What if Castle & Beckett were given custody of Ryan & Jenny's little girl after their untimely death? Inspired by the movie Life as we Know it. Set mid-season 3, pre Knockdown. Some pieces of canon have been slightly changed.
A/N: See this is what happens when I re-watch movies I always thought would make excellent fics. This isn't going to be too long, but there will be several parts. As i said above, some parts of canon have been slightly changed - they should be obvious within this first section. Enjoy!
"This cannot be happening. What…what were Ryan and Jenny thinking?!"
Kate Beckett threw her hands out to her side in defeat and then continued to pace the Twelfth Precinct's break room. A few feet from her, seated on the well-worn cloth sofa sat a pale infant in a carrier, pink blanket tucked snuggly around her sleeping frame. Beside the baby carrier, against the arm of the sofa, sat her partner. Ever since the news broke Kate had not been able to look directly at either of them; she was simply too stunned.
Didn't they have enough to deal with given the aftermath of the subway derailment? Wasn't it horrible enough that their friends had been two of only three killed? Dozens more were injured, some quite seriously, but only three had lost their lives: Ryan, Jenny, and an eighty year-old-woman on her way home from confession.
The accident had been only eight hours earlier. Names of the deceased weren't public knowledge yet, but of course since Ryan had his badge with him, Montgomery had been one of the first informed. He had then called in Esposito, Kate and Castle, who had dutifully picked up Grace from the babysitter and brought her to the precinct. Without them, she would have been given to child services until a guardian could be determined and none of them wanted that. Still, with the shocking news still settling in, Kate wasn't so sure she wanted this either.
The third adult in the room, a bespectacled man with a rounded middle and thinning black hair nodded solemnly. "Their will is very clear."
"But…but…I just…" Kate's voice drifted off as her pacing stopped. Never in a hundred lifetimes—a million lifetimes—could she have imagined this. Finally, her brain unable to process the stunning news any further, she glanced over to her partner for the first time with a rather helpless expression.
He shrugged, shook his head, and held his hands up in front of him, palms out. "Don't look at me; I'm just as stunned as you are."
Kate let out a noise somewhere between a stunned yelp and a frustrated groan. "A baby—an infant! Grace is only six weeks old! What are we—how are we even—I don't even." Kate turned her back on the two men when she felt her bottom lip begin to tremble. No, she would not cry; not then. She had yet to cry since learning of her colleague's death because she'd been in crisis management mode. There would be a time to grieve, but it wasn't then—not in front of the writer and certainly not in front of a man she had never met before. Kate planted her fists at her hips and breathed in and out slowly through her nose, willing the tears not to fall.
"To be fair," she heard her partner say gently behind her, "I don't think Ryan and Jenny planned on dying when she was so little."
Whipping around, she snapped, "Of course they didn't! They didn't plan on dying at all!"
"Hey!" he said, half whining as he stood off the couch. "Don't get mad at me."
She rounded her shoulders and shook her head. He was right; it wasn't fair for her to take out her frustration on him as their feelings on the situation were probably very similar. "I'm sorry. You're right I just…" She shook her head, rubbed her hands over her face and turned towards the lawyer. "I don't understand. Why wouldn't Kevin and Jenny leave Grace with their parents? And doesn't Kevin have a brother? I don't know about Jenny but…"
"The Ryans were very specific, Detective. They wanted you and Mr. Castle to have custody of Grace. When they spoke with me about it, they seemed so organized and prepared I was sure you were both aware."
"Well we weren't." Kate sighed and walked over towards the couch. As her legs were beginning to feel quite weak from having just ninety minutes of sleep in the prior twenty-four hours, she moved to sit beside the baby carrier but froze just a few inches away.
This tiny, innocent, beautiful creature was now her responsibility. She had done nothing to earn such a responsibility other than be a good friend and colleague. Hell, she wasn't even as close to Ryan as she was Esposito! Yet, out of everyone in the world—over their own parents, no less!—Ryan and Jenny had chosen she and Castle to parent Grace. What a mess.
Gazing down at the fluttering eyelids of the sleeping baby, Kate's chest constricted with anxiety. A parent—she was going to be a parent; a mother. She didn't have nine months to prepare—she didn't even have nine minutes! She could count on one hand the number of times she'd held a baby in her life. She'd never babysat in high school—not even older children. But a baby! A six week old baby! What the hell was she going to do with a baby?
Taking a half step back, Kate shook her head and her deep-rooted fears slipped past her usually iron-clad walls. "I don't know if I can do this." She lifted her chin and looked eyes-wide at her partner. God, Castle.
She wasn't alone in this; he was to be a co-parent, but was that better or worse? Sure, he had a child, but only for a couple years before he'd bailed. What was to say that he wouldn't do the same with this child? Well, perhaps that wasn't fair. Though he didn't talk about it much, she did get the feeling he regretted his decision. Alexis was living in the city now, going to NYU. Kate had even met her once and she seemed to get along well with her father now, but interacting with an eighteen year old was a hell of a lot different than dealing with a baby that only slept three to four hours at a time and needed round the clock care.
Beyond Castle's dedication to fatherhood, how would they even begin to take care of Grace while living separately? Could they? Or would they—god help her—need to live together? Their partnership was finally getting to a good place after—no. No she wouldn't think about her missed opportunity from the prior May. It wasn't Castle's fault or hers; just a misunderstanding. But they were in a good place—a very good place. Dare she think it: they were having fun again. This was sure to rock their relationship—if that's what she wanted to call it—to its core.
"Well," Castle said with a cautious tone. He gazed down at the infant in her carrier, smiled softly, and then turned back to the lawyer. "I could just take her, right? Alone, that is."
The lawyer shook his head. "I'm sorry, but it's not possible for one of you to take her. The will is very clear. If Mr. Castle and Detective Beckett do not agree to adopt Grace together, then she'll go to Jennifer's cousin in Milwaukee."
Castle glanced briefly at Kate then back at the bespectacled man. "Well that's just ridiculous. Why wouldn't Grace go to one of her grandparents? Why would they send her away from everyone here?"
The lawyer shook his head and said, "I'm sorry; I can't answer those questions."
"Could…could you give us a minute please?" Kate requested gently. The layer nodded and exited the breakroom, unfortunately shutting the door a bit too hard in the process. The slam roused Grace from her sleeping state and she began to cry. While Kate froze, the writer swooped in and scooped her up, bouncing her as he walked circles around Kate. Within two minutes she'd quieted, but had not fallen back to sleep.
Kate groaned, raked her fingers through her hair, and sat on the couch beside the new empty baby carrier. "What are we going to do, Castle?"
"Well, now that Mother has finally moved out—again—the loft has two spare bedrooms. One could be yours and one could be hers."
The suggestion was so absurd, Kate actually laughed. "You want us to live together?"
"With Grace being so small I don't see another way. I mean we could alternate weeks or something, but would you really want to? You might not realize it since you haven't experienced it, but trust me when I say it's best to tag-team babies this small. We can swap nights with the baby monitor or something, but it'll be nice if there's a second person there."
Kate sighed as she looked up at him. Damn, she hated it when he was being one hundred percent reasonable; it always threw her off.
"But we don't have to. We can switch every few days. Here." He held out the baby to her, but Kate stood quickly and backed away from him as though the pink bundle held several snakes.
"No I'm good."
An amused expression crossed his face. "Are you afraid of the baby Kate?"
"No! No. I mean, no I just don't want to upset her again. She'll probably start crying if I take her."
"C'mon Beckett. She won't bite."
"No—I—really, Castle—oh." She relented when he put the bundle in her arms and backed away. Grace began to whimper and Kate rocked her, albeit slightly awkwardly. "It's okay, Grace. You're okay…you'll be okay. Oh god I'm horrible at this." She groaned at how foreign sounding the baby-fied tone seemed when coming out of her own mouth.
"No, you're not." Rick promised. "But you'll get better."
As Kate continued to rock, Grace's whimpers quieted until she gazed up at Kate with her big, round, blue eyes. Kate almost saw curiosity in the girl's eyes, as though she was wondering who this strange woman was and when her parents would be back to get her. At this gut-wrenching thought, Kate felt the tears prick her eyes once more.
Grace was an orphan. Both her parents were gone before she even had a chance to know them, but she knew them and so did her partner. They could raise Grace in the city where her parents lived, where they fell in love. She could visit with her grandparents, her Uncle Javier, and with everyone else important in her parents' lives. Though Kate had never strongly felt the need to become a mother, in that moment she felt a sense of duty she could not ignore.
Gazing up at her partner, she sniffed back her tears and said, "We have to make this work."
He grinned at her. "I agree. So…you'll move into the loft tonight?"
She gave a half laugh. "Guess I don't have much choice."
"Not really. Oh!" He grimaced and she gazed at him questioningly. "It's just…Josh won't be very happy about this, will he?"
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Josh is spending six months in Africa. He left a few weeks ago." Kate walked over to the couch and set Grace down gently in her carrier before turning back to the writer, who still looked a bit confused.
"So you're…broken up?"
She shrugged and then nodded. "Basically. He didn't tell me he was going until a few days before. I said I wasn't sure I wanted to wait, he said he didn't care. Honestly…it was falling apart anyway. He was so busy, I was so busy—we hardly saw each other. I used to like that about our relationship—how we both led separate lives, but still had time for each other. But…the longer it went on I guess it just felt more and more separate."
He bobbed his head. "Makes sense. For what it's worth: I'm sorry."
She shook her head. "Don't be; it's fine. But I appreciate that nonetheless." Then, shoving her hands down into her pants pockets she stepped forward and asked tentatively. "We can do this right?"
"Totally. Piece of cake." He waved his hand flippantly. She gave him an annoyed look and he relented. "I'm not going to tell you it'll be easy, Kate. It's going to be hard, really hard, but I think we can do it."
She gave him a half smile. "Partners, right?"
He bobbed his head. "Partners."
Kate glanced up briefly when she heard the sound of bare feet slapping against the stairs. She shook her head and turned back to the pile of clothes beside her on the couch. She folded a t-shirt and tucked it back into the laundry basket now filled with clean clothes just as she felt the couch sink beneath the weight of another human. Barely the first week of April and he was barefoot already—just thing to add to the list of reasons why Richard Castle was insane. Bare feet! She nearly shivered at the thought. She was just glad she finally didn't have to wear an extra sweatshirt around the apartment!
"She go down easy tonight?" she asked a minute later, placing another t-shirt in the basket.
The writer hummed. "She was in and out during that last bottle, too. I think the fresh air on our walk tired her out; we should do that more often."
"Well now that it's nicer out, we probably can." After folding her last laundry item—a pair of NYPD sweat pants—Kate turned around to that she faced the writer on the couch instead of the opposite direction. He lounged with one foot on the ground and the other resting casually against the edge of the coffee table. He wore gray sweat pants and a navy blue t-shirt, keeping things just as casually as he had for the prior three weeks—ever since the trajectory of their lives had been forever altered.
The previous twenty-two days had unquestionably been the most difficult of Kate's life. Not only did she and Castle have to figure out how to live together without driving each other insane, but they also needed to do so while operating on little sleep and taking care of a very needy, but very little girl. Had it not been for the writer, Kate was certain she wouldn't have made it. Even still, she was barely hanging by a thread. Thank god Montgomery had insisted she take a months-long adoptive-parent leave. If she had to deal with two a.m. feedings and bouts of crying for no reason on top of her shifts she was certain she would have been driven to the absolute brink of her sanity.
Three weeks in she was just finally starting to feel comfortable with feedings, changings, bathing, and two-month-old level entertainment, Kate had never once worried about her partner. From the first moment they walked into the loft together, Castle had been an absolute rock star. He changed diapers with ease. He didn't bat an eyelash at a volcanic-like diaper blow-out that had Kate nearly gagging. And, miraculously, he seemed quite happy with getting up with her for middle of the night feedings whereas Kate was a grumbling, bumbling mess.
When they met three years earlier if someone had told Kate that she would, at one point in the future, begin to idolize Richard Castle, she would have laughed in their face. What a hilarious joke! Only it wasn't so funny. Insofar as parenting, he was absolutely the model she wanted to emulate. Well, perhaps fifteen percent less carefree and more serious, but as a whole he was fantastic. Despite it being a relief that she could depend on him without worrying, his behavior perplexed her quite thoroughly.
"Are you staring at me Beckett?" the writer asked when he cracked one eyelid open.
She let out a breathy laugh. The staring hadn't been intentional. She was merely looking in his direction as she tried to figure him out. "Not exactly. I was just thinking its about time you and I had an honest conversation about a few things."
He opened his chin, gazed down and caught a glimpse of a stain on the sleeve of his t-shirt. He picked up the sleeve, examined it, and then grimaced. Glancing back over to her he asked, "Is it about your raw sexual attraction to me while I'm wearing a shirt stained with baby spit up?"
"About your divorce. About your daughter."
The writer flinched at her second statement and immediately pushed himself up off the couch. "Why would you want to talk about that?" He didn't look at her as he asked the question. Instead, he made his way to the kitchen sink, grabbed a paper towel, wet it under the faucet, and began to scrub at his shirt sleeve.
Kate approached the kitchen as though the man inside it were diffusing a nuclear bomb. "Because the past three weeks have made one thing very clear: that you are a wonderful, attentive, caring, loving parent."
With this comment, he did glance over his shoulder at her. "That's kind of you to say, but I don't see how-"
"Seeing as I'm going to assume that you didn't just magically acquire these skills, I can't help but wonder: you didn't give up Alexis because you didn't want to be a father, did you?"
After picking up his first novel nearly a decade earlier, the detective had been curious about who the writer was as a person. Some internet research revealed a bitter divorce with his wife and a custody settlement that yielded him visitation only once every few months. Further inquiry exposed an interview from Meredith Castle, the ex-wife in question, stating that Richard Castle was far too interested in his budding celebrity lifestyle to be a parent. Later interviews with the writer himself confirmed as much.
Initially, this knowledge had put a bitter taste in Kate's mouth and several years passed before she picked up another one of his books. When they initially met and she was overcome by his flirtatious demeanor, she wanted virtually nothing to do with him. It had taken several months of their forced partnership before she finally realized the real Richard Castle—the man beneath the infamous exterior—was nothing like the persona he put on. The more she got to know him, the less his history with his ex-wife and daughter made sense, yet she chalked it up as youth. He had only been twenty-four when Alexis was born; some people simply weren't ready for parental-level responsibility at that point.
Twenty-two days of watching Castle dote on Grace, attend to her every need, go above and beyond in every conceivable way had changed Kate's perspective entirely. As he would have said: the story didn't make sense. This man was a natural born parent, a natural born caregiver and she began to seriously doubt he would have walked away from his child in the way that was depicted in the media.
When Castle finally turned to face her, the fabric of his sleeve now saturated and sticking to the skin on his arm, he evaded her gaze. When she pressed by saying his name, he responded simply with, "No."
Kate groaned, now frustrated and angry with him. "Then why would you maintain such a story? It makes you seem so-"
Surprised, Kate took a half step back. Who in their right mind would want to come off as an asshole, nearly deadbeat father? Surely not someone as kindhearted as he. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm the bad guy; that story makes me the bad guy."
Kate shook her head and walked around to his side of the kitchen island. "I don't understand."
The writer threw the paper towel he'd been using into the trash with a bit more force than necessary. Looking up to Kate he began his explanation.
"After Meredith told me that she and the director she'd been having an affair with were moving to California and she was divorcing me, I told her I wanted to keep Alexis. She laughed—she laughed in this evil little way and said I'd never win a custody battle because she would fight me to the bitter end. To the bitter end and that's exactly what it turned out to be.
"Her director boyfriend paid for a fancy lawyer who assured me that a single father would never be able to gain custody of a daughter and it became immediately clear Meredith would do anything to win the judge's favor even though she was the one moving out of state. She told Alexis the most vicious things about me and about Mother, most of which weren't true or extreme exaggerations or misrepresentations of the truth. Alexis was only four…she was getting so upset and confused—I couldn't stand hurting her that way so I let her go."
Kate felt the hairs at the back of her neck prickle at the broken sound of his tone. She had never seen this vibrant, impossible-believing man in front of her look so defeated. In a gentle tone she asked, "But why would you let people believe the stories Meredith was telling? Why not try to defend yourself or pitch a different narrative?"
The writer merely shrugged. "It would have turned into he said/she said. Besides, you know how the media can be. They want to believe a juicy, scandalous story about someone famous and that's exactly what she was giving them. Besides, if I kept fighting, the process would have gone on even longer and I couldn't do that to Alexis."
Kate almost growled. As a person who fought for justice for those who had been wronged, she was offended to her very core that a good man like Castle—a person she considered her friend—had been screwed over in such a way. "Meredith is a terrible person."
The writer merely shrugged. "I don't know if I'd say that. She has her faults, for sure."
Kate was even more infuriated by his passive comment. She wanted to tear Meredith to shreds, but he was just rolling over? Why? Then, slowly, as she studied his face, the reason became clearer. Castle had done what he thought was best for his child. He had sacrificed his own happiness—the family he loved dearly—in an effort to lessen his child's pain. It wasn't about him it was about her. Still, that didn't make it right.
Less angry, but still disgusted, Kate shook her head and leaned against the counter. "So none of it was true, was it? When she said you didn't want to be a father? When she said you cheated on her?"
He let out a mirthless laugh. "I'm not saying I was enthusiastic about our marriage, but I never cheated."
Kate shook her head and looked over at the man who suddenly appeared several inches smaller. She took a step towards him and dipped her chin so that she could catch his eye. "I'm so sorry, Castle."
He smiled at her, though it seemed forced. "It's okay, Beckett. Alexis and I are okay now."
Kate tried to mirror his expression but she couldn't bring herself to smile. She knew that he had a good relationship with his daughter now; the girl had stopped by twice so far to visit her new "baby sister." At the same time, Kate hated the fact that he had to wait fourteen years until they had a close relationship again. "But all the time you missed."
He let out a breathy sound. "Yeah I try not to think about that, actually."
As he walked back to the sitting room, Kate followed, feeling slightly guilty. "I'm sorry; I really didn't mean to upset you, but I had to know. I couldn't believe all those things were true—not after seeing you with Grace."
"Well, that's just it—things are going to be completely different with Grace."
"Of course they will be! Rick, listen," Kate walked up to him so she could look him directly in the eye as she spoke. "I swear to you that no matter what happens I would never, ever take Grace from you." At that point, three weeks in, she honestly didn't know what the future held for them. She was merely focusing on keeping herself—and Grace—alive and taken care of, but no matter how the future played out, she knew that moving to the other side of the country with the girl was not even a possibility.
The writer smiled genuinely and reached out to pat her shoulder. "Trust me, Beckett, I am very well aware – and delightfully thankful for—the differences between you and my ex-wife."
They shared a laugh for a moment and then he moved to turn away, but she grabbed his arm and held on to it. "I don't think I've said it enough, or, maybe even at all in the past three weeks but thank you, Rick. For being my partner in all this."
He slid his arm out of her grasp just enough to be able to give her hand a squeeze. "You know I think we make a pretty okay team."
Her jaw nearly dropped. "Pretty okay? The six week old baby we were handed without any notice is not only still living, but thriving. Last week the pediatrician high-fived us. I'd say that's more than okay."
The writer laughed. "Okay—a pretty great team, then."
She nodded, patted his arm, and then walked back to the sitting area to retrieve her basket of clean laundry. As she walked towards the stairs he stopped her and asked, "Did you want to watch some TV or something? After you put that away, I mean."
"Oh," she said with notable surprise. Thus far during their cohabitation they had not spent too much leisure time together. Then again, they had not had much leisure time. Mostly, their non-Grace related time involved them collapsing from exhaustion and trying to sneak in a few hours of sleep or completing a necessary-for-survival task like grocery shopping or laundry. "Um, okay, but just for a bit. I want to get to bed early since I have baby monitor duty tonight."
The writer nodded in agreement. "Just come back down when you're finished; I'll see if there's anything good on. And Kate?"
She paused with one foot up on the bottom step. "Yeah?"
"Thanks for everything you said tonight. It means a lot."
She nodded her head at him. "Anytime, Castle."
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