Summary: Her words flow freely now, crashing over the dam around her heart, but they're breaking against the wrong person.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Castle, just the thoughts in my head.
Spoilers: Cops and Robbers
Author's Notes: I've never been the most timely writer, so here is a very late post-ep to Cops and Robbers. As much as I've been loving this season, I think Kate and Alexis need some time to talk. So, I gave it to them. Of course, Castle couldn't stray very far.
Dedicated to my beta and best friend Joy. Still can't believe we've been doing this for over 10 years. Thanks for making reading edits so much fun. Thanks, also to chezchuckles for the ringtone suggestion. Worked perfectly.
The dishwasher hums quietly in the kitchen, a pleasant counterpoint to the soft jazz Castle switched on earlier in the evening. The plentiful leftovers have been divided up for future lunches and into care packages for the boys back at the 12th. Once order was restored to the kitchen, Martha had retired for the night, but not before wrapping Kate in another crushing embrace, whispering the words 'thank you' and 'sorry about the timing, kiddo' into her hair, words the detective has been trying to brush off ever since. Castle's mother has always picked the most inopportune times to be perceptive.
Alexis had slipped away as quickly as manners would allow, having managed to maintain a façade of cheerful relief for about an hour or so before finally disappearing up to her room. Despite the teenager's bright smile, Kate could see the shadows lurking behind the clear blue of her eyes. The detective was also pretty sure that the bulk of the weight that had been dragging down the girl's shoulders all evening had relatively little to do with her recent break-up.
It's the same weight pressing against her own chest as she sits in Castle's living room, sipping her third glass of merlot, losing herself in the play of light, from the fireplace behind her that dances across the spines of his bookshelf. It's the weight that gets heavier every time she's blindsided by memories of the shocking lurch of the earth, the roar of Death spilling out from the gutted bank, rattling her heart in its cage. Dread, cold and heavy, had rolled down her spine, settling sickeningly deep in her gut, churning up the one thought that nearly shattered her along with the building.
The precious minutes it took SWAT to assemble and breach what was left of the bank was Kate's worst kind of hell and she imagines it was infinitely worse for Alexis, who was forced to witness the explosion in horrifying Technicolor.
Kate shoves the memory back down, burying it deep with all the other near misses and close calls that she and Castle have seen in the last four years, and turns her gaze back to her partner. They've migrated to the couch; Castle's sprawled along its long arm, while she's curled up in the corner. Conversation trickled to a stop nearly twenty minutes ago but she can't seem to bring herself to go home. Her apartment will be hollow and cold after the bustling warmth of the loft and for once, Kate doesn't want space. She needs to be here, in these rooms warmed by his presence, so she settles deeper into the cushions as she surreptitiously observes her host.
He had nodded off only a few minutes ago, head lolling along the back of the sofa. He doesn't look too worse for wear, but she's been watching him just as carefully as he's been observing her all these years and Kate can spot the furrow creasing his forehead and the tight set of his jaw that are his tells. He's not fine and she knows that it's not his own trauma that's weighing on him, but the lasting effects the day's ordeal will have on his family. She also knows that she part of that equation now. As far as he's concerned, she's been a member of this family for probably longer than she would be willing to admit. That's what tonight is all about, the hugs from his mother, the dinner, all of it a not so subtle reminder that she has somewhere to belong outside of the precinct, that she belongs here. A year ago, the idea would've had her begging off before he could even get her near the door. Now, she takes another deep sip of the full-bodied red wine and tucks her legs more firmly into the ridiculously soft leather seat.
The sudden rattle of his phone vibrating against the coffee table shatters the comfortable quiet, nearly startling Kate's glass out of her hand. John Williams' Imperial March rumbles from the tiny speakers, clashing with the Oscar Peterson on the stereo; Castle snaps awake and stretches out at an awkward angle to snag the phone and bring it to his ear with a sickeningly sweet, "Hi, Paula, and what can I do for you this fine evening?"
Kate can't quite contain the chuckle that bubbles up when she catches his eye roll. His publicist must be in fine form tonight, because he's not getting anything other than 'yes', 'uh huh' and 'no, Paula,' in between lengthy stretches of silence.
He catches her eye, his gaze an equal mix of amused and apologetic, before covering the phone, whispering, "I've gotta deal with this, don't go anywhere."
He heaves himself off the couch, striding purposefully into his office, muttering, "Yeah, I'm going to check now."
Kate sinks back against the mountain of throw pillows on a long exhale. Without the distraction of his presence, fatigue finally sets in, dragging her limbs down into the couch and muddling her thoughts. She really needs to get herself moving and go home, but she's just too damn comfortable.
"How do you do it?"
The words are barely above a whisper, but with an unexpected edge that snaps Kate immediately to attention like a slap in the face. Craning her neck, she finds Alexis behind her, at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes are shockingly bright, rimmed faintly with red, her normally porcelain skin blotchy and Kate's heart clenches. She should've known the girl wasn't fine. Alexis has no training or background to handle the emotional trauma she was subjected to today and the Castle MO of burying it with humour likely isn't going to be enough this time, but it's not Kate's place to make these calls.
Low-grade panic scratches at the back of her throat. She has no idea how to deal with a distraught teenager, especially her partner's daughter who she knows so much about, but doesn't really know at all. Unconsciously, her eyes stray to the empty space between the bookcases, though she can't decide if she wants him to appear in the doorway or stay put. The move doesn't go unnoticed and Alexis quickly rounds the couch, putting herself between her father and the detective, hands on her hips in a stance that's almost an exact mirror of Kate's own interrogation pose. Castle would find it amusing; it simply leaves her unsettled.
Certain she has the detective's full attention, Alexis launches into what's really on her mind.
"How can you sit there like it was just another day at the office when I can still taste the dust and … every time I think I've got it under control, all I see is everything I love blown to pieces?"
Kate's eyes slip closed on a sigh before she places her half-empty glass on the coffee table and pushes up from the couch, needing to be at eye-level for this conversation. This has obviously been building for a while; there's so much more weight behind Alexis's words than just the exhaustion from today.
She hasn't seen much of Castle's daughter since the … since the funeral, but the icy timbre to the young woman's desperation earlier this afternoon has Kate wondering just how much of the darkness that shrouds her life has bled beyond her partner into his family. Guilt sits like a rock in the detective's already full stomach, leaving her feeling vaguely nauseous as she grapples for words, but what is she supposed to say?
'Sorry you had to watch your dad nearly throw away his life for me? Sorry that I'm too selfish to let him go, but too much of a coward to let him all the way in?'
Yeah, that would go over well.
Apparently the ability to find the words she's lacking is genetic and Alexis cuts straight to the heart of things.
"How can you sit there and sip wine and pretend to be 'just friends' when my dad almost died today. And you almost died six months ago. How can you keep wasting time, or are you just stringing him along?"
The sting is worse than she expected and Kate has to bite back the acid retort that's burning the tip of her tongue, a knee-jerk reaction when she's cornered. She deserves every bit of Alexis's ire and distrust. All she's ever brought her family is danger and darkness. Kate doesn't even want to think about the too many brushes with death that she hopes the girl has no idea about. That still doesn't mean that she wants to hash out her failings with her partner's daughter. Carefully, the detective schools her features into the mix of compassion and dismissal that she uses with overly distraught victims.
The word crunches like a dissonant chord, wrapped in the unlikely notes of Alexis's voice, stunning them both into silence.
The poor girl looks mortified, her eyes twice their usual size, glistening in the firelight, fingers fluttering over her mouth like she could catch the errant syllables and stuff them back in.
Kate can't help it; a chuckle slips past her lips, snapping Alexis's eyes back into focus.
"God! Detective … Kate, I'm sorry, I-"
Beckett silences her with a small but genuine smile, finding the girl's uncharacteristic outburst strangely settling. Alexis's near-Disney-level sweetness and savvy has always left Kate feeling inadequate with her darkness and sharp edges. Castle's daughter had always seemed unreachable, something she shouldn't touch for fear she'd stain her permanently.
Now, her eyes bright and cheeks pink with a mess of frustration and embarrassment, Alexis seems more human than angel, someone Kate can relate to, someone just as fragile and broken as the rest of them.
Drawing on all of her training in handling flighty witnesses, the detective eases forward, subtly herding Alexis over to the nearest armchair, and the girl drops into it immediately, snagging the ragdoll behind her and hugging it to her chest. The move turns back the clock and Kate can clearly see the little girl asking her dad why Mommy had to leave them. The need shimmering in those bottomless blue depths is terrifying and Kate has to break their gaze, searching for purchase as she drops to a crouch.
"How do you stay so together, Kate?" The words are barely there, forced out past a rising tide of tears. "I feel like everything is falling apart at the seams. I wish I could be like you, strong enough so that nothing can move me."
"Oh, honey." The word escapes on a sigh before Kate can censor herself, but Alexis either doesn't notice or doesn't mind the accidental endearment. "I've been trained for situations like today. I've also had a lot more practice than I'd like, but don't ever think that I'm not moved … that I don't care."
The girl's eyes are so painfully full of hope that Kate can't just leave it there.
"When I heard the bomb … when I saw the building, everything just stopped." Kate sucks in a deep breath; she'll never be as comfortable with words as her partner, but something that's been living in her heart for far longer than she'd like to admit wants her to try. Her chest aches with it. "It was like a part of me died, like I didn't know how to breathe until I heard his voice, saw him safe and alive in that bank."
The words are flowing freely now, a river of pain, remorse and relief crashing over the dam around her heart, but they're breaking against the wrong person. Still, she can't stem the flow.
"I don't know how to do this … needing. I've always-" Kate drops to the ground under the weight of her admissions, trying to figure out how pull herself out of this hole she's digging. Her teeth press hard into her lower lip as she regroups and tries again.
"I care, Alexis. I always have-"
"You have a funny way of showing it."
If it had been anyone else, Kate would've levelled them with her darkest glare, but the childish retort is soft and fragile. There's no anger in the teen's face, only resignation, making her look so much like her father. Guilt's grip on her heart refuses to let up and Kate drops her chin to her chest, studying her lap as she forces herself to answer for another Castle's pain.
"I'm sorry, I've … needed space, time to heal, to find solid ground, a foundation."
"He would've helped you find it, Kate. He can help you. It's all he's ever wanted. Don't you want it?"
The deliberate change in tense yanks the detective's gaze back up to catch the wave of comprehension wash over Alexis's features.
'Don't you want him? Don't you want us?'
Castle's daughter might as well have asked her outright, for all the answers Kate has. She wants it. Oh, does she want it, all of it; but she's not ready, not yet. Her foundation hasn't set and she doesn't have a clue how to explain this to Alexis, doesn't know if she really has to. She knows that everything she can't say is there, in her eyes, in the way she holds herself so carefully, sitting cross-legged on Castle's floor under the his daughter's wary gaze. She feels like she does in Dr. Burke's office, bare, completely vulnerable with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. For the first time, however, she's not trying to hide. She doesn't want to run. She wants to be better.
Castle deserves better and Alexis deserves an explanation.
"I just … I want to be whole … to not have so many pieces missing."
She's floundering, scrambling for words that will make Alexis understand, to make her see the wall, the hole in her heart the size of her mother, but Kate knows she's coming up short. She must eventually say something right, however, because the teen's gaze suddenly grows tender, warm, lit by what looks like cautious determination.
"That's kinda the point though, isn't it?" Alexis asks, slipping to the floor and edging closer like she's trying to calm a wild animal and Kate can't help but think that maybe she is.
"We all have pieces missing - you, Dad … me." Castle's daughter swallows hard, choosing her words. "I was sorta thinking we could fill some of those holes for each other."
Alexis is holding her breath and Kate can't help but do the same, trying to wrap her head around tonight. This is so much more than she deserves, this generosity … this family. She so often forgets that it's more than just her and Castle in this. It's a conscious omission most of the time, a way for her to maintain the distance she's always needed.
She doesn't want that anymore. She wants this - the hugs, the family dinners, the quiet nights on the couch, even the awkward conversations - but Kate knows that it's up to her to make it happen. The wall may have started crumbling a while ago, but she's going to have to make the first move to knock it down completely, and that move is now.
She's been silent too long and the hope has almost died in Alexis's eyes. The teenager is trying to school her features and looking for some way to make a graceful exit, so Kate snags her hand, ducking her head to ensure she has the girl's attention, her lips curling into a gentle smile.
"I think, maybe we can, Alexis. Maybe it's what we need."
Her last words are crushed out of her lungs in a tighter hug than even Martha could manage, disappearing into the thick curtain of red hair that now shrouds her vision. Kate makes a conscious effort to return the gesture, slipping her arms up and holding tightly. It feels good.
The words feather over her shoulder and Kate holds on just a little tighter. "Anytime, Alexis."
A heavy hand drops to her back and Kate freezes.
Oh, God! How much did he hear?
The instinct to pull away, to backpedal and try and escape is nearly overwhelming, choking her with the need to move but Kate swallows it down, easing her hold on his daughter, making a conscious effort not draw away completely. His body is warm, a ghost of a caress against her back as he crouches behind her and leans into Alexis's ear.
"Why don't you head up and get some sleep, honey, since I know you're not going to let me call you in sick tomorrow."
Alexis nods, her smile watery, as she gets to her feet, dragging Kate with her. The detective's mind is spinning. He heard most, if not all of it; she can tell by the tight stretch of his muscles beside her. He's holding back and she doesn't have a clue what to say. She's spared for another few seconds when Alexis pulls her back in for another quick hug and a whispered, "Thanks, Kate," before taking off up the stairs, leaving them alone.
Great, now what?
Sucking in a steadying breath, Kate turns, steeling herself for the talk she knows has to happen.
Her partner smiles, his eyes soft, full and glittering in the low light and it derails her thoughts completely.
"I think we could all use some sleep, Kate. Take the guestroom. After today's excitement, I'm sure we have a long day of paperwork ahead of us tomorrow."
He's giving them an out.
Everything rushes from her on a heavy breath, leaving her deflated, unsure if she should be relieved or frustrated. He's giving her an out, letting her walk away from this. She could probably brush the whole thing off as though he'd never heard any of it, bury it with all of the other things they've left unsaid for too long, and he would let her.
She's suddenly never wanted to talk more, but he's right; they're exhausted, recovering from an emotional riptide that has left wounds raw and hearts vulnerable. He doesn't want her to regret whatever might come out of her mouth if he gave her the chance tonight. He's letting her regain some of the distance he knows she craves with only the hope that she'll come back to him when she's ready. They'll talk tomorrow; tomorrow, she'll be ready. She isn't going to be the one to let this go.
'God, I love him.'
The thought isn't new. She's been toying with it for a while now, testing the fit. Now, it bubbles up so strongly that she has to bite down hard on her lip to keep the words at bay.
Tomorrow, because she's not changing her mind.
Castle, however, has always been good at reading the lines written across her face and this time is no different. His suddenly dark eyes hold her in place as his hand reaches out across what little distance is left between them to carefully tuck an errant curl behind her ear, his fingers smoothing it through the rest of her hair, lingering. It takes everything she's got left not to lean into his touch.
"Go," he whispers, need weighing down his voice. "Get some rest. We'll talk in the morning."
His smile turns cheeky. "And if you're really good, I might even give you a hand with all that paperwork, Detective."
Kate arches her brow, a cool breath of relief sweeping away the tension between them as she slips comfortably into the roles they've perfected over years now.
"So," she replies, with a gentle pat to the lapel of his jacket before turning on her heel and making her escape. "You're finally going to step up and be my partner for the good parts and the bad, huh, Castle?"
She's halfway up the stairs when his answer reaches her ears and settles solidly in her heart, cracking open the wall wider than it has ever been.
"I sure hope so."
His words tug at her lips, drawing them into a soft smile as she whispers her reply to the empty hallway.
He's right, it is more hopeful.