Kate is watching from the sidelines of the stage as the teenage girl playing the eldest Von Trapp daughter dances across the stage with the older boy, singing about the struggles and romance of a two year age gap, humming low in her throat to the familiar soundtrack.
Her job is an easy one, a decent way to earn some extra cash while she’s attempting to keep her mind from diving down the rabbit hole of her mother’s murder, at least until she makes detective.
Ensure each actor makes it on stage properly dressed, well-prepared, and in the right order - simple. The adults are hardly a problem, responsible for themselves and their cues, but the children require more of her attention, all seven Von Trapp children of the infamous Broadway revival of the Sound of Music.
The youngest of which is approaching from backstage, her hair in bright red ringlets that Kate can see from the corner of her eye as the little girl tiptoes closer.
Kate glances down the source of her whispered name to find Alexis Castle at her side, her eyes glittering in the darkness that the thick, velvet curtains cast over them both, her face a pale moon, and Kate bends to the six year old’s level.
“Hey sweetie, what’s the matter?” Kate murmurs, brushing her hand along Alexis’s cheek in concern, feeling the cool dampness of sweat along her hairline.
“I - I can’t go out there,” Alexis confesses, her bottom lip starting to tremble and Kate places her open script on the ground as the little girl inches closer. “My tummy hurts really bad and I don’t want to go on stage in front of all those people.”
“You already went out there though, remember?” Kate points out softly, reaching around to rub soothing circles over Alexis’s back, but she can feel beneath her palm how nervous the girl is, how her breath rattles in her lungs. “And you did so good-”
“Because I didn’t have to talk,” Alexis gets out. “I didn’t have any lines for those scenes, but I do for the rest, and I know Gram will be upset, but please don’t make me go out there, Miss Beckett.”
“Alexis, I - you don’t have an understudy.”
The tears begin to tumble down the little girl’s cheeks and Kate sighs, opens her arms to the child who often shadows her behind the scenes, normally preferring her time with Kate in the backstage office to being out on the magnificent platform, beneath the shine of stage lights, much to her grandmother’s chagrin.
Kate was aware that Martha Rodgers had done some negotiating to have her granddaughter placed in the most coveted role for her age group, but she had quickly learned that Alexis wasn’t here to become the next young starlet. She just wanted to please her grandmother. And while Kate liked Martha, she wished the older woman would spare a second to acknowledge her granddaughter’s consistent discomfort amidst the world of theater.
“We’ll figure something out,” she whispers when the girl buries her face in Kate’s shoulder, smearing stage makeup all over Beckett’s blouse with her tears, but Kate only rocks her back and forth, hums along to the song now coming to a close on stage until Alexis’s silent heaving begins to calm. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, Alexis.”
Beckett lifts from her haunches with Alexis in her arms, clinging to her frame, and sighing out in relief that shudders through the girl’s small ribcage.
“Kate, oh darling, there you are! I wanted you to meet my - oh dear! Alexis, you’re going to miss your scene!” Martha exclaims in a whisper, and if Kate wasn’t so concerned with the child in her arms, she would laugh at the picture Martha Rodgers makes in a nun costume.
Alexis tenses, but Kate pats her back, gives Martha a pursed lip frown. “Martha, I think Alexis has a severe case of stage fright.”
“See, Mother, I told you,” a male voice interjects on a huff, a broad frame emerging from the shadows to appear behind Martha, but the familiar pair of blue eyes are on Alexis. “Hey there, Pumpkin.”
The man - Richard Castle - steps past Martha to approach Kate, flashing her an apologetic smile and reaching out for Alexis. Kate hands her over when Alexis goes without struggle, hugging her father without hesitation, huddling against his chest.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Alexis gets out. “And - and Gram, I’m sorry. I just don’t feel good, I-”
“Alexis, you have nothing to apologize for,” her father assures her quickly, coaxing her head from his shoulder to wipe away the tears staining her cheeks.
“Nothing at all, kiddo,” Martha adds, joining the two of them to squeeze Alexis’s hand. “I’m the one who’s sorry, sweetheart. I put far too much pressure on you. You absolutely do not have to go out there if you don’t want to. I’ll just go talk to Rob and he’ll send his daughter out on stage instead.”
“There is an understudy?” Kate cuts in, relief flooding her system. She really hadn’t been looking forward to the reprimand she had been sure to receive if there wasn’t a Gretl Von Trapp on that stage tonight.
“There’s always an understudy,” Martha assures her. “But I do have to let him know before Alexis’s next scene.”
The black robe of Martha’s costume swishes past them as the older woman races backstage.
“Nun on the run,” Castle chuckles, eliciting a giggle of laughter from Alexis, and Kate quirks her lips at the two of them, takes a step back-
“Kate, right?” he calls out before she can disappear behind the shield of a curtain, his eyes kind and intent on her, shimmering sapphire blue just like Alexis’s.
Beckett nods, bends to retrieve her script from the floor. She’s lost track, and at this rate, probably her job as a backstage assistant, but Alexis is beaming at her while her favorite author is standing in front of her, gratitude in his grin and intrigue in his eyes.
“Rick, I’m guessing? Your mother raves about you a lot.”
Even in the dimness of the sidelines, she can see his cheeks growing pink. “I could say the same about you. Both my mother and my daughter bring you up quite often.”
“Kate’s the best part about rehearsals,” Alexis chimes in, shooting Beckett a toothy grin.
“So I’ve heard,” Castle chuckles, setting Alexis back on her feet. “Do you want to watch the rest of the show from the audience, Pumpkin? Then once your Gram is done for the night, we can go grab something to eat.”
“And ice cream afterwards?” Alexis bargains.
“Go change out of your costume and we’ll talk.”
Alexis trots towards the dressing room, the anxiety that had plagued her gone, and Kate smiles at the pleasant sight of Alexis Castle happy and unburdened once again.
“Thank you, for being so good with her,” Rick murmurs once Alexis has disappeared.
“She makes it easy.” Kate shrugs and his eyes ripple with something she can’t identify in the dark, but it looks a lot like approval.
“Well, Kate, it seems like everyone in my family adores you. I feel like I’m missing out.”
She rolls her eyes, not wanting Richard Castle to think she’s just another woman he can charm with his words, but he isn’t looking at her like the playboy asshole she’s witnessed on television screens and magazine pages. There’s a sincerity that appears as if it is reserved only for his daughter, his family and those he cares about, and she could get to know this man behind the mask.
“Hoping to remedy that?”
“Yes, in fact, I was hoping you would join me and my daughter for dinner tonight,” Castle affirms, his voice confident, but the hopeful flicker in his eyes belies the feigned arrogance.
She could like him. She could really like him, if she allowed herself the chance, and that alone scared her.
Kate pretends to mull it over, subdues her smirk when he begins to squirm before finally offering him a small smile as she hears his daughter approaching.