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 6. Woes in Dating
Fred leaned against the wall outside the motel they were staying at overnight, hoping desperately that Lex would call him soon. He hadn’t heard from her in days, and they were getting closer to Houghton, the city nearby where Lex’s school was located. Fred wasn’t going to let Lex know that they were coming; it was too risky to let anyone know before they’d gotten there. He still had to contact her, though, so he’d know where to go when they arrived at the school.
Fred threw worried glances over towards Kate’s room. He’d left Elle by herself there, with Jeff and Kate in charge. He wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea; the two of them had argued over the tiniest issues during the many hours they’d been driving.
They were staying in Marquette for the night, driving the rest of the distance tomorrow morning. Fred was so tired of being in the same car as Kate and Jeff that he’d gladly put off the trip for another day if he could – and if the urge to see Lex hadn’t been so complete.
Finally, after another ten minutes of impatience, his cell phone started vibrating in his hand. “Hello?” he hurried to answer.
“Hey, it’s me,” Lex greeted him.
Fred took a deep breath. “I was startin’ to think you wouldn’t get a chance to call.”
“I had to sneak out, but it took a while before everyone was asleep,” she whispered weakly. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” he mumbled. “Had a long, annoying day and Jeff and Kate won’t stop fighting-”
“Jeff?” she asked with an encouraged voice. “You talked to Jeff?”
“Uh, yeah. We got together, talked about Elle and you and stuff,” Fred said; he’d completely forgotten he hadn’t told Lex about that yet. “Y’know, t’was startin’ to get ridiculous, us not talking and all.”
Lex was quiet for a second. “You didn’t argue?”
“No, we just talked. He misses you, and I brought Elle along so she could meet him.”
“You did that for me?”
“Well, it was a little for Elle, too,” Fred smiled. “But yes, we’re gettin’ along because of you.”
“I thought you didn’t like each other,” she mumbled, mostly to herself. “It’s really nice of you to get along with him on my account.”
“You know I’d do anything for you,” Fred stated firmly. “And Elle likes him. I swear she does.”
“How is she?”
“She’s much better. The cold is gone and she loves it when she gets so much attention from both Jeff and Kate.”
“Yeah. She doesn’t get along too well with Jeff, but they’re mostly drivin’ me mad.”
Lex giggled quietly. Fred loved when she was happy. “Has she learnt anything new yet?”
“Not really. She waves a lot; even if nobody’s leaving,” he said, trying to remember what else Elle had recently started doing. “Oh, and she can almost say dada and mama; I’d reckon it’ll take another month or so before she’s gotten the hang of it.”
“Yeah. And she’s gettin’ really good at chucking food around,” he continued. Lex laughed again. “And Mac’s stopped calling her a brat. He calls her little sis now, for some reason. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be an insult. Probably not.”
“Is she sleepin’ already? It’s not that late there, is it?” Lex asked hopefully.
Fred hated not being entirely honest with her; he had to pretend he was still in New York, just about to be getting ready for bed. “Yeah, I think so,” he replied guilty, hoping she wouldn’t notice. “You know we’re in the same time zone.”
“I meant, is it too late for Elle to be up, still?” Lex said.
“Yeah, a little,” he said earnestly, checking his watch. It was half an hour past Elle’s usual bedtime.
Lex sighed sadly. “I wish I knew more about her.”
“You’ll get into it once you’re back,” Fred promised her. “I didn’t know anything in the beginning either. If I could figure it out, so can you.”
“Thanks, Fred. Listen, I think I have to go. I nearly got caught last time,” she explained worriedly. “If they find out, I’ll never be able to call you again.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Hey, Lex?”
“At night, do you sleep with the window open or something?” he asked.
“What? Eh, no.”
“Just do me a favor, alright?”
“Okay…” she said hesitantly.
“Tomorrow when you go to bed, place something in your window that can be spotted from outside, alright?”
“Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“Please, just trust me on it. You have to go now; they’ll find you.”
“But-” she objected. “Well, yeah, I better go. I don’t get it, though.”
“You’ll see. Goodnight.”
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I love you too.”
Jeff and Kate were sitting on his bed when he got back; for the first time since this morning, they didn’t appear to be arguing at all. Kate was holding Elle while she was bouncing up and down on the bedspread. “Look, Fred! She loves the bouncing!” Kate smiled happily. “I taught her that.”
Fred rolled his eyes. “I’m sure you did. Sod off now. Elle needs to sleep.”
“Aww, she’s so cute,” Kate continued babbling, not listening to a single word he said. “Did ya talk to Lex?”
“What’d she say?” Jeff asked curiously.
“Just that she misses us,” Fred guessed, not really remembering everything they’d talked about.
“Me too?” Kate wanted to know.
“Yes, ditz, she always misses you,” Fred replied sarcastically. He couldn’t recall Lex ever asking about Kate’s whereabouts unless it had to do with Elle. Kate seemed satisfied with that answer and went back to entertaining Elle. “She’ll probably leave something in the window for us to see tomorrow night.”
“Did she understand why you asked her to do that?” Jeff said.
“I don’t think so. She’ll think something’s up, but I don’t think she’ll figure out what.” Fred went over to the bed, wrapping his arms around Elle and picking her up to get her ready for bed. “Get out now, you two.”
“Fine, fine,” Kate muttered, swinging her legs off the bed. “Did you ask her out?”
Fred stared at her confusedly. “What? Why would I do that?”
“Well…” Kate shrugged, also looking confused. “I don’t know. What’d you do then?”
“I mean… What do you say to her when you want to go out with her?”
Fred sighed. “What the hell are you on about?”
“I don’t know!” Kate exclaimed wildly. “How do you do it, then? When you want to see her? Is the rules suddenly different because you’ve dated her for so bloody long?”
Fred finally started to understand what she was trying to say. “I don’t know how you do it, but if I wanted to do something with her I’d probably suggest it and then we’d make up some plans about it,” he said loudly.
“So why didn’t you just say so?” Kate asked moodily. “Takes you forever to get something out.”
“Takes you forever to get out,” Fred growled, shoving her towards the door. “Take a nap, McKinley.”
Kate shrugged again. “Good thing, though. That you don’t have to ask her out every time, I mean. You were awful at chatting up girls.”
“Thanks for your input. Could you be so kind and leave now?”
“Not that it ever mattered,” Kate went on. “It’s just unfair that it’s so easy for you.”
“Oh, yes, I have it so easy,” Fred rolled his eyes.
Kate turned around, her hand resting on the door handle. “I remember when you were to ask out Lex the first time. You just went up to her and asked her, without even panicking about it beforehand. That is just too unfair.”
“Well, if I like someone, why would I put off wanting to talk to her?” Fred asked simply. “You just have to walk up to her and ask her if she wants to go out with you, and if she doesn’t, that’s no big deal, and if she does, that’s great.”
“You could at least be a bit anxious about it,” Kate muttered. “But I guess you could be the most reserved guy on the planet and still get loads of dates. Us normal people don’t have it that easy.”
“What?” Fred asked again.
“C’mon, you’re the star hockey player and popular and nice and all that handsome that guys your age shouldn’t be allowed to be-”
“You mean previous star hockey player, nowadays single father of seventh month old toddler?” Fred corrected her. “I couldn’t get a date even if I wanted to.”
“Please, toddlers are practically chick magnets,” Kate said. “Which is also unfair, because a single mom wouldn’t get any attention at all.”
“Could you shut up?” Fred wondered. “I’m not looking for a date and I don’t care if it’s unfair or not, I just want to put Elle to bed and maybe get some sleep before I have to deal with you again.”
Kate frowned gloomily. “I’m just saying you have it easy.”
“Get out, McKinley.”
Kate departed hastily, shutting the door behind her with a bang. “Is she really angry?” Jeff asked, finally getting another word in.
“No, she’s pretending to be so I’ll be nice to her later,” Fred said with an uninterested shrug. “It’s not really for real when we argue, you know. Well, not for her. Me telling her to shut the hell up is very genuine.”
Jeff grinned. “I’ll go see where she went.”
“Do that,” Fred suggested. As soon as Jeff had left, he put down Elle on the bed again, reaching for the bag he’d packed for her. “Thought they’d never leave, eh? Now, let’s see if you and I can sort this out; Mom’ll like it, don’t you think?”
Elle watched with curious eyes as he started to unpack all her clothes, nappies, bottles and toys to get to the things at the bottom.
The next morning, he and Elle woke up without any disturbance from Kate. Elle was already stirring and whining as Fred opened his eyes. He felt oddly rested, even though he’d been up twice during the night, feeding Elle. He figured it was the change from having to be up every other hour with her, to only having to be up twice every night, which made him feel rested.
Kate showed up for breakfast at the diner an hour after Fred had woken up. He was scattering small pieces of cereal for Elle to grab and eat with her fingers. Kate sat down opposite them, grabbing the menu. “Good morning,” she chirped cheerfully. “Slept well?”
“It was alright,” Fred said suspiciously. “Why’re you so happy?”
“No reason. What’s baby eating?”
“Elle’s eating cereals with lots of healthy barley in it,” Fred smiled.
“Eww. Don’t let her throw banana at me. I’m wearing new clothes.”
Fred didn’t bother answering. Kate had disappeared after they’d arrived at the motel last night, returning a few hours later with new clothes to wear, as she’d grown tired of wearing the same clothes for two ‘awful’ days in a row, as she’d put it.
“Don’t know,” Kate shrugged casually; a little too casually, Fred thought.
“Killed him in his sleep?”
“Nah. He’s sleeping.”
Fred smiled at her amusedly. “Did you two hook up?”
“No!” Kate said sharply. “Of course not! I’ve known him for two days!”
“You knew him before that, too,” Fred pointed out.
“Whatever,” Kate muttered. “I didn’t know him very well and didn’t bother to, either. It’s not like that.”
“Okay. Sorry,” Fred apologized, surprised how serious she was about it. She’d never before taken it to heart when he questioned her about a crush. “Do you wanna feed Elle while I order for us?” he offered to get her in a better mood.
“Alright,” Kate said happily, having the first mood swing of the day. “Why isn’t she wearing her bib with Tigger on it?”
“It got dirty when you fed her the last time,” Fred explained tiredly. “What’d you want?”
“Pancakes and lots of jam,” Kate replied firmly. “And some of that syrup, if they have any.”
“You got it.”
When he got back from the counter, he spotted Jeff by their table, talking quietly with Kate, who mostly seemed to ignore him. “Hey kids,” Fred announced, sitting down next to Kate. “What’s going on?”
“Nothin’,” Kate said dismissively. “Your little angel sneezed and there’s banana everywhere now.”
“Oh. Did she sneeze a lot?” Fred asked.
“Yes, that’s the important part!” Kate suddenly exploded, out of nowhere. “She sneezes food all over me and the first thing you ask is if she sneezed a lot! No, Fred, your precious baby did not sneeze a lot! Just once and now my clothes are all ruined!”
Fred watched her storm out on the parking lot; she nearly crashed into an older couple in the doorway. “I didn’t see any banana on her shirt,” Fred said confusedly. “What’s with her?”
“I don’t know,” Jeff said simply, also staring after Kate.
Elle’s lower lip quivered dangerously as a result of Kate’s loud shouting. Fred picked her up from the high chair and put her in his lap. “It’s okay, Elle. Don’t cry.”
“She get scared?”
“Yeah,” Fred replied shortly, reaching for one of Elle’s pacifiers in the diaper bag. “Loud and sudden noises scare her. What’d you say to her?”
“Nothing, we were just talking. I didn’t tell her to storm off, you know.”
“Must’ve been something; Kate’s never upset,” Fred said.
“It wasn’t because of me,” Jeff muttered. “Maybe she’s just crazy.”
“Whatever it was, it made her sad,” Fred said pointedly. “Look, Kate can get really weird sometimes, but she rarely gets that angry.”
Jeff grabbed the same menu Kate had been reading earlier. “I don’t know what got into her,” he stated sternly. “I haven’t done anything to her; she just started acting weird when we got back to our room last night. I didn’t say or do anything in particular that could’ve pissed her off.”
“Well, she’s managed to panic Elle,” Fred sighed, hugging Elle softly while she looked around anxiously to make sure that the source of the sound was gone. “Could you maybe go talk to her?”
“Why me?” Jeff asked grudgingly.
“Because she wasn’t in a bad mood when I talked to her, which means whatever she’s moody about wasn’t caused by me. Can’t you just apologize anyway?”
“Is that how you solve disagreements with Lex?” Jeff snorted. “You apologize even when you haven’t done anything?”
“I mostly try not to do stuff that’ll require an apology,” Fred frowned. “And Kate’s probably just overreacting to something you did because she likes you.”
Jeff straightened up, staring at him and mouthing the beginning of what he wanted to say soundlessly. “Eh… How do you mean?”
“I mean, she likes you. As in, she likes you a lot,” Fred tried to explain.
“As a friend, you mean?”
“No,” Fred sighed. “Aren’t you supposed to be the smart one? She’s got a crush on you.”
Jeff continued to stare. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t she have told me about it if that was true?”
“Girls rarely say what’s on their mind, do they?” Fred smiled.
“Yeah, but I thought Kate would,” Jeff mumbled. “She hasn’t shut up since we first met, and she kept ranting about dating me from day one.”
“That’s because she was kidding; she’s always like that, flirting if it doesn’t mean anything. When she likes someone, she stops flirting. It’s weird, but that’s how it works. She’s only outspoken about something when it doesn’t involve who she likes.”
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Jeff complained. “Why can’t she just say what she means?”
Fred shrugged. “Dating can be difficult. So, can you apologize to her now?”
“No, if she can’t admit she likes me, why should I have to take the first step?” Jeff muttered sourly. “Besides, I didn’t come here to have to deal with Kate’s insanity; I came here because of Lex. Kate wasn’t even supposed to be on this trip.”
“You know what? Figure it out yourself,” Fred suggested. “I have too much to worry about than to have time to help you and Kate realize you like each other. You’re just mad because you’re in denial; Lex always says you need to get a clue.”
“A clue? About what?” Jeff snapped. “If she’d had any sort of clue herself, she’d have listened to me and not rushed things with you.”
“This has nothing to do with me,” Fred said simply. Getting into a fight with Jeff was the last thing he wanted at the moment; picking a fight with him wasn’t as easy nowadays as it had been before Elle was born. “Look, you can be as angry at me as you want, but I’m not going to do anything that’ll risk us not getting to Lex in time. And Lex probably meant that you should get a clue regarding your feelings, because you truly suck at admitting that you care about someone.”
“And you’re the master of it, you mean?” Jeff snorted.
“No, but I do know when to get a clue. Well, sometimes, at least.”
“Whatever,” Jeff muttered, getting up from the chair. “I’ll go get the car. Come by when you’re ready to go.”
Fred nodded. “You know, Kate really does like you. That’s why she’s acting that way.”
Elle calmed down immensely after Jeff left, tentatively finishing her bottle before voluntarily letting Fred move her over to her carrier again, without objecting loudly about it.
Fred found Kate lurking outside, around the corner. “There you are,” he smiled. “Listen, Elle’s terribly sorry she sneezed banana on you. Forgive her?”
Kate sighed forcefully, looking at Elle and then rolling her eyes with resignation. “I can never stay angry at Baby,” she said, rushing over to poke at Elle. “Where are we going now?”
“Jeff’s getting the car.”
“D’you want us to leave him behind, maybe?” Fred suggested tiredly. “Don’t be a brat. Just tell him you like him.”
“What? I don’t-”
“For goodness sake, even Elle’s figured out you two are into each other by now!” Fred exclaimed. “You never have a problem with speaking your mind, Katie. Why start now?”
Kate glared at him suspiciously. “You didn’t tell him that, did you?”
“That I like him,” she hissed angrily.
“Kate, come on-”
“How could you do that?!” she asked with a panicked voice. “Now he’ll know!”
Fred just shook his head, moaning deeply, as Kate ran off in the opposite direction. “I give up. This is worse than raising a baby.”