A/N: Over the last couple of years, I've fallen into the habit of writing a fic centered around Christmas that I can share on a daily basis during this time of year, and I truly hope this year's contribution doesn't disappoint. This idea was inspired by a prompt found on the 'castlefanficprompts' tumblr page, which I will be sharing at the end of the story.
And lastly, this piece is for all who have made this past year so special with your wonderful and unwavering support, kindness, and friendship. Words cannot express my gratitude, but thank you all, for everything.
"And I never saw you coming,
And I'll never be the same,
This is a state of grace,
This is the worthwhile fight…
This is the golden age of something good and right and real"
- 'State of Grace', Taylor Swift
Kate guides her daughter through the sea of early Christmas shoppers on the sidewalk and lingering Black Friday buyers still searching for those leftover deals, continuing to check through the corner of her eye as Grace allows her gaze to wander over the plethora of holiday decorations slowly overtaking the city.
"Hungry yet, bud?" she inquires, squeezing Grace's small hand and she squeezes back, but merely shakes her head in reply.
Kate holds back her sigh.
The past three months have been hard on her and Grace, so many changes taking place, heartache a prominent companion for them both, and as much as she wishes the love she has for the little girl walking alongside her while they enter the department store was enough, she already knows it's not. It cleaves her heart in two, stains her pillow with tears nearly every night.
The store is almost as - if not more than - packed as the streets and Kate bends to scoop Grace into her arms before she can become swept up in the tide of human traffic, propping the lanky seven year old on her hip and pressing a kiss to her temple when she rests her head to Kate's shoulder.
"We'll just look around for Grandpa's present and then we'll head home, okay?" Kate assures her, intending to search for a present for her dad, but her true reason for coming into this area of the city today had been to hopefully offer Grace the opportunity for some Christmas spirit.
The tree at Rockefeller was up, the one in Bryant Park too, and most of the major department stores they never stepped foot in had magnificent displays in every window, so Kate had purposely walked her daughter past a few of them, playing tourist on her day off.
Kate had never been one for miracles, let alone the Christmas themed ones, but she wanted nothing more than for Grace to have a good Christmas this year to combat all of the negativity that has plagued them this past year. Her daughter has yet to manage more than a waning quirk of her lips, though.
"Can we make hot chocolate when we get there?" Grace asks, lacing her arms around Kate's neck.
"Sure." Beckett adjusts her hold, still trying to accept that Grace is growing too fast, too tall and heavy to be carried in her mother's arms, and drifts towards the men's section. "We can watch a movie too."
"A Christmas one?"
"Duh," she answers, and while her daughter has seemingly lost the ability to smile over the last few months, she tries, compensating with a kiss to her mother's cheek.
"Love you, Momma," Grace whispers and Kate holds her daughter a little tighter, exhales silently through her nose.
Grace is a smart kid, so very bright and bubbling with potential, but ever since Will…
Her ex had done a number on their daughter, his own aspirations always coming before his family, and after Will had missed one too many of his every other weekend visits, missed Grace's summer dance recital, missed her birthday last month - her daughter had developed a broken heart courtesy of her own father.
Kate had never cared what Will thought of her, how he treated her; they hadn't been a couple in years, not since he'd accepted the job offer in Boston over a decade ago now, and it wasn't until she had made the foolish decision of sleeping with him when he returned for the Angela Candela case seven years ago that any form of connection had held.
That connection being the little girl born of the mistake that had turned into the most unexpected piece of joy in her life.
She and Will had agreed to co-parent separately, no interest in a relationship existing on either end (well, not on hers. It had taken Will a bit of time to stop pursuing the idea of them being a 'happy family' he'd never really planned to partake in), but the father of her child often failed to uphold his end of the bargain.
No, she doesn't care how Will treats her, but his treatment of Grace had always been a priority for Kate, and while he wasn't necessarily a bad father, he wasn't a good one either.
He was decent when he was around, but his presence in Grace's life was so rare, Kate has felt like a single-parent since her daughter had been born - and Will hadn't even made it to the hospital in time, arriving to visit Grace in the nursery a day late.
She doesn't need him, but Grace did. Grace wanted her father and her father had made her feel wholly unwanted nearly two months ago, the last time either of them had seen the man, and she had witnessed the withdraw, the struggle to find joy, to be the exuberant little girl Kate knew her to be. Will had always unintentionally knocked Grace down a few notches, often dropping her off from his weekend visit with their daughter barely able manage more than a faint lift of her lips, but when he'd walked out with such finality, she had failed to bounce back quite as easily.
The impending arrival of the holidays wasn't necessarily helping matters.
"I love her, Kate. I do, but-"
"There shouldn't be a but, Will. She's your daughter, she's-"
"Better off with you. Just you. Look, I'll keep up the child support, double it if you want, but I can't… I'm not benefiting Grace and she isn't benefiting me."
She had slapped him. Hard.
And he had taken it, his jaw squaring with the sting, but the way he had spoken about their daughter, as if she was an inconvenience-
"Look, you know the psychology as well as I do, and we both know that me coming in and out of Grace's life is just going to ruin her," Will had reasoned, genuinely believing he was doing the right thing by permanently withdrawing from their daughter's life, but Kate had only been able to stare back at him incredulously, unable to comprehend how he couldn't love their child as much as she did. "I'm never here, Kate. You are and you're a good mom. That's what she deserves."
"You won't even try for her," Kate had rasped, shaking her head in disbelief, but she wasn't going to fight him anymore because he was right about one thing.
Grace deserved better.
Kate bends once they're deep in the men's department, out of the throngs of human traffic, and places her Grace back on her feet, dusts another kiss to the top of her head.
"Love you too, beautiful girl," she murmurs, smoothing back the fringe of her daughter's bangs and reclaiming her hand, too paranoid about losing her in the store after all of the kidnapping cases she's witnessed and worked.
Grace trails along patiently by her side, swinging their clasped hands, swaying to the Christmas music floating through the air. Kate's examining a coat she can picture her dad wearing when she hears her daughter gasp, and immediately cuts her gaze to Grace, but the girl staring ahead, balanced on her tiptoes to watch the man a few feet away trying his best to right the giant toy soldier that is wobbling precariously.
There's a redheaded teenager standing beside him, covering her face with her hands, but there's laughter in her cheeks, and then there's laughter spilling free from Grace's lips.
Kate nearly gapes at her daughter, giggling quietly at the man who's making quite the show of struggling with the massive decoration, purposely embarrassing who she assumes is his own daughter, and in turn, eliciting an elusive sound of joy from hers.
The man, a somewhat familiar looking man, succeeds in placing the soldier upright once more, but its tall, black hat tumbles free, rolls towards Kate and her daughter, who releases her hand to race for it.
"Grace," she huffs, slinging the coat back onto the wrack and trotting after her daughter to keep up with her. "Hey, wait up."
"I'm helping, Momma," she volleys back over her shoulder, stopping to bend in front of the cylinder hat fixture that's practically the length of her entire body, and wrapping both arms around the piece.
By the time Grace is standing with the thing and Kate has caught up with her, so has the joker who somehow made her daughter laugh.
"Hey there, thank you so much," the man… oh, no, not just a man after all. Her favorite author, the face she's often seen on the back of her favorite book jackets, Richard Castle.
The rare sight of Grace with a genuine smile on her face has receded, but she manages a shy lift of her lips for the man who relieves her of the headpiece, offering his own smile in return.
"You're welcome," Grace whispers, walking backwards until she bumps into Kate's legs, tilting her head back against her mother's thigh to look up at her. "See? I helped."
"Yes, you did," Richard Castle chimes in, the teenager Kate had noticed earlier approaching from behind, shooting Kate a sheepish smile over her father's shoulder while the author grins at her. "Hi, sorry about that."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Kate shrugs, because really, if anything, it's the opposite and she wishes she could tell him that, share the miracle of her daughter's laughter with someone else. "Thanks for making her laugh."
Rick Castle's grin widens and he beams down at Grace before glancing over his shoulder to smirk at the girl now at his side. "At least someone still finds me funny."
"Try living with him," the girl responds, but amusement lines her mouth, affection in her eyes before they subtly widen. "Dad, we're being so rude! Hi, I'm Alexis."
The girl, Alexis, sticks her hand out with a polite smile and Kate has no choice but to accept, shaking the teenager's hand while Grace inches closer, her lips curling ever so slightly in the corners when Alexis grasps her hand too.
"And I'm her dad, Rick," Castle introduces, unnecessarily, but Kate nods her greeting, drops her hands to Grace's thin shoulders.
"Kate. And this is Grace."
There is a part of her that so badly wants to ask him to stick around, share the secret on how to bring joy to her heartbroken child with such ease, but she bites her bottom lip, swallows it down. He may be a best-selling author with a daughter of his own, but he was still a stranger and-
"You're the guy on Mommy's books."
Kate's cheeks catch fire the second the words are out of her daughter's mouth, the flames cascading down the skin of her throat when Rick directs his attention to her with the mischief twinkling in his eyes like the Christmas lights decorating every inch of the store.
Kate sputters, tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "No, that's not-"
"Isn't he?" Grace inquires with a furrowed brow, tilting her head back against Kate's thighs again, and she sighs in defeat, keeps her eyes on her kid to avoid the embarrassment of meeting Richard Castle's.
"Yeah, sweets. Good memory," Kate smiles softly, grateful for the dull glimmer of pride in her daughter's eyes, self-confidence not too frequent of a visitor for her these days.
"You read my books?" Castle asks, satisfaction in his gaze that irks her, but pure curiosity as well, interest, and tenderness when his eyes flicker between Kate and her daughter.
"On occasion," she muses. "They're not too bad."
"Not too bad?" he echoes, raising a hand to his chest before transferring both palms to Alexis's head, covering her ears. "You'd insult me like this in front of my own child?"
"Dad," Alexis groans, swatting at his hands until he releases her.
"Teenagers," he mutters, bumping his daughter's shoulder while Kate spares a glance at Grace, catching sight of not only the amusement swirling through her features, but the longing.
The image of what a father and daughter should be.
"Care to give me a more detailed review of my books?" Castle quips, nodding towards the exit to the store, and Kate instantly opens her mouth to decline when he continues. "Alexis and I were going to grab something to eat. You guys are more than welcome to join us."
Grace doesn't say it, but she looks up at Kate, gentle pleading in her eyes, but she won't ask, always unwilling to ask for anything. Something that needs to be remedied.
"What do you think, bud?" Kate murmurs, arching her brow when Grace hesitates. "We can hang out with Alexis and Mr. Castle for a few minutes if you want."
"What about Grandpa's present?" she whispers and Kate combs her fingers through the chestnut locks of Grace's hair, short and curling just below her ears.
"We can come back, I don't think I was going to find something for him today anyway," Kate assures her and Grace chews on her bottom lip, a habit she undoubtedly picked up from Kate, and nods her head.
"Any preferences?" Castle inquires, meeting Kate's eyes, a look of approval and intrigue in his gaze, before hooking an arm through his daughter's and leading the way out of the store.
Kate quickly comes to realize throughout the hour they spend at the diner that Grace Beckett adores Richard Castle and his daughter, Alexis, warming to the two far faster than she's ever witnessed her take to people she's never met.
And aside from the gain of her daughter's approval and the foreign ability to elicit a true smile Kate hasn't seen more than mere traces of in far too long, Beckett finds that she likes the father and daughter too, wouldn't mind seeing them again.
"Walk you guys to the subway?" Rick asks once dinner is finished and paid for, the check split upon her insistence, another instance that had him looking at her with those golden flecks of intrigue in his eyes, something she wanted to examine more closely and run from at the same time.
"Sure," Kate replies, adjusting the knit beanie on Grace's head, ensuring the tiny shells of her ears are adequately covered before allowing her daughter to hop down from her chair.
"Momma, can I walk with Alexis?" Grace asks as they start down the sidewalk, the sun beginning to set and the frigid chill of December sweeping through the air.
Kate glances up from her daughter's request to locate the teenager only a few steps ahead, nodding in reply when Beckett subtly quirks one of her eyebrows in question, and offering her gloved hand out for the younger girl.
"Yeah, just stay close," she agrees, releasing Grace's hand and letting her skip ahead to latch onto Alexis's.
"Well, looks like you found yourself a potential future babysitter," Castle chuckles from beside her, his hands in his coat pockets and his eyes soft on his daughter and hers. "You're a good mom, by the way."
"And you're a good dad," she parrots, stealing a glance of him from the corner of her eye. "Thank you."
"For what? You wouldn't let me pay for dinner," he huffs and Kate rolls her eyes, nudges him with the bump of her elbow.
"For inviting us to dinner and - and for making Grace smile so much," she murmurs, pursing her lips against the cold, against the inquisitive flicker of his eyes on her.
"Bad day?" he asks softly, and oh, how she wishes it were just that.
"Bad month," she corrects with a rueful smile. "She's… she's an extraordinary little girl, but she doesn't believe it. Not anymore."
"Why not? Like I said, you're a great mom and you're… oh."
"Oh?" she hums, curving her brow in question, wondering if he's really just figured them out so easily.
"Someone made her doubt it, someone close to her," he murmurs, his lips falling into a frown as those bright blue eyes drift back towards her daughter. "It wasn't you, doubt it was the grandfather you mentioned earlier, so I'd assume-"
"The father," she nods before he can say it, listening to him sigh, the expelled breath creating a blooming cloud from his lips in the dying light.
"Alexis's mother… she was the same," Rick admits, much to her surprise, and she wonders if his heart cracked in the same way for Alexis that hers promptly does, imagining his daughter once feeling the way Grace does now.
"How'd you help her?" Kate breathes, praying for an answer, needing it. "How'd you fix it?"
Castle turns to meet her eyes, offering her a gentle smile, one that lets her down and comforts her in the same instance.
"You don't fix it, you can't, but as for helping her? You already are, Kate," he states, the conviction brimming in his irises. "Whatever her dad did, whatever he said that inflicted that wound, will always be there, but if you keep being the parent she needs, the mother she deserves, she'll be okay. You both will."
She's surprised - horrified - when she has to blink to dispel the sting of moisture blurring her view of the city lights all around them, the threat of tears, but it's just… it's really good to hear someone tell her it's going to be okay.
"Yeah?" she whispers, watching the fiery curtain of Alexis's hair shining at her back, Grace's dark honey curls brushing her scarf as the two walk side by side, infusing her with a foreign sense of hope.
"Trust me," Castle promises her, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder, burn through her coat with the warmth of his touch, and Kate turns her head to meet the encouraging blues of his eyes gleaming in the grey of dusk, the curve of his mouth like the crescent of the moon, and she finds that she actually wants to.
Trust him, she wants to trust him.
"Think we can see you guys again?"
Castle beams at her, a lovely beacon in the darkness. "I was really hoping you'd ask that before I had to."