Living Out in the Snow
At the next rest stop Castle pulls off the highway and navigates his way to the parking lot, sliding the car neatly into a space. Kate is still very much awake, her irritation a third presence in the car, but she's turned away from him.
"I'm gonna get some coffee. Do you want to come inside, or are you staying here?"
"Need to use the bathroom," she mutters. Kate opens her door and gets out of the car, reaching into the back for her coat.
He takes a moment to just sit, his head in his hands, and then he sighs and makes himself get out and join his wife. She's waiting on her side. As he rounds the front of the car she makes to stride away and he snags her wrist in his fingers, hauls her back against him.
"Are you really mad?" he asks as he backs her up against the car. He's got her pinned, but they both know she could break away if she really wanted to. Instead her body sags and she rests her forehead to his chest.
"No. I'm not mad. I'm just in a bad mood. I hate leaving the cabin. I didn't mean to take it out on you."
He chuckles and kisses the crown of her head, sifts his fingers through her hair. "That's okay Beckett. I can take it."
"You did kind of deserve it with your cheating," she says, lifting her head to see him. Kate straightens the lapels of his coat and uses that grip to lift up into him, kiss his mouth. He gives it back carefully, mindful that they're in the middle of a parking lot.
"Come on honey," he says. His fingers are too wide to lace with hers really, but he does it anyway and presses the meat of his palm to hers. "Let's get some coffee in you. You'll feel better."
They walk towards the rest stop building together, clasped hands swinging loosely between their bodies. Kate's apology is the circle of her thumb over the back of his hand, the nudge of her shoulder at his as they squeeze through the doors together.
It's busy inside, and he tightens his grip in case the tide of people sweeps Kate up and away from him. "I'll wait in line while you go to the bathroom. Know what you want in case I get to the front?"
"My usual is fine," she says. Taking her hand back, she lays it against his chest and she steps in close to kiss him, even with the people that swarm around. "Thanks babe. Be right back."
He watches her go, a flash of dark hair and camel coat and endless leg, and then he joins the end of the line for the Starbucks counter. His phone must have connected to the free internet this place offers because it starts buzzing ferociously in his pants pocket and he has to tug it free.
Notifications are pouring in, emails and iMessages and tweets people have sent him. It's a little overwhelming and he gulps, flicks his thumbnail against the plastic phone case as he watches the alerts fill his screen.
Once they finally seem to stop he unlocks his phone and starts checking everything, starting with his messages. It's mostly New Years texts from his various acquaintances and he shoots off a generic thanks to each of them.
He scrolls through his Twitter next, smiling when he sees the number of people who have taken time out of their day to tweet him well wishes for the new year. It always makes him so humbled when he gets to interact with his fans, and he chooses a few of the familiar names to shoot off a reply to.
So many of them extend their kindness and generosity to Kate as well, tell him that they hope he spent some quality time with his wife. He must look like a total goof, grinning down at his cell phone screen, but he goes on something of a favouriting spree so that he can find these messages later and show them to Beckett.
He leaves his emails for later, certain that it'll be a slew of marketing about various New Years sales. Instead, he locks his phone and tucks it away in his pocket again. Castle casts a slow glance around the place, taking in the various people in the line with him.
It's mostly families, people travelling back home now that the holidays are over. There are two brothers over near the counter playing some kind of complicated version of roshambo that gets rowdier and rowdier until their mother settles a hand at each of their heads and draws them slowly apart.
Behind him, somebody clears their throat and he turns to see a girl around his daughter's age. Her blonde hair is a neat braid over one shoulder, that intricate herringbone he sees all the time now. Her eyes are green and huge, and when he looks at her she smiles widely.
"Excuse me, are you Richard Castle?"
"Yes, that's me," he smiles at the girl and offers his hand for her to shake. "And you are?"
She's blushing now and she giggles, dips her chin. "I'm Kelly. I'm sorry, I know you must be on vacation, I don't mean to disturb you. I just love your books."
"You're not disturbing me at all," he assures her. "I was pretty bored waiting in line actually. And it's always nice to meet a fan."
"Are you- isn't your wife here?"
He stiffens at that, a ridiculous protective instinct roaring to life in his chest. His fingers start to curl into a fist and he forces them straight again, makes his smile stretch wide enough that it begins to ache. "Yes, my wife is here. I'm getting coffee for us both."
"I didn't mean to pry," Kelly hurries to explain. Her cheeks are scarlet with embarrassment now, but it does settle him a little. "I'm so sorry. I just read her article in Cosmo years ago, and I've kind of kept up to date with her since then. I love Nikki Heat, so I guess the real person must be pretty amazing."
"She is," he says. His whole body goes soft and he lists to one side. It lets him see past Kelly and he spots his wife approaching, flutters his fingers at her in a wave. "Here she is now if you'd like to meet her."
Kelly's mouth drops open and then a hand flies up to cover it, only to fall away again a second later. "Oh gosh, I'm- are you sure? I don't want to interrupt."
"You're not interrupting," he assures the girl as Kate reaches them. Sliding his hand neatly in to hers, he draws her in to stand beside him and he kisses her cheek. Mostly for show, and her elbow knocks into his ribs. "Hi honey. This is Kelly. She's a fan of my books, but I think she might be a bigger fan of you."
"Nice to meet you Kelly," Kate says warmly, extending a hand to the girl.
She takes it, but she's trembling and she can barely get her words out now. "Detective Beckett. You're- it's- I can't believe I'm meeting you. I'm such a big fan. I'm hoping to go to the police academy after I graduate college in a couple years."
"Wow," Kate says, darting a quick glance to him. "You want to be a cop?"
"Ever since I read your Cosmo article. And Mr Castle's books pushed me in that direction too. Damn, I wish I had one you could sign."
He laughs at that and Kate does too, squeezing his fingers in hers. "Would you like me to take a picture of you guys?"
"Oh, yes please."
Castle lets go of his wife to go and stand beside his fan instead. Kelly hands her cell phone over and Kate frames the shot. He's got his arm around Kelly's shoulders and he smiles. Looking at Kate, so it's a true one and not one of his publicity grimaces.
After she takes the picture Kate passes the phone back over, and Kelly hesitates a moment before she speaks. "Could I. . .maybe have a picture with you as well, Detective Beckett?"
"Oh," Kate says. Surprise makes her face slack and her eyes fly to his but he's grinning, already taking the phone from Kelly and trading places with his wife. "Yes. Of course you can."
Kate follows his lead, her arm around Kelly's shoulders. Her head bends in close, because the girl isn't very tall and Kate is so statuesque. She's so stunning, like a model or an actress in the photograph, and he has to force himself to focus and press the button to actually take the picture.
Once he's done he hands the phone back over and Kelly smiles widely at them, her cell clutched tight in her fingers. "Thank you both so much. Have a safe journey home."
"Thank you," he says. This girl is so sweet, and he wishes that all of his fan encounters were like this. "You too, Kelly."
She leaves the line then, scuttling away from them and already raising her phone to her ear. Kate turns to look at him and for a moment she only stares, her mouth open. "I've never had a fan before."
"You're so cute," he laughs. It makes her blush, and he captures her face between his palms and holds her in place to kiss her. She smiles into it and winds her arms around his neck, rests her forehead at his cheek. "Of course you've got fans. You're amazing. Nikki is ninety percent you. Of course they love you."
"Wasn't she waiting for coffee?" Kate asks as she breaks away from him. She slides her hand into his and they move forward with the rest of the line, just a couple of steps.
He laughs and glances across the rest stop as if he might spot her, but Kelsey has already been swallowed up by the holiday crowds. "She was. I think meeting you made her more wired than the caffeine would have done though."
"She wants to be a cop because of me," Kate whispers. Awe makes her face slack and she shakes her head slowly, blinking up at him. "Because of me. I influenced that. I'm- wow."
"You never quite get used to that. I still get people telling me I inspired them to want to write, and it's amazing every time."
Hooking her arm through his, Kate lays her cheek to his shoulder. "I love you, Castle. This is my life, because of you. I get to have a positive impact, just like my mom did."
"We could get you involved with some of my charity stuff if you want?" he suggests. "Or you could pick your own. Just say the word, Beckett. Whatever you want."
"I'd really like that. Carry on her legacy, like that scholarship."
She falls quiet then and he's content to let her have the space to work through her thoughts. His lips flirt with the crown of her head, his arm around her shoulders now.
When they get to the front of the line he orders their coffees and Kate snags two of the chocolate chip cookies from the jar on the counter as well. He pays for everything and they move to the other end of the counter to wait for their drinks.
Kate is playing absent-mindedly with his fingers now, stretching them and making his joints feel weird. He likes it, and he flutters them in her grip so that she'll continue. He asked for their drinks to go, because he's eager to get back home, and the barista places two travel cups down in front of them.
He takes both, because Kate is still holding their cookies, and he follows her as she cuts a neat path through the bunches of people and towards the doors. Back at the car he heads for the passenger side this time and he sets their coffee cups down on the roof of the Buick so that he can open his door.
Both coffees safely nestled in the cup holders in the centre console, Castle fastens his seatbelt and takes his wife's purse when she passes it over to him. She shrugs out of her coat and then Kate fastens her own belt and slides the key into the ignition, starts up the engine.
He plucks his coffee from the holder and blows into the little hole in the lid to try and cool it off before he takes a sip. It's scalding and he hisses, has to work his tongue around his mouth. Kate is laughing at him, her eyes on the road, and he pokes his index finger into the meat of her thigh.
She's driving, which means that it's his turn to be in charge of their music selection. He connects his phone to the car's bluetooth and puts it on shuffle, leaves it balanced on his knee so that he can skip anything either of them wants to.
"I'm hungry," Kate says once they're back on the highway. "Can you feed me my cookie?"
He opens the plastic wrapper around the chocolate cookie and breaks off a little chunk, lifts it to his wife's mouth. She's focused on the road, so he has to bring it right to her lips. She opens her mouth and he pops the chunk of cookie inside for her. The tip of Kate's tongue darts out to swipe at his fingertip where the heat of his skin had started to melt the chocolate, and he shivers.
She chews slowly, humming to herself. When she's done she opens her mouth for more and he laughs, breaks off another chunk and pops it past her lips for her. They work through the whole cookie like that and when the packet is empty he laughs.
"You can have mine too if you want. I'm still stuffed from lunch."
"No no, my treat."
He snorts at that and her eyes dart to his face for just a second, amusement flirting with the corner of her mouth. "I paid for it."
"What's your point?"
"Right," he says resolutely. "What's mine is yours. Yes, dear."
They're quiet for a while then, one or the other of them occasionally singing along to snatches of the songs that his phone plays. As they get nearer the city the traffic thickens and Kate sighs, resting her head against the back of the seat.
"It's gonna take us forever to get home."
"Wanna play some more twenty questions?" he teases. It makes her growl and she turns her head to look at him, the car stationary in the traffic.
That noise of irritation still rumbles at the base of her throat and she narrows her eyes at him. "You think you're so funny. Just wait until we get back. Martha and Alexis will take my side for sure."
"Well Alexis probably will. You guys are synced, right?"
"Castle," she gapes, reaching across the centre console to shove on his arm. He allows it to topple him and his other shoulder smacks against the car window, makes him grunt. "Oh my God. I can't believe- I don't know if we're synced. We don't exactly discuss it."
She's hissing at him, all long neck and teeth flashing like a beautiful and very angry goose. It makes him rear back from her for real this time. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, Beckett. Just a normal biological function."
"And another thing," she ploughs right through him. "I'm not mad at you because of the time of the month. I'm mad because you cheated. Don't try to blame this on me being female."
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," he says, showing her his palms in submission. "I take it back. You have every right to be mad at me."
He really is just teasing, and he plucks her fingers from the air and brings them to his lips, kisses each of her knuckles in turn. It works to soften her and her lips curve up into a smile, her chin ducked. The traffic in front of them crawls forwards a little and Kate takes her foot off of the brake, lets the car roll for a bit.
"What do you wanna do for dinner tonight?" he asks.
Kate is drumming impatient fingers against the steering wheel and she turns to look at him, scratches her fingers against her scalp. "Your mom texted me. Apparently Alexis is cooking something to welcome us home."
"Mother messaged you and not me?"
"She loves me," Kate shrugs. He pouts, feigns hurt, but joy bubbles up in him and he can't hold it back. His grin blooms wide with gratitude for the easy way his mother loves, how comfortable Kate is around her. "But anyway. We don't need to worry about it, apparently. We're to focus on enjoying our drive home."
Castle groans and scrubs his fingertips at his temple, closing his eyes a moment. Slumping against the doorframe, he grunts and lets his cheek meet the cool glass. "I'm not sure it's possible to enjoy it when we can't actually do any driving. I could probably walk faster."
"You're welcome to get out and I'll meet you at home."
He pokes his tongue out at her and fishes his cell phone from beneath his leg, holds his thumb over the button so that his fingerprint makes the home screen spring into life.
"What are you doing?"
He glances up from the phone to look at her, confusion knotting his forehead. "I was going to play my Angry Birds."
"Really?" she arches an eyebrow at him. "You're going to play your app and just leave me in silence."
"Oh," he says, clicking the button to lock his phone. The screen plunges into darkness and he drops it right into the door pocket. "Sorry. Didn't really think it through."
Kate presses her lips together and turns to look out of the windshield again. Her profile is so lovely and elegant that he can't help himself. Straining against the confines of his seatbelt, Castle gets close enough to touch his lips to her cheek and he does, leaves wet little kisses in a line to the corner of her mouth.
"Are you mad at me honey? I'm sorry. How can I make it up to you?"
"Not at you," she sighs, knocking her head against his. "It's the traffic. And I hate travelling home. It just drags out the sadness of leaving."
The edge of the seatbelt is cutting into his neck and he has to sit back properly in his chair again. She removes one of her hands from the wheel and slides it into his though, stroking her fingertips against the meat of his palm.
"You'll feel better once we're home."
"Yeah," she agrees. "If we ever get there."
Castle pulls his phone out of the door pocket and unlocks it again, opens up his browser again. "You wanna do something fun tonight? Shake us out of our funk? We could go to the movies."
"Ooh," she says, turning to look at him. "Into the Woods is still showing. I really want to see it."
"Let's do it," he grins.
Castle calls his mother to ask if she and Alexis want to join them at the movies. Both women agree enthusiastically and he books four tickets for tonight's showing on his phone, shows Kate the confirmation email that comes through almost immediately.
The traffic starts to pick up a little bit, but it still seems to take forever before they even make it back to Manhattan. He's impressed, as always, by Kate's easy handling of the car, the smooth way she drives even when things are stop-start.
By the time they pull into the parking garage beneath his building he's aching to get out of the car and stretch his legs, and that jagged vein has surfaced in Kate's forehead. She cuts the engine and they pile out, collect all of their stuff from the back seat and the trunk before they make for the elevator.
When they finally make it to the front door of the loft he unlocks it and swings it wide, and the two of them squeeze through the doorframe together. Alexis and his mother are at the kitchen island and they detach themselves, come to wrap Castle and Kate up in a hug.
"I missed you Dad, Kate," Alexis says. She's got her arm hooked through Beckett's and she leads Castle's wife towards the couch. The two of them sink to sit, heads bent together as they chatter, and he only turns at the insistent tug of his mother's hand in his sleeve.
She's trying to help him out of his coat and he puts the bags down so that she can, gives her a smile of thanks when she hangs his jacket up in the closet.
"Welcome home, darling. How was your trip?" She leaves a powdery kiss at his cheek and Castle closes his eyes, feeling six years old again for just a moment. When she tugs back to look at him he gives her a wide smile and he hooks his arm at her shoulders, brings her to the living room to join Kate and Alexis.
"Hey, Dad," Alexis says, patting the couch cushion next to her. He sits, his daughter sandwiched between Rick and his wife now, and he accepts the enthusiastic arms she flings around his neck. "Kate was just telling me that you guys saw a bear?"
He laughs and shares a glance with Kate from over the top of Alexis' head. "We did. He was trying to drink at the lake, but it was frozen over so he couldn't quite manage to."
"That's so cool," his daughter breathes. She's got her feet tucked underneath herself on the couch and she lifts up on her knees a little in eagerness. "Wow. I'm glad he didn't eat you."
"Goodness darling, me too," his mother calls out. She's in the armchair at Kate's end of the couch, one leg crossed over the other and her heeled foot bouncing slowly in the air.
Castle laughs and reaches down to unfasten the laces of his sneakers, toeing his way out of them. More comfortable now,, he leans back against the couch and rests his ankle against his opposite knee. "We had a fantastic time. The cabin is so beautiful. And Kate and I were talking, and we'd love to go up there with the two of you and Jim."
"Oh, Dad, are you sure?" Alexis says. She's nibbling at her bottom lip and she darts a concerned glance in Kate's direction before she twists to meet his eyes again. "Isn't it like Mr Beckett's sanctuary, kind of? I don't want to intrude."
"Alexis," Kate starts. She touches three fingers to the ball of his daughter's shoulder and Alexis turns to look at Beckett. "You wouldn't be intruding. You and your gram are my family, just as much as your dad or my dad are. And if you'd like to come to the cabin, you are always welcome there."
Rick has to breathe slowly so that he doesn't choke on his adoration for his wife. She's smiling at him from over his daughter's head, and then she turns that same smile to his mother in the armchair to draw her into it too.
"Katherine darling, that's a lovely offer, but I've never really enjoyed becoming one with nature."
"Of course," Kate laughs. Kicking off her ankle boots, she draws her legs up onto the couch. He's a little astonished to see Alexis curl up with Beckett and lay her cheek to Kate's shoulder. The lights on the Christmas tree are lit, blinking slowly red and then green and then back to red again, and they transform his daughter's pale skin. "You don't have to come, Martha, but the offer is always open."
Alexis smiles against Kate's arm and stretches her legs out along the couch, her feet in Castle's lap. "What about me?"
"You do have to come," Kate says. There's a lovely lilt of teasing in her voice, and her smile is a soft thing that mostly haunts the corners of her mouth. "So much cool stuff I want to show you up there. Ever jumped off a waterfall?"
"No," Alexis gasps, rearing upright and twisting to stare at Beckett. "You guys did that?"
Kate laughs at the alarm on Alexis' face and stretches to poke her toes into Castle's thigh, draw him back in to the conversation. "Not this time, too cold. But we did when we there in the summer a few years back. I think you'd love it."
"Okay," Alexis nods. "Yes. I'd love to come to the cabin."
A/N: Thank you all so much for coming on this journey with me. All of your kind words have filled me with so much joy all throughout advent. I hope you have a very peaceful Christmas with your loved ones.