that follows - but he fails to act in time and finds himself, instead, treated to a story.

A story he is familiar with, but which does nothing to stop him looking at Castle like he might still find a reason to pull the knife back out. As the tale carries on, there's an ever so brief glimmer of sympathy in the way his expression pulls closer to neutral. At least before returning right back to a defensive shade of impatient when it's all said. "Then help us. Or—"

He gestures vaguely with one hand, taking a step back with a sigh that sounds like half-voiced almost-literal venting of excess exhaustion before he turns around and just starts to walk toward where he's been requested to fuck off to. "Or continue to. And stop treating us like rehabilitated wildlife. I have to get out of here before you— reveal yourself to be somehow Joseph fucking Plunkett."

Just before Zachery can slip away, Nicole reaches out to capture his wrist and meet his gaze. It’s not I love you, but it’s as close as they’ve gotten without words in a while. Then she loosens her grip and lets him slip away to go check on her daughter with a small nod.

“Touching story,” Nicole murmurs, like she isn’t sure what the fuck it has to do with the two of them — and it wasn’t one she was familiar with — but still understands there’s significance there. Her head remains canted toward the hallway until she hears the door to Pippa’s room swing open. And the girl’s little squeak of dismay. Nicole can almost see her flinging her arms around Zachery to cry. She closes her eyes as though it will block out the image and her guilt for not going to her herself.

Jaw set, Nicole turns back to Castle and opens her eyes again. “Do you and I know each other, even if I don’t realize it yet?” This is not her first time around this particular block. “You’re awfully invested in my family for someone who’s only read about us on paper.” She shakes her head faintly. “Nobody’s that much of a sucker for a happy fairy tale.”

“No. No you don’t know me,” Castle says with some genuine humor, because, well. “If you did, you’d know I’m exactly that much of a sucker for a story.” Good or bad. Especially the good in the bad, really. Those were the best stories. “A tragedy that is just a tragedy isn’t a very good story. It’s the moments inside the tragedy that make life endurable.” And, well. “I don’t think anyone actually knows me.” That part is said as if with a laugh, but it’s not quite as genuine, really. Because it’s sad.

And because maybe, once, someone had known them.

And now most of what they were was actually classified.

“Tell lil’ Pip I’m sorry. I told her I’d take her to Narrioch Island sometime— but I can get you three tickets instead.” Cause they doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. With that, they glance around the kitchen, as if deciding if they should bother to take anything with them now besides the badge and what they have on— but— Well.

“That isn’t what I asked you.” Nicole folds her arms over her chest and tips her head to one side, impatience telegraphed in her posture. “I’ll rephrase.” Her eyes narrow just so. This must be what it’s like to watch her at work. “Do you know me?” There’s something else she wants to ask, Castle can tell. Something more direct.

“I’ve had people meddle in my life before. People who knew me. Knew some story of me. Some legend of a person I was meant to be.” Though she reasons the version of her who raised Ingrid was… decidedly not the type that would have been described as legendary. Cautionary tale, perhaps, but that would be generous. Tragedy might be more fitting.

Because this situation is reminding her so much of the situation that brought her elder daughter to her, it’s making it hard for Nicole to keep her hard edges. Her gaze softens, empathy seeping into the cracks in her armor. Still, there’s something she’s not saying.

“I know who you are because we were told to familiarize ourselves with the… event in Canada and all those involved. So I suppose you could say I know you from people who knew you and legends told about you.” Castle seemed to be suddenly— careful about how they were responding to this question, as if the depth and level of the question caught them by surprise. And possibly the… implications of the question as well. “But, no, beyond your files I don’t know you or your family.”

There’s a moment when they glance toward the direction Zachery had left. “I would like to help all of you. Most likely, though, SESA will continue to have lead on the investigation. This was me trying to help in a small— and apparently stupid way. Not the Agency…” Possibly obviously. The more they talk, the more their accent moves towards American.

“I should let you and your family enjoy the duck before it gets cold.”

While not wholly satisfied with the response, Nicole nods her acceptance of it anyway. Drawing in a deep breath, she informs the other agent, “I’m not going to file a report. Not with my supervisor, not with yours…” The hand laid atop the opposite elbow lifts enough for her to draw a circle in the air. “This? Stays between us.”

And not just because she’d have to answer for the fact that she shot at them, even if there’s no way to prove it. “I want to help with this investigation,” she admits. “We’ll… have a much better chance of finding answers if we work together.” Which is to say, “I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot.” To put it in the mildest way possible. Striding forward to close the gap between them, Nicole offers out her hand.

The hand gets regarded for a moment, before Castle reaches out to take it, with the corresponding right hand even if it’s been clear they are not dominantly right-handed. “I’m sorry I made you feel like you had to shoot me. But I seem to have that effect on people sometimes.” It’s said with a grin, cause they were joking with themselves. “What I’m offering isn’t help with the investigation, there’s really not much that I can probably offer you involving it. Your resources at SESA are more capable of all things involving it than I am.”

They mean that, too, from the genuine look in their eyes, which seem more green than they had moments before— could be the light.

“What I was offering was— duck. And a delicious dinner with your husband. And a smile on your sweet Pippa’s face. But that might be the limit of what I can actually offer you.” It’s truthful and almost regretful, but— every person has limits. Especially someone who can’t even give their real name.

I don’t believe you, Nicole wants to say of the ability of the Exterior to dig up information with their resources comparative to SESA, but she holds her tongue. She’s already opened up a wide enough chasm here, letting herself indulge in a knee-jerk reaction.

“If I can help in any way,” she says instead, “please let me know.” Her eyes cast down a moment as she releases Castle’s hand, a manifestation of her guilt. “And if there’s anything I can do to make this up to you, I’d like to know about that, too.”

From the sad smile on their face, perhaps Castle gathers that she does not believe their words. But there’s no correction on that note for the moment, because, well, there’s only so much that they can explain right now. “Enjoy your dinner with your husband, Nicole. Not sure it’s really appropriate for Pippa, but— the alcohol should have cooked out of the duck at least.” But it will still be in the taste. Cause what was the point of cooking with wine if you couldn’t taste it?

They had literally thought that the Millers would just be totally fine with a relative stranger going off with Pippa and babysitting her while they ate dinner for the evening? Possibly. Apparently they hadn’t really figured out all the possible ways this could have gone when they made the plan in their head, and— well.

It hadn’t gone how they had planned at all. “That’s about all you can do to make it up to me right now, I think. Good evening,” is added in that soft Russian accent with a nod of their head, as they make their way toward the front door, taking their badge and their phone and leaving everything else for now to take the walk of shame in heels and a dress to their minibus parked down the street.

And leaving Nicole to stand in her foyer, wondering at the gravity of what just happened.

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