Author's Note: Hello again. I was in a department store, waiting outside the fitting rooms while my wife tried on some new clothes. There were a few other men in a similar situation, most engrossed with their phones, and… well, you'll see.
Castle was trying very hard to look bored and weary, but it was impossible to keep the grin off his face.
He was sitting patiently outside the fitting room of the second department store they'd visited so far on this bright, clear Saturday morning — they being himself, his daughter, his mother, and to his continuing delighted disbelief, Detective Kate Beckett.
She had texted him at breakfast time, asking what he was up to this weekend, which wasn't entirely unusual. It was always a friendly enquiry; neither an invitation nor a request for one. He'd mentioned that Alexis was in apparent need of some new clothes, and Martha was taking her shopping, so he was at a loose end. Then the surprise: Beckett asked if he was going along too, because she needed to get some things herself, and maybe they'd bump into each other. At that point, he'd disregarded their normal, careful protocol without a second thought, and asked if she'd like to accompany the Castle-Rogers clan for the day. To his amazement, she'd enthusiastically agreed, and met them about ninety minutes earlier.
He shifted in his seat, still childishly excited at the uncharacteristic behaviour from the woman he was in love with. She usually kept a firm barrier between her work and her personal life, and had always been reluctant to intrude too far into his time with his family. Today was a huge step, and it had come out of nowhere.
She'd been smiling all morning, too. Joking with his daughter, exchanging wry remarks with his mother, and still teasing him every bit as much as she did at the precinct — but she was more relaxed, somehow. More carefree. She was also dressed in a distinctly non-Beckett way, with lower heels, a pastel blouse, and even some tasteful jewellery.
He had no idea what prompted her decision to join them for a family shopping trip, but he certainly wasn't going to question it. All he had to do was make sure she stayed happy and comfortable with the situation.
And if that means waiting outside fifty fitting rooms today while they all try on clothes, then that's exactly what I'll do, he thought, his grin widening.
"So how's the blue one?" came Alexis' voice over the partition between the curtained cubicles. Both she and Beckett were trying on dresses they'd found, while Martha was off in some other part of the multi-level store.
"It's… pretty," Beckett replied, "but I don't think it's really my colour."
"Hmm. Well, you should try the red one next," the girl replied, then added in an exceptionally casual tone, "Maybe go show my dad."
Beckett laughed. "Yeah, I bet he'd like that," she said, readily able to imagine the slightly bashful look of exaggerated innocence on the girl's face.
There was silence for several minutes as they both continued with the task at hand, then Alexis' voice once again drifted over.
"It's good to have you here, Kate," she said solemnly, and Beckett smiled.
"Thanks for letting me tag along," she replied. "It's nice to be able to spend more time with you and Martha."
"And… with my dad?"
Beckett smiled. Seems like it's time for that conversation.
"You must be wondering why I asked to come along with you all today," she said. "Not something I'd usually do."
"You're always welcome," Alexis replied, then there was a pause of several seconds before she continued. "But… yes, I was a little surprised."
Beckett put her tan leather jacket back on and picked up her purse, then drew back the curtain and stepped out into the corridor between the cubicles. A moment later, Alexis appeared too, both now back in their own clothes. Beckett laid a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Can you keep a secret?"
Alexis blinked, and then nodded confidently, eyes wide. Beckett suppressed a grin. Here goes nothing, she thought.
"The truth is, this is… kind of a gesture."
"A gesture," Alexis repeated, clearly unsure what the other woman meant.
"For your father," Beckett said. "I'm trying to tell him that… I don't want to be on the outside looking in anymore. With him, or with his family."
Beckett was watching the girl's face carefully, and saw her eyebrows shoot up, and her cheeks flush.
"I… uh, wow," Alexis said. She was obviously struggling to find words, and it was several seconds before she spoke again. "That's not at all what I expected. I mean, I don't know what I expected. But… wow. So… when you say—"
"Yes," Beckett said, quietly and firmly, with a warm smile. "He and I have been dancing around this forever. I've kept him at arm's length, and made him wait. And I know that's hurt him, and you. I'm so sorry. But I'm here now. Honestly, I don't think I know how to be apart from him anymore."
The girl's eyes were bright with tears. "You're here now," Alexis repeated, with wonder in her voice. "Oh god. He's going to be… he's going to freak. It's going to be his Best Day Ever, for real this time."
Beckett laughed self-consciously, feeling her own cheeks flush, and she was about to reply when Alexis suddenly embraced her, holding her tight. Beckett let her own arms close around the younger woman's back, and they held each other for several long moments.
"Kate?" Alexis said, her voice slightly muffled.
"Do you love him?"
Beckett blinked back the tears that immediately threatened to appear in the corners of her eyes. There was such hope in the girl's voice, but also a tangible sense of the fear Beckett knew she must be feeling. Her father was already fully in that place, as Beckett well knew, and he needed nothing less in return. She sighed, and smiled into Alexis' hair.
"I'm completely in love with him," she whispered in reply, and she wasn't sure whether the sound Alexis made was a gasp or a sob, or both, but the girl's arms tightened around her.
"I'm so sorry it's taken me this long to admit it," Beckett said, but Alexis shook her head, finally releasing her and taking a half-step back before she clasped both of Beckett's hands in her own.
"Don't be," she said, blinking away a tear of her own. "Just… tell him. Tell him, and love him… the way he loves you."
Beckett could only nod, and this time a single tear did escape, and rolled down her cheek.
She squeezed Alexis' hands before releasing them to wipe her own tears away, then she took a deep breath, noticing that Alexis was smiling at her.
"He'll be wondering where we've got to," the girl said, and Beckett felt her pulse rate increase. She was nervous, but in a good way.
"Then I guess we shouldn't keep him waiting," she replied.