A/N: Back in March, I cowrote a story with bravevulnerability called Sting a Second Time in which I mentioned two visits that Kate and Rick took to her father's cabin. The first of these was the summer they got together, and my story Living is Easy depicts that time. The second was for New Years, their first year as husband and wife. That's what this story is. A chapter will be posted each day, as an advent gift to all of you in gratitude for your support and kindness.

We let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know

Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow

Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Arcade Fire

Monday, December 29th 2014

"Oh good, you're still here," Martha says as she comes in the door.

Kate springs up from the couch to help her mother-in-law. Castle's mom is laden with shopping bags and Beckett takes them, freeing Martha up to shuck out of her coat.

"I thought I might have missed you."

"Rick's still packing," Kate says. She huffs a little breath of laughter and turns over her shoulder to dart a glance through into their bedroom. Her suitcase is already zippered up and waiting by the front door, but Castle has his open at the end of their bed and he flits around the loft gathering things.

Martha hangs up her coat in the closet next to the front door and takes her bags back from Kate, detouring to set her purchases down on the coffee table. Kate stays where she is next to the door, not quite sure where to settle herself, and Martha comes back and hooks her arm through Kate's elbow.

"Richard," she calls out, sharing a smile with Beckett, and Castle pokes his head around the doorframe.

He's wearing a dark cream sweater today, the navy and white plaid of his button down just peeking out from underneath the collar. Kate covets his sweater collection, steals them for herself to curl up inside when she gets home from the precinct. He grumbles and pouts and then wraps his arms around her waist, warm hands sneaking underneath the wool.

"Hi Mother. Good shopping trip? I didn't think you'd be back for a while."

"Oh darling it was just chaos," Martha says. She untangles herself from Kate so that she can throw her hands up in the air. It sets the stacks of bangles at her slender wrists jingling and she catches them with two fingers tucked down against her hand. The first time Kate ever saw Castle's mother do that she had questioned it, and Martha had laughed and explained that it was an actor's habit to stifle the noise of the jewellery, so that she wouldn't have to go back in and rerecord her lines later.

It makes Kate smile to see it now and she touches two fingers to Martha's elbow to bring her over to the couch. They sink to sit, Castle following along behind and settling in the easy chair. His mother wrings her hands together. Her knuckles are swollen with age now, her skin paper thin and cold when Kate covers Martha's hand in hers.

"Was it busy?" Castle says, shifting in his chair. The attractive stretch of his sweater's thick knit across the plane of his chest makes Kate want to curl up with him, lay her cheek to the soft fabric, but they've got a schedule to keep to. Plenty of time for snuggling later.

"Horrifically so, yes. I only visited a couple of stores and then I'm afraid I had to call it a day. I'm not as young as I once was."

"You only visited a couple of stores?" Castle says. His voice is pitched high enough that Kate's eye twitches. "You've got seven bags, Mother."

Martha waves a hand at her son in dismissal, and then settles it at Kate's knee. "Yes darling. Now, your wife seems to be ready to go and here you are, still packing."

He makes a grumpy little noise and folds his arms over his chest, his eyes darting between the two of them before he settles on his mother. "I have to make sure I've got everything. Just because Kate is superhuman when it comes to organisation doesn't mean you have to hold me to that standard."

"I wanted to get there by lunchtime, babe," she says. Drawing her legs up onto the couch, she folds them beneath herself. "At this rate we're going to have to stop for food on our way to the cabin. And we're still gonna have to go and buy groceries once we arrive."

"Okay, okay, I'm going," he grumbles, but there's a flicker of mirth at one corner of his mouth. His lips tug up as he heads back to the bedroom to finish packing.

Once he's gone, Kate twists on the couch to face her mother-in-law and brings her leg up, propping her chin on top of her knee and wrapping both arms around her shin. "Martha, are you and Alexis sure that you don't mind us going away? You know you're both welcome to join us."

"Katherine, honey," Martha says on a laugh. She reaches for one of Kate's hands and peels it away from her shin, squeezing tight. "This is your first New Year as husband and wife. It's special. And anyway, Alexis is happy to have the loft to herself for her party, and I've got plans with friends from the play. Don't worry about us."

"Okay," Kate manages a smile, dipping her head to let her hair spill over her cheeks. "It's just that he's your son. Alexis' dad. I don't want to take him away from either of you."

"We had him for Christmas, darling. You two go, enjoy your time together. It's only five days, I'm sure we'll manage just fine."

The wry little smirk that tugs at Martha's mouth makes Kate laugh and she props her elbow against the back of the couch, cheek supported by her palm. It's only been a little less than a month since she officially moved out of her place, but the loft is warm and her things are scattered around and it feels like home.

"I'm ready," Castle calls out as he appears from their bedroom, wheeling his suitcase behind him. He's got his wallet and phone trapped against his palm with two fingers, his thumb through the loop of the keychain to let the car keys dangle, and he sets his bag beside hers. "You good to go?"

"Uh-huh," Kate says. She stands up from the couch and heads for the kitchen to grab her purse from the island. Her camel coat is draped over one of the barstools and she pulls it on, winds the soft tartan scarf around her neck. Patting her pocket, she checks for her phone and nods at her husband. "Yep. I'm good."

"Got the keys to the cabin?" he asks when she comes to join him by the front door. Kate unzips her purse, rummages inside until she comes up with the keys on their chain. It's in the shape of a flat little silver squirrel, and stamped across the widest part it says I'm nuts for you.

She got it as a stocking filler this year and when she shows her husband he grins and wiggles his eyebrows, pride shaving years off of him. Kate drops the keys back into her purse and tucks it over her shoulder, stepping into her leather ankle boots. With her black skinny jeans and turtleneck her outfit isn't all that exciting, but her coat and scarf add a splash of interest and Castle smiles, his hands settling at her hips.

"You look lovely, Kate."

"Thanks," she hums, lifting up on tiptoe in her flat shoes so that she can kiss him. This time of year suits him; he mellows after Christmas itself, and in the few days between the big day and the new year all he wants to do is curl up under a blanket and watch movies.

Martha's fingers come to Kate's shoulder and she steps away from Castle to embrace his mother instead, the tip of her nose pressed close against Martha's neck. "Goodbye darlings. Have a wonderful time."

"Thank you Mother," Castle says. He accepts the kiss that Martha dusts to his cheek, and then he opens the front door and steps out into the hallway, dragging both of their suitcases out behind him. "I'll let you know when we get there, if I can find some signal."

"Drive safely," Martha says, one hip propped against the doorframe now as she watches them make their way to the elevator. She gives them a last wave as they round the corner and then they hear the door close.

The elevator is waiting on their floor and the doors slide open as soon as Kate presses the call button. Castle steps on first and she follows him inside the elevator car, tugging her suitcase on behind her. Her husband has one hand curled around the handle of his case, but he slides his free arm around her shoulders and draws her in close against him.


"Yeah," she says. She lays her cheek against his chest as the elevator sinks slowly down to the lobby. "I can't believe it's been two and a half years since the first time we were there. It's weird to think about, isn't it?"

He laughs at that, dropping his arm from around her shoulders as the elevator doors slide open. They have to change in the lobby, because there's a separate elevator down to the parking garage so that nobody can get into the building without the doorman seeing them. Frank waves as they make their way to the garage elevator, and Kate offers him a smile.

Beside hers, Castle's fingers are flexing and their knuckles brush, but she can't hold his hand and wheel her case and carry her purse all at the same time. The elevator takes only a few seconds before the doors open onto the parking garage and Kate huffs a breath, tucking her chin down inside her scarf.

When they get to the car Castle pops the trunk and puts both of their cases inside, turning to look at her in question. "Want your purse with you in the car, or do you wanna put it in the trunk?"

"I'll keep it with me. You want to drive until we stop for lunch and then we'll switch?"

"Sure," he grins. He closes the trunk again and rounds the car to slide into the driver's seat. Kate climbs into the passenger side and sets her purse down in the footwell, toeing out of her shoes to get comfortable for the drive to the cabin.

Castle takes a moment to adjust the seat and the mirrors and then he starts the engine and they pull smoothly out of the parking spot. Her phone connects to the car's bluetooth automatically and she scrolls through her music library until she finds a playlist.

They sit together in easy silence, Castle following her directions out of the city. He cranks up the heat in the car so that Kate has to shrug out of her coat and twist around to lay it in the back seat. Every so often a snatch of melody catches her husband's attention and he hums it back, as if he's sounding out the unfamiliar notes.

"Do you have any plans for our time at the cabin?" he asks once they're settled on the interstate. The car is a sleek and shiny beast carving through the landscape. This far out of the city, the world has managed to cling to the kiss of frost and Kate presses her cheek to the window.

"Nothing solid. I thought it might be nice to try and get up to the farm, see Jay and Abby. But really I just want us to relax and spend time together."

He smiles at that, his gaze shifting away from the windshield for half a second so that he can share it with her. "That sounds perfect. It's weird how much has changed since we were last at the cabin, huh?"

"Yeah," she hums, twisting in her seat to face him a little more. Kate tucks her feet up onto the chair, toes curled over the edge, and she wiggles them in her thick socks. "Back then I kind of. . .I thought that this might be it. I hoped, anyway. And now I'm sure."

"I'm sure too," he beams. He's intent on watching the road, so Kate can only see a shard of his face like this, but even just that one happy eye and the edge of a smile makes her grin in echo. "My wife."

He has a habit of saying that now. Sometimes in amazement, sometimes so softly she almost misses it. Sometimes loud and delighted and chasing her around the kitchen, hoping to get her back for smearing flour across his cheek.

"Remember what you said to me when I was in the bath with poison ivy? You said we'd come to the cabin for Christmas, and I'd be your husband."

"It's not exactly Christmas," she laughs. She reaches out to straighten the collar of his sweater where it's gotten a little crooked. Castle isn't coming back to the precinct with her in the new year, and she's not sure if it's that or the fact that she's his wife now that renders her completely unable to stop touching him.

He lifts one shoulder at her in a shrug, drumming his fingertips against the steering wheel. So often since their wedding Castle's entire body has been overtaken with joy; it comes out in random bursts of song or in dances they share around their kitchen, in the bounce of his body on the mattress every night as he worms his way between the sheets.

"Close enough," he says. His stomach gurgles its irritation then and he laughs, frees a hand from the wheel to press against his belly. "Wanna grab some lunch at the next rest stop?"


The exit comes up after another fifteen minutes or so and Castle flicks on the blinker and eases the car across a lane. He's a good driver and even though she teases, Kate feels safe with him behind the wheel. It gives her the chance to watch the work of his shoulders too, the way his nose crinkles in concentration every so often.

Castle parks the car and they get out, Kate reaching into the back for her coat. She goes through the whole routine, coat on and bag over her shoulder. When she comes around the front of the car to join her husband he straightens her lapel and eases her hair out from where it's gotten trapped beneath the collar, and then he takes her hand in his. Neither of them has bothered with gloves for the drive to the cabin and she lets him tuck her skinny fingers up against the meat of his bear paw to keep them warm.

Inside the rest stop building, Kate shifts the grip of their hands until their palms are clasped loosely. It's busy; people are migrating like salmon for the holidays, and Kate gets nudged by a man with five or six children trailing behind him in a line.

"Wow," Castle whispers, his breath hot against her ear, and Kate turns to look at him. "I always kinda wanted a big family, but now I'm thinking I was lucky to only have Alexis."

"He looks worn out doesn't he?" Kate murmurs back. A conspiratorial grin twitches at the seam of her lips as she snickers with her husband. The guy heads off towards Burger King with his brood in tow and Kate lays a palm against Castle's chest, darting in to steal a kiss from him before she steps away. "What do you want for lunch?"

"Are you going to Burger King?" he says, peeking past her at the line that snakes away from the counter and curves around the seating area.

Carding a hand through her hair, Kate presses her lips together and surveys their surroundings a little more thoroughly, wincing at the crowds. "Well, we're gonna have to wait for coffee anyway. Non-negotiable. So how about we just grab a sandwich or something too?"

"Works for me," he says easily. He keeps a tight hold of Kate's hand as they make their way to the back of the line for Starbucks. In front of them, a man waits to order with his daughter in his arms, and the baby peers at them from over her father's shoulder.

Kate pulls a goofy face and the baby laughs, her little face scrunching up with delight. She can feel Castle's eyes on her, but Kate is careful not to look at him as she puffs out her cheeks at the little one, crossing her eyes. The baby squeals, a tiny fist smacking against her dad's shoulder, and Kate laughs right back.

"She loves you," Castle chuckles. Untangling his hand from hers, he sneaks his palm underneath her coat to rest at the small of her back. "I'm a little jealous."

She turns to see him then, her smile for the baby still lingering, and Castle leans in to kiss her. He keeps it soft, his lips warm against hers. When he tugs away again she offers him a shy little tilt of her mouth. Kate lays her head against Castle's bicep, content to people-watch as they wait in line for their coffee and sandwiches.

"Know what you want?" he says when they get close enough to see the counter. Kate wraps her arm around his and curls her fingers at his bicep as she peruses the sandwiches on offer. "I'm getting the barbecue beef brisket."

"Because you want it, or because you like the alliteration?" she teases, knocking her temple against his shoulder when he huffs. He's cute when he gets disgruntled, and Kate kisses the swell of his bicep even though he won't feel it through the fabrics of his sweater and his button down. "I'll get the tomato and mozzarella panini."

He brushes his lips against her temple in a shadow of a kiss, his fingers hooked in the pocket of her coat as if he thinks she might stray from him. "Good choice. Your usual coffee?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

"Why don't you go get us a table then, and I'll order?" he suggests. Kate nods, fluttering her fingers in farewell to the baby that still watches them both with huge, unblinking eyes. She earns herself another gummy smile and then Kate steps away and heads in search of a table.

At first glance the entire place seems packed, but there's a small round table with two chairs tucked away in the corner and Kate heads for it, weaving through the throngs of people. She shucks out of her coat and drapes it over the back of one of the chairs, sinking to sit.

From here she's got a clear view of the whole seating area and she watches the various interactions between people. An old couple are taking turns to scowl at the rambunctious, happy toddler seated close to them. A teenager sits with her head bowed over her phone, thumbs tapping swiftly across the screen, and a man who must be her father does his best to make conversation.

Kate twists her engagement ring around and around her finger. She always loves getting to wear it, and she holds out her hand to admire the diamond for the millionth time. Across the room, she spots her husband making his careful way through the collection of tables, both hands tight around a tray that holds their coffee mugs and their sandwiches.

He finds her in the crowd immediately, and his whole face opens up with lovely, clean light. Castle manages to make it to her without colliding with anyone or dropping their lunch, and when he sinks down to sit he huffs a breath of relief and pulls his sweater off over his head.

"Good job snagging a table," he says. It's an inelegant dance to pass her plate and her mug over to her, the space of the little table entirely taken up with the tray. They manage, and Castle takes his own food and sets the tray on the floor out of their way. "I was gonna get you a hazelnut latte as a surprise, but the barista said they were fresh out of the syrup, so it's just your usual vanilla I'm afraid."

"I love vanilla," she laughs. Wrapping both hands around her mug, she lifts it to her mouth to sip. Kate lets her eyes slide closed and she hums, savouring the scald of the liquid on its way to settle into her belly. "Thanks for lunch, babe."

He's halfway through a mouthful of his sandwich and he widens his eyes at her, shielding his mouth behind his palm as he chews. With the other hand, he holds his index finger up to her to indicate that she should wait and she laughs, reaches out to draw his hand to her lips and kiss the tip of his finger.

"No problem," he says when he finally swallows, skimming his knuckles over the edge of her jaw as he draws his hand back. "How's your panini?"

It makes her realise that she hasn't started eating yet, too busy watching him. Kate takes a bite of her sandwich and chews slowly, relishing the blend of flavours. She gives Castle a thumbs up and he grins, busies himself with eating his own lunch.

They finish their sandwiches in silence, sharing secret smiles across the top of the table. Castle's eyes crinkle at the corners, those little creases of mirth so much more pronounced than when she first knew him. He wears his joy well, like an old friend, and she loves to watch how happiness leaves its mark on his skin as the years tick by.

"Ready to go?" he asks once she's drained the last dregs from her mug. Kate smiles, standing up from her chair and gathering their dishes onto the tray. She glances around, but there doesn't seem to be anywhere to put the dirty trays so she leaves it on the table. Draping her coat over one arm, she reaches for Castle with the other and tangles their fingers.

A couple of heads turn towards them as they weave their way through the seating area. She always imagines that it's because Castle is somewhat recognisable, but he insists that it's because Kate is an actual ex-model and people can't help but stare at her. Every time, it makes embarrassment bloom along the pale column of her neck and up into the very tips of her ears, and she has to kiss him to shut him up.

As they're leaving the building, a little girl maybe seven or eight years old goes crashing to the floor in her haste to keep up with her family. They're swept up in the flood of people, and the girl sits on her butt on the ground, gazing around herself as if she's astonished to be there.

Castle eases his hand out of Kate's grip and sinks to a crouch next to the girl, says something to her that Kate doesn't quite catch. She nods, swiping at her cheeks, and Castle gets to his feet again and helps the girl to stand up too.

He dusts off her knees, and by now the girl's mother has materialised and she palms the back of her daughter's head, thanking Castle for his kindness. The two disappear inside and Kate reaches for her husband's hand again, their palms clasped.

When they make it back to the car, Kate clutches tighter at Castle's hand when he tries to let go. Instead of breaking away from him, she slides her free arm around his neck and steps in close, lifting up onto tiptoe and letting her body settle against his for balance.

She kisses him, her tongue just darting out to touch at the corner of his mouth. Castle's fingers nudge their way into her hair and slide down, working at the knots in her nape. When she pulls back, Kate smoothes her thumb underneath his eye and smiles, sinking back down to flat feet again.

"I love you."

"Love you too, Mrs Castle," he grins at her, ducking out of the way when she tries to swat at his chest.

When Kate told him that she wanted to take his name, he had blinked furiously and turned his face away. She had wrapped both arms around him on a laugh and rocked him a little, murmuring soothing sounds against the crown of his head until he had managed to look at her again.

Meredith was already establishing her career as an actress, and Gina hadn't even considered it. That was her biggest motivating factor, really; she's still Beckett at the precinct, has built her career on the reputation of that name, but in their private lives she wanted to take his name. To show him just how much she's in this, that this is so different to his previous marriages.

For a long time - most of her adult life - she figured that if she did ever get married, she would keep her own name. Only, that name isn't really hers either; it's her father's, so becoming Mrs Castle felt more like blossoming into a new phase than her husband taking possession of her. It still makes her grouchy when he calls her that though, and more often than not she fires back with a glib remark about him being Mr Beckett.

"Are you driving now?" he asks. He steals another kiss from her lips and it shakes her right out of her distraction.

Kate sifts her fingers through his hair to push it back out of his face and she smiles, patting her husband's chest before she rounds the car and climbs in to the driver's seat.

Tumblr: katiehoughton

Twitter: seilleanmor