Twenty months ago:

He woke to a weight against his shoulder, as if someone was leaning against him. Had he been asleep that long? Had Kate come home and cuddled up with him?

Blinking his eyes open against the bright light overhead, Castle yawned, his jaw popping. When his eyes adjusted, the writer turned his head. But instead of the brown curls he expected, sleek red locks greeted him instead.

"Alexis?" he wondered aloud, noticing for the first time the slim hand tucked into his own, noticing the way his fingers had curled instinctively around hers.

He lifted his free hand, reached across his body to brush the hair away from her forehead. "Alexis."

His daughter twitched, and then her eyes opened, foggy with confusion, ice blue clearing after a moment.

"Hey pumpkin," he said, laughing. "Something wrong with your pillow?"

Blushing, Alexis sat up, but he squeezed her hand, holding it tight in his. She gave him a shy half smile.

"Hi Dad," she said quietly.

The young woman ducked her head, lifting her free hand to tuck a lock of fiery hair behind her ear.

He leaned toward her, putting his face in her line of sight and pulling her chin up until she met his eyes.

"You okay, sweetie?"

She nodded, leaning into his touch for a moment.

And then her arms were around his neck, her face buried against his shoulder, hot tears flooding onto his skin.

He didn't know what to do, didn't know what had brought this on, didn't know if she was okay. He'd thought she was. She'd been home for dinner just the night before, bumping hips with him in the kitchen as she stopped him from putting cinnamon in the spaghetti sauce, asking Kate for advice about the cute boy in her anthropology class, making faces at Nate.

"Alexis," he murmured. "Pumpkin, what's wrong?"

She sobbed into his shoulder, her thin frame shuddering against his chest. Palming the back of her head, he stroked his fingers through her hair, speaking soft nonsense into her ear as he held his daughter.

"I.." she hiccuped, her voice muffled as she talked into his shirt.

Dropping his hand to shoulder, he tugged her back so he could see her, ran his thumb beneath her eyes, wiping away her tears.

"What happened?" he asked.

Her face pink, she shook her head. "Nothing."


"Nothing, Dad," she told him. "Really."

He frowned. "Not that I'm ever averse to cuddling with my daughter, but you know, the crying, well, that's not one of my favorites."

She gave a watery chuckle, and a sniffle. "One of my friends gave me a ride home today."

He raised an eyebrow when she paused, waited for her to continue.

"She needed to drop off some paperwork for her internship at New York-Presbyterian."


He didn't say anything, knew she'd get the whole story out if he just gave her time.

"And I went in with her, and I was standing there in a hallway, and I just-"

Her eyes filled with tears again, and he pulled her into his chest. God, unless a baby was being born, he never wanted her to have to go back to that hospital again. Didn't want any of them to have to go back.

He was sick of the place after a few days, and he didn't even remember most of his time there. Alexis and Kate and his mother. They were the ones who had memorized the sterile halls and the fluorescent lights and the faces of the myriad doctors and nurses working there.

"I'm sorry, baby," he whispered, shutting his eyes as he pressed his lips to the crown of her head. "I'm so sorry."

"I missed you," she sobbed, her voice rough and sounding so much like a little girl that his heart ached. "I missed you so much, Daddy."

He tightened his arms around her, pulling her into his lap and rocking her as he had when she was younger, when she would wake screaming from a nightmare.

He was home now, and whole. He had an amazing family: a woman he loved as he had never loved another, a son who challenged him and made him laugh, a daughter who was wise and loving, a mother who doted on all of them.

But sometimes he wished he could go back to the days before his daughter's nightmares had become reality.

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