"Can we go with you?" Alexis asked, cramming another bite of omelette into her mouth.
Castle nudged her with his knee and she blushed, dropped her fork. He sighed, knocking his head into hers with a light tap. "That was for the rude question, not the rude eating."
She blushed again, shot him a sideways look as if to say Stop embarrassing us. He was amused by how on point his daughter was this morning, over-eager, solicitous. She was trying hard - too hard.
"Kate, Alexis thinks you won't like her if she-"
"Da-ad!" Alexis launched herself out of her chair, clapped her hand over his mouth, moaned as she buried her face in his shoulder. He laughed at her, brought his arm up around her waist.
Kate looked stunned; she'd dropped her fork.
He bent his head and kissed his daughter's cheek. "You are not up for negotiation, remember?"
"But you like her," Alexis whispered fiercely, raising her head to look at him, probably trying to keep her voice down but not succeeding all that much.
"Alexis," Kate said from the other side of the table. "I like you!"
The girl turned towards her, hesitant, hopeful.
"Oh come on. Seriously?" Kate said, huffing at them both. "Castle - it's not funny. And Alexis, jeez. Really? Like I'd spend all this time with you if I didn't like you."
Alexis shot him a nervous look and it hit him then - damn it - others had. Other women had catered to his daughter to please him, or get with him, and shit. Who? He was so careful. He didn't bring anyone around, no one got close to her, and who had slipped through? Who had pretended to like his daughter?
He lifted his eyes to Kate, knew Alexis had done the same - twin expressions - because of the way Kate smirked at him.
"Alexis, you just keep being you. You're exactly who you need to be - you don't change for anyone."
Well that had the ring of wisdom to it. Who had told her that? Her mother?
Beckett decided to bring Alexis with her. "You can drop us off," she told him, attempting a smile. "But I need moral support and someone cute to distract my dad."
"Hey now. I'm cute and moral support."
"You're at least one of those," she answered, quirking her lips at him. "Besides, I don't want to get into the heavy stuff with him - I just - not right now. It's all been said; I just want to move on already. And if Alexis is with me, we'll have to be nice to each other."
"If I was with you-"
"He'd somehow convince you to take Alexis off to one side and entertain her so my father could be serious, because he's good at that, Castle. He is - was - a lawyer. Believe me, he knows how to get his way."
He sighed at her, a curl to his lip that was the beginnings of a pout. Interesting how he was showing her all his immaturity again, now that they'd said some pretty serious, grown-up stuff. "But I want to go too."
"Stop whining. It's not attractive."
"Then how in the world did you ever fall in love with me? I mean-"
She stepped into him and squeezed his hip, tightly, until he shut up. And then she grazed her mouth against his jaw, felt his hands clamp at her waist like a steel trap, tugging her close.
"I like you best when you're quiet, Castle." She bit at the hard line of his jaw. "When I shock you silent."
"I like you best when you're loud," he growled back. "Must be fate."
She hummed at that and let her mouth touch his, a little stunned herself at how nothing had changed, how it was still the hottest slide of her lips against his, the fire of nerves awakening to his fingers, the crowding, forceful heat of his body battling hers for space. Neither of them would win; they would simply inhabit the same existence - made one.
Okay, damn, something had changed. She was getting sentimental as hell.
"Let me go," she murmured. "I need to see my father."
"I don't know that I can let you go. You're too tempting. Alluring. You open your mouth and it's a siren's song-"
"Let me go before I do you bodily harm."
"Even bodily harm from you would-"
"Let me go before I call your mother and invite her to stay the weekend with us."
He gasped and dropped his hands, stepping back, eyes flashing - humor and horror both. "You wouldn't!"
"The whole point of a threat, Castle, is being willing to follow through." She smirked at him and patted his chest, a little consoling, a lot condescending. "Think you can keep up with me, Ricky?"
She sauntered out of the bedroom, dressed for the day and ready to find his daughter, and then noticed he wasn't following. She threw a look at him over her shoulder - his stunned and open mouth, his mussed hair, the ineffectual flexing of his fingers.
"You coming, Castle?"
"Apparently, only when you let me."
"You sure you're not too bored?" Kate asked again, glancing down at Alexis.
"I'm not bored. I didn't know there'd be arts and crafts."
Kate laughed at the overwhelming art show displayed before them. "I didn't either."
The vast interior of the gym had been given over to Family Day. The Dunes had set up booths highlighting just what their patients' money was buying - pottery classes, painting, knitting, glass blowing, tapestry, needlepoint, wood working - artisans and entertainers and services offered to help each person in their recovery.
It was daunting, elaborate, and no doubt expensive.
"Can I do the sand painting?" Alexis asked, wandering away from Kate's side and heading towards a white tent with a long table set out.
"Uh, sure. I - I need to find my dad in all this. . ."
"Oh, he doesn't know we're coming, right?"
"Right," Kate sighed. Stupid, but she liked the we that so naturally came out of Alexis's mouth. She had moral support, just like she'd told Castle. She really did need to find her father and get it over with though.
Still, she followed Alexis to the booth where different colored sand sat in clear tubs. A variety of glass bottles were available to select from, with a few finished products on display. It had the look and set-up of a local craft fair.
"Ooh, look how cool this is!"
The guy manning the booth came over to them, eyes flicking back and forth over them as if trying to place them. When Kate offered nothing, he simply leaned over and pulled a selection of empty glass bottles off a tray, holding them out.
"Would you like to make one?"
"Can I?" Alexis turned back to her, hopeful eyes and tentative smile. Kate had dragged her along as a shield, the least she could do was let the kid have some fun first.
"Course you can. You make one and I'll keep an eye out for my dad."
"Who is your father?" the man asked, letting Alexis choose her bottle.
"Ah. . ." And because she realized it was no use keeping her personal life so close to the vest, not here, she went ahead and asked the man for help. "Jim Beckett. Do you know him - seen him around?"
"No, sorry. I don't know him. But sand painting might not be his thing."
Kate grimaced, gave the man a nod for that. "You're right. If there's a library, that's more his style."
"We do have a library. Does he know you're coming? Because he might be down here looking for you-"
"No," Kate said quickly. "He doesn't."
"Well, then he probably would be hiding out from the rest of them. There are quite a few who do."
Hiding out. Yeah, that was both their styles, wasn't it? Hiding out until the messy part was over.
"When we're done here, I can give you directions," the man offered.
"Thank you. I'd appreciate it."
Alexis hesitated with her hand around one of the funnels. "Do you want to go now, Kate?"
"No, Alexis. Make your sand painting. I want to see it."
The girl turned back to the glass bottle before her with a determined looking face. "I can give it to Dad. He looked sad when he dropped us off."
"He'll get over it," Kate smiled. "But sure. He'll love it."
Because he really would. He'd love it no matter what.
Jim Beckett was in the library - a modern space with gleaming chrome shelves, contoured overhead pendant lights, and clusters of comfortable seating. Kate found him at ease in an armchair, a book in hand and held up to the light.
"Hey! That's my Dad's book!" Alexis cried, jerking away from Kate to walk swiftly towards Jim. She was still carrying the sand bottle, and library rules had evidently been drilled into her at a young age, because she didn't run, and she didn't raise her voice past that initial surprise.
Kate sighed as she followed, catching sight of the title. It was an older one, Flowers for Your Grave, and her father seemed engrossed in it. She remembered the main character was a down and out journalist whose wife had left him after he lost his job. Probably her father felt some kinship.
And that sucked.
What happened to her mother just sucked, and it sucked that this was where they were now, what they were left with. But maybe it was starting to get better, changing.
Kate had changed. Her father could too.
Alexis came right up to Jim and put her hand on his propped up knee, leaning in to look at the page. "Oh, this is a good part!"
Jim's shock at his privacy suddenly being invaded would have been comical had Kate not known exactly how he felt. It was much the same for her; she was finding herself surrounded by the Castles at every turn. She and her father had not done family, been a family, in so long that the mere presence of one was startling. And that sucked too.
Jeez, this was a terrible idea.
"Ah. Excuse me, young - oh, Katie." His eyes found hers over Alexis's head and he stiffened, withdrawing the book to his lap and closing it. He made to stand and Alexis backed up, watching him with a beaming, trusting smile, apparently ready to love anyone who loved her father.
Her throat closed up.
"Kate," her father said gravely, and they stood there awkwardly face to face with the girl at Kate's elbow between them. "What are you-"
"Why didn't you invite me?" she blurted out, then winced and closed her eyes, cursing her leaky heart. This was what family did, made her all cracked so that this needy and desperate stuff came right out.
"I bet he just didn't know you wanted to come," Alexis said hurriedly, and Kate felt the girl's hand at her arm, trying to soothe. "Right, Mr. Beckett? My mom never invited me either, but I think it's cause she never knew I wanted to come and see her."
Kate snapped open her eyes and glanced over at Alexis.
She hadn't thought about that side of things when she'd allowed Alexis to tag along; she only wanted the girl as a human shield, and as a way to make her feel important, but Alexis had her own agenda here.
She wanted to see the place her mother had been and she'd not been allowed to follow.
"Ah, Dad." Kate swallowed and gestured towards the girl. "You remember Alexis? And her - well, her father, I guess you wouldn't forget."
Jim had held the book at his chest but now glanced down at it. "Right." His eyes traveled back up to Alexis, then to Kate. "Guess they're firmly in this, huh?"
The sting inherent in his question barely made a dent; Kate was grateful, at least, for that. She had some armor left after the siege of Rick Castle. "They're in my life, if that's what you're asking."
He grunted, shook his head. "Kate. You shouldn't have come."
"Why not?" she said fiercely.
Alexis was letting go of her arm and shifting away. Kate glanced at her and took a breath, turned her head back to her father, but he beat her to it.
"I thought you were going to give me ninety days, Katie."
"I didn't know that meant I couldn't see you," she said back, biting her bottom lip. "I just wanted to - to know. See for myself you were. . ."
"Keeping my word?" And there was some bitterness in that too, but mostly resignation.
She shook her head, but he was probably right. "Just that you were okay."
"I'm not okay. I'm drowning in a miserable sobriety and near-constant reminders of what we used to have-"
"Dad," she choked. She glanced wildly around for Alexis, either to spare her or use her as a buffer, but the girl had wandered off to look at a row of library books. "Dad, please."
"But I'm - damn it - I'm glad you came," he gruffed, shaking his head at her. "And with the girl - the man. I needed to know you were being taken care of. I might have abandoned you, but-"
"Dad," she growled, shaking her head. "No one's taking care of me. I'm-"
"Fine, fine. Support system. Call it that. Let me finish what I'm trying to say while I'm broken enough to say it."
She closed her mouth, swallowed, but part of her was lifting with hope. He sounded - well, more honest with her than he'd ever been, but she was an adult and surely that's what was supposed to happen. But more than that, he sounded like himself, not taking crap from her, being assertive, stating his case - being her father again.
"Okay, Dad," she said finally. "Say what you need to say."
"Damn it, Katie, I want to be sober when I walk you down the aisle," he hoarsed.
She stared at him.
"Whenever that is," he said, waving a hand over at Alexis as if in dismissal. "But you know what I mean. Life. Your life, my life. This place is hell, but it's making me live life again. Just like you should be too." His eyes cut to the girl again, then back to Kate. "And maybe you are."
Her heart thundered like a beast, her hands trembling at her sides, and no words would come.
She took another swift look at Alexis, the open face, encouraging in its own way, all that naive expectation. If Kate had come here with Castle, he would've let her off the hook, said he understood, don't worry about it, another time. But with Alexis as the guard to her father's heart. . .
"Katie, I'm not in a good place right now and I need - need time away to be a brute. To - to let her go, however painful and damaging that makes me. I've got to let her go and you do too, you do too, and I don't know how to make you see-"
"I fell in love with him," she said quickly, shutting her eyes and then opening them to her father's silence. He was staring at her.
"I fell in love with him," she said, softer, reached out to touch his photo on the back cover of the book. "You should know. They're in this, I'm in this - and whatever you need, Dad, whatever-"
"You fell in love with him?" he repeated, his mouth opening and jaw hanging there. "Holy sh-"
She quirked her eyebrow at him and half-stepped to one side, blocking her father's view of Alexis, as if that could stop the girl from hearing - she wasn't that far away. But her father censored himself, rubbed a hand over his jaw, put himself back together. But his eyes were shining.
"Katie," he choked out, then shook his head, breathed past whatever it was that he couldn't seem to get over.
"Dad. I didn't mean to-"
"I'm so glad," he got out suddenly, his voice almost a whisper. His eyes shot open and he reached out to grip her hand, his fingers like talons. "I'm so - he'll be what you - I'm so relieved."
"This is the best I can do for you right now, and it's a miserable attempt at it, I know. But I am so damn grateful he's - that you have him while I. . .get my shit together."
Her chest tightened.
"And that one," her father added, glancing over at Alexis. Then he tracked his eyes back to Kate, sighed at her.
"You're in love with the man, Katie," he continued, as if it had just now gotten through to him. Finally his hands lifted to land heavily at her shoulders before pulling her in for a hug. His kiss at the top of her head made her curl her arms at his back and stay there. "You're in love, and I think that's the best way to honor your mom."
Unspoken was the condemnation against her job, but she shook it off and told him the rest.
"They're going to make me detective," she murmured, closing her eyes and bracing herself.
"Oh, thank you God," he sighed, and his hug tightened, drew her inexorably closer. "That's - what a relief."
"Get you off the street. Working with your brain instead of your body. I'm - oh I'm so glad."
She huffed at him, pulled back enough to see his face. "Instead of my body?"
"No more streetwalking."
"Dad, you do know I wasn't actually a prostitute," she growled, rolling her eyes at him.
He grinned back, and the shock of that teasing smile sent a current straight through her, made her momentarily dumb.
"I know. Still - dangerous work. At least this way you're making a difference to people, not just another grunt on the street."
She smiled back at him, shook her head. "Right." And her mother's case. But maybe it was better that they not talk about it.
The rasp of his cheek against hers as he came in again was nearly her undoing: a host of childhood memories flooded her with the smell of books and her father's five o'clock shadow at her skin. She took in a long, steadying breath and opened her eyes again.
"Alexis," she called.
The girl hopped up and came right over, her glass bottle cradled against her chest. "Yeah, Kate?"
"How much of that did you hear?"
Her father laughed and Kate sighed, reached out to tug on Alexis's braid. "All right, well. Ignore the cursing and don't mention the marriage stuff to your dad, okay?"
"I can keep a secret, but. . .not for long."
Kate gaped at her. "Is that. . .a threat?"
Jim laughed, loudly, startling them both. He winked at Kate and reached over to squeeze Alexis's shoulder. "Between us, sweetheart, we'll get them married sooner rather than later."
"Dad," Kate hissed.
"Good." Alexis grinned back, sounding pleased with herself.
No. No, not good.
He saw them standing at the edge of the driveway, just like he'd dropped them off. He'd spent a couple hours killing time in the public library, anxious and wishing she would've let him tag along, but understanding why not.
Kate looked stirred up. The peace that he'd managed to bring to her Friday and this morning - that had vanished, as he had expected it might. But his daughter standing right at her side looked thrilled.
Huh, well. "Good visit?" he asked when Kate opened the door.
Alexis climbed in behind him and darted forward to kiss his cheek, presenting him with a multi-colored bottle. Sand. In a bottle.
"I made you something, Dad."
"Wow. That's super cool. They had stuff to do?" He took the sand from her and held it up - a riot of rainbows. "Fuschia. That's an exciting color. And that neon blue, great choice. Alexis, you are an artist. You made this?"
"She made it," Kate sighed, then gave him a flickering smile. "They had a kind of exhibition going on. Hands on."
"Awesome, I'll put it in the cupholder so it won't spill."
"It's got a top," Alexis said, rather haughtily. That was her I know a secret voice.
As he drove off the Dunes compound, he slid his eyes back to his daughter in the rear view mirror, watched her struggle with her seat belt, then glanced over at Kate. She had her lips pressed together, her belt already on.
Kate gave him another one of those closed-mouthed smiles, shook her head. "He's - getting back to himself. I think. It's good."
"You think he's getting back to himself, or you think it's good?"
She cast him another flash of a smile for that. "Yes to both?"
"Ah. As a father, I can only apologize-"
"I liked him," Alexis piped up. "He was growly, but he was nice to me."
Castle let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and Kate suddenly took his hand, squeezed. Her voice was quiet, pitched low so it couldn't be heard over the engine.
"I wouldn't have taken her if I thought he'd hurt her feelings," Kate murmured.
He nodded. "I know."
"But you didn't know," she said, and he heard incredulousness in her tone. Like it had just dawned on her.
He hadn't meant to offend her with that, but-
"Castle," she said quietly. "Thank you for giving her to me anyway."
He jerked his head to her, surrpised, then had to glance back at the road, but the softness in her face and the tenderness in her eyes was branded in his vision.
He cleared his throat. "But I can have her back now?"
She was smirking at him; he didn't need to see it to know. Her hand squeezed over his fingers and he felt her body turning to look at Alexis.
"I suppose. So long as I can keep borrowing her. Alexis is a pretty great wing man."
Castle laughed at that, shifted his eyes quickly to her and back. "That she is."
Alexis leaned forward, propping her elbows on their seats. "I hold my own. And Dad? You have to wait at least ninety days."
Kate made a strangled noise, shot a look at Alexis he couldn't interpret.
Alexis shook her head. "My bad. It's been, what? Um, like thirty or something? So only sixty more days, I think. Kate, did I do the math right?"
"Until we drive back here to pick up my dad. That's all. Alexis. That's all."
He shot a bewildered look over at her pursed mouth, the tension in her face, then back to his giggling daughter. Both of them were complicit in keeping something from him.
"So it's a mystery, huh?" he said, reaching out to snag Kate's hand again. "I'll have you know. I'm excellent at mysteries."
She shot a growling look at his daughter and then used their joined hands to poke him in the chest.
"Sorry, Ricky, but this is a msytery you're never gonna solve."
He had pulled out a couple of fleece blankets when he saw her head for the deck, but they were still on the back of the couch when he came downstairs. Alexis was tucked into bed - she really was getting too old for it, but he held on to the ritual - and she was reading, but Kate was out on the bench, her knees curled up as she stared out over the dark sand.
He grabbed the blankets and slid out through the crack in the sliding glass door, closed it behind him to keep the warmth inside. She turned her head and watched him come, leaned forward in silent invitation.
Castle sat at her back, draped one blanket around her knees, up under her chin, tossed the other around his shoulders, his arms cradling her. She leaned against him and he felt her sigh go all through her body. She still carried some tension, and he pressed his mouth to her neck, warmed his nose at her skin.
She shivered and laughed at him; he slid his palm up her stomach, dragged the back of his fingers over her shirt.
Kate hummed, turned her head slightly to kiss the corner of his mouth.
"How's your Dad, really?" he murmured.
"Grieving," she said softly. "Letting go. Healing. I don't know. He thinks my job is the same as his alcoholism."
"Your workaholicism?" he sighed, gave her a slight smile to show he didn't believe it.
But she tensed again. "Castle-"
"Joke. Sorry," he sighed, then found her jaw, gave her a feathering kiss as he traced circles against her stomach. "You haven't been, you know. Maybe you started out that way, but we've had - I get to see you a lot. You always come up for air."
"But I should've been helping you with the book, and instead I got sucked into that case-"
"Just for a week or so. Just until it was over. And not-"
"But when I'm a detective, there will always be a case," she said quietly.
He stilled, felt the slow and painful beat of his heart in his chest. "Okay. What does - what are you saying?"
"I don't know - I'm just explaining how it is. What will happen. And I don't want to be obsessed with my job like my father is with the bottle."
"So maybe you need rehab."
She stiffened, but he gentled his words with the sure touch of his hands against her.
"Isn't that what we're doing, Kate?" He kissed her mouth this time, a soft touch of his tongue to the seam of her lips, felt her part for him. When he'd made his point, he drew away, inched his fingers under the hem of her shirt. "Wouldn't you say this has been good for us both? You're good for me. I hope I'm good for you."
She shivered when his fingers found bare skin; her body turned into his. "Yes. You're - yes. Me too."
"I love you, Kate." He felt the answering tremor in her body, the heat flare behind her eyes. "So if that means you get a case and I have to remind you to come home, that's what I'll do. Or. . ."
She kissed him, pressing into him, her knees between them and the blankets tangling. "Or?"
"Or you can let me come with you on the case."
She broke away, laughing at that, but he was serious. And she sobered quickly, met his eyes.
"For how long?"
"Until the book is done. Until the series is done. Until you don't need me as a reminder to come home anymore."
Kate pressed up into his mouth again, a long kiss that made him forget what he was saying, where he was, the point to anything other than this, their mouths and his hands at her skin and her leg wrapping around his waist.
"Okay?" he murmured.
"Okay, you can ride-along with me. At the 12th. When they make me detective."
He pulled back, grinning, his flare of arousal and triumph mingling. "Yeah?"
"Yeah, Castle. But the rules still stand."
"I do what you say," he agreed.
"Always," she insisted.
He grinned again, leaned forward to nip her bottom lip, that cute and fierce look she had. "Always."
The force of the impact made him grunt, and he curled in on himself in bed, eyes cracking open, hands automatically stabling the body that had landed on top of his.
"Rick," she was murmuring, kneading his shoulders as she perched on him.
He slitted his eyes at her, brought his hands up to her back so he could tug her down against him, warm in the chilled air of his bedroom. "Kate. Hi."
She laughed softly, pressed her mouth to his, lips closed but insistent and forceful. "Get up. Come see."
"Don't need to get up to see. I see you just fine-"
She tweaked his ear and tugged; he yelped and came awake, sitting up in a jerk with her held against his chest. She chuckled and darted her mouth to his ear, kissed him again.
"Don't ruin my fun. Come see. And put your pants on."
"Get out of bed and get dressed? This is sounding less and less like fun," he groused, but he let her shove him into movement, dragging on his pajama pants and a sweatshirt, matching her in style.
She took him by the hand and led him down the long, vast hallway towards the main staircase. Her hair was messy and curling at her chin, still half-wet, making it look like she'd run out in the rain.
He flexed his fingers and felt her answering squeeze, her head turning to see him over her shoulder with a saucy glance that had him stumbling down the last two steps.
Castle bumped a kiss against the corner of her mouth, but she was still moving, dragging him out towards the formal sitting room, past the long and shiny kitchen, back to the living room.
He faltered when the vast expanse of the sky met his eyes through the sliding glass doors.
"Look," she said softly, and tugged a little, making him trip along behind her.
"Oh my God," he murmured, blinking against the reflection of the stormy ocean and the leaden sky.
"It's snowing," she breathed.
He stood there and took it in, the drift of heavy snow over the sand, melting into the waves, the way it built up breathlessly only to disappear in a blink of an eye. The shoreline itself looked snow-dusted, but it was just the grains of sand themselves, pale grey in the light.
"Go get Alexis," she urged, nudging her hip into his, releasing his hand. "Castle. Go get her."
"Yeah," he said dumbly, twisted to go back upstairs, share with her this one thing they'd always wanted to see.
He paused in the door, turned his head to look at Kate Beckett standing against the glass, her body outlined by the weak winter light, snow swirling behind her.
She gave him the profile of her face and the curve of a smile; she was beautiful.
He loved her. He would always hold this moment to him, this and the way she looked in the Metropolitan Museum; they would soften his heart when those nights came where she couldn't make it back to him, where the case kept her away and his daughter needed him but Kate couldn't follow.
This moment. He would wait for her as long as it took until she could come home to him.
"I love you too," she murmured. "Go get your daughter."