They had had the money talk and they both pretended to be back to normal, but when Alexis came down for dinner a few hours later, she could feel the tension in the room.
The redhead seemed to skirt around the room trying not to draw the attention of the two adults silently filling plates with food. Once hers was filled, she looked between the two who were steadfastly avoiding eye contact with one another. "Is everything okay, you guys? You've been weird since you got back earlier."
"Alexis," Rick started to chastise his daughter, but Kate stopped him.
"It's okay, Rick," she interrupted. "She can know if you're okay with it." At the look of concern on Alexis's face, Kate's face melted into one of reassurance. "No, Alexis, it's nothing bad. Just—your dad and I had a bit of a spat earlier."
The teenager paused with her fork half way to her mouth, eyes flitting between her dad and her new stepmom, clearly becoming uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was heading. "Oh-kayyy," she said, unsure of how to proceed.
Rick and Kate shared a look that doubled as a discussion before he turned back to his daughter. "Well, Alexis, as you are fully aware, Kate and I have only known each other for about two weeks and there's still a lot we don't know about each other."
Nodding, Alexis looked at Kate to gauge her reaction, but the detective's face was neutral. "Today," Rick continued, "we went to the Chelsie Market and I bought her some scarves to surprise her." When this got no reaction from Alexis, he carried on. "Well she didn't see them as a simple gift, she saw them as an unnecessary splurge."
Now when Alexis looked at Kate, Kate's head was slightly ducked and her cheeks were pink. "So you fought about it? About scarves?"
"It was more than that to me, Alexis," Kate responded before Rick could jump in. "Money just means different things to your dad and me, and that wasn't something we had really had cause to discuss before." When Kate looked to Rick for reassurance, he smiled at her and squeezed her hand.
Alexis considered this explanation for a moment before posing a question to the newlyweds. "So, if you don't mind my asking, what did you decide? I don't mean to be rude, I just think this whole process is fascinating and I'm curious as to how you've decided to compromise."
Kate's jaw hit the floor a little bit at the maturity shown by the fifteen year old. "Uh, well," she stammered.
"Well Kate is subletting her apartment to her cousin for the five weeks the experiment lasts, so she's going to pay for half the utilities and groceries here. We're partners."
When Kate heard the word partners, she turned a stunned face to her new husband. "Yeah," she grinned at him. "Partners."
Alexis popped another forkful of food into her mouth and smiled between her dad and stepmom. "Good," she quipped, noting that the adults were still gazing at each other. "So, have you had sex yet?"
Laughing, Alexis stood from the island and made her way to the dining table. "Relax, guys, I'm only kidding. Besides," she said, sobering instantly, "I already know the answer. You're not as quiet as you think."
Kate groaned as Rick dropped his head into his hands. "That's awkward," he mumbled.
"God, Alexis, I'm so sorry. That's mortifying." Kate was sincerely concerned about the young girl's mental well-being. "How—how do you— Are you okay with that?" At the face Alexis pulled and Rick's scoff of amusement beside her, she reconsidered her phrasing.
"What I mean is," she tried again, "I want to know how you're dealing with this marriage. I know it has to be a lot to deal with and I just want to make sure we're not leaving you out or overwhelming you."
Beside her, Rick's jaw dropped and his heart swelled for this creature he was fortunate enough to have married. Apparently, Alexis was thinking similar thoughts because her jaw, too, was hanging open.
Sitting plate and fork on the table so she could fully face Kate, Alexis regarded her warmly. "Kate, that's incredibly sweet of you. Thank you for thinking of me through all of this."
"Yeah," Rick echoed, blurting the only word he could think.
Smiling at Alexis, Kate's discomfort at this discussion, about the honesty of the argument and opening up to Alexis, about beginning a line of communication so that her fifteen year old stepdaughter didn't feel that her place had been usurped, was apparent to both Castles.
"Like I said, I find the whole experiment fascinating, but you'd understand if I don't get too emotionally invested, wouldn't you?" Kate's face kind of fell at that, as did Rick's, but Alexis was quick to justify her answer. "I just think that it would be terrible for us to bond and become close only for you and my dad to break up and get divorced in a few weeks."
The hurt that was running through Kate's veins at that, she was unable to keep from her face. When Rick's hand reached for hers, she looked at him and saw that same hurt reflected in his eyes as well. Seeing that: the pain in both sets of eyes, caused Alexis's face to grow serious.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I'm just being realistic from my point of view, not yours. I want this to work out as much as you guys, please believe me."
Rick glanced at his daughter. "Of course, pumpkin. I understand."
Alexis looked pleadingly to Kate who had been silent and whose head was bowed. "Kate? Are we okay?"
"Of course," Kate replied immediately, looking up at the girl. "Absolutely, Alexis, I can't blame you for protecting your heart. It's okay, really."
The trio finished their dinner in silence, each contemplating the direction their conversation had taken them. Shortly after the plates were cleaned and dirty dishes put away, Alexis excused herself upstairs to finish her homework.
As the adults made eye contact, there was a sense of determination from each that they wouldn't discuss just yet. Despite her openness in days past, Kate was still a private person and Rick knew that. She had shared her story and even given him insight to her emotions, but there was still a part of her that was holding back her true self. He had no idea that everything she was sharing with him was totally against her nature; he had no idea how hard she pushed away those who tried to know the true her. She was afraid that Rick would grow frustrated with her stubbornness and give up on her. She wanted this to work—he made her laugh again—but she wouldn't put her heart on the line just yet.
Similarly, Rick had poured his heart out to Kate even though he still had his reservations. He had been burned too many times to put his whole being on the line this soon, even though his gut told him this one was different. His mom had a similar realization the day after they met/married for goodness' sake.
In the face of all these thoughts—the worry, the fear, reservations, and hesitation—both Rick and Kate were determined to make something of the life they'd jumped into together. They had just over three weeks (and probably several therapy exercises) to get to know their real spouse and figure out just what they could make that life look like.
AN: Another pause, but another chapter yayy! I know I don't usually reply to reviews (mostly because I get them while I'm at work), but I do read and appreciate all of them and I usually reply in my head if that makes you feel better. Anywho, thanks for reading! Mwah!