Disclaimer: I don't own Castle. SHOCK.
"Sorry, I'm sorry. Really sorry," Alexis exclaims as she swings around the booth, nearly bouncing onto her seat. "Javi and Kevin were taking forever getting their final fittings, and I couldn't get out of being there, since Javi was so mad that we had to have a second fitting in the first place, and I had to hold Sarah Grace, since Kevin was giving Jenny five baby-free hours. But since that story you told me about your friend and the cummerbund, I just couldn't let them not check again—and…yeah," she finishes, giving Kate a sheepish look. "Sorry."
Kate laughs and pushes the chocolate milkshake across the table toward the young woman. "No worries, Alexis. You're dealing with your Dad's entire side of the wedding. I half expected you to cancel," she says easily.
Alexis shakes her head around a sip of milkshake. "No way. And miss an opportunity to get away from them?"
"The way they tell it, you're the slave driver," Kate says with a laugh. "I feel like I've been getting a skewed perspective."
"Oh my God. You have no idea how anal Kevin's been about everything. He double checked with all of the venues for Dad's bachelor party, and double checked that I double checked after him. And try getting Javier to do anything unpleasant—I've had to sic Lanie on him. Twice. Just to get him to show for fittings."
Kate stares at her in awe. The boys may cower under Kate's glare, but it sounds like Alexis has a better handle on them than she ever has. And Alexis does it all with a smile and a little sass.
"Anyway," Alexis says, waving her off. Ah, well, she was giving her a little too much astonishment, with her mouth hanging open, wasn't she? "How are you? I feel like I've barely seen you."
Kate nods and takes a fry, dipping it in her milkshake before popping it into her mouth. Alexis wrinkles her nose and Kate pauses, mid chew.
"What?" she mumbles.
"That's gross," Alexis says honestly.
"What?" Kate repeats before glancing down at her half-covered fry.
Oh, good God. Castle's got her dipping them in her strawberry shake now too.
"Your father is a horrible influence," she offers, smiling as Alexis laughs.
"Isn't he?" Alexis agrees. "Then again, can't be all his fault if you like the smorlettes."
"Tolerate," Kate corrects. "I tolerate the smorelette. And really, that's just because it makes him so happy."
Alexis seems to soften across from her, her eyes crinkling. Kate shrugs, a little embarrassed. She's gotten so much better with sharing, especially with Alexis. But sometimes it still catches her by surprise—how easy it is to be honest with the younger woman—how grateful Alexis always seems when she is.
"So," she says, breaking the moment. She's gotten better, but she still has a threshold.
Alexis chuckles and takes a fry for herself. "So, how are you?"
"Wedding wise?" Kate wonders.
Alexis shakes her head. "I mean, how are you, really?"
And this. She's still not quite used to seeing the grown-up in Castle's daughter. The girl who sees things clearly, who understands, perhaps too well.
"I'm good," Kate tells her, smiling as Alexis gives her a probing look. "Really. A little shaken, I guess. But I'm…wonderful," she admits.
And with the words, her shoulders lower, her body relaxes. She really is, wonderful. She's light, and free, and…complete. She'll never be fully whole, not again, not without her mother. But for the first time since her death, Kate feels complete. Like the pieces of her life have finally fallen into place—those last few bricks knocked down to make way for a new wall, a good wall. A wall at the base of a home and a life—something sturdy and solid and happy.
"Catching him, arresting him—Bracken—it was everything I've wanted for fourteen years," she continues. "That's—well, God, what is that? Almost three-quarters of your lifespan?"
Alexis thinks for a moment, unsettled, then nods. "Yeah. Almost exactly."
Kate considers her. "It's a long time to fight for something," she says, weighing her words. "And once the fight ends, you—all of the angst, all of the drive kind of fades away. I guess I'm just happy, right now. I'm—for the first time, today, I just miss her."
Alexis bobs her head, lost for words.
"I mean, I always miss her," Kate says hurriedly. "I don't mean that I haven't, or that every moment of the past 14 years has been full of revenge, or something—or that I'm angry all the time. I mean, I'm still angry, of course, but I've gotten that…justice so—"
"I know," Alexis cuts in, smiling. "But you have closure now, so the revenge…"
"Is gone," Kate agrees, grateful for the younger woman's poise. She rambles now too. Another thing she's picked up from Castle.
She smiles. She's gotten so much from Castle—so much beyond just the opportunity that lead to that final closure. "And it's wonderful. Wonderful. That's really all I've got. I'm wonderful. How are you?"
Alexis laughs and seems to relax. Kate wonders if maybe she's been waiting for this—waiting to see that Kate is truly okay. With the wedding so close, they haven't really had time to talk, not since she arrested Bracken. She's sure Castle got a moment with her, but Kate hasn't. Not yet. Not until today.
And today—today was an unspoken agreement, a late night text that didn't surprise her at all.
"I'm good," Alexis says, leaning back in the booth.
It's then that Kate realizes Alexis is wearing her leather jacket. The black one with the jersey hoodie. It looks good on the girl—the young woman. Suits her. Her hair is braided up along the back of her head. She looks so grown up.
And Kate suddenly feels a little shabby by comparison, dressed in jeans and, ironically, the same sweatshirt she wore on the run—Castle's big grey monstrosity. She just—wanted something safe, something home to wear to see her mom. And this—the sweatshirt—somehow, has become something of a talisman—something she wears instead of her mother's ring when she needs strength.
It's funny, here she is in Castle's sweatshirt, and Alexis is wearing her jacket.
"I'm glad you're good," Kate tells her. "You feeling okay about everything? How—oh, wow, God, Alexis, I'm sorry. How were your finals?"
She's missed so much in the past week. She kind of went down after she arrested Bracken—let Castle hole her up for a day, then drag her around the city, tasting cakes and taking silly pictures. He wanted to celebrate, and she just let him. Meanwhile, Alexis was going through her sophomore finals.
"They were fine," Alexis assures her, shaking her head. "Really. Just fine. And actually, you keeping Dad busy kept him from bugging me. I got so much studying done in the kitchen, you have no idea."
Kate stares at her, trying to decide whether or not she's telling the truth. But she finds no malice in Alexis' open eyes—no ill will. Just understanding, and a little exhaustion.
"Do you want a coffee?" Kate asks.
Alexis just laughs. "I'm actually okay. I face planted all day Saturday. And again, thank you," she adds. "When you went to DC last year, Dad was such a lost puppy. He kept getting me up to go do things—making me keep him occupied before I went to Costa Rica. I never got to just sleep it off."
Kate sighs. She knows Alexis means it to be reassuring, but instead, she feels that long-buried guilt rising up. She's kept Castle from Alexis so much, and at such incredibly pivotal moments in the girl's—young woman's—life. She hadn't considered, at the time, what her moving to DC would mean for Alexis—what Castle's reaction to her moving to DC would mean for Alexis.
"Kate," Alexis lets out, louder than it looks like even she expects.
Kate flinches and Alexis scrunches her face up. "Sorry, but really, you can't take responsibility for everything Dad does. He was just lonely and unable to deal—which isn't your fault. And this time, this year, he was busy for finals, and seriously, I owe you one—well not owe, sorry, wow, that's not what I—"
Kate holds up her hand. "Call it even?"
Alexis nods quickly and they both laugh. She'll work harder at this. The younger woman's right: Kate isn't responsible for Castle. At least not all the time. And hell, even when she's around, he does have the tendency to drive Alexis up a wall.
"Hey, where are you living next year?" Kate asks, the thought popping up. "I didn't even think to ask."
Alexis blinks at her, her face falling a little. "Oh, I, uh—"
"Not that you can't be at the loft," Kate adds hurriedly. Shit. She didn't mean to imply—"Of course you can be at the loft. You should be at the loft, but I—well, I didn't know if you'd want to be? There's no reason for you not to be." Alexis just raises an eyebrow at her and Kate sighs. "Your father is a seriously horrible influence." It's like she's caught his rambling through osmosis or something.
Alexis laughs. "I don't know," she says honestly. "I like living at home. I mean—it's home, you know?"
"And a very nice home, at that," Kate agrees.
"Right," Alexis says, nodding. "But I should—well, I mean, I lived on my own this year, but that was because of Pi, really. I could go back to the dorms, but my friends are mostly moving off campus."
"Is there anyone you want to live with?" Kate asks, spinning her engagement ring around on her finger.
Alexis watches as she fiddles with the ring, then looks up to meet Kate's eyes. "Is it awful if I just want to stay at home?"
Kate smiles and shakes her head, reaching across to squeeze Alexis' hands. "Not at all."
"And you wouldn't…mind?" Alexis continues, her voice softer. "I mean, I'll be out a lot during the summer, after you guys get back. But, it's your first year, you know, married, and I don't—I don't want to get in the way," she finishes.
And for all that she looks big and tall and grown up, Kate suddenly sees her as an eight-year-old girl watching her father get married, again, and wondering if she still has a place in her father's life, let alone in his house.
"Of course I don't mind," Kate says, trying to imbue her words with confidence, and heart, and something—something to make this young woman believe their worth. Because, when it gets down to it, she's never felt like Alexis has to believe her—like she's ever truly earned back the right to that trust.
"It's your home, Alexis," she adds.
"But it's yours too," the girl—young woman—replies. "And it's your first year of marriage. I've lived there my whole life. You guys are just starting yours together."
"You are a part of that life," Kate says firmly, reaching out to place her other hand over Alexis'. "A marriage license doesn't change anything, not really. Your Dad and I—we've been married for a while, don't you think?"
She watches as the corner of Alexis' mouth twitches. "I can understand if you don't want to be around for the honeymoon period." That gets a laugh. "But if you want to stay home for junior year, I am so okay with that, Alexis. We," she adds, "are okay with that."
Alexis nods, looking down at their hands.
"Have you talked to your father about this?" Kate asks gently.
Alexis slowly shakes her head. "I wanted to ask you first," she admits.
Kate sighs. "Alexis, honey." Alexis snaps her gaze up to meet hers. "Did you really think that I wouldn't want you at the loft?"
Alexis opens her mouth a few times, and that silence is enough.
She can't make up for that summer two years ago. She knows she can't. But she thought she'd made progress—that Alexis at least believed that she cared, beyond an extension of her feelings for Castle.
"I was so glad when you came back in the middle of the year," she says, scrambling to find something eloquent enough—something that can explain what it's been like, to step into this family. "Not just because it made your dad so happy—which it did, by the way. But because it meant we'd have time to get to know each other again."
Alexis opens her mouth but Kate shakes her head.
"I know—I meant, that we'd get to live together, get to kind of try on this…family." Alexis' eyes widen. "There's a difference between being your Dad's muse, or partner, or girlfriend, and being…well, being his wife, I guess."
"Even though you guys have been married for a while?" Alexis wonders, half impish, half honest.
"Even though," Kate agrees, smiling at her. "Being your Dad's work wife didn't make me your—didn't make me part of your family," Kate continues. "And spending nights at the loft made me more of an interloper than anything, really."
"No," Alexis cuts in. "No, you—you've always made my Dad so happy. I never felt—"
Kate squeezes her hand. "I know," she assures her. "I know, Alexis. I'm not saying you've been hostile, or anything like that. I meant—I mean, that making your Dad happy and loving your Dad, didn't mean that I made you happy, or made you feel like I loved you too. And having you—well, I hope having you back in the loft made you understand that I—"
She pauses and meets Alexis' eyes, finding the younger woman looking a little choked up—her cheeks slightly red.
"I love you, Alexis," Kate says quietly. "And I don't say that enough, and I'm sorry."
Alexis swallows once then puts her other hand on top of Kate's. "I love you too," she says, her voice a little shaky.
Kate smiles. "So, you should stay at home if you want to next year. 'Cause your dad and I, we both love you, and you are always welcome in your own home—our home," she corrects as Alexis gives her a look. "You don't ever need to ask me. And I'm really sorry that you felt you had to."
Alexis shakes her head and takes a deep breath. "You didn't. I just wanted to make sure that you'd be comfortable with it. I mean, I have to ask Dad too. Kind of failing to launch a little, and all."
Kate scoffs. "You've launched, Alexis," she assures her. "Staying at home is cost effective. It's smart. And you might as well enjoy being a kid for as long as you can."
"Yeah," Alexis agrees, squeezing Kate's hands before gently pulling back. Kate retracts her hands and they sit for a moment. "I'm sorry you didn't get to," Alexis says quietly.
"That you didn't get to be a kid, like I do," Alexis explains. "And I don't mean—I'm an adult, I know that. But like you said—staying home, playing laser tag—making Dad promise that you guys won't totally replace me with a kick-ass baby."
Kate chokes on a sip of milkshake and Alexis laughs before growing serious again.
"I just—I'm sorry your mother was murdered."
Kate nods. "Thank you." There's nothing really to say beyond that. She's sorry too, but in a sick way, she wouldn't be here—wouldn't be sharing her life with Castle, with Alexis, if her mother was still alive. And that's unfair of life, but she's so happy with where she's ended up.
They sit for a moment and then something clicks. Kate looks over at her. "Replace you?"
"Shut up," Alexis mumbles, stuffing a handful of fries in her mouth.
"A kick-ass baby?" Kate prods.
"Oh come on," Alexis says around her mouth-full. "You're freaking amazing and Dad's, well, Dad. Your kids are going to be fantastic."
Kate blushes, but pushes through. "Only because their awesome big sister is going to babysit all the time."
Alexis flushes and they stare at each other for a moment before laughing, giggling, turning red and panting for breath.
"Do I get little half siblings soon?" Alexis asks once they've recovered.
Kate blanches. Hypothetical kids are fine, but—but—
"No pressure," Alexis adds, grinning.
"Careful, or I'll turn into your evil stepmother," she warns, feeling a little ridiculous. But Alexis' shocked reaction is rather worth it.
"Please. You're so not an evil stepmother."
Kate arches an eyebrow, then smiles. "Good. Stepmother always made me uncomfortable anyway. Like I'm trying to fill some role, and I don't—I don't think you need me to," she adds, hoping she isn't reading things wrong.
Alexis shakes her head. "Mom's, well, kind of—I mean—I'm here with you, and not her. Says enough, right?" Kate nods slowly, thinking maybe she has been reading things all wrong. "But I don't want you to try and be my new mom," Alexis says easily.
"Okay," Kate affirms. Good. She's rather sure she'd be horrible at it anyway. A baby—a baby she could do—could be Mommy for a baby. But Alexis? She wouldn't know where to start.
"I wouldn't know how to have one," Alexis tells her, shrugging, her eyes darting away. "Not the way—not the way I think you'll be a mom, you know?
"I just—," Alexis sighs. "I just mean, you don't have to try and fit some kind of role or anything. There's nothing to fit into. So don't—worry about that. I'm not expecting you to."
"Hey," she says, catching her eye. "I know you're not," she promises. "But if you ever need anything—advice, help, a hand to hold when things get rough, I'm here, okay? Step mom or whatever. I'll teach you to do shots."
Alexis laughs, startled, and seems to soften. "Deal."
"And then, when you get heinously sick, I will hold your hair while you vomit and we can call it training for those kick-ass siblings you want," she continues, feeling a surge of triumph when Alexis bursts into giggles again.
She will never be Alexis' mother. Will never need to be, or try to be. But Alexis needs someone sometimes, will need someone, to go to for the things she can't go to Castle for, and Kate could be that someone. She wants to be that someone.
"So, tell me about that guy, Brad," Kate says, nudging the fries toward Alexis and grinning when the girl starts turning pink. "You haven't mentioned him in about two weeks, and I know we haven't seen each other, but you didn't come home on Wednesday last week."
Alexis turns scarlet and Kate feels herself settle as she hunkers in for what she's sure will be a good story.
When they've have their fill of gossip and french fries, they leave Remy's and walk the ten blocks to the subway, bumping shoulders and swapping quiet remarks about things they pass, dresses they like, small thoughts on the wedding.
It's remarkably simple—something Kate remembers doing with her mother when she was eighteen and home from school. Just walking. Just being.
She's not Alexis' mother, and she doesn't want to be—can't be. But they're family, and wrapping her arm around Alexis' shoulders and paying for her subway fare feels good—feels right. She's the adult here. She can provide and comfort and support. And yet, she can gossip and giggle and team up on Castle.
She figures she gets the best of both worlds with Alexis. She hopes, if she has a daughter, that she can be friends with her—can share secrets and hurts and hopes and dreams through every stage of her life. But she knows that things with her biological daughter will never be like they are, like she hopes they'll always be, with Alexis.
They are friends before anything else, family, but not mother and daughter. And if that means they can both check out the same guy and then laugh with each other, Kate's fine with that. In fact, she's proud of that. She can be a special person in Alexis' life, even if they never figure out just where or what she is to the girl—young woman.
"Dad, we're home," Alexis calls out as they come into the loft. She tosses her jacket over the chair and walks toward the kitchen, leaving Kate to follow behind her.
She watches as Castle comes out of his office and across the room to hug his daughter. Watches the way Alexis burrows into him. He completely dwarfs her frame, her red head practically disappearing into him.
Maybe Kate does want to give Alexis little half siblings soon.
Kate blinks and finds herself facing both Castles—still standing at the threshold to the kitchen, her purse in one hand, Alexis' jacket in the other.
"Hey," she manages, pulling herself back together. "You get anything done while we were out?"
Castle looks up, as if remembering, and Alexis laughs.
"He failed at 2048."
"Again?" Kate wonders.
"Look, just because you beat it the first time, doesn't mean you're smarter than me."
"Wow, insecure much, Dad?" Alexis lets out with a grin, stepping away from her father to take her jacket from Kate and hang it up.
Kate had meant to do that for her.
"I am not insecure," Castle says, puffing out his chest. "I'm just…apparently not as good with spatial mathematics as Kate is."
"It is a talent," Kate says, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "I'll show you how to win, if you want," she adds as she rocks back down to the flats of her feet.
He grunts and shakes his head. "I will not compromise my morals. I will beat this thing on my own." She stares at him, waiting. "But if I'm not back in an hour, please kill me?"
She laughs and pats his chest. "I'll give you the method in an hour if you're still a failure."
He mimes and arrow to the chest and staggers back. "My own fiancée. Can you believe it?" he asks Alexis.
Alexis shrugs and wanders back into the kitchen. "That she's offering you help, or that you're being dramatic about it?"
"Wow," Castle mouths to Kate.
"Go," Kate says, laughing. "I'll come rescue you if need be."
"Love you," he sing songs, dipping down to give her a sloppy kiss before heading back to the office.
He's never going to reach that deadline for Gina before the wedding. Kate shakes her head and follows Alexis into the kitchen, taking the glass of water she extends with a graceful smile.
"So," Alexis says slowly.
"Are we going to go play, beat him, and watch him have a meltdown?" Alexis asks, face serious.
Kate grins. "Do you have the app?"
She nods. "Do we have ice cream for his tantrum?"
Kate laughs. "You're the best, Alexis," she says, pulling out her phone. "Couch?"
She walks toward the couch without glancing up, pulling the app up on her phone as she hears Castle swear lightly in the office. She plops down and feels Alexis follow suit a few seconds later.
They sit comfortably together, playing quietly, only the sounds of Castle failing in the other room and the random exclamation from the two of them to fill the air.
"Happy Mother's Day, Kate," Alexis says after seven minutes of play.
Kate glances over at her and smiles. "Happy Mother's Day."
Alexis meets her eyes and smiles back, then turns her phone to show Kate her 1024 tile. "Think you can beat me?"
Kate turns hers, on the same tile. "Whoever loses has to comfort the big guy."
"I heard that," Castle calls from the office.