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i fell into the water and now i'm free

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She goes away, and when she comes back everything is just a little bit different. The colors are off, maybe, or she is. Hair cut a different way, new clothes hugging her body in new ways. The mirror hangs in the same hallway, but Alexis doesn't look like the face that's supposed to be reflected there. Tiny adjustments of the furniture placement. The stale-feeling air in her room when she opens the door. It's like the day she went back to visit her preschool, and all the chairs and tables were so small.

When did her dad get so small?

She goes away and finds that she has less time for books than before she left, but has to read more. The words sink into her, stretching her skin, twining their way through her mind. In the best and worst weeks she has to write reminders to herself, to call home, to take a moment and let the voices that she knows so well wash over her. She always runs out of time. She always has to go.

But she comes back. For breaks, and then, finally, for good.

And it wasn’t always like this, the quick visits home between semesters, on weekends when she had time. Nothing to do while her dad is called out early and often, busy investigating crimes, Martha out on date. She buries her nose in books, tries not to fall asleep. Remembers his expectant face when he finally got home and she finally started working on homework, two separate worlds. There's a keen observation at her fingertips when her dad flops down next to her on the couch, leaning in. "Whatcha doin'?"

She's too busy or he is. She goes back without feeling like they've had a real conversation.

She remembers calling home and hearing her answer, distracted, "Beckett," forgetting probably that she wasn't on her cell. And she couldn't have anticipated the squeal she released, or the easy conversation, or the way her heart ticked when Kate had "to run" handing the phone off, after a series of muffled thunks, to her dad. She doesn't remember what he said, or what she said back. Just that she was late for class, had been for fifteen minutes already, and hung up quickly, her face pink.

Back when they were still partners, back when he hung on Beckett's every word (though, really, that hasn't changed).

And now, she's home too. Knowing that the city is the best place for work, and she can’t afford a place of her own until she’s decently and fully employed. And she can't get the job without a place to live. Her room seems like a photo album. She's almost afraid to touch the mementos of her past self. Afraid that it will brush away like dust.

Castle wants to sit down and have an in-depth conversation. Cookies, milk. He makes her write it down in her planner. “I have begged (and begged) my twice-over-ex-and-agent to schedule release party for the potentially penultimate Nikki Heat book for a weekend.”

Alexis raises an eyebrow. “Weekend?”

“So you can attend.” Like it's obvious. She closes her eyes and can practically see him through them. There are gestures.

The shelf behind him is full of his life’s work, Derek Storm, and Nikki Heat: from Heat Wave to Latent Heat to Heating Up, and now, though his partnership with Beckett has ended, the final manuscript for Theory of Heat. Possibly penultimate, he says, Nikki Heat isn't ready to die yet. He tells her all about the set up, about Nikki going undercover in France.

"You'll have to read it to find out what happens." He's winking. Some things she knows. Some things never change.

She's late for a meeting but she stops to hug him, kiss him on the cheek. "I'll be there, dad."

*

It's the most alive she's felt since leaving school, the release. She spends an inordinate amount of time getting ready - wears heels that are far too high, a dress that Martha helps her pick out, probably against her better interest, and does her hair up for once, reminded of a line from a story. Of course, no matter how beautiful she thinks she looks, turning in the mirror before leaving the apartment, she's still stunned breathless by the sight of Beckett, arriving half an hour late ("Glamorous," her dad says, in a hushed tone) and parting the crowd.

Her mind expands and all of the words from the last four years tumble out leaving her speechless.

She should say Beckett but says "Kate," instead, nodding in greeting. They touch hands while her father reads from the opening chapter, Nikki stripping down to distract the unsub.

She fits in this moment, strangely. Perfectly.