Flight 547 Nonstop JFK to LAX
“Castle, are you sure you don’t want to go down and meet her?” Kate frowns. “She’s coming home from Europe; you haven’t seen her in weeks!”
“No, it’s fine,” Castle protests vigorously. “Like I said, I called her yesterday and we talked about it. She was perfectly okay with me just getting together with her on Monday when we come in for your appointment at the hospital.”
“Yes, but is that what she said or what she actually thought?”
Castle just looks at her, utterly confused. “What?”
“Castle, teenage daughters don’t often just say what they actually want to. They tell you what they think you want to hear in an act of generosity.”
“So…” Castle says slowly, his eyebrows scrunching together in concentration, “you’re saying Alexis is just telling me she doesn’t need me to greet her at the loft when she secretly actually wants me to but she doesn’t want me to have to choose between her and you and so she’s taking the high road to make it easy for me so I don’t have to choose regardless of the fact she really would love for me to surprise her there?”
Kate blinks several times trying to parse that sentence. “Yes. Yes, exactly. I think. Come on, there’s only a few hours left until their flight lands.”
Castle narrows his eyes at her, and Kate knows he can see right through her. “Kate, why are you so anxious to go down and meet her? She’s okay with this, she said she’ll be majorly jet-lagged anyway, so why are you pushing it?”
Kate sighs, looking down at her nearly empty plate. “I’m sorry, Castle, but I just…I don’t want to come between you and Alexis. Ever. I think you should be there when she returns home.”
Castle smiles. “Fine, I understand. I’ll get the keys; you get your coat. Oh, and grab my phone from our bedroom, will you? I’ll bus the plates.” Kate smiles back, shaking her head slightly as she leaves the room. Castle’s been taking every chance he gets to call it ‘our bedroom’ since five days ago, when she kissed him on the bottom step of the morgue stairs.
Wow. She still can’t believe that happened, that Lanie talked her into that. But she’s so glad she did.
She meets Castle by the door, handing him his phone. She gingerly pulls on her coat, careful not to strain the sore area in her chest. The pain has diminished greatly—she can get by on one pill in the morning now, and wouldn’t even be taking that if it wasn’t for Castle’s hawk-eyed-ness—but complex arm movement is still iffy. Funny, she never thought of getting a coat on as ‘complex arm movement’ before this.
Castle locks the door behind them and gets into the driver’s seat. Kate wishes she could drive, but not until she’s off the medications. There are a lot of things she wishes she could do. Namely, her job. Drink caffeinated coffee. Go on runs. Not have this constant itch from the bandages taped to her chest. Sleep the night through.
But she doesn’t complain. Not anymore.
About ten minutes out from reaching New York City, Castle’s cell phone buzzes. He takes it out of his pocket and hands it to Kate, keeping his eyes firmly planted on the road. “Can you answer that for me?”
“Sure.” Kate puts it on speakerphone and holds it in her hand. “It’s Alexis.”
“Hey, pumpkin, what’s up?” Castle asks. “We’re on our way down to surprise you.”
Alexis sounds upset. “Dad, can you pick me up at the airport?”
“Yeah, sure, of course,” Castle replies in a concerned voice. “I thought Meredith was dropping you off at home?” He spins the wheel hand-over-hand to make the necessary turn.
“She left,” Alexis says, distinctly hurt. “She booked her flight to L.A. to leave ten minutes after our plane landed. I guess she didn’t realize all the money I’ve got only amounts to only a few dollars, and it’s in Euros.”
“I’m coming, sweetie,” Castle says. “Hang tight; we’ll be there in twenty.”
Castle swears as soon as the phone clicks off, and for a moment Kate is afraid he’ll swerve into the next lane in his rage. “What was she thinking, Kate? What was she thinking? Meredith just left her there, all alone, in an international airport!”
Kate shakes her head. “I don’t know, Castle.”
“She didn’t arrange for anyone to pick her up; she’s lucky we were heading down there anyway! I am never, ever letting that woman within fifty miles of Alexis ever again! I have full custody; it’s perfectly in my rights!” He executes a wide left turn and Kate finds her fingernails digging into the seat.
“Castle, you’re absolutely right. Meredith was completely irresponsible, and you’re correct that her parental privileges should be revisited. But perhaps…slow down…a little?”
“I want to get there as fast as possible.”
“I know, but getting pulled over for doubling the speed limit isn’t going to get us there any faster.”
His jaw clenches, but he takes his foot off the gas. “I just…I just don’t understand. Why Meredith acts like this, all the time, every time. No regard for anyone but herself. Did you know she told me she was pregnant with Alexis five minutes before boarding a flight to Los Angeles? Yeah, she was up for the lead role in this movie that was supposedly set for a $37 million in opening weekend box office sales, so she just…took off.”
Kate is mildly impressed with the audacity of this woman, if nothing else. “Did she get the part?”
“No, she was cast as the crazy, psychotic sister-in-law instead and met the director she would eventually cheat on me with.”
“Ouch. For both of you.”
“And again, when she slept with him. When instead of trying to talk it out with me for the sake of our daughter she up and left, choosing to move clear across the continent rather than deal with us. Every time she promised she’d call, and didn’t, and every time she promised she’d visit and never showed up. Oh, she had her excuses—nighttime shooting, her friends had dragged her to a bar and gotten her so drunk she lost track of the time—but I know the real reason. The real reason is that staying away was easier than telling five or six year-old Alexis her career meant more to her than her little girl. So I was the one explaining to Alexis that Meredith still loved her, although I wasn’t even sure myself. Unconditional, protective, motherly love is something that I’ve long suspected is foreign to Meredith.”
Castle parks in the airport parking in silence, fuming, but with his rant over and done. “Are you sure you don’t want to just wait here? We’re parked kinda far out.”
“I’m fine,” she assures him, tugging her coat more firmly around her thin frame. Somehow their hands find each other, hers gloved and his bare to the cool evening air. It’s a bit muggy, and by the time they reach the buildings Kate’s finding that the extra effort it takes to draw a full breath isn’t so inconsequential when she has a still-healing bullet hole over her heart.
Alexis is sitting on the bench outside the building, obscured every once in a while as a taxi whizzes by or slows to a stop to pick up or drop off passengers. She stands at the sight of Castle and Kate, and to Kate’s relief and slight bewilderment she doesn’t look nearly as distraught as her voice made her out to be over the phone. Unconsciously, hers and Castle’s hands slip apart as they draw near.
Alexis waves in greeting and picks up her stuffed-to-the-gills duffel bag from the ground next to the bench. Castle envelops her in a hug. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“It’s okay, Dad,” she says. “I’m used to it.” To Kate’s surprise, Castle doesn’t jump on that to insult Meredith’s parenting some more. A moment later she realizes that it’s for Alexis’s sake. No matter how neglectful, Meredith is still her mother, and both Castle and Alexis have to live with that. “Besides, she said it was good practice for when I’m flying there and back to Stanford. I’m almost eighteen anyway.” Castle doesn’t look nearly as at peace with that statement as Alexis does, but it’s obvious the teenager just wants to move past it. Alexis nods her greetings to Kate. “Hey, Detective Beckett,” she half-smiles. Kate doesn’t miss the quick look up and down that the teen gives her, but can’t blame her. Castle loops his arm around Alexis’s shoulders.
“Home?” he asks.
Alexis opens the side door of the car and stuffs her duffel bag inside, climbing in after it and buckling her seat belt. He and Kate reach the car on their respective sides and get in as well, and soon enough they’re wading through New York City’s evening traffic. Castle feels compelled to break the silence. “How was Europe?”
“It was fun,” Alexis yawns. “It’ll be good to be home, though.” They spend most of the trip to the loft with Alexis talking about her trip and Kate mute beside him. Castle wonders what she’s thinking, but now is not the time to ask.
“So what was your favorite city?”
“J’ai adoré Paris. C’est une très belle ville. Avez-vous visité?” Alexis says fluidly.
It takes Castle a minute to translate that in his head and formulate a response. “Oui, et je voudrais y retourner un jour.”
Alexis, thankfully, switches back to English. “We should go there together sometime then,” she says. “Mom showed me the cutest little shops and bakeries; you would love it.”
“What about you, Kate?” Castle asks, attempting to bring her into the conversation. He has the feeling Kate’s been following along with one ear, the rest of her focused on something else.
“My parents and I went there one summer,” she replies. “You’re right, Alexis, it is beautiful.” Then she lets the conversation continue on without her.
When they step out of the elevator at Castle’s building, Kate’s hand forestalls him. “I want to tell her everything,” Kate whispers.
“Okay,” Castle gives her an encouraging smile. “About…about us too?” Kate nods. They catch up with Alexis at the door like nothing has happened and enter the loft. “Right now?” Castle mouths to Kate, but Alexis kisses him on the cheek before he can finish.
“Thanks for the ride. I’m exhausted, so goodnight, Dad!” She smiles at Kate. “Goodnight, Detective Beckett!” She scurries up to her bedroom and they can hear the click of the door closing behind her.
Castle shrugs. “Tomorrow, then.” He looks at Kate. “You don’t mind sleeping here, do you?”
“No, of course not.” Satisfied, Castle turns and heads for his bedroom. It’ll be nice to sleep in his own bed for once. “You coming?”
“Are you sure? What if Alexis… That’s not how I would want her to find out about us.”
Castle smiles. “She won’t come in. Only Mother does that, and she’s out tonight. Alexis doesn’t without knocking and receiving permission, not since…” He trails off. “Never mind.”
Kate gives him a suspicious look but follows him into his bedroom and perches on the edge of his bed.
Covers pulled up to her chest and hands clasped flat over her stomach, Kate gazes up at the ceiling. She’s too wired to fall asleep, thinking about what she’s going to say to Alexis tomorrow. She had wanted to get this over with tonight, but intense jet-lag had made scraps out of that plan.
For a second—just a second—Kate wishes Castle didn’t have so much baggage with him. It would make all this so much simpler if there wasn’t a child to contend with. But then again, Alexis is sweet and rational and Castle simply adores her. Kate likes her too. Responsible, unlike her dad. Castle wouldn’t be the same if he’d never had Alexis, and she’s in love with him for who he is now. Do children make that much of an impact on their parents? She’s inclined to think so. And now she feels guilty for wishing Alexis didn’t exist. “Castle,” she whispers into the darkness. Nothing. He’s asleep, and she should be too.
But it takes hours for her to doze off, and it feels as if she’s only been out for five minutes when Castle extricates himself from the bed in the morning. He’s trying his hardest to be quiet, but her tight muscles and cop alertness—active especially now with a combination of PTSD, being back in the city only ten miles from where she was shot, and sleeping in an unfamiliar bedroom—wake her as soon as his weight shifts from the mattress to the floor.
“Sorry,” he whispers, but it’s too late now. Adrenaline surges back into her limbs as she remembers her self-appointed task for the day. She finds she has to remind herself why she’s doing this, and even that doesn’t prevent the slowly rising panic from deep within her. “I’ll make coffee,” Castle offers, and exits the room without a reply.
Kate’s hands clench around the bedspread as she runs through it all in her head. His relationship with his daughter comes first. Why? Because it’s the one Alexis can’t afford to lose. You know that. But do I really have to tell her everything? Remember what happened with you and your dad? Are you willing to risk Castle’s relationship with his daughter? You of all people should recognize the importance of the father-daughter relationship. He’s her rock. You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that, or she might go through what you did.
Resolve fortified as much as it ever will be, Kate follows Castle’s footsteps out in the kitchen area, knowing if she’s absent too long Castle will come to check on her. Alexis comes bounding down the steps a few seconds later. “I thought I smelled coffee.”
“Your nose is as acutely attuned as ever, m’lady,” Castle says with a formal bow. He presents her with a fruit platter that he’s cut over the last few minutes. Alexis takes a slice and places it at the other end of the counter near the stools. She glances back at Kate as she takes a seat, tilting her head slightly to keep her fiery red hair out of the fruit.
“Come on,” she invites with a jerk of her head. Kate accepts a place at the counter next to her, surreptitiously clenching her hands together with nervousness. Alexis offers her the fruit but Kate declines.
“So, listen, Alexis,” Kate plunges in, “there're some things that I have to tell you, that your dad and I have to tell you.”
The teenager’s forehead creases, but she looks at Kate evenly. “I told Dad it was okay,” she says, glancing at him for confirmation. “What you’re going through is private, and I understand that. You don’t have to tell me anything.” She finishes with a friendly smile.
“Still, I want to,” Kate replies. Castle gives her an encouraging nod. “I’m taking up a lot of your dad’s time, time he could be spending with you before you go off to college. You deserve to know why.” Sensing she can’t argue with her, Alexis stays silent, watchful, waiting. Kate swallows. “After I was…shot, I started having flashbacks. Nightmares. Back to that cemetery, that bullet, dying…even my mom’s death, and the deaths of other people I care about.”
“Like PTSD,” Alexis says, eyes bright. She seems to be taking this well, although Kate can’t think of a reason why she wouldn’t.
“Yes,” Kate affirms. “Your dad’s been helping me through it. That’s why we’ve been living in my dad’s cabin up north, to get away from the city where it all happened. There are triggers here, that…” Kate searches for the word. “…spark the flashbacks. I can’t control them, but I need to learn how to. I’ll need to learn before they’ll give me my badge back.”
Alexis waits for a few seconds to make sure she’s not going to interrupt the Detective. “I understand. It must be really hard for you.”
Kate nods and smiles slightly, relieved at that reaction. “Thanks. I’m glad you understand. Oh, and one more thing. I know you haven’t been gone that long, but your dad and I…well, I guess you could say we started a relationship while you were away. We’re taking it slow, but I hope that’s okay with y—”
“I kind of guessed,” Alexis shrugs ruefully, cutting in. “He calls you Kate. And from my experience, no woman can spend more than twelve hours in his company without ending up with him. You were always the exception, but now…” Alexis laughs, shrugging her shoulders slightly.
“You’re okay with that?” Kate asks.
“Yeah. You make him happy,” Alexis smiles.
“He makes me happy as well,” Kate replies in an undertone. “You can call me ‘Kate’ too. ‘Detective Beckett’ is a little too formal.” Alexis nods.
Beaming, Castle places steaming cups in front of the pair of them, unabashedly interrupting their heart to heart. “Who wants waffles?”