A/N: Okay, this is a little shorter than the others, because the ending was originally longer and very smutty. I cut it for the benefit of any readers with more delicate sensibilities than myself. I may post the sex scene some time in the future, if I can wrangle it into something that's worth the effort.
(I'm also sorry that this is a little late: I had the flu, and then it wouldn't let me log in.)
Anyway, essentially that's this finished! I hope you've all enjoyed it, and are satisfied with how it ended up – it certainly became longer and far angstier than I was expecting when I started!
Rick just couldn't sit still: he kept pacing back and forth, starting to read a book or eat something and then throwing it down again, unable to focus.
He was even disturbing Alexis with his restlessness, and he picked her up to calm her, holding her close and walking them back and forth. She started to settle, curling into his shoulder and watching her father slowly – and without jerky movements, as he'd learnt early on in parenthood – but surely lose his mind.
She'd seen him.
He knew it, he just knew it: she'd seen him and hadn't said anything, not even waved. Like they didn't even know each other. She'd been with another guy, some tall, muscular, older guy who looked like trouble.
But he was probably just someone from the Academy.
From her new life, the one she clearly didn't want Rick anywhere near.
But hard as he tried, he couldn't seem to convince himself of that. He knew that she'd made her choice; that she didn't want him anymore; that he needed to just leave it at that and move on himself.
But he just couldn't walk away.
He'd made his choice: they were having this out, one way or another.
He pulled Alexis' coat on, and watched with a certain amount of fatherly pride as she sorted out her own little Velcro shoes while he did up his laces. She stood in front of him, and frowned "It's nighttime."
"Yes, it is. But this is important."
"It's nearly bedtime." She pointed out, firmly, and he had to laugh. She just frowned harder at the idea he was mocking her.
"It is, I know that, and we're being very naughty going out right before bedtime. But this is important."
"What're we doing?"
"We're going to see Auntie Kate."
He was a little heartbroken when Alexis' face lit up, and anger came with it. He wasn't the only one Kate had hurt by leaving so suddenly.
And he wasn't the only one he'd affected by not acting sooner. Kate wasn't the only one to blame for this mess.
"Okay, Daddy." She raised her arms to be lifted, and he hauled her into his arms. He fiddled with the keys, and opened the door, ready to be all romantic and courageous and dash out into the night. This wasn't a mission to save a friendship; this was a quest to prove his love.
But he was stopped in his tracks before he even left the apartment. By the woman herself, hand even raised to knock, shock written all over her face.
"Hi." She squeaked in surprise.
Wow, this was awkward.
"Auntie Kate!" Alexis broke the tension by squealing in delight and holding her hands out, wriggling in Rick's arms and reaching out to Kate.
"Hey, honey!" Kate held her own arms out, and Rick handed Alexis over to her, figuring that this would at least stop her from running off anytime soon. "How've you been?"
"Daddy's reading Howl's Moving Castle to me!" she announced, excitedly, "And Grandma's in another play and we went to see her and we went backstage, which everyone says is real special…" she rabbited on, encouraged by Kate's smile and 'mhms' and nodding. Rick silently headed back inside, and Kate followed, laughing along with Alexis all the way. "And," she continued, "I got five new outfits for Suzie!"
"Honey?" she finally interrupted, and Alexis paused, looking up at her with wide, adoring eyes, "Do you want to show me?"
Alexis' smile grew even wider, and Rick thought his heart might explode as he watched them from the hallway.
"Well why don't you go dress her up, and I'll be there in a minute." She shot a meaningful glance at Rick, and his stomach twisted. He was dreading this conversation, even as he knew that two minutes ago he'd been ready to rush headlong into it.
"Okay!" Kate set Alexis back on her feet, and she toddled off to her room.
"She's even taller, what're you feeding her? She'll be a woman before you know it."
"She's learning new words everyday, too. I'm dreading the day she starts school properly and learns to curse." Kate laughed, and Rick had to smile, even as the awkward descended once more. "What're you doing here, Kate?"
"I… I honestly don't know. I had to see you."
"You saw me today – that was you, right?"
"Yeah, yeah," she shook her head, her hair falling over her face, "I was with Royce, he's my trainer."
"Oh, cool." He faked nonchalance, "I was with Gina. She's my agent."
"I know – I was here the night you first met her."
"Oh yeah, of course, sorry."
"You guys an item, then? That's what all the magazines seem to think anyway. When did you become such a celebrity?"
"That was her idea, drum up new readership."
"Pandering to the Us Weekly crowd, nice." She muttered, sarcastically.
"So you just came here to criticize me?"
"Really? You didn't say anything today, nothing at all. I thought we were friends, Kate!"
"I know, I'm sorry! But we haven't spoken in months and you were with her, and I figured…"
"I figured you'd moved on. Found someone easier, with no baggage. Someone you could hang out with without spending half your time in the hospital or funding rehab…. Which you're still doing, I noticed." She laughed, uneasily, "I'm stood here yelling at you and you're still paying for my dad's treatment. Way to go, Kate."
"Kate, you could push me in front of a bus, and I'd still pay for the treatment. I lo… I'm your friend, that's what I'm here for." He finished, lamely.
He'd chickened out, and felt the mental kicking begin in the back of his mind.
"I like the Academy, Rick. It's a different kind of learning, a new environment, and I'm going to make a good cop. You don't get to tell me to give that up."
"I know. And I won't, however nervous it makes me."
"I don't want to hurt you. Even if you don't ever want to see me again after tonight, I don't want you to worry about me. But I can't go back to the life I had before: there's nothing for me there. Nothing at all."
"I can get that, I guess."
"And you know, to get anywhere near Detective, Royce says I'll need to complete me degree. So you don't have to worry about my poor example to Alexis."
"You're the best example Alexis could have, Kate. Don't you get that? You're smart, and brave, and you're stronger than anyone I've ever met… you could date a hundred of your trainers and have ten times as many freak-outs than you do already, and still be a better role-model for her than most of the women I know."
"I'm not dating Royce." She was smiling, and he didn't know why, but it was a weirdly sad smile that put him on edge a little,
"You said I could date my trainers, but I don't. We're not allowed, and even if we were… He's a great guy, but he doesn't see me that way and… and I'm in love with you." She took a deep breath, steeling herself, "I'm in love with you, and I have been for a long time, and I thought you needed to know that. Even if you don't feel the same way, which you probably don't, but yeah. That's why I'm here, to make sure you know that before you decide to jump into something serious with your editor."
"I broke it off with Gina the day after you left."
"What?" she was brought up short, and looked incredulously up at him.
"I figured that if I ever got up the nerve to call and apologise for being an overbearing jackass, or you ever came back, I didn't want anything to be in the way."
"But… you were holding hands. You were so… couple-y!"
"She wants to launch a new media image, and she thought us visibly dating would help that. She has more contacts than I do in the business, and there's something about making an ex jealous… anyway, it's all for show, and we're officially breaking up after the book comes out."
"Cause, you know, I love you."
"Yeah." She was laughing, and in half a second they'd bridged the gap between them and were grasping at each other, kissing like their lives depended on it. Her arms were around his neck, holding his mouth as hard against hers as possible as his wrapped around her waist, pulling her so close into him that it felt like he wanted them to become one entity.
Which, in that moment, neither of them had a problem with.
It was a long time before they finally surfaced for air, grinning down at each other, not able to stop touching for one moment.
"We're really doing this?" She asked, "You're not going to tell me something about timing or meaning or something? We're really in this?"
"Do you know how hard it was pushing you away the first time? I couldn't do that again, Kate. I'm all yours for as long as you want me, whenever you want me."
"Good. Cause that's pretty much always."