In the gray light of very early morning, there is already one cab driving cursing out another for crossing three lanes of traffic and very nearly causing a pile-up on Broadway a couple of blocks shy of 220th Street. Jim, under ordinary circumstances would be irked, but this morning, he's almost convinced his ragged cab could float over the whole snarled mess and land him at Katie's hospital room door. Almost. As it is, he calls it quits, tips the cabbie a twenty and jogs the last two blocks along the slushy sidewalk, the big blue awning of the New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital barely visible in the light morning fog.
It's early. Way too early for visiting hours, but he's here and he's positively vibrating with anticipation. For while last night after Katie called, he allowed himself a few tears over what could have been, pictured himself bickering good-naturedly with Johanna over who would hold their new grandchild first. Knowing it would have been his wife, no doubt. He has a handle on it now. He hopes.
It's really way too early for visiting hours.
And speaking of early? Katie went a little early. Her father was at the cabin, because he thought he had over a week to spare and Johanna's pregnancy ran almost two weeks late. So much for heredity. He had dropped his car in the driveway of his Brooklyn house and hoofed it four blocks before he hailed the yellow cab that brought him into the city. Parking is impossible in this part of town and he was already so jittery from the drive and the coffee and the joy that he was liable to cause a pile-up of his own.
The automatic door swishes open to an almost empty lobby. He has a room number scribbled on a sticky note in his pocket, but he doesn't need it – 413. Jim nods at a stone-faced security guard, weaving through a couple of seating areas and some seriously oversized planters, to stab the elevator button with more gusto than is necessary at 6:47 a.m.
"Where you headed, sir?" the guard, an older gentleman, calls out.
Jim cringes. He knows it's absolutely too early for visiting hours. He turns his widest, most trustworthy smile on the inquisitor. "New grandson in 413," he replies, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
"The maternity nurses don't care for visitors before breakfast."
Jim steps away from the elevator doors and backtracks to the guard's desk. The uniformed man's brass name tag glints in the florescent lights. Malone. Officer Malone. Not only a security guard, but an enameled NYPD retirement pin shines from the pocket flap of his crisp, black shirt.
"How many years did you have with the department, officer?" Jim inquires. "My daughter upstairs, she works homicide at the Twelfth."
Malone pulls up in his chair, shoulders and back even straighter, if possible. "Twenty-nine years." He's eye-balling Jim like somebody should lock up the good silver, says nothing about Jim's cop daughter. So much for the fraternity among officers.
Jim pulls out his wallet to show the man his driver's license. "My name is Jim Beckett, and my daughter, Detective Kate Beckett, and her husband, Richard Castle, are in room 413. Now Katie would clobber me right about now, but I pretty much don't care how shameless I appear as long as I get to see her. I've been awake since 3 a.m. and I drove in bad weather to get her as soon as I could. It was a surprise, the baby came early," Jim expels, all in one breath.
Officer Malone apparently isn't a man easily moved. Or he doesn't like babies. Or he needs more fiber. Or all of the above. At any rate, it's not looking good, and Jim's early morning bravado flags a little.
"I'm not above a little bribery. I can get Richard to buy box seats to the Yankees. Unless you're a Mets fan, which he will object to on mine and his wife's behalf, but he'll do it if I ask." Off Malone's raised eyebrow, "Bribing a cop...right. I'll shut up now," Jim acquiesces. "Except to say please, because saying please never hurts. So...please?" He leans in for the kill. "Do you have grandchildren, officer?"
Malone sighs heavily, and Jim's spirit soars as he senses an opening.
"My girl's an early riser," Jim assures him. "I won't be bothering anybody up there, I promise. I'll be quiet as a mouse."
The guard ponders him, pulling off his cap to scratch his hand through a sparse head of silver hair. Jim smiles like nothing's out of place, willing the man to realize that visiting hours clearly shouldn't to a man as proud as him. As discrete as him. As absolutely pants-peeing excited as James Henry Beckett. "I'm sorry," Jim implores, "I know I'm bucking the visiting hours. It's just been a really long road to this point, and I-"
Malone holds up a hand to put an end to Jim's embarrassment. "That elevator you were about to take opens up right in front of the nurse's station, which is a huge mistake. Take the north stairs instead," he advises, waving his hat over his shoulder behind the guard's desk. "The four-teens are on the hall to the left. You didn't hear it from me. You really, really didn't hear this from me."
Jim knows, later he will review his conduct and probably take exception with himself, but for now, in the foggy, early morning glow of new grandfatherhood, it's nothing but a win. "Did I tell you it's a boy, and they named him, his middle name, at least, after me? Which I really, really don't deserve, but I'll take it."
"Go," the security guard commands. "Before I change my mind...and for the record, I have a two grandsons and three granddaughters. I'm like nine years ahead of you in the brand of stupid it takes a perfectly respectable grown man to beg a guy like me for permission to do anything. You've got nothing on me."
"Thank you!" Jim calls as he jogs for the stairs, hesitating briefly inside the door. The stairwell in Katie and Rick's SOHO building is fancier than this, for sure, but the blind, winding thread of any stairwell never fails to make him think of the story Katie told him about the day Cole Maddox met his match. Katie took her father there, after, when Rick was on crutches and she was still complaining about the itchy fiberglass cast on her wrist. Jim asked, so she showed him the chip in the stained concrete floor where the fire extinguisher landed; the tiny, hairline crack where Maddox's blood stubbornly refused to give way, and the cleaning service didn't notice.
Maddox, or Cedric Marx, rather, is living in Idaho. Jim isn't supposed to know that. Katie wasn't supposed to find out...or share if she did. There had been so many secrets, so many unspoken things of one kind or another for years, that once it was over, she didn't have it in her to keep any more. The hit man retained 45 percent normal use of his upper extremities, none of his lower. For a while after, on nights when he couldn't sleep, Jim wondered how bad a person it made him to wish it was even less.
Unforgiveness, for whatever reason, is like pointing a loaded gun to your own head and hoping that the bullet kills your enemy.
Jim's first sponsor, Hector, used to tell him that all the time. He knows now without a doubt it's true. And Jim knows what he's been forgiven for, himself. He wonders if it's ever occurred to Cedric Marx to feel regret, beyond regretting ending up in a wheel chair. He's pretty sure Winter never gave it a moment's thought. The older Jim gets, the more the lines blur and run together; the more it aches and the less it stings.
It's humbling, forgiving someone else, and being forgiven. Jim thinks about. He thinks about it a lot.
Jim shakes off a shiver of dread, or more likely a wave of melancholy, at the sight of a the concrete treads and forges ahead, rounding the three flights in record time.
He halts, hand on the door to the fourth floor, to catch his breath and scout for hospital staff. The coast looks clear, as far as he can tell through the narrow security glass window, and he eases the door open for a better look. Nothing.
The sign on the opposite wall indicates rooms 400-426 to his left, and he pulls the door gently closed behind him. With his back to the wall, slips quietly past several rooms, until he's face to face with the number 413. It's pushed to, but not entirely closed. He taps very lightly with a knuckle, but there's no response from within. He takes a breath and pushes it open a few inches.
With only the light from the hallway to guide his way, he can see Katie's bed is near the door; her back to him. On the far side of the room, Rick snores softly, legs propped up on a chair and his head tipped against the back of a less than inviting-looking sofa. Alexis is stretched out length-wise on the sofa with her head propped up on her father's leg. They're all asleep in the shadows. Jim curses his own impatience - he should have waited.
Out in the hallway, the soft squeak of tennis shoes prompts Jim to slip in and push closed the over-wide door, plunging the room into darkness. It's not the time, so close to his goal, to be ousted by a prickly maternity nurse. He passes what he thinks is the foot of the bed, and promptly stubs his toe on a mystery object. The older man cringes, hoping it wasn't audible outside the door. The footfalls pass by and disappear down the hall, and Jim lets out a sigh of relief.
Then, there's a rustling sound, a grunt, the smacking, of tiny lips. Jim feels to his left, where his hand lights on a the hard plastic wall of...a rolling bassinet...which he just kicked. "Oaf," he mutters to himself, as he gingerly gropes over the side of the clear, acrylic bassinet to rest his hand on the now-squirming bundle that is his tiny, newborn grandson.
"My father, the ninja."
He can't make out her expression, but he can surely hear the smirk in his daughter's very awake-sounding whisper.
"Payback for all the times you tried to sneak into the house after curfew," Jim counters quietly, only slightly chagrined. "I really, really want to hold him."
"Sink's behind you. Wash up first?"
"Right." Jim nods, shrugging out of his coat and dropping it on the foot of the bed. He pivots and after a couple of steps, smacks ungracefully into the vanity. Kate snickers faintly and Jim growls as he finds the soap dispenser and faucet by touch. He pulls a handful of paper towels from the wall dispenser, dries his hands, and pitches the resulting wad of damp paper towels in the general direction of his daughter. Kate's eyes are perfectly adjusted to the low light and she easily bats the ball away to the floor.
"There's a perfectly uncomfortable rocking chair right up here by me," Kate offers.
Back at the foot of the bed, he gropes around for the bassinet, where the baby is still snuffling and squirming around. He feels his way along the narrow aisle between the bed and the bassinet, finding his daughter's hand, arm, shoulder, and he makes a successful blind attempt at kissing her on the top of the head. "Hi, Katie."
"Hi, Dad." Kate holds him close for a moment, hand behind his neck, foreheads together, and breathes in Old Spice and wood smoke. "How was the cabin?" she whispers, letting go.
"Got out ahead of a front, they're saying six to eight inches tonight."
"Hmm, good timing."
Jim feels for the arm of the rocker, and oriented, pulls the bassinet closer. He's finally adjusting to the dimness, and he leans down and gingerly takes up his grandchild, one hand under his head and the other under his bottom. For a long moment, he just stands there, the tightly swaddled baby boy pulled close to his chest, wondering exactly how necessary air is. He's glad for the darkness, and for Rick and Alexis still sleeping, because there would be no hiding the tears rolling down his cheeks. He knows from Rick's text photos that Ethan has a full head of dark hair, like Katie did, and it tickles his nose and chin when he softly presses his lips to the crown of the boy's head.
The rocker is just behind him; Jim carefully shuffles back until his calves hit it, and sits.
"How did you get up here without being seen?" Kate asks. "My nurse is a little militant."
Her father clears his throat as quietly as he can. "The lobby security guard is retired from the job. He gave me a little bit of a hard time, but ended up telling me which stairs to take to avoid the nurses' station. I think I owe him season tickets or an Escalade or something."
Kate ignores the roughness of her father's voice. So much to attribute that to, and she's so glad he's here, and it won't serve to call attention to it now.
"It was kind of thrilling, actually," he continues on a whisper. "A little reconnoiter here, a little sneaking around there." Jim is giddy and rambling. "My best James Bond impersonation."
Kate's response is half, laugh, half sigh. "That might be the perfect segue, Dad."
"Do you have plans for Saturday night? Ones you can't cancel, anyway?"
The baby, who has finally settled against him, lets out a tiny sneeze. Jim mouths out a near-silent bless you against his brow, patting him lightly on the butt. "Before I was so untimely interrupted, I was going to be at the cabin until Sunday night, so no plans. Why?"
Kate shoots her father a half-hearted glare that he can't see. "Family dinner at our house. We have...introductions to make. No," she corrects herself. "We're introduced, really. Except for you. But something else. Big. It's complicated."
Jim, who has spent the entire conversation so far trying to catch the glint of his grandson's eyes in a narrow point of light coming in the window, finally turns his full attention to his daughter. Kate has pushed herself up on her elbow to see him at eye level.
She's so tired. It's been a long day...two days. She blows a long, exhausted breath out through her nose, stalling for time to find a way to frame this in a way that doesn't sound like the TV Guide summary of a soap opera. "Rick's father is back in the picture. We didn't think we'd hear from him until the summer, but he showed up...here...tonight."
That is unexpected news. The whoosh of air that leaves Jim trails off to nothing, like a low whistle, but without the sound. "Is Rick okay with that?"
"He's...wary? But willing. Tense. Curious. He's Rick, Dad."
"Yeah." Jim's jaw clinches. Rick is not his son. And Jim knows it's not really his business. Except Rick's happiness is directly tied to Katie's, and that makes this Jim's business. And Rick, in practice, if not in DNA, has been more Jim's son for the last few years more than anyone else's on earth, including Charles Trent. But it's none of his business. Seriously.
Jim takes a long look across the room where his son-in-law and granddaughter still sleep on the blocky-looking sofa. Jim gave up referring to Alexis as anything else the weekend Rick and Kate married. The first time Rick heard it from Jim's lips, granddaughter, was at a dinner party a few months later at the loft. Rick had teared up and excused himself to the office for a couple of minutes.
"If he hurts Rick, I'm going to run this Trent guy over with my car."
On any other night, Kate would laugh. Or chastise her father for being too melodramatic. But tonight, everything is so close to the surface, and Kate can't bring herself to do anything other than agree. "Not if I shoot him first."