“Meredith, what are you doing with Alexis’s phone? Where’s Alexis?”
“Our darling’s just in the other room,” Meredith answers perkily. “But when I saw it was you, I couldn’t resist! We haven’t talked in ages.”
Should I go? Kate mouths. She doesn’t want to get caught up in whatever problems Castle has with his ex-wife; that’s personal. Castle just shakes his head, looking annoyed.
“Meredith, give my daughter the phone. I want to talk to her.”
“I don’t know, Rick, maybe she doesn’t want to talk to you.” Meredith’s toying with him.
“I don’t have time to argue with you; do you know what time it is here? Just hand her the phone! If she doesn’t want to talk then she can tell me so herself!”
“Kitten,” Meredith pouts. “Hope you’re enjoying being the negligent parent this time around…”
“Alexis!” his ex calls. “Someone special wants to talk to you!”
“Ashley?” comes Alexis’s muffled and excited voice. There’s rustling on the other end as the phone switches hands. “Hello?”
“Hey, pumpkin, it’s me,” Castle says.
“Oh. Hi, Dad.”
“I’m sorry, Alexis.” She’s silent on the other end. “I’m sorry I didn’t consult you and I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. You were right: I shouldn’t have waited to tell you about us moving. But you don’t know the full story.” Castle exchanges a look with Kate, who finds herself nodding back at him. “When we got home from the hospital—”
“No, Dad, stop,” Alexis says. Castle’s eyes widen and he closes his mouth. Alexis did say last time that he could try to explain all he wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference. Bile rises in Kate’s throat as she waits for another father-daughter relationship implosion. She hates that it will be her fault. “Dad…how could you think you could just call me like this? Did I not make myself clear last time? You don’t want me in your life, so what gives you the right to barge in on mine? You don’t get to explain, because you’re not explaining! All you’re doing is making excuses, but you can’t do that to me this time, Dad. I know the truth. I know that you’d rather be there with her than here with me.”
“No, Dad, don’t call me again! We’re having a great time here without you!”
“If you want to spend your life with Beckett, then that’s none of my business, but don’t expect me to—oh, she’s gone, finally.”
“Alexis, please understand that I—”
Alexis laughs on the other end of the phone, a sound so unexpected that Kate jumps at the noise. “No, Dad, You don’t have to explain anything. I understand. I’m not mad at you.”
“Are you sure?” Castle says, bewildered. “Because that sounded kind of mad to me.” Kate’s spirits lift a fraction of an inch.
“No, I’m not mad. I understand. Sorry, that was just before Mom went away.” Kate looks at Castle for an explanation, but he has none. Alexis isn’t making any sense. “There’s a lot more going on than I know about—or than I should know about. I know that you would never leave me alone unless Beckett really needed you. I don’t know what she’s going through or what’s going on, but it must be hard. Really hard. And you should be with her. I was wrong last time, accusing you of choosing her over me. That was out of line, and I’m sorry. I was asking to be treated like an adult while acting like a child.”
“But I should still give you—”
“An explanation? Dad, you don’t need to. That’s private, and I respect that. I have no right to ask for that information. I know how you feel about her, Dad—” Castle’s head whips up as if in a panic. A slight bit of awkwardness pervades the space between them. If this were happening to anyone else, Kate would have burst out laughing. Alexis doesn’t know that Kate’s listening in on the conversation, and Castle appears mortified. “—and I have to realize I won’t necessarily have you all to myself anymore. She’s the woman you love, and I get that there are going to be times when she needs you too.”
Apology and fear are written all over Castle’s face, but he turns back to the phone and says, “Thank you, Alexis.” Kate’s own feelings are a tumult, but it’s not like she didn’t know this before Alexis said it. She remembers his words from the shooting. It’s just… Lanie, Espo, Alexis—does anyone not know about the feelings Castle has for her, the ones she’s been oblivious to and then denying for three years? Castle’s still speaking. “Are you still planning to spend the next two weeks in Europe? It’s okay if you want to.”
“Yeah, I’m actually having fun here,” Alexis says quietly. “Mom’s paying me extra attention and taking me out to see all the sights and stuff. I think she likes it when I’m mad at you, which is why I had that whole charade before she left the room.”
Castle rolls his eyes at Meredith’s pettiness. “Okay, sweetie, I’m sure you have a big day to get to, so I won’t keep you. Yell at me before you hang up so Meredith keeps treating you well, okay?”
Alexis laughs. “Bye, Dad. Love you!”
“I love you too, pumpkin.” The call ends, leaving Castle and Kate sitting there in silence.
“Well, that was…unexpected,” Castle says. “But a big relief. We should get to bed.” Kate nods, all at once feeling incredibly sleepy.
“Back to the city tomorrow, don’t forget,” she murmurs.
“Oops, I almost did,” Castle says worriedly. “What’s time’s the appointment?”
“Morning. Nine, I think.” Kate checks her phone. “Nine thirty.”
“So, two and a half hours to get there, add in another for traffic, liberally…” Castle calculates aloud. “We should leave around six. That’s just three and a half hours of sleep…”
“It’s okay, Castle; we can handle it,” she says. “Night.”
“Night,” he replies. She moves towards her bedroom and he hesitates, wondering if he should follow and help her get to sleep. He decides against it, thinking she wouldn’t welcome the intrusion. It would be presumptuous of him if she didn’t ask first—or wasn’t already in tears. Besides, he’d better get to sleep himself in order to drive safely tomorrow.
He changes hurriedly into his pajamas and climbs into bed. He listens intently for a moment, and then decides all is quiet. Comforted by the fact he and his daughter are on good terms once again, he quickly falls asleep.
Vzzzzt! Vzzzzt! That’s obnoxious, he thinks, but then reflects as he shuts it off that most people view their alarms as obnoxious in principle. It’s five thirty in the morning, enough time for him to shower, get dressed, and make breakfast for the road. The hot water wakes him up fully and he hopes the sound won’t disturb Kate. He’s trying to make it so she can sleep until the last possible moment.
It’s not that she normally needs the sleep. He’s seen her pull consecutive all-nighters before, and with her job sleep is erratic and often interrupted. But he can tell healing is sapping a lot of her strength, and he wants to make the process as easy as possible for her. After his shower he enters her room softly, flicking on the light. She’s still asleep—her eyes are closed—but she’s not sleeping peacefully. She tosses her head ever so slightly left and right, wearing a pained expression. A moment of indecision culminates in Castle placing one hand over hers and touching her shoulder gently to wake her with the other. His actions are rewarded as her wrists strain against him before she realizes where she is. He’s narrowly avoided a punch in the face, or worse.
“Time to get up,” he whispers. Then he wonders why he’s whispering.
“’kay,” she mumbles. “Be out soon.” Castle takes that as a dismissal and heads into the kitchen. As much as he hates instant coffee, he brews some—decaf, unfortunately—while concocting a pot of oatmeal. He adds a dash of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon as she comes in, fresh from her shower. 5:59.
He’s interested to notice she’s wearing full-on makeup again, something she’s neglected to do while it’s just the two of them. Somehow that thought makes him smile slightly and feel special.
He dumps the oatmeal into two plastic bowls and the coffee into travel mugs. The air outside is chilly, borderline freezing, but luckily the blanket from last time is still in the front seat. Castle places the coffee in the holders and the oatmeal on the dash and then climbs in his side. After checking that Kate is situated, he turns the key and moves his bowl of oatmeal to his lap. It’s hotter than he thought, uncomfortably so, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. Kate stabilizes hers on top of her leg, resting it against her stomach. The blanket insulates her from the intense heat, but he has no such luck.
Before they’ve even gotten out of the woods Kate’s polished off her breakfast except for the last dregs of coffee and is asleep again. Once the road is flat and straight Castle risks driving one-handedly in order to eat his oatmeal. He turns the radio on softly and then a little louder when it doesn’t seem to bother her. It helps keep him awake and focused on the road ahead of him. When he pulls into the hospital parking garage, they’ve only ten minutes to spare.
“Kate,” he touches her shoulder. “We’re here.” She stirs and he gets out of the driver’s side, going around to the trunk to get the wheelchair. He unfolds it and opens the passenger door. She sighs and slumps back down in her seat at the sight of it. “Come on, it’s only for a couple of hours. If you try to make it from the parking garage to the hospital, you won’t have any energy for physical therapy.” He seriously doubts she’d even make it to the hospital doors, but he refrains from voicing that. She acquiesces reluctantly, scowling as she sits in the rolling chair. Castle closes the car doors and locks them with a touch of the remote. The car beeps its acknowledgement of the command.
Castle wheels her towards the elevator, remarking silently to himself how easy it is to push her around. He doesn’t think he’s gotten any stronger since before the funeral, which means she must be incredibly light. She’s wearing street clothes today, and he can’t help but notice the slight looseness with which they hang on her. He should get her to eat more.
Neither of them says anything until he checks her into the hospital. They’re forced to wait in the waiting room for a few minutes and she has a clipboard questionnaire to fill out. He surreptitiously watches her out of the corner of his eye, curious as to the questions asked and the answers given. She’s been honest and marked that her pain medication has been taken more sporadically than prescribed, but she’s also marked her pain level as a four.
“You know, they like it better when you’re completely truthful on these things,” Castle says. Perhaps that came out a little more snarky than he meant it.
She glares at him. “What are you talking about?”
“Pain level at a four?”
“Well, compared to dying from a bullet wound, this is a four.”
“Okay,” Castle backs off. Her glare clearly says he’s got no say in this matter. She shifts her arm to hide her answers, but it does little good. Two minutes later, when she thinks he isn’t watching, she changes to pain indicator to a six. Kate leaves the box for ‘nightmares,’ however, unchecked. Well, he supposes he has less of a problem with that. Medically it shouldn’t really matter at this stage.
“Katherine Beckett,” says the small Asian nurse from before.
“Here,” Castle says, standing up and placing his hands on the wheelchair.
“Two doors down to the left,” the nurse instructs him, pointing. “I’ll be right with you, and Dr. Marks will be there in a few minutes after he finishes up with his other patient.”
“Thanks,” he replies automatically, pushing her down the hall. The room is empty save for a sink, large cupboard, and cushioned table that could serve as both a chair and a bed. Castle positions Kate so she faces the door. “Do you want me to stay?”
“Castle, I’m going to be taking my shirt off,” she rolls her eyes. “So no.”
“Oh, right,” he replies. “May I stay?”
“Castle!” She’s smiling just a little bit as he exits out the door.