One and Done?
How had Kate Beckett gotten here?
Castle had looked at her with that serious face, his body strung with tension in his chair beside her desk, and she had given in. It wasn't Kate Beckett's place to have a talk with Richard Castle's daughter, not her place at all, but Alexis had come to her one time before, and Castle needed some parental reassurance.
So here she was. Sitting with Alexis in a deep corner of a coffee house close to the station, warming her fingers on a cup of black coffee, while Alexis nervously sipped at her hot chocolate and wiped whipped cream from her upper lip. With a napkin. Which she carefully smoothed out and placed on the armrest for later use.
Right, like Alexis, perfect Alexis, needed any kind of talking to whatsoever. Kate shook her head with a sigh and pulled her knees up into the chair, pushing her sock-clad toes into the side of the cushion. Alexis still had her shoes on, but had settled back into her seat as well.
It would be best to just jump right into this.
"How was school, Alexis?" Kate was pleasantly surprised at the softness in her voice, the hesitance. Because of course, this was no interrogation. But she knew she had a tendency to be blunt, hard even, when she was uncomfortable.
"Just fine." Alexis smiled at her, as if waiting, then filled the awkward gap when Kate drew a blank. "My Calculus teacher made us do a bunch of theoretical problems about a cat. He hates cats. Most of the time, in the problems, the cat gets into some fatal accident."
Kate smiled at the way Alexis rolled her eyes and let her grip ease off her coffee. "Your dad says you've narrowed down your college choices."
"Yeah! I'm so excited! My boyfriend and I are going to the same school-or well, we're trying to."
"That's uh-nice." Kate scraped a fingernail along the pad of her thumb and forced herself to come out with it. "Um, actually, your dad asked me to talk to you about that a little bit."
Immediately, Alexis went still. Her very blue eyes, her father's eyes, zeroed in on Kate's with a level of quiet patience and concentration that the detective hadn't seen in a teenager before. Alexis had folded her hands and left them in her lap, her body ramrod straight against the back of the armchair.
Serious talk mode. Not defensive, not yet anyway, but intelligent, keen, ready to pick apart Kate's every comment.
She would have to be a lot more careful than she'd thought.
"One time I told your father that I was a 'one and done' kind of girl." Kate bit at her lip, then smoothed her tongue over the chapped place. She refolded her hands over her coffee cup. "One is it for me. No divorce, no second and third marriages. And your father says you're that kind of girl as well."
Alexis closed face seemed to clear a little, some animation coming back to her eyes, but she said nothing.
"So he asked me to talk to you about that-about what it means to be that kind of person. About. . .about what a relationship like that looks like."
"I think I know what that looks like." Alexis said softly.
Kate adjusted her body further back into the seat, watching Alexis and trying to plan her next line. "Maybe so. I think your father is afraid that he hasn't set that good an example-in that regard." She took a sip of coffee and nestled it against her chest. "One thing Cast-your father said was that he wants you to finish school. No matter what."
"I will, of course." Alexis gave her a confused eyebrow, as if to say No duh. "I'm not running off to get married. Ash and I are-well, we're not stupid."
"Look, Alexis," Kate sighed. She would just have to jump right in there. No more dancing around it. "When I was a sophomore in college, my mother was killed. While my dad and I were at dinner, she was stabbed in an alley-" Kate shrugged one shoulder, struggling to keep her emotions out of this. "I was 20. I was-different after that, to put it mildly. I switched majors. Literature to criminology. I went to the police academy. My whole life's purpose was altered irrevocably. My boyfriend at the time didn't understand. He was there for me as best he could be. But I was different. We were different. And it wouldn't work."
"I'm sorry," Alexis said softly.
Kate flashed her a half-smile. "That's not exactly what this is about. High school seems to be the whole world. I felt like I was set, like I knew everything. But people change. Not just the other person, but you as well. Some grow apart, some take a different path-or like me, something happens to you that changes the way you see the world. You don't mean to, you never wanted to, but you look at the person you're with and you realize, I can't do this. I can't be the person I was."
Alexis leaned forward to touch the detective's knee, her face tight with compassion. "Kate, I know my father wanted you to talk to me about this, but you don't have to. I know you're a private person."
"No," Kate reached down to squeeze her hand. "It's fine. Your dad is concerned because he's your dad. But me-I don't want to see you limited by anything, Alexis. You're a smart woman, with potential-" Kate fluttered her hand in the air, uncertain how to explain without sounding like some kind of high school guidance counselor. "I'm not your mom. I'm not as cool as your grandmother. But I feel like this is stuff I would've wanted someone to tell me when I was your age. Not that I think you shouldn't trust the relationship you're in, but just-I don't know-make sure you get the full college experience when you're there. Don't *not* do something just because of your boyfriend. Don't limit yourself."
When she finally looked up at Alexis, the girl had a wide and beaming smile, leaning in close to Kate like she wanted to hug her. Kate leaned back, an old instinct, and Alexis smiled even more, her heart in her eyes. It was almost too much.
"Tell Dad the message came through loud and clear. Ash and I are serious, yes, but I'm not looking to marry him-at least not until after college, right? And I won't let it go to my head. I'll remember what you said, Kate, about how we end up different people."
Kate nodded, relieved to have that over with, the pressure of intimacy off her chest. She wasn't sure why she'd agreed to do this for him, except that she did know exactly what Castle was worried about, and it happened to girls around the country-giving up their own dreams to follow a man, or limiting their experiences because of a relationship. She knew that. But Alexis was smart, and no-nonsense, and surely Kate hadn't needed to share quite so much?
"Can I share something with you, Kate?"
Kate's head came up in disbelief-and a little panic. She wasn't sure she could be the bearer of any more of Alexis's secrets. They had talked before, at Alexis's request of course, and it was great fun to tease Castle with the things he didn't know, but relationship-boy stuff? She wasn't a parent.
"Go ahead," she said softly, because what else was she supposed to say?
"When I was really little, like three I think, before Dad and Meredith divorced-" Alexis paused, taking a sip of hot chocolate. She looked like she was debating the wisdom of her next words.
Kate realized that Alexis was calling her mother by her given name, and that was so foreign to her. Their two mother-daughter relationships were completely different, but they must both miss having a mom. Kate eased forward in her chair and waited for Alexis to find her train of thought again.
"This might sound dumb," Alexis apologized with a blush. "But I was little and I didn't know better. My mother is a pretty good actress, in her own way, you know?"
Kate nodded, not having really spent much time with Meredith.
"She puts on a really great show. She put on a great show for me back then, when I was really little. I loved the way she smelled, all her make-up and her beautiful clothes. I would put her shoes on and try to walk around her room. I would hide in her closet, waiting for her to come find me."
"I did the same thing with my mom," Kate said softly. "She would sit me down at her vanity table and put blush on my cheeks and lipstick on my mouth."
Alexis gave her a sad smile. "I wasn't supposed to touch it. I didn't, either. I wanted to be perfect for her. She smiled and it was just-" Alexis heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes at herself. "She was on tours, or in a play, and she'd wake up around eleven and start getting ready. She'd be at the theatre rehearsing or performing until late. Dad and I would do our normal, every day stuff-like the park, or the library, or building forts."
"I bet your Dad was a lot of fun," Kate said, filling Alexis's sudden silence.
"He was. He is," Alexis said with a genuine grin. "He'd put me to bed and tell me the most amazing stories. I never meant to, but I'd always fall asleep. I wanted to wait up for my mother, but I never could make it."
Alexis sipped her hot chocolate and stopped meeting Kate's eyes. "Meredith would come home late after the play with all of her favorites from the cast, mostly the men-" Here, she rolled her eyes. "-And the sound of the door opening was like my alarm clock. I would wake up the moment I heard the door click, sit up in bed in the darkness, and wait."
Kate watched her pick at the sleeve of her sweater, seeing in Alexis all the tells of someone with a soul to unburden. She was afraid of where this was going.
"Dad had a rule that I wasn't allowed out of bed during naptime or bedtime; I was supposed to be sleeping. So I was good, and patient, and I waited. And Dad would always come into my room and get me, take me out into the living room to see my mother. He'd creep to the door and softly call my name, as if he thought I'd be asleep. He'd pick me up and carry me downstairs to see my mother and to meet all of her friends."
"That must have been fun-getting up in the middle of the night and hanging out with everyone."
Alexis smiled widely, but her heart wasn't in it. "It really was. Like a party every night. Mother would have me sit right beside her and she would talk to me and tell me about her performance and how the audience was. Sometimes Grams reminds me of my mother."
"I'm glad you had that time with her," Kate said softly, cutting into the silence again. "It's good to have those memories."
"One night, I heard the door open and I sat up in bed and I waitd. I waited a long time. At least, I thought it was a long time back then. It was probably only a few minutes. But I wanted so badly to be with my mother that I broke the rules and got out of bed. I crept down the hall and sat in the shadows of the doorway, watching. I was going to make an entrance, I thought, just like mother talked about."
Alexis was picking at her cup now, scratching her fingernail into the carrying sleeve. Kate felt uncomfortable listening to her rose-colored memories, certain something painful was in the offering.
"I saw Dad arguing with her. I only paid attention because he was talking about me. 'At least let her say goodnight' he said. 'Alexis has been looking forward to this all night.' I was knew this was my moment, but I didn't move. I didn't show myself. Instead I heard my mother say that she didn't want to me out there with her, that she was embarassed for them to see me."
Kate caught her breath, reaching out a hand in reflex, catching hold of Alexis's fingers to squeeze them. "Alexis-"
But the girl shook her off with a smile, a soft one, but a smile nonetheless. "At the time, I thought it was because of my orange hair. Mother had said something earlier to me, I guess, about my hair. I know it doesn't make sense-Meredith's hair is red too, but I guess I didn't see it like that. And I think I remember a kid on the playground teasing me. But I just knew she didn't want all her friends to see that her daughter had orange hair, that she was embarassed by it. I don't remember the words she said, but I remember knowing exactly what she meant."
"I'm sure that's not it, Alexis."
"I know that now. But I stayed there in the doorway, in the shadows, stuck. I didn't feel like I could go in there after that. But I couldn't go back to bed without her. I didn't move. Later, Dad found me in the hallway and he said 'There's my little pumpkin,' and it was like he was proud of me, of my orange hair. And I knew that it was okay, because Dad would always come get me."
"Did you go say goodnight to your mom?"
"No. Dad took me back to bed. They got divorced very soon after that, I think. For a long time, I thought they split because of my orange hair."
She gave Kate a grin. "Of course I know better now." She leaned back, her elbows on the arms of the chair now instead of her knees. "But I saw then that Meredith was playing a part, the part of my mother, just as she played all these other parts. When she was in her element, she was wonderful, and exciting, and she smelled so good and had such beautiful clothes. But when she was playing a different part, like my dad's wife, or the diva, or the struggling off-off-Broadway actress-well those parts didn't include being a mom."
Kate let the silence stretch out, waiting for the point that Alexis was trying to get to. As beautiful and engaging as Alexis was, she was also shy and private-and Kate knew the story had been for a reason and not just to even the sharing score.
"But you-" Here Alexis stuttered and blushed, raising her eyes for a moment and dropping them. "You don't play any parts. You're straightforward. So when you say something, I know you mean it. And I know that you care what happens to me. And that's-that's. . ."
Kate's stomach clenched tightly against the neediness in Alexis's eyes. She hadn't even thought-hadn't seen this coming.
"This is the closest I've had to a mom in a long time." Alexis bit her lip and laughed at herself even as she said it, then stood and walked off to dump her cup in the trash can.
Kate was a little panicked but she couldn't let that go. She followed the girl, and when Alexis turned back around, Kate was there to envelop her in a tight hug. "You deserve much better than me, but I'm honored."
Alexis laughed, but hugged her back, intense, and they broke apart after a moment, both of them embarassed.
"Well-" Kate said, and gestured towards their armchairs. "Ready to give up our good seats and head back?"
"Yeah." Alexis seemed grateful that the awkwardness was over and ran to get her backpack and coat. Kate followed and grabbed her own things, still a little shell-shocked by the girl's confession. She didn't know how she had managed to get so wrapped up in Castle's life, but now. . .now how could she possibly extricate herself?
She'd spent this time trying to impress upon his daughter the idea that people changed, that they wanted different things, or found their lives affected in ways they couldn't have imagined, and yet she had never believed Castle capable of that change. But Castle was a father, a good father, who had gone from partying playboy to playing with his daughter at home. And hadn't he said that Meredith had cheated on him? At one time, she'd sort of assumed it was because he'd done the cheating first. Instead, it sounded like he'd settled down, tried to make a life for his daughter, while Meredith continued on like nothing had happened.
She wondered why he rarely let anyone see it. She wondered if he was more like herself than she'd expected-so defensive, so ready to assume that people would disappoint, that they'd closed themselves off. The secret Rick Castle. Hadn't she discovered more of the real him in the last few years?
And yet Castle still hadn't proved himself to her. Had he?