Summary: Fred goes on a road trip with his baby daughter to visit his missing girlfriend and maybe find a way to get her back again. His best friend Kate decides to tag along against everyone's wishes and she adds some drama to the mix for both the teenagers and the baby.
Disclaimer: Lex O’Leary and Jeff Delricci belong to NYgoldfish54. Elle is one of those rare things the two of us share. Fred belongs to me and will never cease to do. Oh, yeah, Kate McKinley shows up in this story - she's also mine.
Chapter 2. Life Without Her
Kate showed up the following morning with a bunch of homework. Fred wouldn’t have been happier if she would try to get it through her head at some point that he wasn’t in school anymore. He’d dropped out after Elle was born, and didn’t even consider stepping his foot there again. For a brief period he’d tried to juggle both school and Elle, but he’d skipped too many lessons and his grades had suffered immensely, so after only a few weeks he’d given up. He’d hated school even before Lex got pregnant. Now more than ever he had a valid reason not to go back.
Kate, however, valued a good education, at least to the point of terrorizing him with books and papers as often as she could. “I brought doughnuts,” she announced cheerfully. She was a direct contrast to him. She tried to lighten up the room and nowadays he was almost grateful for it. If Kate hadn’t been around to keep his spirit up, he wasn’t sure he could be as cheerful around Elle as he wanted to. Of course, in the beginning, he’d done all he could to stay out of Kate’s way because she was just too upbeat.
“How splendid,” he muttered as she bounced in to the kitchen.
“Where’s the little Niblet?” Kate requested. “Got a present for her.”
“She’s crawlin’ around,” Fred said, turning to face her. “Don’t wind her up; she’s still a bit sick.”
“Oh, poor honey!” Kate whimpered. “She’ll be fine, right?”
“Yep,” he replied shortly. He was still trying to feed Alex some breakfast. At three years old, Alex was his youngest brother and by far the easiest one to handle. Kate sat down on the chair next to him and watched curiously as Fred tried to maneuver some porridge into Alex’s mouth without spilling the milk and jam over the table. At the last second, Alex turned his head away and slapped the spoon to the right.
Kate giggled amusedly. “He’s such a cutie.”
“Shut up, Katie,” Fred muttered and quickly looked over to the other side of the kitchen to keep an eye on Elle at the same time. She was sitting at her favorite spot on the floor, chewing on one of Alex’s toy cars. “Could you take that from her?”
“What?” Kate asked dimly, looking in the other direction, as Mac, another one of Fred’s brothers, came strolling in from the living room.
“Hey Mac, could you take that car away from Elle?” Fred asked instead. Mac was much easier to instruct, but would put up much more of a fight before actually doing it. Mac was only two years younger than him, and had no patience at all for small children – or the world in general.
“Tell her yourself, s’your little brat in the first place,” Mac muttered, but went over to Elle anyway. Fred assumed Mac took some sort of pleasure in taking toy’s from children, as he loved doing it.
“Could you stop calling her that?” Fred said, remembering Lex’s plea from last night.
“What? I always call her that.”
“Well, could you stop with it?”
“Why? Then she’ll grow up thinking she’s not and that’d be like lying to her.”
“Just don’t call her that!” Fred snarled angrily.
“Why the hell not?” Mac went on aggressively.
“Because Lex doesn’t want you to, alright?” Fred explained sternly.
“So why didn’t you just say so,” Mac muttered, opening the refrigerator door and rummaging around to find something to eat. Fred wasn’t sure why, but Mac seemed to at least respect Lex enough to listen to what she had to say. That was more than he’d ever done to Fred. Fred even believed there actually existed some compassion inside of Mac for what had happened to Lex and to Elle.
Kate watched as Mac and Fred glared at each other, before Mac retreated back into the living room with a pack of ice-cream in his hand. “Glad you two’re getting along,” she said pointedly.
“Just leave it, McKinley,” Fred sighed.
“If you want, I could try to feed him. I’m not wearing any exclusive designer clothes today, so it’s totally doable.”
“You sure? I could use some help. I still have to wake up Seb in time so he can pack his stuff together for his practice and drive him to school.”
“No problem. You can take Elle, and I’ll stay here with Alex. He’s too old for drooling, right?”
“You’ll be surprised what small children can accomplish,” Fred rolled his eyes. Kate could actually be helpful to have around most of the time. She was one of the few that hadn’t yelled at him for hours after he told her about Elle. Kate was quite supportive in her own special way – as long as the babies didn’t ruin her clothes in some way she stood by him a hundred percent. “How was school today, Katie?” he asked sarcastically.
“Oh, you know, nobody expects you to actually be there so early at the beginning of the term,” she explained practically. “And it’s almost weekend-”
“-and I need to get my strength back for my important plans,” she rambled on.
“Well… hanging out with you.”
Mac came back and interrupted their conversation by scowling at Fred until Fred couldn’t ignore him anymore. “What’s it now?”
“Your little-, uh, I mean, your kid has crawled out into the hallway. Is she supposed to be chewing on our shoes?”
“Mac,” Fred complained, getting up from his chair. Kate quickly took the spoon away from him to try her success with feeding Alex.
“It’s your kid,” Mac said simply. “You made her so you gotta take care of her.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. Did Mom pay you to say that?” Fred growled. “It wouldn’t kill you to help out once in a while.”
“Not my fault your kid chews at everything, like she’s a dog.”
“At least help me with Alex and Seb,” Fred said tiredly. “I can’t look after all four of you. Please, Mac.”
“Whatever,” he mumbled indifferently. “I gotta go to school. You know; the place where you learn stuff?”
Fred sighed when he heard Mac slam the door closed behind him. “He’s really not making things easier.”
“Well, it’s hard for him,” Kate said happily, making coaxing noises to keep Alex’s interest. “You’re the big brother and you never have time for him. He’s probably jealous of little Elle for getting all the attention. Are you sure you won’t go to school today?”
“Kate, I dropped out months ago. Maybe it’s time you stopped asking when I’ll go back?”
“S’no fun when you’re not around. I don’t have anyone to talk with during lessons. And education is an important thing in life. I want you to graduate high school.”
“If it’s so important, why aren’t you there now?”
“Hey, any idiot can get a high school diploma,” she snorted, then shot him an apologetic grin. “I mean, of those who actually participate in the going to class thing.”
Fred went to pick up Elle from the floor, at the same time as he called out to Sebastian to get out of bed. When he puts his hand on Elle’s forehead, he noticed that she was still considerably warm. “Hey, Kate, you think you can do me a favor?”
“Sure, anything. Unless it involves something yucky or disgusting.”
“I have to stay home with Elle,” he explained. “She’s still got a fever and I don’t want to leave her at home. You think you can drive Seb to school?”
“Can I use your car?” Kate asked excitedly.
“Yeah, sure, why not. Just don’t break anything.”
“I can be your substitute wifey,” Kate suggested with a smile. “Or nanny, maybe? Would you pay me to take care of your offspring?”
“Not if you don’t actually do something worth paying you for,” he shrugged. “Changing a diaper, for instance,” he added when Kate opened her mouth, probably to ask for an example.
“Oh, eww! No way. I don’t know how you put up with this; taking care of children must be the single most trying profession ever!”
Fred simply raised his eyebrows concurringly. It had been difficult; even so before Elle was born, but back then they were two sharing the responsibility and even though it’d been hard, Fred thought it’d been easier when Lex was around; even when he’d had her to take care of. It was nearly impossible now – he knew he had to make things better for them, or Elle would be taken away from him.
“Fred!” Alex suddenly disrupted his thoughts. “Fred!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled. “Come here.” Alex stopped yelling once he was picked up from his high chair and put on the floor.
“Look, Fred, I didn’t mean to-” Kate started, sounding remorseful again.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” he said. “I appreciate your help, you know that. I just really want Lex to come back.”
“I know. I want that too,” Kate smiled.
Elle leaned against Fred’s shoulder for a second, and then sneezed loudly. “Oh, great,” Fred sighed. “I think I hafta take her to the doctor again. Like it’s not complicated enough anyway.”
“I’ll take you,” Kate promised. “I’ll go tell Seb to hurry up, and then we’ll all go, first dropping him off, and then taking the little bit to the doctor.”
“Someone has to look after Alex,” Fred protested dejectedly.
“He can tag along. It’s easier if we’re two.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
It was tearing Fred’s heart apart that he couldn’t manage to live his life like he wanted to; with total control and all the knowledge he needed; with enough calm to take care of both Elle and handle his own life. That was obviously not going to happen.
He loved Elle, probably as much as he loved Lex. He never really allowed himself to compare the two, as he loved them in very different ways, but it was important to him that they knew how much love he had for them.
Elle was his main priority in life. If she hadn’t been, he probably would’ve tried much more at bringing Lex home. The thing was; they were both aware of what they’d risk if he went about and did something that would have serious repercussions. Elle would without a doubt be put in foster care if Fred didn’t watch his steps; Lex’s father had made sure that the rules around Lex were strict enough for neither of them to try something as stupid as running away. It would be illegal for Fred to bring Lex out-of-state and if he did something illegal, Elle would be put in foster care. Lex had specifically forbidden him to ever even consider it.
Although, it wasn’t taking care of Elle that was wearing him out. He didn’t find it too hard to take care of her, considering he’d spent most of his life taking care of his younger brothers. It was the rest of his life that was difficult. Elle wasn’t one of those chores he had to do; Elle was his daughter and the most important part in his life. Right now, the only real meaning behind it all; he’d fight to the death to avoid losing Elle like he’d lost Lex.
As Kate shooed at Sebastian to hurry up in time for school, Fred dressed Alex and Elle in their outdoor clothes. It was the beginning of September and a bit chilly outside, especially for children their ages. Sebastian ate and packed his bag within ten minutes, much faster than if Fred had been the one to shoo him on. For some reason, Sebastian had the utmost respect for Kate. This made Kate delighted, of course.
Elle and Alex decided to have a minor fight in the elevator regarding whose turn it was to push the button. To Fred’s knowledge, Elle was too young to see the difference between a button and a particularly interesting string of yarn, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of sibling rivalry and the fact that Elle just liked to fight with Alex, no matter what it was about.
“They’re lively creatures,” Kate commented amusedly, watching as Elle directed a kick at Alex’s arm.
“I’m never having more than one. Somebody ought to neuter my parents,” Fred groaned, moving Elle to his other arm. “Don’t kick, Elle.”
“D’you know if she understands you when you tell her what not to do?” Kate asked curiously.
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to that chapter in the instruction manual yet,” he said sarcastically. “She might very well be ignoring me.”
“Don’t you read baby books?”
“Well… I actually haven’t gotten to that chapter yet,” he mumbled thoughtfully. “I’m only at the part where it says if you have a gifted or stupid child.”
“Elle’s stupid,” Alex piped up, once again dodging a well directed kick. “Stupid girl.”
“Stop it, both of you. Elle, what did I just say?” he muttered. Elle looked at him with a blank expression.
Kate giggled. “Were you expecting her to answer?”
“You never know,” Fred smiled briefly. “She might be one of the gifted ones.”
“Stupid,” Alex added, as they arrived at garage floor. Both Sebastian and Alex hurried off to find the car.
“Are they supposed to argue so much?” Kate said.
“I guess. Mac and I fought all the time when we were kids… you know, unlike the harmonic atmosphere we’ve got goin’ on nowadays.”
Kate giggled again. “I mean, do Alex think of her as his sister?”
“I think they both do. Elle grew up with them. The only one who doesn’t think of her that way would be Mac, but he’s too old, I guess.”
“That’s cool. She gets to have two older brothers to fight with – must make her the toughest baby on the street.”
“Well, it makes me the most worn-out parent in the city,” Fred said. “But being around small kids has improved my habit of swearing.”
“You shouldn’t cuss around them!”
“I meant that I use fewer swearwords!” he rolled his eyes. “Ditz.”
“Hey!” she laughed. “You’re much more of a ditz than I am. Everyone we know says so.”
“Good thing I don’t know that many, then.”
Fred was glad he had access to a car. Even if they lived in the city, it was very practical to own a car so he could get around to places even off the island. It was his car, so he didn’t need permission to borrow it and he didn’t have to worry about someone else using it. He’d had it before Elle was born; he doubted he could afford one now, when his father was controlling his money much stricter than before.
Alex and Sebastian filed into the car while Kate fastened Elle in her car seat. “Can I still drive?” she begged.
“Nope. I know your driving. And it’ll go faster if I drive since you don’t know where Seb’s school is.”
“No! Be quiet now, McKinley. Begging gets you nowhere.”
“You’re no fun when you’re acting all parentally,” she smiled, getting into the car.
“I have to have someone to practice on so I know how to handle my daughter when she gets older,” Fred smiled back, then looking at his brothers in the rearview mirror. “Seb, would you mind putting on Alex’s seatbelt?”
“Fine. Isn’t he old enough to know how to do that himself?” Sebastian complained. “I knew it when I was three.”
“Please, the only thing you knew was how to pick your own nose,” Fred snorted, which made Alex giggle. “Hurry up now, you’re late for school.”
After dropping off Sebastian at his private school in the middle of the city, during protests that he’d suddenly caught Elle’s sickness and had to be home from school because of it, Fred took Elle to her pediatrician’s surgery. It cost a lot more to have her go to a private doctor, but Fred knew he could afford it – as he’d promised Lex, he would give Elle the very best he could of everything, that including the best health care.
“Bored,” Alex whined after two minutes in the waiting area. He was randomly kicking at the seat of the chair he was sitting on, since his feet didn’t reach to the edge. He’d made a few attempts at starting another fight with Elle, but she was tired and had rather ignored him. She was crawled up in Fred’s arms, leaning her head against his shoulder.
“Please be patient,” Fred pleaded, knowing Alex would make a huge scene if he got restless enough. Fred also hated waiting; keeping still for more than a few minutes at a time was more difficult than you’d think. “Go play with the toys.”
Alex looked over at the corner of the room where a playroom and toys could be found. “Don’t wanna.”
“Of course not,” Fred sighed forcefully.
Kate jumped up from her chair. “Hey, kiddo, let’s go play with the toys while Fred and Elle waits here, alright? I bet they have lots of cool cars and stuff,” she suggested cheerfully, holding out her hand for Alex. He reluctantly followed her.
“Thanks, Kate,” Fred smiled at her.
“Oh, don’t mention it. Toys are more fun than waiting anyway.”
Elle’s doctor couldn’t do much more for her now than before. Fred had suspected that all along, but still felt better now when he knew she wasn’t dreadfully sick. Alex was also in a much better mood when they finally left the building. “I know what we should do,” Kate said as they walked towards the car. “We could go eat something. Hamburgers sound good, doesn’t it?”
“We don’t have time. I’ve got a lot to do today,” Fred muttered.
“Nothing you can’t postpone ‘til tomorrow,” Kate went on happily. “C’mon, the toddlers deserve it.”
“Kate, Elle barely eats solids. Givin’ her a hamburger would be like expecting her to drive us home.”
“Oh, we can treat her to her very first milkshake and watch her spaz out!” Kate laughed. “I remember my first sugar high-”
“You’re on a constant sugar high,” Fred pointed out. “Experimenting with sugar-highs on my daughter is not something I approve of. I very much like having the custody of her, you see.”
“Well, we can try it on Alex. I bet he won’t mind.”
“Shut up, Katie.”
“I want to,” Alex announced.
“I’m sure you do,” Fred said. Alex and Kate both watched him intently until he sighed again. “Fine, we’ll go eat a hamburger,” he obliged. “No sugar-highs, though.”
“Yay,” Kate said, making Alex imitate her. Fred rolled his eyes at them. Kate could be the biggest child of them all sometimes.
Elle squealed dissatisfiedly, trying to get down on the ground. “No, Elle, stay here,” Fred told her. Elle whined when she wasn’t able to loosen his grip around her. Fred tried to keep her in his arms, but she simply twitched and turned too much that he had to let her down.
“I can carry her if you want,” Kate offered, still holding Alex’s hand.
“No, it’s alright, she just wants to stand for a while,” Fred explained. “It’s her favorite activity now when she knows how to do it.”
“I can stand,” Alex said loudly.
“We know you can,” Kate agreed to humor him.
Fred crouched down to allow Elle to hold on to his hands while she balanced on her feet, unsteadily, checking out the surrounding. As Fred expected, Elle lost interest after a few moments and tried to sit down, so he scooped her up in his arms again. “Let’s go. How ‘bout Burger King?”
“Oh, can’t we go to Arby’s?”
“Do they even have hamburgers?” Fred asked suspiciously. “Isn’t that off the island, too?”
Kate started to object, but Alex piped up to interrupt them. “Burger King!”
“Fine,” Kate sulked. “Lucky you’re a baby.”
“I’m no baby,” Alex protested.
“Let’s just go,” Fred hurried to say, before it evolved into a ridiculous argument.
Kate smiled. “You know, it’s quite nice to spend ones days like this. I don’t understand why people complain so much about having children.”
Fred glared at her quietly, refraining from pointing out how she wasn’t actually the one having children. “Kate-”
“I mean, it must be easier, ‘cause we’re two, but still… I know I’m no Lex, but she wouldn’t have hated it, you know; if she was here,” she went on untiringly, without realizing how crude she was being. Not that she was ever aware of her crudeness, but Fred sometimes wished she’d know when she was talking too much.
Kate was partly right, though, despite the fact that she hadn’t faced any of the things he had. It was easier when they were two. Lex wouldn’t have hated taking care of Elle. Most of all, Lex deserved to get to be the one who was there instead of Kate. Kate was a good babysitter, but she would never be Elle’s female role model, replacing Lex as some sort of substitute mother. Kate wasn’t, at this point in her life, a good mother, nor did she try to be. Elle didn’t have any kind of bond with her at all; Fred hoped to keep it that way so not to confuse Elle when Lex finally returned.
Lex would return, that much he was certain of. It would take a little longer than he first thought, but she would eventually come back.
Suddenly he was struck by the most excruciating longing for her. He put his hand on the roof of the car, trying to stay steady. It felt like an empty hole in his stomach; the desire to have her back was taking over him completely. He took a deep breath. He had to have her back. He just simply had to find a way to see her again, even if it was only for a minute or two. It was killing him how life could go on without her.
Fred refused to let the circumstances rule his life. Life would be altogether better if he found away around all the restrictions regarding Lex.
And as swiftly as the emotions had gotten a grip of him, he suddenly knew exactly what to do.