A/N: I had a very difficult time with this one, I'm not sure why. It may be that it's the end of the story and the muse decided to go on an early vacation. Then when it did come back it sent me off on a tangent that totally didn't fit, so I had to scrap that. At least things finally came together to sneak in for #CastleFanficMonday. I hope you enjoy!

XXXXXX

Rick burst into the loft slamming the door.

"Kate!" he called out, practically jumping out of his skin with excitement.

He rushed to the bedroom, only noticing the sheet of paper fluttering to the floor in passing. He'd get it later, he thought, hurrying through the office.

"Kate?" he called again.

No answer and the bedroom was empty.

Rick winced.

He'd come barreling into the apartment like a freight train. He hoped Eric hadn't been asleep.

He quickly and silently ran up the stairs. He still hadn't heard anything, and he was positive Kate would have come yelling if he'd screwed up naptime.

Sure enough, Eric's room was empty as well.

Castle completely deflated. He had been so excited to show Kate what he'd found out at the department store. He hadn't signed up yet, but had picked up a flyer to see what she thought before doing so.

But where did they go?

Rick's phoned pinged and he pulled up the text.

"Hey babe, you home yet? Did you get my note?"

Note? What note?

Texting back a "Hang on" as he went back downstairs, Rick looked around the living room, but didn't see anything resembling a note. Then he remembered the piece of paper that had fallen.

"Now where did that go?" he asked himself as he walked into the kitchen. Then he saw a corner peeking out from under the refrigerator.

"Aha!" he exclaimed and began to read.

Rick,

Would you believe I got called in for a meeting at 1PP? I know, right? It shouldn't be too long, I hope. Eric's with Dad if you want to pick him up, though I know Dad wants to spoil him rotten. Shoot me a text when you get this. I love you,

Kate.

Rick pulled his phone back out of his pocket and began typing.

"Really? A meeting? What about being on leave? Maybe you should have brought Eric along to remind them you're off work for another month. :)"

He ran out of room so he sent off the text, and began another.

"If it's okay with you I could use the quiet to get some writing done. Do you want to call your dad or should I?"

Rick set his phone on the desk and opened his laptop. He had just begun reading the last page he had written when the phone pinged again.

"I'll send him a text. I'll be here at least another hour, then I can pick Eric up. Or maybe I'll do a little shopping first. I still have to buy your Christmas present."

He smirked and typed again.

"You still haven't bought me a present? How could you?"

He added an 'offended' emoji.

"Let me know if you need me to get Eric. I love you."

One final ping from Kate.

"3"

XXXXXX

An hour passed and Rick's phone pinged once again.

"Sorry Babe. It looks like I have to stay after school. Will you call my dad or pick Eric up yourself? Love you."

Rick laughed aloud and began typing.

"Why, Captain, were you passing notes in class? Sassing back to the teacher? I'll head out to get him now. See you at home. Love you always."

Saving his work, Rick called Jim, letting him know that he was on his way.

"Yes, apparently Kate's meeting went long."

"Kind of odd, with her being on leave and all," Jim mentioned over baby giggles from Eric.

"I agree, but she didn't go into detail. I'll hear all about it when she gets home, I'm sure," Rick laughed. "Eric seems to be having a good time with you, Jim."

"He just likes having his feet tickled. Don't you Eric?"

The baby let out a squeal that had Rick pulling the phone from his ear.

"I'll be there in about ten minutes to pick him up."

"We'll be here."

XXXXXX

When the two opened the door to the loft they found Kate pacing.

"What's the matter?"

Kate began moving the straps on the carrier and lifted her baby out.

"Nothing, really," she sighed, hugging Eric close to her chest. "I have a new boss. Frank Larson retired."

Rick's eyebrows raised.

"He was a good guy."

"You're only saying that because he made me take my leave a little early," Kate snorted. "You never even met him."

"He made you see reason, and that makes him a good guy." Rick leaned over and kissed her cheek."

"Anyway…DI Tanya Peck is her name, and she's a bit of a pit bull like Captain Gates was when she first arrived in the precinct."

"Ooh."

"I won't let her kick you out, Babe."

Kate frowned and continued.

"I guess it was partly my fault. I asked why I was called in since I'm on leave and she took it – I don't know that she thought it was insubordination – but she wasn't happy about it. A 'formal meeting' is what she called it and I didn't think it needed to be formal for me until I actually got back to work."

"I take it that didn't go over well?"

"Uh…no."

"That's why she wanted you to stay, wasn't it?"

Kate sighed.

"Yes. A wonderful lecture about teamwork and 'we need to all get along.' And it was my fault, really. I was looking forward to going out with Eric, we were meeting Lanie, but that had to be postponed. I guess I wouldn't have had as much of a problem with going in if I'd had a little notice, not a phone call saying 'be here in twenty minutes.' But, I still shouldn't have spoken up about it during the meeting."

Rick pulled her into a hug, making Eric squawk in protest.

"Sorry, buddy," Rick grinned.

He pecked her lips and backed away, his excitement from that morning coming back.

"Guess what I want to do in the next couple of days?"

His giddiness was making Kate nervous, but she loved it anyway.

"I'm almost afraid to ask…"

"Well, if you really think it's not a good idea, we could hold off for a couple of years, but I really don't want to, it's Eric's first Christmas after all."

"Rick, you're giving me puppy dog eyes and I don't even know what you want," Kate teased. "But if you're talking Santa, I'm all in."

"Really?!" Rick was gobsmacked. "I thought for sure…"

"This is like the trick or treating, right? We survived that. I admit I'm a little wary about the crowds and letting a total stranger hold him, but we'll be right there, and like you said, it's Eric's first Christmas."

Rick's face lit up like it was already Christmas morning.

"I have a plan about that – if you think it's a good idea."

Kate eyed him – not warily, but with some trepidation. Castle's plans could be out there at times, but were usually fun.

"Okay, shoot."

Instead of speaking, Rick handed her the flyer he'd taken from the department store.

"Be Santa for an hour!" Kate read aloud, "Perfect if you have fussy children, crying babies, even annoyed adults! We provide candy canes, small gifts and the Santa suit. {We have several sizes, we should have yours!} Call today!"

The phone number, address and website were listed below.

"'Annoyed adults?'" Kate raised an eyebrow.

"I think that's just a joke," Rick shrugged. "I haven't called because I wanted to see what you thought about it, but I did visit the website, and reviews of it in several places. It seems to be on the up and up."

"Hmmmm…"

"I know that Eric hasn't had any real separation anxiety yet, he'd probably go to a mall Santa without crying, but this way, it'll be me. He knows me – of course – and more importantly – you know me."

"I like it…"

Rick noticed Kate's slight frown.

"But?"

"But what if he does cry? I mean, sure Eric's happy enough if Alexis or Lanie or Kevin holds him, but he's around them and knows them."

"Again, he does know me, Kate."

She gave him a not very potent glare.

"I know. But does he know Santa? That's what I mean. Eric's not going to recognize you with all the padding and the beard."

"Easy enough to solve. You're in the picture too."

Kate ran her hand through her hair in frustration.

"But you're not. Because you're Santa."

Rick looked confused.

"I know, I'm not making sense..."

Rick's lightbulb turned on and he nodded in understanding.

"Not at first, but I get it now. If you need to be with Eric in a Santa picture, it needs to be a family picture. I need to be there as well as Santa"

"Yes!" Kate exclaimed. Sometimes it still amazed her how well he got her.

"How's this? I ask Alexis if she's willing to come along. She can sit on my lap and take the picture with Eric. And I can have both my children in a Santa picture together."

Kate smiled at Rick's wistful look.

"I think that's a great idea. Go call her and then the department store. And if you're good – "

She kissed him lightly.

"This 'annoyed adult' might take a picture with Santa as well."

XXXXXX

Two days later Rick, Kate, Alexis and Eric walked into the department store an hour early for their appointment.

"It's to help get Eric a little more acclimated to crowds," Castle had explained in the car. "He had a little at Halloween, but that was two months ago and this'll be bigger."

So here they were, wandering around the store while waiting for their time.

Kate broke off from the others for a few minutes, saying she had one more thing to buy.

"Mind if I come along, Kate?" asked Alexis.

"M-me too?" Rick's puppy dog eyes were in full force as he tried to keep the kicking Eric from squirming right out of his carrier.

Smirking at Castle and then ignoring him Kate turned to Alexis.

"You can if you want, Alexis, but I don't want to traumatize you."

Kate nearly laughed aloud at the look of utter disgust that Alexis was unsuccessfully trying to tamp down, and Rick's practically salivating at what she might have in store for him.

"Okay, I'll pass. Already traumatized."

"Um – Kate?"

Kate just grinned at Castle and sauntered off.

"Oh, come on!"

XXXXXX

When Kate returned fifteen minutes later, she had no bag, but her trench coat was tightly fastened.

"Didn't you buy anything?" asked Alexis. "And aren't you warm?"

"Maybe," replied Kate. "And no, I'm fine. So what do you think, do we have time to get lunch?"

"Actually, no," Rick uttered.

Looking up from his phone, he continued.

"Just got a text from the photo place. Somebody cancelled, so if we hurry they can take us now, and possibly give us a longer session if Eric cooperates."

"Perfect."

Hurrying to the back of the store, the four passed the line snaking around the Santa there for the kids whose parents either hadn't seen the flyer, or didn't want to pay to be their own Santa. There were plenty of fussy children, crying babies and annoyed adults in that line.

"I'm glad we're doing it this way," Kate mentioned. "If only so we don't have to deal with that line."

"Yeah, I think we'd all be pretty cranky after that," Rick agreed.

They reached the "Be your own Santa" area.

"Castle family?" the attendant inquired.

"That's us," answered Rick.

"All right, let's bring Santa back to get all suited up."

Kate quickly unstrapped Eric and lifted him out of the carrier. Eric smiled happy to at last be free. He loved the carrier – and his daddy – but it was time to get out.

He babbled to Kate as Rick pulled off the carrier and handed it to Alexis.

"See you guys in a few minutes," he told them as he walked to the back with the attendant.

After another ten minutes, a bottle of expressed milk and a diaper change, the attendant returned.

"We're ready for you," she announced, and Kate and Alexis quickly packed up and followed her back.

They were greeted by a loud "HO! HO! HO!" when they reached the backroom set up for photos.

Eric was wide-eyed at the strange man with the beard. He looked at Alexis, then Kate, and seeing them both smiling seemed to come to the decision to not cry.

Reaching out for Eric, Santa spoke to him.

"Well, well, well! Merry Christmas! And what's your name little one?"

Eric looked around in surprise at this stranger taking him from his mother's arms."

"Gah!" he yelled.

"Eric? I like that name. Come on over here and you can tell me what you'd like me to bring you for Christmas."

The baby squirmed around to see what Mommy and Alexis thought of all this. They were smiling, so this 'Santa' person must not be all bad. There was also a certain familiarity about this guy.

Pictures were taken of Eric alone, then with Alexis and then Santa coerced Alexis into a couple with just her. When they were finished Kate asked, "Alexis, why don't you take Eric back out into the store? I think he was enjoying the people watching. I'll help Santa out of his costume."

"Not one word, Dad!" Alexis told Rick firmly as she blushed.

Kate blushed too, she hadn't realized the innuendo at first. Jeez, and in front of the kids!

As soon as the two left, Alexis grousing in Eric's ear about how gross parents were, Kate turned to the photographer.

"Close your eyes if you would, please?" The photographer looked surprised, as did Castle. "You'll understand in a minute." She eyed Castle. "You too, Santa."

"B – b – but…"

"It's a surprise."

Both sets of eyes closed.

Kate quickly loosened her coat and took off her pants. She was glad this outfit came with a pair of shorts as well as a skirt. It was one thing to strip to her underwear in a fitting room, a relatively public place like this was something else again.

She put the skirt, Vulcan ears that she had swiped from Rick's Halloween/cosplay stash, and hat on. Then she went and sat in Santa's lap.

"Okay, eyes open."

Rick's eyes widened when he saw her costume.

"J – j – j – just for us?"

"These pictures aren't going to be too wild, but yeah, just for us."

She kissed his cheek and the photographer snapped the shutter.

XXXXXX

Christmas morning arrived quietly.

Of course, Alexis had long outgrown getting up at the crack of dawn, and Martha always enjoyed her beauty sleep.

Rick sat up and looked over at Kate still sleeping.

She looked so young as she slept, far too young to be a cop, let alone Captain of a precinct. She had told him the same thing about him. Something about sleep erased all the cares away.

He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

"Mmmm…" she rolled over and opened her eyes. "Is it Christmas yet?"

"Yep, Merry Christmas, Kate."

Kate sat up and kissed him.

"Is anyone else up?"

Martha and Alexis had spent the night. Kate had tried to get Jim to come, but didn't push him. He'd come for Thanksgiving – Christmas was harder for him.

"Haven't heard anyone moving around, and the monitor hasn't picked anything up from Eric."

"Good."

Kate snuggled into Rick's side for a few more minutes then decided it was time.

"Are you gonna start the pancakes?"

"Yeah," Rick pushed the covers back. "You'll get Eric?"

"Of course," she replied as she went into the bathroom.

They switched after five minutes and Kate quietly went up the stairs to Eric's room, resolutely ignoring the tree and all the presents until everyone was downstairs.

Eric was awake when she walked in the bedroom, turning tear filled eyes to her and babbling his displeasure.

"Hi, baby, merry first Christmas!" Kate picked him up and hugged him close. "I got here just in time, huh?"

She moved to the changing table.

"Let's get you changed and fed while Daddy makes breakfast for everyone else. You're a lucky little boy getting to eat first."

Kate kept the one sided conversation going, Eric loving every minute of it, as she heard Castle downstairs in the kitchen clanging pots and pans.

XXXXXX

Everyone was in the living room when Kate and Eric joined them. Rick had lit the tree and Martha and Alexis were chatting over coffee.

"Merry Christmas, Katherine!"

"Merry Christmas, Martha – Alexis," Kate replied.

Eric started kicking and squirming at the sight of his big sister. Kate was grateful that the feeling was mutual between the two.

"Hey, little boy, go see your sister," Kate whispered in his ear and handed him to Alexis. "I'll go see if Daddy needs help."

She walked over to the kitchen only to be met by Castle handing her a cup of coffee and telling her to turn around."

"Things are under control for now," he went on, grabbing his own coffee. "I thought we'd open a few presents before breakfast."

"I was wondering why I couldn't smell the bacon," she smirked.

Rick sat on the floor and after a moment Kate joined him. He began pulling gifts from under the tree, putting them in piles until he had grabbed two for each person.

"Mother?" he handed her the first gift.

"Thank you, dear."

Rick passed out the others and dove back under the tree for more.

"Rick?" he heard Kate ask quizzically. Ah, he must have given her 'that' one.

Crawling out with two more presents he glanced over at her.

"I think you put the wrong tag on this one…" Kate looked over the package. "No, it's still small…" Now she looked up at him. "Castle, he's not going to be able to use this for years!"

It was a laser tag set sized for a three year old.

"I know, but I saw it and couldn't resist."

"He did the same thing with Alexis' first set," Martha jumped in. "Though wasn't it her second Christmas?"

"Mom told me she wasn't thrilled about that," Alexis joined the conversation. "'What kind of a gift is that for a little girl?' I was never as into dolls as she would have liked, I think she blamed you for that."

Rick shrugged.

"I probably could have, or even should have waited until you were older, but I saw the set and couldn't resist. Same thing with this one."

He looked at Kate a little warily, as though she might get mad at him for a gift that couldn't even be used yet.

She tried to glare at him, but burst out laughing instead.

"You're a goofball, Rick, and I wouldn't have you any other way." She kissed him.

"Oh, parental grossness alert, Flash!" Alexis held the baby over her face to hide from the antics, Eric letting out a happy squeal.

A knock on the door sounded.

Kate looked at Rick who shrugged, but Kate thought she saw a small smile on his face as she hauled herself off the floor – stumbling over her feet on the way to the door.

Jim was on the other side.

"Dad!" Kate blurted in surprise.

"Merry Christmas, Katie," he eyed her tentatively. "Mind if I come in?"

Kate shook herself out of her shock and backed away from the door.

"Of course, Dad, come on in."

Rick had stood by this time and came over to shake hands."

"Jim, I'm glad you could make it."

"Thanks, Rick. It was time."

He looked at his daughter.

"If that's okay?"

Kate gave him a bone crushing hug.

"More than, Dad. Come on, let's see what other ridiculous gifts Castle got for Eric."

XXXXXX

It was over. Kate had climbed into bed while Rick was finishing up in the bathroom.

"Thanks for my dad, Rick."

"I just talked to him again. I wasn't sure if he'd change his mind or not, but I'm glad he did."

"Me too."

Rick pouted a little.

"I'm a little bummed that Eric was scared of his teddy bear."

"Well, to be honest, Castle I was too a little bit. It's six feet tall!"

"He'll…grow into it."

Kate snorted.

"Not exactly a snuggler, Rick." Kate curled up next to him. "You know, like this."

Rick drew her closer in.

"It was a good day though, wasn't it?"

"The best. Merry Christmas, Castle."

"Merry Christmas."

XXXXXX

A/N2: Tell me what you think? There will be an epilogue, hopefully (finger's crossed) within the week. K