A/N: You talked me into it! Nearly every review on this story asked for another chapter, and I ended up agreeing that the story wasn't finished. It took awhile, as I'm working from home amidst all the craziness. I hope you enjoy the rest of this Christmas story in April, and thanks again Lou (InkyCoffee) for the original prompt!
Rick trudged into the building dragging his suitcase (and feet, God he was tired) behind him. He waved at Jeremy behind the desk. Maybe in the new year he'd make more of an effort to get to know the young man better. He still missed Eduardo who had retired earlier in the year to move to Phoenix so he could be nearer to his grandchildren.
Jeremy waved back with a smile and a "Merry Christmas!" and went back to his crossword puzzle book.
'Poor guy,' thought Castle. 'having to work Christmas day.' He smiled sardonically to himself as he stepped into the elevator, considering the fact he'd just gotten home from 'work' himself.
He let go of the handle of his suitcase and ran his fingers through his hair, then looking at his reflection in the glossy walls of the lift, tried to pat the strands back into place.
Did it really matter? He was disheveled anyway, even with a change of clothes at the airport after landing. All he wanted right now was to curl up in bed with Kate and sleep until he no longer ached from the long flight from Seattle. Ha! He snickered to himself. Fat chance of that on Christmas Day. He stretched, working out the last of the kinks in his body caused by sitting so long on a cramped airplane, first class or not.
The doors opened on the penthouse floor. He could just see Mrs. Bunckle across the way snicking her door shut. The widow must have just taken trash to the receptacle at the end of the hallway. She must not have seen him, so he didn't bother waving to her.
Outside his own door, Rick stopped and listened. He glanced at his watch, 6:15am. The kids should be up and clamoring into his and Kate's bed, (hopefully not) screaming at the top of their lungs about Christmas and Santa. He heard some muffled squeals; they must be in the bedroom waking up Mommy.
He put his key in the lock as silently as possible and carefully pushed the door open, thankful now that Kate had insisted on oiling the hinges last week. He'd tried to talk her out of it at first, citing little ones taking trips up and down the elevator with Mommy and Daddy none the wiser.
"Oh come on, Castle, they're 3 and 7," she had told him. "Nobody's gonna sneak out at this stage. The boys are too short to reach the doorknob anyway."
Rick then regaled her with a story of how 4-year-old Alexis had unlocked and walked out the door by herself on Halloween. He had just come out of his office after putting on his own costume, and watched in astonishment as his little girl pulled a chair over to the door, climbed on it, disengaged the door's chain, flipped the deadbolt, climbed down, pulled the chair back where it belonged, picked up her pumpkin shaped bucket and marched out the door.
"Apparently, I was taking too long, so she decided to trick or treat by herself," he explained. "You can't deny a squeaky door would give us warning."
"Well, it isn't Halloween now, and I'm tired of feeling like I'm walking into a haunted house every time I come in because of that damned squeak."
Castle gave in then, if only because he liked the idea of the loft being haunted and envisioning next years Halloween party.
Shaking off his reverie, Rick stepped through the doorway and set his suitcase off to the side. It wasn't Halloween, it was Christmas and he had three (maybe four) kids and a wife to surprise.
As he tiptoed through the darkened room, he could hear one of the twins (Reece maybe?) asking not quite tearfully where Daddy was, and Kate's low murmuring in answer.
Castle could see the little boy snuggling in his mother's arms listening to her heartbeat as his twin and sister snuggled up to each side of her in his mind's eye. He smiled at the image; Kate loved her children with a fierceness that belied her insecurities about motherhood.
As silently as possible he stepped into the kitchen, grinning at the waffle iron and two frying pans already sitting on the counter and stove, respectively. Beckett was on the ball. He opened the fridge to see if… Yes! Kate had premade the waffle batter; the bowl tightly covered with plastic wrap. And was that a bowl of grated potatoes? Perfect.
The bowl of batter slipped in his hands and landed on the counter with a soft clunk. He froze, listening for his wife to check the noise. She had the ears of a bat.
Nothing. No avenging angel storming out of the bedroom, gun at the ready. Good. She must still be distracted by the kids.
Moving quickly, but still quietly, Rick pulled the potatoes, butter, milk, eggs, and cheese out of the refrigerator. He set a knob of butter in both frying pans to melt as he was waiting for the waffle iron to heat. He turned to the coffee maker, just as it flipped itself on. Of course Kate set the timer last night. It would have been just this side of sacrilege not to. Smiling, Rick spooned a heaping mound of potatoes into one pan and whisked the eggs while the hash browns began to sizzle. Pouring the eggs into the melted butter in the other pan, he added the cheese, and waited.
It didn't take long – though it was his youngest daughter and not his wife who rushed through the office to the kitchen.
"Alex- - DADDY!"
That was when the earthquake struck. No wait… The floor did shake – and the people on the floor directly below probably looked up at their ceiling in some consternation – but it was just three people running from the bedroom… Sounding like a herd of elephants, but the twins did that on the regular.
When the three arrived in the kitchen, Lily was already in Rick's arms, hugging him so tight he was turning a little purple.
"Okay, Tiger-Lily," he choked out (not only from lack of breath.) "Let me say hi to the boys."
The 7-year-old reluctantly let him go, scrambling out of the way as her brothers began climbing their father like a tree.
"Daddy! Did you sweep on the pwane wike I told ya?"
"Did you see Santa fwying in his sleigh?"
"I might have a story about that later," Rick told Reece, setting him down, along with his brother. And to answer your question, Jake, I tried really hard to sleep, but it didn't go very well." He straightened up. "But that's okay, because there isn't a chimney on an airplane for Santa to go down. If he brought me anything, he brought it here."
Castle grinned at the thoughtful look on Jake's face as the boy nodded. Apparently that made sense to him.
Turning to Kate, Rick noticed she'd put a ladleful of batter on the waffle iron and turned off the gas on the stove so the eggs and potatoes didn't burn. She'd also poured two mugs of coffee while he was greeting the kids.
"You know," she began with a teasing smile as she stepped into his arms, leaving the coffee for a moment. "My mother had a favorite phrase…"
"I know she did, Beckett" Rick interrupted, "and I know what it was, and you don't have to say it."
Kate smirked as she put her arms around his neck, glancing at the light on the waffle iron to make sure all was well.
"I've learned my lesson," Castle went on. "I should have told Gina where to put her Christmas Eve signing. Especially one over 2800 miles away."
Kate pulled him down and kissed him, both grinning at the collective "Gross!" from the kids.
"Merry Christmas, Babe," she said as she pulled away to take down plates from the cupboard and Rick served up the first waffle and put another ladle of batter on the iron.
Both parents laughed as their three kids shoveled breakfast into their mouths as fast at they could, Santa's presents a siren call they couldn't ignore for long.
Tired? Not anymore. The kids always tended to give him a second wind. It would catch up with him, he knew, but he was home now; and he wanted to savor it.
A key scraped in the lock amidst the chaos. Alexis and Martha must be here. Rick strode toward the door, smiling back at his wife.
"Merry Christmas, Kate."
A/N 2: Thanks again for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts and I should have a CastleFicathon story ready soon!