Summary: When Lex is taken away from him and more responsibility is placed upon his shoulder than ever before, Fred decides to make an alliance with Jeff and put their differences aside, just so they can get Lex back again.
Disclaimer: Lex O’Leary and Jeff Delricci belong to NYgoldfish54. Fred belongs to me and never will cease to do. Elle is one of those rare things the two of us share. Oh, yeah, Kate McKinley shows up in this universe - she's also mine.
Chapter 5. Scenes in a Car
“Shh, I think they’re sleepin’,” Kate whispered. Fred was somewhere between waking up and dreaming; Kate’s voice was highly alarming to be met by in the morning. “Aww, so cute. Let’s wake ‘em.”
“That’s your first instinct?” came Jeff’s voice. “They’re sleepin’ peacefully and you want to disrupt them?”
“Well… Watching someone sleep isn’t any fun,” Kate decided, stepping closer to the bed. Fred hurried to grab her arm before she could ‘wake him’, whatever that meant. “Hey!”
“Hey yourself,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “What’re you two doin’ in here?”
The sleeping arrangements had resulted – to Fred’s delight – in very little Kate and very much silence. Fred wasn’t sure if Jeff would agree on that, but on the other hand; why care? “Got bored. Jeff’s a real complainer. Plus, it’s almost nine and you said we should leave early,” Kate replied thoughtfully, sitting down at the edge of the bed, carefully stroking Elle’s tummy. Elle was sleeping right next to him, so he could keep an eye on her. “Can I dress her up?”
“She’s sleepin’. Let her be; she’ll only start crying if you-” Fred started, right before Kate managed to poke at Elle one time too many. Kate wrinkled her nose when Elle gave up a loud wailing sound. “Look what you did, Kate.”
“Uh-oh,” Kate mumbled. “Well, she was nearly awake anyway. Her eyes were open a little bit.”
Fred sighed and shooed her off the bed, refraining from explaining to Kate how babies’ sleeping habits worked. “I’ll take care of her. Maybe you could pack some stuff into the car.”
“I’m a girl. Girls don’t carry stuff,” Kate said promptly, snapping her fingers at Jeff. “You carry.”
“Boys carry the boxes. Girls sit and watch while investigating their nails. I’ve seen it many times on TV,” Kate explained slowly, like she was speaking to a child. Fred nudged at her leg with his foot. “What? It’s true.”
“In this reality, it’s quite the opposite,” Fred told her.
“What?” she snorted. “The men take care of the babies and the women-? Oh, I see your point…” She whined discontentedly. “But I don’t wanna carry stuff.”
Fred moved off the bed so he could go through Elle’s bag. “Well, you being the woman and all; maybe you’d like to feed Elle while I carry your bags out to the car?”
“That’s such a sexist stereotype. Just because I’m-”
“Just shut up and do it,” Fred pleaded, handing her a bottle of formula. “Go heat this up and get back here when you’re done.”
Kate disappeared while growling dissatisfiedly. Jeff laughed. “She’s kinda spoiled, isn’t she?”
“I think that’s putting it lightly. Kate grew up with it all. Happy childhood, loving parents, an equally loving nanny and butler – you know, it all.”
“I see,” Jeff mumbled remotely to himself. “Like you, then.”
“Yeah; except from the loving environment and happy parents. But I am basically Mom’s nanny, so yeah.”
Jeff picked up one of the pillows to grab the blanket under it. Fred always brought Elle’s blankie with them when they went away somewhere overnight. Elle – who was now wide awake, happily crawling around on the bed with only the tiniest hint of a tear on her cheek after her abrupt awakening – grabbed hold of the blanket when Jeff pulled it towards him. “Look, Elle, let go, or I’ll have to pack you into the bag too,” Jeff explained, tugging a little bit harder.
“Reasoning does not help much with a baby,” Fred said with a smile. “Just let her have it; she’s really grumpy in the mornings.”
Elle stared determinedly at Jeff, also tugging at her end of the blanket. “She does look a bit mad about me taking her blankie,” Jeff nodded. “Is she going to start crying? Should I let go?”
“I don’t know,” Fred shrugged, leaning his head to the side to watch Elle’s face. “You’ll now when she gets really angry.”
“Gee, thanks for the tip,” Jeff muttered. “She does resemble Lex a lot. You know; if Lex was really mad at me.”
“I know. ‘Cause, you know, Lex’s gotten pissed at you a lot more than she’s gotten pissed at me.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jeff snorted. “Gettin’ her pregnant was probably the highlight of your relationship. Let go, kiddie!”
Fred watched them struggle back and forth until Elle gave up a vehemently howl that made Jeff resign with a sign. “Score one for the baby,” Fred commented, while Jeff decided to try and pack something that would require less skill.
“She must’ve inherited the smartness from Lex, too,” Jeff complained, looking at Elle who had rolled over on her back with the blanket in a firm grip, babbling contently to herself.
“I don’t know; I think she’ll be a great hockey player some day,” Fred mused proudly, tickling Elle’s foot.
Fred wasn’t sure why it was so important to him to take care of Elle. He’d looked at it from different perspectives and the main reason was without a doubt that he loved her. Elle was his daughter.
He hadn’t had much time to talk with Lex about it; about Elle, how they’d carry on their lives after she was born, where they would live and other prominent issues he thought they would have to deal with. Lex hadn’t wanted to talk about it; Fred knew she’d thought the entire pregnancy had been tiresome from day one. He’d asked if she wanted to talk about it – even though he hadn’t been sure what he had to say about it himself – but Lex had declined, saying she rather didn’t think about it at all.
She hadn’t even talked to Jeff about it too much, which Fred had assumed she would. It was weird, he thought. Lex had never before kept something to herself like she had during that time. It didn’t matter to Fred if she spoke to Jeff instead of him; he’d realized long ago that Jeff simply had a part of Lex that Fred couldn’t touch, as Kate had explained to him when he’d first started dating Lex.
Fred didn’t know how Lex had decided what to do with the baby. From the moment she’d told him about the baby – or specifically from the moment she told him she thought she might be pregnant – he had tried to do what he thought was right. He’d promised to buy her a pregnancy test; told her not to worry as it probably was nothing too serious; and even if it was something serious, he’d find a way to make it alright again.
It had scared him at first, of course. He’d been sixteen years old when he first heard that Lex would have a baby. But Lex had also been scared, much more so than he had been, and Fred had grown up with the certainty that if the girl you loved was scared, you simply had to be twice as strong to take care of her and try not to be scared yourself. He didn’t really remember who had brought him up to think like that, but he’d always believed it to be true. If Lex was hurting, he had to be the strong one and help her out of it.
He loved Lex unconditionally; the same way he now loved Elle. It had felt necessary for him to take responsibility for his actions; taking care of Elle was, in the end, the least he could do to help out Lex. He knew that during those months before Elle was born, what Lex had been most anxious about was that she, deep down inside, was convinced she’d be alone when it all came to a stop. That he would leave her to raise the baby on her own; that he would lose interest and decide that he wanted nothing to do with the baby.
Fred hoped he’d gain her trust enough to let her know he wasn’t going anywhere – Lex was all the family he ever had, in a way, and he was much more afraid of not being with her. Still, he was well-aware what people expected from him – either they didn’t think much of him at all; or had far too high expectations for him.
So, he figured, after all pondering back and forth about why he’d stayed when most would’ve run, it all came back to the same main reason. The people he had in his life were too important to him to let go of; he simply loved them with all he had, because they were his family and it was the right thing for him to do. He wanted to be a good father; he had wanted that even before Elle was born, and now, he wanted to be a much better boyfriend, as well.
Kate came skipping back minutes later, passing the bottle from hand to hand. “The store manager was really cute,” she announced with a giggle. “He thought I was in college!”
“Was that before or after he heard your cookie analogy?” Fred asked sarcastically.
“Cookie what?” Jeff said.
“Oh, you guys don’t watch enough TV!” Kate complained. “I can’t explain everything for you! Anyway, he asked me how old my kid was and then he assumed I was-”
“Your kid?” Fred cut her off.
“Yeah, ‘cause, you know, he assumed she was my kid because I was heating her bottle and then I told him that, yeah, ugly break-up, yada yada, and he asked me out!” she ranted rapidly, bouncing up and down with excitement as she got to the last part of her sentence. Fred took the paper she was waving with away from her. “Got his number and everything – he was such a cutie; didn’t care I had a kid or anything!”
“And which asylum did he escape from again?” Jeff snorted loudly.
Kate threw a quick look at him, still smiling. “I don’t know but he’s like twenty-five or something and his dad owns this place and he asked me what university I go to, so I said I’m at BU and just takin’ a quick trip through the country,” she continued, just as rapidly, ignoring Jeff’s remark.
“Is there an end to the story before we actually go off to college?”
“Yeah, here’s Dimple’s bottle. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold; it’s just perfect!” Kate smiled brightly, holding out the bottle for Fred. He decided not to make a big deal out of Kate calling his daughter ‘Dimple’. “Oh, Jeffster, you gotta help me load up the car. Fred won’t ever let me drive it.”
Jeff followed her outside, midst heavy objections about his new nickname. “Kate!” Fred called her back. “You promised to look after Elle for me.”
Kate peaked into the room again, holding on to the doorframe. “But then I realized that I don’t have any packing anyway,” she said. “Can I dress her up?”
“You’ve already asked that.”
Fred thought for a second. “Only one bow. And her diaper doesn’t have to match her shoes, alright?”
“Fine. But all girls should learn how to match their outfits with accessories while they grow up!” Kate demanded forcefully. “It would’ve killed me if my diaper didn’t match my shoes.”
“That bloke must’ve been mental; thinkin’ you were a mother,” Fred grumbled.
“It’s not like I’m goin’ out with him. He lives here in the middle of nowhere. And he’s too old. I was just flirtin’ with him, innocently. Like I always do,” she stated with a nod.
“So why did you make such a big deal out of-? Oh,” he grinned. “I see.”
“What?” Kate asked dimly.
“You were tryin’ to make Jeff jealous.”
“Nuh-huh!” Kate gasped, rather unconvincingly. “I would never do that.”
“That’s exactly what you do,” Fred pointed out, snickering. “You’re the do that girl!”
Kate giggled again, but regained posture just as fast. “Jeff’s smarter than that. He doesn’t fall for simple tricks! That would be like… manipulation!”
“And we are but the simple sex; our minds can be manipulated just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “And you know you know it.”
“Nuh-huh!” Kate repeated. “And don’t steal quotes from me; that’s my thing!”
Fred continued to laugh as Kate scurried out the door in some sort of lame version of a fit of rage. Elle also stared after her. “Don’t worry, Elle. I can put the bow in your hair,” Fred promised, picking her up from the bed. Elle was still clutching on to the blanket, as if she was expecting Jeff to come back any second now and take it away. Fred kissed her hair gently. “You’re my angel, sweetheart. Don’t ever forget it.”
To get Kate to stop faking moodiness, Fred let her drive for a while. She was a good driver, though the traffic in the city often made her hyper and stressed, which was never a good thing when it came to Kate. Fred trusted her to drive on main roads, though. She was less high-strung, driving on those.
Around noon, Kate was getting a bit too relaxed in her driving; mostly driving them insane with her constant singing – Fred doubted there could be anybody with a worse singing voice. “Hey, how about a break?” Jeff finally suggested after Kate’s sixth verse of ‘I’m driving through Ann Arbor’, a direct continuance of her previous song about Toledo and Cleveland.
“You’ve asked that five times in less than an hour!” Kate whined. “We’ll never get anywhere if you keep interrupting like this!”
“I think your singing is kind of making us all want to kill you,” Fred clarified. “Jeff’s just too nice to spell it out for you.”
“Actually, I’ve gone voluntarily deaf,” Jeff explained sourly.
“Oh, come on! You’re, like, a musician!” Kate beamed cheerfully. “You sing all the time and no one’s complaining about that, do they?”
“That’s because Jeff can sing,” Fred sighed tiredly. “He gets paid to sing. And you, on the other hand, suck at it.”
“Nuh-huh!” Kate objected with her new favorite expression of the day. “Jeff should know how to appreciate good music. This could be a new breakaway pop hit!”
Fred shook his head with impatience. “You’re so deluded.”
Kate sighed dismissively, letting go of the steering wheel with one hand, making Jeff and Fred yelp nervously. “You’re like Clint; so negative and sardonic,” Kate said dejectedly, quickly turning back to the road.
“Sardonic?!” Fred asked doubtfully, knowing exactly what she was referring to, and also knowing she’d gotten the words mixed up. Kate had never been a fan of treating the English language well; or wanting to speak properly or accurately, which could drive anyone insane.
“Clint who?” Jeff questioned confusedly.
“Y’know, the middle Moffatt brother. They’re four-” she ranted happily, ignoring Fred’s surly looks. “-but there’s three triplets and he’s the middle one.”
“Three triplets?!” Fred sputtered out, hoping Kate could do the math on that one herself.
Jeff seemed as dumbfounded as before, staring at Kate in disbelief. “Moffatt who?”
“You’re supposed to know these things, oh thou musical genius!” Kate said disapprovingly.
Jeff made some sort of grimace at her, apparently torn between wanting to retort even though he risked getting an equally ridiculous answer back, and making Kate drive off the road so the talking would stop. “I don’t make a habit out of knowing every horrendous one-hit wonder band in the world,” he growled between gritted teeth.
Kate gasped dramatically. “They weren’t horrendous!”
“Kate’s room’s covered with their posters,” Fred explained to help Jeff understand the weirdness that was Kate McKinley.
“Oh, jeez,” Jeff complained, sinking deep into his seat.
“I guess you only listen to, like, boring bands like-”
Jeff sat up again, defiantly interrupting her outlay. “-those that changed the history of music, like the Stones, Beatles, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin-?”
“Who?” Kate asked dimly.
“Oh, you gotta be kidding me!” Jeff exclaimed fervently. “You’ve never heard of Zeppelin? And still you listen to yesterday’s crap, like The Moffatts?”
“You said you’d never heard of them!” Kate howled; Fred knew by the sound of her voice that she was mostly excited and not at all as upset as she wanted to let on.
“Well, the damn memories come flooding back to me now, you annoying half-breed!”
Kate drew an indignant breath of air and opened her mouth to bellow something back, but Fred had to interrupt their loud, albeit entertaining, discussion. “Keep it down, guys. You’re startin’ to scare Elle,” he quickly said, as Elle stirred more and more in her car seat, trying to figure out where the noise came from. “Your voices are too loud; she’ll start crying.”
“Oh, sorry,” the both mumbled, apparently forgetting every trace of Elle during their argument.
Fred held up Elle’s favorite stuffed animal; a green turtle that she loved to gnaw on when something scary came along. Distracted by the green comforter, Elle waved her hands towards the turtle in an attempt to grab it. “There you go, sweetheart,” Fred said. “No need to listen to their yelling. Just chew on your turtle.”
“You’re so pedagogical,” Kate commented from the driver’s seat. “As soon as something frightening pops up, you suggest its cure by chewing on an old turtle.”
“Oh, shut up, Katie.”