And Everything Nice

11. Presents

The first rays of light filtered through the blinds, nudging her from a peaceful winter night's dream.

Blinking her eyes open, Kate laid there for a long beat. She was in bed with her husband, his arms wrapped around her waist, her body pulled snug against his. It was so warm and cozy that she didn't want to leave. But alas, she needed to prepare breakfast for everyone.

It was now morning, which meant that it was no officially Lily's first Christmas Day.

Slowly, she tried to extricate herself from her husband's strong grip, but Castle's fingers curled ever so slightly, alerting her to his wakefulness.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Castle," Kate breathed out, reaching up to comb her fingers through his gorgeous head of hair.

His eyes flashed open, sparkling with joy and excitement, like a little boy on… well, Christmas Day. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Castle," he returned the sentiments, and nudged her closer for a brief kiss.

She hummed into his mouth, pressing closer, letting their naked bodies intertwine briefly, her skin humming with the remembrance of the activities they'd been engaged in the prior night. She pulled back on a sigh, running a hand down his chest, stopping above his heart.

"I need to get up, start the coffee and bacon," Kate said, giving his chest a playful pat.

"Yes, but… let's just lay here for a moment," Castle countered.

She found no reason to disagree, so she nuzzled back into his side, and closed her eyes as she breathed in his familiar and comforting scent.

The peace was interrupted by the muffled cries emanating from the baby monitor on the bedside table.

"I'll get her," Castle offered. "You put her down last night."

"Thanks," Kate called, affectionately running her hand down his shoulder and arm as he rolled over and sat up. She flopped back down and admired the view as he stood up and quickly dressed. He donned his Santa hat again, and Kate had to suppress a grin, now having memories of him with that hat that were not suited for anyone but them, in the privacy of their marriage bed.

Sitting up, Kate brushed her tousled hair back from her face, and smiled softly to herself as she listened to the sounds coming in over the baby monitor of Castle greeting Lily. She could just picture it in her head, the way he'd hold her in his strong arms, rock her gently as he spoke in that hypnotizingly smooth voice of his. He really was such a good father. She couldn't have wished for a better partner in this crazy thing called parenthood.

After taking a moment to stretch, Kate padded into the bathroom and went through her morning routine. Pulling on some flannel PJ bottoms, and shrugging into a comfy burgundy sweater, Kate slipped out of the bedroom and through the office, coming to a halt just as she was about to head for the kitchen and start the coffee maker.

"What the—?" her voice trailed off as she stared, stunned speechless, at the mass of presents sitting under and around the Christmas tree.

There were gifts of ever shape and size, packed in colorful wrapping paper, with ribbons and bows. She had never seen so many. Her immediate thought was that Castle was behind this. But how? He'd been busy most of the night doing other things—with her. She didn't think he had time to come out and set this all up. And to that point, where had he'd hidden it all if he was, in fact, the culprit.

"How's that coffee coming along?" Castle inquired as he came walking into the room, cradling an adorable Lily, all dress in a cute little Christmas onesie and a red bow atop her little head.

Kate spun around and looked at him with mouth agape, before spinning back around and gesturing wildly at the mountain of presents.

"How?" she stammered out. "When?"

He grinned, the fiend, guilty as hell, and just shrugged. "While you were sleeping."

"While I was… Castle, we didn't really do that much sleeping last night, if you recall," she pointed out.

He stifled a yawn as he adjusted Lily and passed her over. Kate took her daughter, but was determined not to be steered off course. She gazed down at her daughter, who gurgled and grinned that cute little gummy grin.

"Your Daddy could give Loki a run for his money," Kate informed her.

"Ooh, nice reference, but I don't know whether that's meant as a compliment or an insult, considering."

It was her turn to shrug. "It could go either way."

Castle just chuckled and wagged his finger at her, before turning and sauntering off towards the kitchen.

"I'll make coffee," he announced.

Clutching a happily babbling Lily, Kate trailed after him. "Castle, I thought we discussed this," she said in a low hiss. "We weren't going to go overboard with gifts. She's too young to have memories."

"Oh, I disagree," Castle asserted, arching his neck to look back at her as his hands still continued to work the machine without the aid of sight. How did he do that? "This is her first Christmas. First impressions are very important, Kate."

She made a little snort at that. "If that were true, we wouldn't be married right now. I hated you at first."

"Okay," he paused for a moment in his work at the coffeemaker, brow furrowing as his eyes went wide as he thought of a response to her last statement. "Right. Right. Okay. We'll just call that the exception to the rule."

Kate rolled her eyes. "You're ridiculous."

"But you love me."

"Yes, I do," she replied. "For reasons that escape me at the moment."

"It's the coffee," he asserted with confidence, holding out a freshly made cup. "Exchange?"

In a move they'd perfected over the last few months, they swapped baby and coffee. Castle held out his hand, and Lily swung her little hand out as if she were giving him a high five. Her little laugh brought a smile to both her parents.

"You're cute when you fret," Castle told Kate as he bounced Lily around. "Your nose wrinkles adorably."

Ignoring what he'd just said, Kate commented, "It just seems rather excessive." She thought it was a valid point. If Lily were older, and she had a sibling, she could understand Castle going a little overboard. But this.

"Don't fret, Kate," Castle said. "It's Christmas. Besides, most of it is actually just baby stuff we will be needing in the coming months. So, it's not really like I'm spoiling her with gifts. I just thought it would be fun to wrap it all up and have a mountain of presents on Christmas."

She narrowed her eyes and glanced at him with a dubious expression. "You're not pulling my leg?" she questioned, reasonably suspicious. With him, she had the right to be.

"Kate, I swear, it's not all cool gadgets and toys in that pile, most of it is very practical," he promised.

"It better be, Mister," Kate said, using a face she'd perfected over the years since she'd met him.

"Just drink your coffee," Castle said with a grin. "I'll take this one on a little tour."

"Yeah, yeah. Oh, and don't think I didn't see that massive teddy bear in the corner!" Kate called after him, biting her lower lip as she shook her head.

She drank her coffee. And yes. It was really good, and one of the many benefits of being married to Castle, but that's not why she loved him. Still, it might have been one of the things that helped get him in the door, and a shot at dismantling that wall she'd kept up around her, and winning her heart. Admitting to that had been the most difficult of them all. And acting on it.

Kate took another sip of her coffee, and allowed the moment to wash over her, basking in the sight of her husband and daughter swaying around the living room. Lily made little excited noises when she glanced up at the tree and around the room. And she squealed in delight when Alexis appeared at the top of the stairs. Her little arms wiggled and swung around as she reached out for the young redhead.

"Hey, Lily!" Alexis said with cheery enthusiasm, taking her baby sister from her father and planting a kiss on her cheek as she hugged her. "Merry Christmas!"

Castle stood beside her, one hand on her shoulder, and he beamed with fatherly joy. Kate had never seen him so happy. His smile was infectious and soon, Kate felt her own lips spread wide in a wide smile, all teeth and gum. Her heart felt like it would burst with happiness. And it beat all the more profoundly when Jim Beckett appeared, dressed in an absolutely hideous ugly sweater that she'd gifted him as a little kid.

"Merry Christmas, Katie," he spoke softly, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her into a quick hug.

She clutched his shoulder and hugged him back, maybe a little more fiercely than was necessary, but it made her eyes go all misty with happy tears. And then he was pulling back and retrieving his granddaughter from Alexis, smiling and laughing as Lily gurgled happily as he spun her around.

Kate put a hand on the island countertop for support as she watched when Martha, always the dramatic one, swung into the scene. Soon Lily was being passed around, the sole focus of everyone's attention. Her little girl was giggling and laughing, having the time of her young life, enjoying it all.

It was then that Kate felt a pair of eyes on her. Turning, she saw Castle standing beside her, staring as if he had eyes only for her.

"You all right, Kate?"

"What?" she questioned, brow furrowing in confusion.

"You're crying."

"Am I?" Kate reached up and touch her cheeks, startled to discover the evidence of tears. "Wow, I am."

"Happy tears, I hope," Castle asked, stepping forward to ensnare her hips with questing hands, and he pulled her into his embrace.

She inclined her head. "I've never been this happy," Kate confessed. Licking her lips as she swallowed, working up the courage to tell him. "A few years back, before you, I never would have thought this possible. That this would be my life. Thank you, Rick. You made this happen."

"No," Castle shook his head, dropping his brow to hers. "We made it happen, together."

She pursed her lips and closed her eyes, sharing the same air with him. "We," she corrected, echoing his words. "We made this happen."

"Merry Christmas, Rick," she said, opening her eyes to meet his loving gaze. "I love you."

He smiled beautifully. "Merry Christmas, Kate," he returned. "I love you, too, with everything that I have, and more."

And she believed it.

"Oh, Castle."

Kate pushed up on her toes and kissed him, curling her fingers into his neck. Dropping down, she let out a sigh, always amazed at how great it was to kiss Richard Castle.

He squeezed her hip with one hand and stepped back, smiling. "Why don't we go through the stockings first, and then we'll make breakfast. Hmm?"

"Sounds like a plan, babe," Kate agreed, catching his hand, and letting him lead her into the living room and her family.