The Spirit of the Season
What if "47 Seconds" had happened just before the holidays? A Castle S4 Holiday AU. 3 parts.
Tipping his head back, Richard Castle let the last few droplets of beer slide into his mouth. He pulled the bottle away from his mouth and set it on the tray at the edge of the bar which already had quite a collection of glass to be recycled on it. He attempted to step forward but was jostled by two fellow revelers who were enthusiastically getting more drinks. They all muttered apologies, and then once they'd left Rick stepped forward, grabbed his wallet from his back pocket, retrieved a fifty dollar bill, and placed it in the tip jar on the bar. "Merry Christmas," he said to the barkeep duo. Busy with drink orders, they merely nodded in response, so Rick began to make his way across the room towards the exit, which given how packed it was, made him feel like a salmon making a dangerous trek upstream.
As he sidled his way through packed bodies, offering polite smiles or apologies when necessary, Rick congratulated himself for coming to the Twelfth Precinct's annual Christmas shindig that evening. He wasn't going to go considering the current climate, but Ryan had texted him earlier that day to check to see if he would be in attendance. As he felt a bit guilty saying no, he promised himself that he'd just stop by to say hello to Ryan, Jenny, Esposito, and Gates. Before he was able to complete that task, he'd gotten into a lengthy discussion with LT and, interestingly enough, Gates's husband, and time had gotten away from him.
Thanks to his chosen career, Rick had really never worked a traditional job as a grown adult. He'd had jobs in retail and food service during his teen years and very early twenties, but after that writing had been his main focus. Since writing was a mostly solitary career he'd never really had coworkers and had therefore not experienced them letting loose in a holiday atmosphere. True, Black Pawn did have an annual party in December—it had been the week before—but he didn't really know any of the office staff beyond a few he communicated with via email for editing, contractual, or financial purposes. He attended, schmoozed when necessary, and that was about it. Strange as it seemed, Rick actually felt more like the detectives, beat cops, and other staff of the Twelfth were more his coworkers.
To Rick, a coworker was not strictly defined by sharing the same employer in a technical sense; it was more about the day to day—in the trenches. For over three years he'd been at the Twelfth two or three days a week. He'd helped with research, reviewing video footage, and interviewing suspects. He'd helped them solve crimes, arguably one of the most important jobs in existence. He felt bonded to them in a way that Black Pawn could never compare, no matter how appreciative he was of their continued support of his writing.
Because of how he felt about those he worked with at the Twelfth, he did find a certain amount of joy in watching them drink and be merry. LT, he learned, was a lot funnier after a few beers and McClellan, the retirement-age cop who manned the front desk and gave Rick a (playfully) hard time every time he lost his guest pass, was an absolute hoot, and his wife was incredibly sweet. Rick was glad to have those interactions and thus was not disappointed he'd come that evening, even if he had put more effort than he'd intended into avoiding Kate.
Typically, when entering the precinct or any associating event, seeking out Kate would have been Rick's number one task. That night, he'd done the opposite. He'd only seen her once, just after he arrived. He had just dropped his coat off at the coat check and was surveying the landscape of the room and she had just picked up two drinks from the bar. They were about twenty-five feet apart when their eyes met. She smiled softly and nodded, unable to wave with her hands full. He stared for three seconds, trying to figure out the most appropriate reaction, but before he could he'd been jostled by someone smacking into his left arm. He'd instinctually looked towards his left and when he looked back towards where Kate stood, she'd vanished.
Good, he'd thought at the time. His plan that night was just to say hello to his friends and, at the moment, that list did not include her. During his first twenty minutes there he'd maintained that resolve, but alcohol had relaxed his mood and by his third drink he decided that saying hello to Kate would not have been the worst thing he could do that evening. It was almost Christmas, after all. Still, he hoped to encounter her in a group setting so that their exchange could be completely professional. That way he might be able to keep the remaining pieces of his shattered heart intact.
As he was nearing the exit, Rick considered not going out of his way to see Kate. Christmas was still a week away. He intended to bring some small tokens to the Twelfth staff later that week and most likely he would see her then. On the off chance he didn't, he could text her a holiday greeting, though that was the most complex option as he'd been ignoring her texts for the prior ten days. Still, he didn't have to see her that night, particularly not with his head swimming with a little more alcohol than he'd intended to think. He might very well say things he wished he hadn't.
Rick had almost completely decided not to say hello to her when he spotted Lanie sitting at a high-top table in a quieter corner of the restaurant located diagonal from the coat check area. Odds were that if he went to get his coat, Lanie would see him, and if Lanie saw him leave without saying hello to her she would most assuredly call him out on it. He hadn't been avoiding her specifically but had a suspicion she'd be hanging out with Kate for most of the night so his avoidance had been indirect.
Not wanting to make a big thing of it, Rick headed towards Lanie, but slowed his walk when he realized she was not alone at the high-top. The woman she was with had her back to Rick, but of course by that point in their relationship, Rick probably could have picked up the detective sitting at that table on the street from the top of the Empire State Building. As he drew closer, his walk stalled out and he continued his internal debate over what to do. Saying hello to Lanie meant also saying hello to Kate, but maybe that was for the best. He could just give them a joint "Merry Christmas" and then he'd grab his coat and be on his way.
Taking two steps closer to the table, Rick sucked in a breath, preparing himself to emulate Santa Claus's "Ho Ho Ho" to the duo, but stopped immediately when he heard, "Are you sure you're okay, sweetie?" from Lanie. Though the main room of the party was so loud he struggled to hear the words of those he stood directly besides, the acoustics in this area perfectly enabled him to hear their conversation quite clearly.
"I'm f-fine. Why wo'dn't I be?"
Rick's eyes flared wide when he realized that Kate was actually quite drunk. She had slurred most of her words together and actually hiccupped in the middle of the word "wouldn't." He found her inebriated state surprising mostly because he didn't feel he'd ever seen her that drunk before. He'd celebrated many a time with her and her team after a case, particularly at The Old Haunt after he bought it. The detective held her liquor well and though she had been tipsy several times in his presence, he'd never seen her word-slurring-drunk.
"Well, it's been awhile since I saw you swaying on a seat like this."
As if on cue, Kate's right leg slipped off the footrest on the high stool and she slumped forward a bit on the table, insisting, "I'm dot nrunk."
"Okay," Lanie replied, her tone clearly placating.
Whining, Kate placed both her hands flat on the table and let her head loll back for a moment. "He's here, Lanie. He's here but he won't talk to me. Why won't he talk to me? Or answer my calls?"
Lanie smiled softly at her friend, reached across the table, and placed a hand over hers. "I don't know, sweetie."
"And then…last week in his Ferrari—did you see it? Did you see?"
Nodding, Lanie said, "I know it's hard. And I…I don't know—maybe some of this is my fault."
"Well, I really pushed for you guys. I thought I was doing the right thing—that it would end up working out, but maybe I just made it worse because he—woah! Kate! Be careful." Lanie gripped onto her friend's wrist hard when Kate started to lean to her left to the point where she almost fell off the stool.
After adjusting herself on the stool, Kate sloppily threw her arms out to the side proclaiming, "See, this is why."
"Why I don't do this—because I suck."
"You do not suck."
Kate snorted obnoxiously then coughed twice. "Yeah do. Everyone thinks that."
Lanie blinked at her. "I don't think anyone does."
"I do," she said, pounding herself in the chest with the heel of her hand. "I think about it. I wish I was better. I wish… I wish I didn't miss him."
Rick felt his gut twist at the sound of her words. She missed him, which was nice to hear, he supposed, but wished she didn't. That part was really the key to her statement. Of course, she wished she didn't. Why wouldn't she want to be rid of him after whatever almost happened between them faded out?
"I miss him… and his jokes… and his blue."
"Yeah, yeah his blue." Kate gestured clumsily and from his angle Rick couldn't exactly tell what she was doing; it looked like she was about to slap herself in the face.
"Oh! His eyes!"
"Yes, his AH's," Kate said through a belch. Then her tone softened to the point where he could barely hear. "His blue eyes. They're the best eyes, most blue eyes. I love his eyes most of all Laney most of all his things."
Lanie's expression turned sad and she nodded. "I'm sure you do; Castle does have nice eyes."
Kate let out a yelp when she leaned so far to her right side that she couldn't recover and began falling off the stood. Rick reacted on instinct, nearly jumping the three strides forward and catching Kate by her shoulders. He somehow managed to not let her head hit the ground, but just barely. Instead, she fell into a heap, landing mostly on her hip and thigh. With the impact and him still trying to hold the top half of her up, Rick felt a slight twinge in his back and grunted with both pain and annoyance.
"Oh god, Kate!" Lanie gasped.
"I got her…kinda." Rick grunted as he engaged his shoulders and biceps to pull her upright until she was sitting partially upright on the floor, drunk to the point where she didn't seem to realize what was happening.
Lanie crouched down in front of her and said, "I think it's time to go home, okay?"
"No, I'm fine." She replied, but then immediately slumped towards her left again. Once again, Rick barely caught her. He struggled to get her to sit up on her own for a minute, but when she appeared incapable of that he merely jammed his feet beneath her hip and leaned her torso lay back against his legs.
Looking up at Lanie he said, "This isn't going well."
"No. Sorry Castle." She sighed and skimmed her fingers over her brow. "Where…where did you come from by the way?"
"Uh…" he hesitated for a moment then thumbed towards the coat check. "I was on my way out, just walked over to say goodbye at the right moment, I guess."
"Right, well, um…" She looked down at Kate then back up at him, obviously at a loss.
"Why don't you get her coat? And mine too, if you don't mind, since I…" his voice drifted off as he pointed towards the woman resting against him, her head dropping against his knees.
Lanie nodded and disappeared, returning two minutes later with three coats. With Kate braced against his legs, he was able to get his on, but he didn't think Kate was in a state to put hers on herself; hell, he wasn't even sure if she could stand.
"If you get her up, I can go with her in the cab," Lanie said as she pulled her hair out of the collar of her siren red coat.
Rick gave her a skeptical look. "And how will you get her out of the cab?"
"Maybe she'll sober up on the drive?"
"More like fall asleep," Rick responded. With a huff of breath, he resigned himself to the fact that he was the only one able to help. "Just…let's try and get her coat on and then I'll take her home."
"Are you sure?" Lanie asked. Rick nodded dutifully before crouching down, hooking his forearms beneath Kate's armpits and giving himself a three-two-one countdown before bracing all his muscles to lift her dead weight off the ground.
"Kate, c'mon Kate. We gotta go and its cold outside." With a few gentle taps to her cheeks Lanie roused her friend enough to be able to put her coat on. Then Rick and Lanie started to walk her out with her braced in between them, though Rick felt he was carrying at least fifty percent of her weight with his arm looped around her waist.
"I'm right here, Kate."
"You're really strong, Lanie. Have…have you been going to the gym?"
"Uh," Lanie hesitated as she shot the writer a look. "Um, sure; all the time."
"I think the room is moving, Lanie."
"No, you're moving Kate; we're taking you home."
"Oh!" She gasped and moved to turn around. Rick nearly lost his grip on her but thankfully Lanie stopped her from moving too far.
"No, no. I can't go. Didn't see Cas'l. Gotta say g'bye."
"I'll tell Castle you said bye, okay Kate?" Lanie said, her tone starting to sound impatient.
Five minutes later, the awkward trio had made it to the street and were in the process of hailing a cab. When one pulled up, Rick climbed in first and Lanie helped guide the barely-conscious Kate through the back door. Once she made sure both Kate's feet had made it into the cab, she gazed at Rick and asked, "Are you sure you're okay?"
"We're fine, Lanie. Thanks for the help. And have a good night."
"You too. Thanks, Castle. Really—I owe you."
He smiled and said, "I'll remember that."
Rick gave the address of Kate's apartment to the cab driver and they began their trip. Only two minutes later the driver braked hard in the busy Saturday evening traffic and Kate jolted back to consciousness with a snort. She sat up, groping at her lap for something unknown and then whined, "Lanie…Lanie maybe I should call him, Lanie." Kate finally got a good grip on her clutch purse and started to pull out her phone but then stopped and said defeatedly, "He probably won't answer, will he Lanie?"
Feeling his heart clench at her tone, Rick pressed his lips together tightly. Despite everything, he still cared for her so much that hearing her sad tone broke his heart—especially since she was sad because of his actions. Was ignoring her childish? Probably, but it was the best thing he could think to do while he was processing what had happened between them and what would never happen between them. Plus, she had hurt him, so while a small part of him was glad to hurt her back so she could feel what he felt, watching her face crumble was even more painful.
Gently, he placed a hand on her arm and said, "Why don't you call tomorrow? It's late now."
"Yeah…you're right…" She sighed and let her body drop back against the seat, her head drooping down on to his shoulder. Within a few seconds she appeared to be asleep again as her hand went slack and her purse dropped to the floor.
Sighing, Rick reached down and was able to grab the strap. Her cell phone was poking out so he moved to adjust the zipper. It appeared stuck so he ended up unzipping it all the way to try to correct the issue. In looking into the small bag he saw her phone, driver's license, and debit card, but nothing else. Most notably: no keys.
Frowning, he zipped the bag correctly, then moved his hands to seek out her jacket pockets. He checked both sides—twice—but found no keys. The pockets of the coat were quite shallow, too, so the keys could have easily fallen out when he and Lanie were trying to shove Kate into the car. Sighing to himself, Rick felt around the best he could in the dark cab, but did not find any keys, which meant they would be unable to enter Kate's place.
Grumbling, Rick pinched the bridge of his nose and said, "Driver? I'm sorry but we're going to have to change the designation. Can you take us to Broome Street instead please?"
"Sure thing, buddy," the cabbie replied.
Then, Rick leaned back against the seat himself and shut his eyes; his evening definitely was not turning out as expected.
"Okay, here we are, just a few more steps." Rick coached more to himself than anything else. When the cab arrived at his building, he attempted to shake Kate awake, but the most he got from her was an unintelligible grunt. Realizing there would be only one way to get her inside, he flagged down the doorman and the two of them helped maneuver Kate's body out onto the sidewalk, which was more challenging than he thought. While Eduardo propped up Kate, Rick gave the cabbie double the fare for his trouble and then scooped Kate up in his arms to walk into the building. Considering the awkward angle at which he held her, Rick was thankful she wore a sparkly silver top and black pants instead of a short dress, as that would have made things much more problematic.
"Okay, here we go." He grunted when they arrived at his front door. He set her legs down on the ground and trapped her torso between him and the wall so she wouldn't fall while he pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Then, after swinging it wide open, he hoisted her up again and carried her to the couch where he admittedly put her down a bit more firmly than he needed too. Rolling his shoulders and shaking out his arms, he walked back to the front door, locked it, and then stood in the foyer, debating what to do next.
While part of him debated on just leaving her where she awkwardly lay, he was too much of a gentleman for that. He'd get her a blanket and pillows, some water, and perhaps a trash can—just in case. Nodding to himself when he decided on a plan, he crouched down to untie his shoes and groaned at the tightness he felt in his lower back; yeah, that was definitely going to hurt in the morning.
Rick picked up his shoes and walked into his bedroom. Standing inside his walk-in closet he put his dress shoes back on their appropriate rack and then moved to take off his suit jacket when he realized he still wore his coat. Too lazy at that point to take it back to the main closet, he merely grabbed a spare hanger and hung the coat and suit jacket side by side. He also removed his belt and dress pants leaving him in a cranberry red button-down and boxer-briefs.
His next trip was to one of the dressers in his room where he removed his watch. Just after placing his Rolex in its case, Rick looked up and caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the mirror above the dresser. Normally, this would not have been significant, but seeing his own blue eyes reflected back at him triggered the memory of Kate's earlier statement that she missed his eyes and they were her favorite feature of his. His stomach rolled and he gritted his teeth in a curse.
Kate had been drunk, so some of her actions and statements could be excused away, but drunkenness generally only removed one's filters, not turned them into a pathological liar. He could therefore accept the fact that she found his eyes to be his most attractive facial feature, and that was fine, but unfortunately as he had recently learned there was a large gap between her physical attraction towards him and her romantic interest.
Not quite three weeks earlier, Kate had been working on a case with him assisting per usual. As he'd been running a bit late, Rick hadn't arrived at the precinct to join Kate in interrogation when their suspect was caught, so he stepped into the observation room to watch, thinking nothing out of the ordinary would happen, but it did. In trying to get the man to open up, Kate revealed that she remembered every second of her shooting from that spring.
In that moment, the blow to his gut could not have felt more real if Kate's actual fist had delivered it. He felt betrayed, hurt, confused, angry, and worst of all, like a total fool. The more he thought about the prior six months and all of the deception Kate threw in his direction the worse and worse he felt.
He'd been certain—certain!—that Kate had romantic feelings for him. Before she was shot, they'd had enough moments together for him to gather that much, but after the summer they spent apart, when they spoke on the swing set, he was sure that everything she said implied that she wanted him to wait for her to be ready. He had been more than willing to do that, and his patience was reaffirmed with every lovely, intimate moment they shared together. Thus, hearing that she knew about his confession all that time felt like a bucket of ice being poured down his back.
Kate had lied to him, which was bad enough since he did not appreciate any of his friends, especially one as close as Kate, lying to him, but it was more than that. Their conversations had led him to deduce that she was a bit nervous about embarking on romantic relationships. Considering how close they already were, the stakes for any relationship they had together would be quite high from the start, so he could understand even more trepidation there. He also knew that she valued firm evidence over anything else, so thus how hadn't the knowledge that he was in love with her swayed her towards their relationship. Shouldn't it have been a comfort? And if it wasn't enough to draw her in but rather push her away, what conclusion could he draw but the saddest of all: she didn't love him in return. Worse, she didn't think she could—at least not romantically.
His heart feeling as though it had been clawed into shreds, Rick had done the best thing he thought he could for self-preservation—he'd distanced himself from her by avoiding the precinct and her calls and texts. He didn't exactly have a long-term plan. Despite being very upset with her, he did respect her enough as a person not to totally ghost her. He hadn't thought through the specifics but figured early in the new year he'd officially tell her he was done shadowing. Then he'd try and tie up his in-progress Nikki Heat as best he could and simply…move on. It would undoubtedly break his heart, but he knew, with time, he'd get over it.
Unfortunately, no where in those plans was taking care of a black-out-drunk Kate. That sadly seemed to be a final cruel twist of fate. At least it was just for one night, and she seemed to be completely out of it. So, they'd have a few awkward minutes the next morning as he passed out coffee and they waited for a cab to pick her up. He could handle that, especially if it would be one of their last interactions.
Shaking his head, Rick pushed himself away from the dresser and went to the other closet to retrieve a spare pillow and blanket. He carried them out to the couch but froze when it came into view. He was so shocked his brain simply couldn't process the scene. She wasn't where she left him, which was particularly perplexing since he was sure she was completely out if the awkward way he'd carried her up to his place didn't wake her. Did that mean she left? Was she trying to make her way home, presumably still half-drunk, and without the keys to her place? Did that mean he should go after her?
Thankfully, before he could debate that point any further, he heard a distinct sniffling noise to his left. Turning his head in that direction, he spotted a dark brown mop of hair just visible on the other side of the enormous Christmas tree in his loft. Curious, he dumped the pillow and blanket on the couch and walked over to find her sitting with her legs tucked beneath her, tears steadily streaming down her face. Silently, he retrieved the tissue box from the coffee table and then placed it on the ground beside her before sitting on the arm of the closest chair so that he could see her tear-stained cheeks, partially hidden by her now-messy hair.
"Thanks," she mumbled tearfully, pulling two tissues from the box and using them to mop beneath her nose.
He sat there for several seconds, considering. He could offer to call her a cab while she was alert, send her on her way, and then go to bed. That probably was what he should have done, but his gut was prickling with intrigue. A small voice inside him told him that he needed to wait her out, for whatever story she was about to tell him would be one of significance. Thankfully, he listened to that gut and a few moments later she began to speak.
"We never celebrate anymore—no more Christmas. My father and I unofficially canceled that fourteen years ago. We boxed up all the decorations and never look at them again. In a way it felt like burying my mother all over again." Her chin quivered and she angled her head lower until two tears dripped from her cheeks and onto her lap. Then she reached for another tissue before continuing.
"I get it—why he doesn't want to celebrate. She loved the holidays and so much of this time of year is just soaked with memories of her. It's hard for me, but for him… even with all the time that's passed I think he fears relapsing, so he goes to his cabin with tea and coffee to drink so he doesn't think about booze and I work I stay busy. Sometimes I—" Her words were interrupted by what sounded like a mixture between a hiccup and a belch, so she quickly added, "Excuse me."
"Do you want some water?" he offered.
"Okay." He moved to stand and when she did too he held out his hand. "No, don't get up; I'll bring it." He walked to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle from the fridge, twisted off the cap for her, and then brought it back. She thanked him as she took it and while she took a few sips he commented, "You seem to have sobered."
"I vomited in the bathroom. Sorry."
He shook off her apology. "It's fine. When did you realize I wasn't Lanie?"
"When you were carrying me in the elevator. I thought it was a dream until I opened my eyes and realized I was in your apartment. You could have just taken me home, you know."
"I think you lost your keys; I couldn't find them."
Her brow furrowed and she plunged her left hand inside of the coat she still wore. She rummaged for a second but then pulled out a set of keys almost like a magician. Rick felt dumbfounded until he asked. "Oh—is there an inside pocket?"
They sat in silence for a full minute before she declared, "I'll go."
"Wait," he stopped her when she went to move. "It's really late and you're still drunk."
"I know but I'm sure you don't want me here."
"Why would you say that?" he asked, curious as to her perspective. What she said wasn't entirely true. He most likely would not have invited her over, but that didn't mean he was going to throw her out at midnight when she'd had more than her share to drink.
"You're declining my calls," she said pointedly.
He nodded, a sheepish expression crossing his face. "Well, that was immature and I'm sorry." She didn't really react to his apology, so he gestured towards the tree and said encouragingly, "Come on—let's talk more about Christmas if you want."
She tilted her head up to look at the tree and a look of wonderment crossed her face. "It's beautiful. Did your mother decorate it?"
A guffaw escaped his lips. "You think mother did this? There isn't nearly enough leopard print."
She cracked a smile. "True."
"No, this is me and Alexis. Mother helps a bit, but it's our tradition."
Kate hummed and sipped some more water. "I like it a lot. I don't think I've sat this close to a tree since I was a kid."
Feeling that he should, Rick slid down on to the floor and sat beside her. Only when his forearms brushed against his bare thighs did he remember that he only wore boxer-briefs which, coincidentally, matched the pine color of the tree beside them. Hoping she was a little too drunk to notice, he gave his shirttails a tug so they covered him as much as possible and then said softly, "I'm sorry you haven't had many festive Christmases as of late."
She shrugged one shoulder. "It's just one day, right?"
Rick pressed his lips together, considering. Perhaps, on the surface that was true. If, for instance, a family had members spread across the country and, due to work schedules, could only get together on the Saturday before to celebrate and thus December twenty-fifty passed without much incident, that argument could make sense, but that was not Kate's circumstance. Not only was she missing out on Christmas, the day, but she seemed to be lacking the spirit all together.
"It sounds like you've been missing out on more than just the day, Kate. Christmas isn't just the one day of presents, but the atmosphere of love, togetherness, and family."
"My dad and I exchange small gifts on New Year's Eve."
Giving her a small smile he pointed out, "That's not really what I meant."
Her bottom lip began to quiver again and he was just about to apologize for upsetting her when she said, "I do love working shifts on Christmas so the people with small children can spend time at home. That is my spirit of the season, but…" Her voice drifted off and she remained still for a moment before shaking her head as though she'd given up on the idea.
"What else why would you like to have, Kate," he prompted her.
"Doesn't matter," she mumbled.
"It does to me."
"You know why."
"I do?" she asked, her voice ringing with genuine curiosity.
Now it was his turn to shake his head and change the subject; they didn't need to have this conversation while both of them were a little drunk. Surely, that wouldn't end well. "Just forget it."
He moved to stand, but she stopped him by grabbing onto his arm. "No wait. What do I know Rick?"
Huffing out a breath, he figured that if this was one of their last conversations, it may as well be an honest one. "You know that I love you. You heard me say that in the cemetery when-"
"H-how?" she croaked. "How did you know that I…oh!" her eyes flashed with recognition, then remorse. "You were in observation? And you heard me?"
He nodded. "You lied to me, Kate."
Tears welled in her eyes once more. "I didn't mean to I was just… I was scared. I was scared of what of how I felt about you—about us. I thought I mess it up if we were together too soon, but I missed it up anyway."
Rick's brow wrinkled as he remembered the conversation he'd overheard an hour earlier. "Is that what you were saying to Lanie?"
"You heard us?"
"I was behind you. I was walking over to say goodbye, but then… I eavesdropped a little," he confessed with a little grimace.
The steely eyes of Detective Kate Beckett returned for a moment when she asked, "How much is a little?"
"A fair amount."
"You shouldn't have."
As her tone sounded a little too accusatorial, he sharpened his and pointed out, "You shouldn't have lied. You can tell me anything Kate; we're partners."
She shook her head. "This is different than work stuff, Castle."
He held her gaze steadily and nodded. "I know and we're still partners." They gazed at each other for several more seconds, but he could see her steely resolve melting into exhaustion so he suggested, "You should go to sleep; we both should. I got you a blanket for the couch, but I know you'd be more comfortable in the guest room."
"Oh." She glanced over at the couch then back to him. "Yeah. Okay."
"Okay," he agreed. Then, with his hands on her forearms, he helped her stand. Thankfully she seemed more steady on her feet because she was able to take two steps towards the couch without falling. She put her hand on the back of it as she continued to walk towards the stairs, but halfway there she stopped and turned back.
"Do you need something else?" he asked.
She blinked at him and said, "Do you know you're not wearing pants?"
"Ah…" Feeling his cheeks heat, he clasped his hands together in front of his hips and said, "Yes…I thought you were sleeping and I was just bringing out the blanket…"
"Okay," she said, her tone sounding a bit distant. She took another step then turned back once more and said, "Castle? Thanks for tonight."
He nodded. "Of course. Goodnight, Kate."
"'night," she replied.
Then, with that, Rick raked his hands back through his hair and watched until she made it safely to the top of the stairs before going to bed.
The next morning Rick was up and out of bed by seven-thirty. He wasn't sure how late Kate would sleep and didn't want to be rude to a houseguest. Plus, he wanted to give his mother and daughter fair warning that she was there.
He had a bit of a rough start due to the tightness in his lower back, but he dressed as efficiently as he could. Then, he shuffled his way to the kitchen to put on a pot of extra strong coffee knowing he definitely needed it and suspected Kate would as well. Though he'd wanted to sleep restfully, his mind seemed determined to focus on Kate and the conversation they'd had. During it, Kate had confessed to him that her lie about not remembering his confession of love was not because she didn't feel the same, but because she was afraid of her feelings which, in his mind, implied that she did feel the same. At the risk of feeling even more heartbreak, Rick didn't want to jump to too many conclusions, but he certainly had a more positive outlook on their situation. In fact, as the delightful taste of coffee filled both his stomach and soul, he felt even more optimistic.
The foundation of their relationship had clearly been rattled by the events of the prior few weeks, and that was okay as long as they learned from it and both made attempts to regain the ground they had before—together. Rick could think of no better way to do this than sharing the holiday season together. After all, she had in her own words explained that she hadn't had any festive Christmases in the prior decade and the holidays were the perfect time for them to come together. If she still wasn't ready for them to be romantic, that was okay, too. He just wanted to spend time with her during his favorite weeks of the year.
Rick was surprised to hear the gravely voice of his detective companion as she descended the stairs just before eight. "Hi—hey. What are you doing up?"
Looking utterly exhausted with bloodshot eyes and dark circles beneath them she confessed, "My head is pounding."
"Ah." He nodded, quickly jumping to action and procuring a bottle of pain killers and a large glass of water.
"Thank you," she said with notable desperation.
"You want coffee too, right? I assume you want a big cup?"
"How about a gallon jug?"
Chuckling he said, "I'll see what I can come up with." He rummaged in his cabinets for a minute until he found the largest insulated cup he had and filled it with their favorite beverage. "Would you also like a little hair of the dog?"
She scrunched her nose and said, "No, I'd better not. I'll just stick with this, thank you."
"Sure. Can I get you something to eat, too?"
"Ah," she hesitated with a grimace on her face. Her left hand fell against her belly and she confessed, "I don't think I should eat anything just yet."
He nodded. "Fair enough. Just let me know if you need or want anything else."
"Just to thank you again for last night; I really appreciate it." She gave him a slight smile while cradling her coffee.
He leaned against the counter and gazed at her, his heart jumping a bit in his chest. "Speaking of our discussion last night…I had an idea."
"Yeah…what would you say to spending Christmas here, with us."
"Oh, Castle; that's so sweet of you to ask, but I'm already scheduled to work, and it would be unfair to try and get out of my shifts now."
He nodded in understanding, "Right. Well, when are you on shift?"
"Christmas Eve and morning; it's a double."
"So you'll get off…at noon?" he guessed.
"At one, but I'll have been up all night at that point."
"You'll go home and sleep after?"
She shook her head. "No, I'll stay up so I don't mess up my sleep schedule too much, but I'll be tired and grumpy probably," she added with a laugh.
"All the more reason to come over here so we can entertain and distract you," he pointed out. When she still seemed hesitant, he enticed further with, "Come on—we'll have a late lunch, watch movies, hang out. It'll be really low-key; I promise."
She nibbled on her bottom lip for a moment before her shoulders rounded and she dropped her chin to her chest. "Okay, I guess I could do that."
A grin burst across his face and he proclaimed, "Excellent! It's going to be great, Kate; I promise."
A/N: Thank you for reading! As I plan on posting this story in "real time" per the story, the next chapter will be posted on Christmas Day!