It was unbelievable. "Swine flu?" she repeated incredulously. "Castle has swine flu?"
Ryan and Esposito stood in front of her like a wall. Ryan did that thing with his eyebrow and Esposito said, "You know how comedians say, 'No, it's too easy?' and step away from the joke?" He waited a beat and then shrugged. “I'd step away. Poor guy."
Rich guy, she thought to herself as she stood outside his door. The wreath hanging on it was roughly the size of her first car, and smelled heavenly. It also took up all of the available knocking space, so she tapped - gently - with her boot.
Alexis opened the door with her hair tumbling everywhere and a bottle of Lysol spray in one hand. "Beckett!" she chirped, looking pleased but confused. "Did Dad call you over here? Don't believe a word he says."
"I never do," she assured Alexis. "Can I come in?"
"Without a warrant? My, my, my," Castle said suavely. Or at least he tried. What really came out was a croak so pathetic that Beckett wanted to put a muzzle on him just to save his larynx. Well, maybe not just for that.
He was reclining on the oversized leather couch, a couple of overstuffed pillows framing his face - greenish cheeks and pinkish nose - quite nicely. "You look terrible," she noted briskly, and he put up a hand in protest.
"Resist my magnetic pull and stay away. I don't want you catching this instead of bad guys," he said, abused throat giving out a couple of times.
"Dad, seriously, stop talking," Alexis said, shaking her head in disapproval. "And you have to at least try to aim for the trash can from now on." Buried underneath heaps of crumpled tissues and cough drop wrappers, Beckett could just make out the edges of a hardcover book.
Castle looked all set to say something immature, but the scream of the kettle mercifully cut him off. And made him jump, just a little. Beckett banished the stray thought that he looked kind of adorable like this, all wide-eyed and uncertain; helplessness was hardly something more men needed to be cultivating in themselves.
"Lemon, right?" Castle asked hopefully after a fit of coughing that made Beckett's throat ache. "With freshly grated ginger and that honey from the farmers' market?"
"Sure, if by that you mean a cup of hot water and an Orange Zinger teabag." At her father's epic pout, Alexis sighed in exasperation. "You used up all of the honey on those croissants you brought home last week, remember? And you never bought fresh ginger; you bought ginger snaps."
Beckett was impressed by Alexis's recall, and by her ability to stand firm while her father made faces like a particularly woeful puppy.
"But I need -"
"Time to update the tradition a little, Dad." Alexis smiled. "Instead of you reading, this year I'll read it to you."
"With all the voices?" Castle mouthed, and Alexis nodded.
"Beckett? Do you want some tea?"
"I'll get it," she said, pulling off her coat while Alexis swept the coffee table free of its germy detritus, sprayed it down with Lysol, and sat with the book on her lap. Beckett took her time in the kitchen, admiring the silver sugar bowl, smiling at a photograph of Alexis on her father's shoulders that hung askew on the refrigerator door. She found real tea leaves and bone china mugs and got to work.
When she emerged from the kitchen with a tray holding tea for three, Castle had his feet on Alexis's lap and a dreamy smile on his face as he contemplated his daughter, who was reading "Jesus Shaves" and giggling. Beckett folded herself into the matching armchair and savored her tea.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.