Title: Of Finding Innocence
Disclaimer: I have no ownership of these characters. If I did, I'd probably be fired for this.
Summary: When Kate Beckett went to get her book signed by Richard Castle, she never imagined that she'd end up meeting his daughter, much less offering to babysit for the afternoon. What happened next was nothing short of her wildest dreams, and so much more. AU.
Author's Note: It's summer. I'm writing a Post-Finale fic that's rooted in truth and speculation. So, here this is, which is rooted in complete alternate reality! It's an odd premise, but give it a chance, I think it could become something really interesting.
Let me know what you think. We're going AU, gang. Hold on for the ride.
"You're gonna leave me here? Kate, I don't even read these books!" Madison whined.
"Maddy, you dragged me here to get this signed. I have to pee. I'll be back."
Madison glared but nodded and Kate slipped out from under the rope that made up the queue to Richard Castle, who conveniently was taking his own break. She and Madison had been in line for about 45 minutes, and Maddy was becoming insufferable. Kate didn't need the bathroom so much as an escape from Madison's tales of her latest boyfriend. She loved Maddy, she really did, but sometimes, God, her life was too…no, that was small of her. She shouldn't begrudge Madison her normal life.
Kate wound through the aisles toward the back and slipped into the bathroom, smiling as she found it empty. She didn't need a long break, just a break. She used the toilet and then stood washing her hands, staring at her reflection. The circles under her eyes were finally fading a bit. She had put on some weight, and her skin looked less pale. Her therapist said she was doing well.
She sighed and hastily grabbed some towels, turning away from the mirror. She didn't want to think about why it was so good that she looked more human today than walking corpse. She heard about it enough from everyone else.
She pushed the heavy door open and began making her way back to the queue when a mess of bright orange pigtails and Mary Janes plowed into her.
"Alexis!" she heard a man's voice laugh. "You need to watch where you're going, kiddo."
"Sorry," the little girl mumbled, looking up at Kate.
"It's no problem. Are you hurt, Sweetie?" she asked, looking down at the tiny slip of a girl, who looked contrite.
"I'm okay, thank you," she replied just as a tall man stepped around the aisle.
"Sorry about that," he smiled, reaching down to haul the girl onto his hip. "She's hyper today."
"Oh, it's no…" Kate trailed off as she came face to face with Richard Castle. "Problem," she finished quietly.
"We just got back from California, and someone," he tickled the girl and she giggled, burying her head into his shoulder, "is a little wound up from the time change."
"And you gave me a cookie," she interjected.
"And that," he grinned, unapologetic. "You've been a very good girl while Daddy signs books. You deserved a reward."
"But now I'm fidgety," she mumbled, yawning.
"Not for long, looks like," Kate said. Had she just said something? Was Richard Castle really standing there holding his daughter, arguing about sugar rushes?
"Yeah, the crash is just around the corner." Richard Castle looked over toward the line. "And I've got at least another three hours of this."
Kate glanced back and chuckled as she spotted Madison chatting with a cute guy a few people behind them in line. Of course. "How long have you been at it?" she asked, turning back to him.
"Two hours," he replied. "This will sound more cocky than it is…"
"I was hoping to get a book signed, yeah," she cut him off, smiling as he gave her a sheepish grin.
He laughed. "Well, I've got a sharpie, let's get you done so you can go relieve your friend."
"You guys are about thirty people back, right? The blond?"
"Uh yeah," Kate replied, baffled. That was…flattering—oddly flattering, though it shouldn't be.
He just smiled and turned to his daughter, who was slowly falling asleep on his shoulder. "Lex, can I put you down for a minute?"
She shook her head and burrowed further into his shoulder. He rubbed her back. "She's exhausted."
"Trip to California and back would make anyone tired," Kate replied. Was she really sharing small talk with Richard Castle about his kid?
"Do you have a book, or were you going to grab one from the table?" he asked.
Kate reached into her purse and pulled out her copy of Storm Season. "I brought one." Of course she had. She pretended that Madison had dragged her here, forced her to do this ridiculous thing, but she'd been so secretly excited.
He smiled. "Can you hold it? I don't wanna have to put her down."
"Sure. Thank you for this," she said as she opened to the front cover and held it out for him to sign.
"It's no problem at all," he replied, his pen poised over the page. "I completely forgot to ask. What's your name?"
"Kate Beckett," Kate replied easily. She watched as he inscribed the book with fluid strokes. Where was the star struck, wordless girl she thought she'd turn into with this guy? More importantly, where was the playboy author she'd been expecting to meet?
"That's a great name," he murmured as he wrote. "Good consonance."
"Thanks?" she asked as he capped his pen and she pulled the book against her chest with one hand.
"Oh, it's a compliment," he grinned.
"Daddy, I'm tired," the girl mumbled.
"I know, Sweetie. We'll be done in a while."
"Why couldn't Mommy come back with us?"
Kate watched Castle frown and rub his daughter's back. "Mommy had to stay in California to do her movie."
"With that guy?"
The frown was more pronounced now. "Yes. Alexis, how much time did you spend with 'that guy,' honey?"
"Mommy left me 'lone with him for a while. He's boring."
Castle scowled and then blinked, as if noticing that Kate was still there. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"No problem." The picture she put together wasn't pretty, and she was struck by the idea that anyone could want someonelse when they had this man. True, she didn't know him, but hell, he was Richard Castle. And since it didn't seem like he was the playboy they made him out to be, why would you give him up? How could you give up the little girl?
He glanced over at the line and Kate saw his guard spot him and begin waving him over, pointing to his watch. "Looks like I'm being summoned."
"Thank you for signing my book."
"Thanks for not yelling at my kid," he replied.
"Who could yell at someone that cute?" Kate smiled. She doubted she would have been able to yell after realizing Alexis was his daughter. Granted, she doubted she could have yelled at that little smiling face anyway.
"She's hard to hate, I'll give you that," he laughed. "But I…we have to stop scheduling these things right after flights," he murmured, hitching Alexis up on his hip.
"I need to go to the bathroom."
He sighed quietly. "Alexis, why didn't you tell me before?"
"I didn't know I needed to," she replied, pulling back.
"Um, I'll get Paula to take you once I'm signing, okay?"
Alexis shook her head frantically. "Please don't."
His eyes widened and Kate suddenly felt like she was getting far too much of a glimpse into their lives. "Why?" Castle asked.
"She talks 'bout Mommy," the little girl whispered.
"Oh," he sighed and rubbed her back. "Lexi, I don't know who else…"
"I'll take her." Had she just said that? Oh, crap, she had, hadn't she?
He looked over at her. "Really?"
"I'm a cop," Kate stammered, flashing him the badge she always kept inside her jacket. "Gonna make Detective soon, actually, they say. So, you know, you can trust me? Wow," she laughed nervously. "That came out so differently than it did in my head." It hadn't actually come into her head to begin with. Her mouth had decided to make the offer before he brain could catch up, but he was smiling, so it seemed she wasn't making such a fool of herself after all.
He laughed heartily. "Okay, well, Officer, really? It would, God, that would be great."
"It's no problem."
"Alexis," he patted her back to get her to look up at him. "Can I send you to the bathroom with Kate?"
Alexis looked from him to Kate and back and then nodded. "Okay."
Castle placed her on the floor and Kate extended her hand easily to the little girl. She'd made the offer; the only thing left to do was follow through. And really, with that little hand laced between her fingers, how horrible could it be? "I'll bring her over to the table when we're done?"
He nodded and held up a hand toward the guard, who was now glaring at him. "Thank you so much."
Kate just smiled, Alexis' little hand warm in hers. "It's no trouble, honestly."
"Great. Okay." He knelt down to Alexis' eye level. "I'll be right at the table, okay?"
"Kay," she replied, swinging Kate's hand.
He stood and gave Kate a grateful smile. "Alright, well, see you in a few then."
"You got it. Come on, Alexis," she smiled, turning to look down at the little girl. "I was just in the bathroom. It's nice. You ready?"
"Yeah," she smiled up at her. "See you soon, Daddy."
They went their separate ways and Kate brought Alexis back and into the bathroom. The little girl floated along with her, light and easy, looking around at the high rows of books that extended beyond even Kate's head. "See, it's all empty too. You picked a good time," she said as they entered.
"Daddy doesn't think so," Alexis said quietly as she released Kate's hand and went into one of the stalls.
Kate stood on the other side, leaning against the wall. "You're Daddy's just busy, Sweetie. He's not mad." She couldn't explain the need to comfort this little girl, but then again, something had pulled in her gut, listening to Alexis talk about her mother, and the woman who apparently talked about her mother.
She heard Alexis give a noncommittal reply and then occupied herself with putting her book away while the little girl did her business. A minute later, Alexis reappeared and Kate led her over to the sink. "Can you reach?"
Alexis blushed. "Daddy usually lifts me."
Kate smiled and bent down, hoisting the little girl up and balancing her on her leg. "See? No problem." This seemed so easy. When was the last time she'd played with a little kid?
Alexis giggled and washed her hands. "I wanna be tall someday."
"You will be. I wasn't tall at your age either," Kate told her conspiratorially, watching as her face lit up.
"But you're so big!" Alexis replied, her eyes widening at the outburst.
Kate laughed and set her back down on the floor, reaching over to hand her some paper towels. "I'm wearing heels, see?" she replied, lifting a foot so Alexis could see her four-inch-pumps. "And I'm much older than you."
"How old are you?" Alexis asked, the picture of innocence.
"I'm just twenty-three," Kate replied. "And how old are you?"
"I'm seven," Alexis whispered. "Four days ago."
Kate smiled. "Is that why you were in California visiting your mom?" Was that too invasive?
Alexis nodded. "She and Daddy took me to the zoo."
"That sounds fun," Kate smiled as she took the girl's hand and led her out of the bathroom and down the aisle of children's books. "Did you have a good time?" she prompted, wanting to see the girl smile, since the mention of her mother seemed to have sucked the happiness off her face.
Alexis nodded but then looked up at Kate with a small frown. "They fought a lot."
Kate squeezed her hand. Apparently that had been the wrong question. "Sometimes parents do that," she offered, surprised by her own answer. It was honest, but not overly blunt, and she had to wonder what made her feel easy enough to talk like this with a girl she barely knew.
"I know," Alexis whispered. "They always do."
Kate looked down at the girl and felt her heart clench. This was by far the cutest child she'd met in a while, and she looked so forlorn. Kate wasn't that accustomed to children, but she did know that no seven-year-old should look that resigned.
"I'm sure everything will work out, Alexis," Kate told her as they made their way toward the table and the noisy line of excited women. They gave Kate curious glances as she passed with Alexis, and she was stuck between feeling a little smug and utterly bewildered by the attention.
"That's what Daddy says too," Alexis told her as she guided Kate around the back of the set up. "We go this way."
"Okay," Kate shrugged, letting Alexis steer her over to the table where Castle sat. He must have told the attendings about her, since no one seemed to find it odd that Richard Castle's daughter was dragging a strange woman up to his signing table. Kate certainly found it strange, and utterly surreal. Was she really standing behind Richard Castle at a book signing?
"We're back, Daddy!" Alexis announced as she scrambled up onto a chair next to him.
"Hi, Sweetie," he greeted, leaning over so she could kiss his cheek as he signed a book for a very eager brunette, who was staring at Alexis like she was the plague. What was her problem? Alexis was adorable.
"Thanks," she muttered as he handed the book back.
Kate watched Castle shoot the woman a look before turning to…oh, crap, that was Madison.
"Uh, hey, Maddy," Kate replied, shifting uneasily as Alexis looked between them.
"Is she your friend?" Alexis asked.
Kate nodded. She didn't have a good explanation for this one, and she basically felt the way Madison looked—shocked, mutedly delighted, and confused.
"Is she your friend?" Madison asked, eyes wide. "Oh, uh, hi, I'm Madison," she added, looking at Castle. "Um…"
"You're with Kate," he chuckled. "You're welcome to come back here, if you'd like."
"Um," Madison looked among them, thoroughly confused. "Actually, Kate, I need to go. I've got to get to work, but, uh…you have a good time. And call me later."
Kate nodded and watched as Madison turned and left. She'd be getting the third degree later, and probably the fourth and fifth as well. Alexis looked up at her. "She didn't get a book signed."
"I don't think Madison was here to get a book signed," Castle offered as he took a book from another young woman. "What's your name?" he asked kindly.
The woman looked close to fainting. Would that have been Kate, if the cute little girl next to her hadn't run into her legs?
"Well, Stacey, thank you for coming," he said, flashing his thousand-watt smile that reached up and crinkled his brilliantly blue eyes. In all fairness, it was enough to make just about anyone swoon.
"I just absolutely love you books," she said breathily. Swooning or not, Kate wouldn't have been like that. "And you know, you're even more handsome in person than you are on your book jacket."
Kate felt a hand tugging on her jacket and she looked down at Alexis, who was gesturing for her to come closer. Kate leaned down so that her ear was by Alexis' lips.
"They do that a lot," she whispered.
"Do what?" Kate asked, glancing back at the over-eager attendee, who was watching him like he was about to surge over the table to kiss her. He wasn't.
"Say Daddy's handsome."
Kate giggled and knelt down so that she was squatting partially behind the table. That way the nice young co-eds wouldn't notice Alexis bad-mouthing them. She had to agree though. "Well, your Daddy is handsome," Kate told the little girl honestly.
"Well, duh!" Alexis replied. "But, why do they tell him that? They're here to get his book signed."
Kate found herself baffled. This little girl was obviously perceptive enough to understand that Castle's books and his person were separate entities. She might even be ahead of Kate on that one, since she'd basically thought of them as one in the same until about ten minutes ago. But still, what did you say to that? "Sometimes people are inappropriate," she decided after a pause. Her mother…her mother had always told her that the truth couldn't hurt you.
"Yeah," Alexis nodded, pulling Kate out of the sudden spiral, filled with dim memories of her own life lessons. "I don't like it."
"That's okay, Alexis," Kate said, patting her knee. "You don't have to."
"I don't usually come to these," she explained, glancing over at her father, who was studiously signing books and flashing smiles. "But Grandma was busy."
"Do you normally have stuff to do, when you do come?" Kate asked, looking around. Most people seemed oblivious to the fact that Alexis was even there. It had to be rather dull for a little kid.
"Coloring books and stories," Alexis replied. "But Paula left the bag in the car," she continued, wrinkling her nose.
"Well, this store is full of stories," Kate replied. Wait, was she seriously considering giving up more of her only day off to take this little girl to the kid's section? She didn't even know these people.
But then Alexis' eyes lit up. "Would you take me?"
Castle turned, obviously not as tuned in to his signing as Kate had thought. "Alexis, what are you asking Kate?"
"She said she'd take me to look at books," Alexis replied.
Kate hadn't, but she'd been about to, hadn't she?
"Alexis, you can't expect Kate to just spend the day with you," he said kindly.
Alexis' smile fell but she nodded. "Never mind. Sorry Daddy."
"Don't be sorry, Sweetie," he replied, running a hand through her hair and looking at her sadly for a second before a woman with black, tightly pulled hair tapped him on the shoulder.
"Cute as your kid is, Rick," she whispered, quietly enough for the rest of the queue, which had been held back, to miss, but not Kate. "These people are not here to see you playing Daddy." Wow. That was harsh.
"Paula," Castle replied tersely. "You scheduled this an hour after our flight back. I had to bring her, and if you're going to talk about my daughter, do it somewhere where she can't hear you," he hissed.
"Why don't I take Alexis to look at books for a while, and you come find us when you're done?" Kate suggested, her voice bubbling up before she could stop it. She just didn't want to watch Alexis curl further into the chair. It hurt, and she'd never met the girl before. How could someone be that callous around a little kid—especially such a cute, well behaved little girl?
Castle whipped around. "Kate, I don't even…you just met us. I can't ask that of you."
"You're considering allowing a stranger to look after Alexis? I'm not even allowed to look after Alexis," the woman added.
"Kate's a Police Officer," Alexis interjected.
Kate nodded and stood, surreptitiously opening her jacket so that the woman could see her badge, but the queue couldn't. "I'm happy to. I've got the day off." She didn't like this woman, and that was totally irrational, but here they were, and she was in a position to help Alexis. She didn't have anywhere else to be.
"Which is probably your only day off," Castle added. "Honestly, Kate, this is very nice of you, but…"
"No buts," she stopped him. "We'll be in the kid's section. Come find us on your next break." She extended her hand to Alexis and the girl jumped up, taking it eagerly.
"Can I, Daddy?"
Castle looked torn but eventually nodded. "Okay. Have fun, Pumpkin. And come get me if anything goes wrong," he added, looking at Kate.
"It's not a problem, Mr. Castle," she smiled. "Your daughter's fun. I could use some fun." Oh, and more honesty. Had the switch that kept her clammed up just miraculously shut off?
"It's Rick. And thank you so much, Kate. Truly."
She just smiled. Rick. "Come on, Alexis. Let's go find something to read."
She guided the little girl back out of the signing area and over toward the children's section, smiling as Alexis swung their hands back and forth. There was something oddly comforting about the gesture, and Kate found that the little feeling of anxiety she'd been holding onto since entering the store was fading.
"Thank you," the little girl said quietly as they reached the colorful entrance to the children's section, with its light, welcoming wooden floors and lower bookshelves. Kate had always thought that Barnes and Noble did a great job of making books inviting for little kids, and now, here with one herself, she found that she too felt invited to search for the perfect story.
"It's no problem, Alexis. Like I said; you're fun," she told the little girl, looking down at her with a small smile.
Alexis grinned up at her. "I think you're fun too."
Kate squeezed her hand. "Let's find you a book."
Alexis jumped once and then pulled her into the kid's section, chattering excitedly, her earlier exhaustion forgotten. Kate felt lighter, younger. This entire encounter was surreal, and her behavior certainly fit into that description. But the little girl eagerly perusing the shelves and tugging her around was cute and lively and innocent. And after chasing thieves and criminals all week, there was something oddly comforting about being the coolest new person to a tiny little girl.
Alexis settled on a Shel Silverstein collection and picked the book up. "Can we read this?" she asked.
"Sure," Kate smiled. "Where do you want to sit?"
"The beanbags are my favorite," she said shyly.
Kate grinned. "Mine too."
Alexis smiled and together they found a big beanbag at the back of the section. Kate sat down and Alexis happily plopped down in the vee of her legs, leaning back against her, completely trusting. Kate opened the book and held it in front of both of them.
"Would you read to me?" Alexis asked quietly, timidly.
"Of course," Kate smiled, feeling Alexis relax at her answer. "These are meant to be read out loud. You can help."
Alexis nodded and they read story after story, Kate delighting in the giggles and commentary from the child in her lap. She was excited and entertaining, keeping up with Kate as they turned page after page. She'd loved these as a child, and there was something so very…lovely about rediscovering them today, here, with this little girl trusting her to keep her safe and happy for the afternoon.
Eventually, Alexis' interjections came more slowly, and then she fell asleep, her head lolling back against Kate's chest. Kate looked down at the orange head and sighed, leaning back into the beanbag. She was sitting in a Barnes and Noble with Richard Castle's daughter asleep against her chest.
She absent-mindedly ran a hand through the girl's hair and stared out at the rows of books that surrounded them. Had she and her mother done this when she was little? They'd often gone to the library; she remembered that. But had she ever fallen asleep at a store? She'd certainly never done it with someone she barely knew, but, then again, she had happily married parents who weren't famous authors.
Kate looked down at Alexis. She was young and carefree and innocent, everything Kate no longer felt. She could barely walk down the street without feeling like she was being followed, even three years into the force. But this little girl had spent ten minutes with her and deemed her safe. Her father had too, though, that was probably the badge. She'd have to talk to him about not always believing people with badges.
Alexis shifted on her lap and one of her hands bunched into Kate's jeans. Kate smiled and rocked a bit from side to side. She'd worry about that in a few hours, when Castle—Rick—was done signing books. For now, she'd just enjoy this little time with this little girl. For whatever happened later, she'd found some sort of solace with Alexis, a solace she wasn't aware she'd been missing.
Her cell pinged and she shifted to fish it out of her bag. She glanced at the screen and found a message from Madison.
Okay, what the hell was that?
Author's Note: So, I'm going by the idea that as of Season Two, we're 10 years out of Johanna's murder. So, by that logic, Alexis was five when she died.
For those of you who are re-reading, I've decided to update the first five chapters of the story, because I made a stylistic choice in chapter 6, and I want to make the feel more cohesive. I hope you like the changes.
For those of you who are new to OFI, welcome! I've loved writing this story, and I hope you enjoy it.