They drive to her father's cabin two days later, leaving in the morning with promises from Alexis and his mother to see them in time for the afternoon ceremony. Rick had assured her that it would be a small affair, similar to their wedding, adding only their immediate family from the precinct this time around.
She allows Castle to drive the nondescript, black sedan he had purchased a short time after the Mercedes had met its demise on their original wedding date. The larger vehicle made him feel safer, well protected and in control, and Kate was content to curl up in the passenger seat, allow him to navigate the busy roads. Since their mutual 're-proposals' on Christmas Day, they had been getting far too little sleep - not that she minded, not at all – and relaxing through the two hour trip gave her the time she needed to shake her sleep deprived state, give acknowledgement to the festering excitement swirling like eager butterflies in her stomach.
"Have you decided where you want our second honeymoon to take place?" Kate murmurs, her cheek pressing against the leather of the seat as she turns to look at him, her fingers rising on their own accord to dust over the ascending corner of his mouth, the parentheses bracketing his lips and the branches of crows' feet extending from the corner of his eye. The evidence of his joy written in his skin.
"We never had our island getaway," he muses, retracting his hand from the steering wheel to drape his palm at one of her pointed knees, squeezing the bone beneath her jeans. "But I was thinking we should probably save that for the summer."
"Mm, yeah, run away to paradise when the heat wave rolls into the city," she agrees, teasing her fingers between the spaces of his, stroking the thin skin stretched across his knuckles.
"Exactly," he praises, snagging her fingers, ensnarling them in the knot of his before releasing, returning his hand to the steering wheel. "And honestly, I'm not in the mood to travel far right now, so I was thinking-"
"This should be good."
"What about the Hamptons? You've never seen the place in the winter, it's stunning," Castle raves, his eyes glossing over with the imagery in his head. "It's different from the summer, of course, but it's more... more peaceful. Instead of the beach, we can lounge in the hot tub, cuddle up by that massive fireplace in the living room, maybe even do a bonfire at some point if it isn't too cold, make s'mores-"
"Castle." The amusement has faded from her lips, that reverent wonder he always manages to evoke from the depths of her chest, a sensation she had been certain died long ago, arising to compensate. "That sounds perfect."
"Suitable enough for a second honeymoon?" he inquires, an eyebrow arching to mask the uncertainty she can sense, quiet but there, and Kate nods, checks the road before stealing his hand back, smearing a brief kiss to his knuckles.
"Yes, I love the Hamptons house and I want to experience it during this time of year."
Rick grins at her, brushes his thumb along the inside of her wrist, the thud of her pulse. "It's settled then. After we drive back tomorrow morning, we'll pack up again, head to the Hamptons tomorrow night."
"And maybe we could do something for New Year's, see if your mom and Alexis want to join us, my dad and some family from the Twelfth," she suggests, hiding behind the drape of her hair when he beams at her so brilliantly, lighting up like the elusive sunlight on this grey winter day.
"I'd like that, I think they would too. And speaking of your dad, he texted me a few minutes ago, says he already has a fresh pot of coffee waiting," Castle assures her when he catches her frowning at her empty travel mug in her hand. "As well as lunch."
"And a fire I hope," Kate yawns, stretching in the passenger seat. They've already exited the highway, taken the secluded road to her dad's cabin that Rick has only visited a handful of times before. She hadn't expected him to enjoy the place like she did, the entire experience of living in the woods so different from any he's ever had, but she's aware of her husband's soft spot for the cabin, his appreciation of the absolute privacy, how he savors the solitude, the solace.
"Not warm enough there?" he teases her, tugging on the edge of the fleece she had pulled up to her chin despite the heater flooding the car with hot air and layers of clothing she wears. Alexis had left it in the backseat after their last long road trip and curled up in the seat next to him with a blanket, listening to Castle's dramatic renditions of the Christmas songs still consuming the radio stations, had proven to be the perfect way to start her day, to stay warm with laughter.
"We can't all be human furnaces like you," she mutters, unfurling her legs from the seat as the cabin comes into view.
Her father was already out on the front porch, a smile forming at the corners of his mouth as they pull into the snow-blanketed driveway. Jim steps away from the stacks of firewood arranged on the porch and starts towards the sedan once Castle kills the ignition, opening the driver's side door and exiting the vehicle. Kate takes one last breath of the leftover warmth still encased within the car, bracing her lungs for the winter chill that waits to invade the caverns of her chest the second she joins Castle and her dad.
Kate pushes the door open when she notices Rick waiting for her on the other side, accepts the gloved hand he holds out to her and grins up at him as he adjusts the beanie on her head, easing it down to cover her ears.
"Okay?" he murmurs, squeezing her fingers while she nods, casting her eyes to the trees in the near distance, the welcome sight of the woods decorated in the white coat of snow, their naked branches bowing towards her in greeting under the gentle nip of the winter breeze.
"Mm, a little chilly," she admits, the snow crunching beneath her boots as they approach Jim Beckett. "But it's nice today, that sharp kind of cold."
"I'm assuming this would feel heavenly after venturing through a blizzard two days ago," Castle mumbles at her side, just as they reach her father and his rising brow.
"What blizzard?" Jim inquires with a narrowed gaze in her direction, but Kate relinquishes Castle's hand to embrace her father, smiling against his shoulder when he wraps his arms around her, holds her tight.
"Tell you later."
Kate steps back, makes room for the handshake the two men share, the hug that her dad pulls Castle into that has her smile stretching, cracking her chapped lips.
"Did the setup go okay?" Rick asks, glancing around her dad, towards the cabin.
"Setup?" Kate echoes, but Jim is already nodding.
"Yep, they came by yesterday morning, had it done within a matter of hours. I did a walkthrough afterwards, it looks pretty spectacular, son."
She has no idea what they're talking about, but Castle is practically beaming beside her, the curve of his lips so pleased and proud and the light in his eyes sparkling.
They climb the porch steps, her dad a step ahead and already opening the cabin door to them, the warmth of a fire and the aroma of coffee filtering through her senses. Her father has lunch laid out on the quant kitchen table, grilled sandwiches by the looks of it, and her stomach grumbles softly in anticipation, but Rick is guiding her towards the sliding glass doors off the living room.
"You two go check it out," Jim calls, breaking away from the two of them to tend to the fire crackling in the living room, casting a flickering orange glow onto the wooden walls.
Kate doesn't attempt to resist, but her brow knits as Castle guides her back outside, the excitement seeming to bubble from beneath the layers of his clothes. "We'll get the bags and everything in just a minute, but I want you to see this first."
"See what? Where are we-"
Kate tears her eyes away from his profile, the crinkles of his eyes and the crooked edge of his smile in the silver light of the sun peeking out from between grey clouds, and glances in the direction of his gaze, comes to a halt on the last step of the back porch.
"Castle," she breathes, stepping further out into the backyard, dragging him along by the link of their hands and marveling over the large white tent that covers the stretch of her father's property that leads out towards the dock.
"Come on, I want you to see the inside," Rick grins, eager like a child, tugging her by the hand and leading her towards the entryway to the tent, guiding her through a pair of French double doors and into the pavilion.
She's shocked to be met with the embrace of indoor heating, even warmer than the cabin at their backs. Outside, the tent appeared expansive, tall and wide, but Kate had expected for the inside to reveal a smaller area, cramped spaces and little room to share with others. She had been wrong.
On the inside, the tent feels massive, the ceiling high and vaulted, the boards lining the ground creating a sturdy foundation that coincides with the planks of her father's dock. Windows line the sides, allowing glimpses of the outside world, the winter wonderland that her dad's cabin is immersed in every year.
The lake is frozen, snow blanketing the ground, but inside the tent is warm, golden and glowing from the Christmas lights strung along the ceiling. Candles flicker on each of the round bistro tables scattered across the floor, decorating the white walls with dancing firelight, and at the far end of the tent, was a slightly higher level of flooring, adorned with an arch that was smaller in size, but reminded her of the same they had wed under in the Hamptons, now twined in lights and strung up snowflakes.
"It's magical," she whispers, weaving her arms around his neck and tearing her gaze away from their survey of the tent, the magnificence of the enclosure, choosing to meet the beauty of his eyes instead. "How did you do this?"
"Why do you think your dad drove up early this year?" he grins, squeezing her waist, circling his thumbs over the bones of her hips. "He supervised while the tent company put everything together, coordinated with me over the phone about it all. Ryan and Espo volunteered to step in as dual interim captains for the following week if the commissioner agreed to give you the time, which they felt confident he would. Lanie helped me with the decorations-"
"You had everyone in on this?" she breathes out, shaking her head in disbelief as the laughter falls from her lips.
"They were more than happy to help," Castle shrugs, running his knuckles up the length of her spine through the fabric of her coat. "Excited even. Everyone even volunteered to bring food. I was going to do catering, but Kevin told me Jenny started cooking early this morning, Lanie promised to make all of your favorites, and I'm pretty sure Mother and Alexis are baking a wedding cake as we speak."
"I'm good with potluck," Kate chuckles, stroking her fingers along his jaw to feel the field of stubble beneath her fingertips, the vibration of the satisfied humming sound he emits from low within his throat. The lighting is kind to him, casting gold along his skin as if they were in the middle of summer instead, turning his eyes into shimmering seas, and she knew that if she kissed his lips, he would taste of sunlight.
"Hope you're good with the wedding playlist on my iPod too because I didn't book a DJ."
She huffs, grazes the jut of his chin with her thumb. "Your music selection worked just fine last time."
His smile goes soft, that reminiscent look as memories of their wedding day swirl through his mind playing out in his eyes, and Kate rises on the toes of her boots, meets his lips with a kiss that thawed any sliver of cold left in her body. She couldn't wait to renew their vows, to reinforce promises and reaffirm her love for him in front of everyone who mattered to them both, but here, enclosed from the beautiful cold outside with him, she wished to extend the moment, to savor this prelude of what's to come.
"I know we'll be doing this again in a few hours," Kate murmurs, dropping back to the soles of her shoes and withdrawing her phone from the inner pocket of her coat, opening up the app that gives access to her music library. Light, breathtaking and glimmering, ripples through his eyes at the start of the song, the soft strum of the guitar and the familiar lyrics that had accompanied them on their wedding day, and Kate tucks her phone into the pocket of his coat, laces her arms around his neck. "But dance with me?"
Castle snakes an arm around her waist, wraps the other around her torso to splay a hand between the wings of her shoulder blades as they sway to the music.
"Kate." She turns her nose into his cheek, listens to him breathe, content and at peace. He says nothing more, but she doesn't need anything else, doesn't need anything more than the prayer of her name like something sacred on his lips. But he gives her more anyway, always more than she could ever deserve. "I love you."
Her fingers combs through the fine hairs at the base of his skull, eliciting the fluttering sensation of his lashes closing against the skin of her cheek. She has never been the wordsmith of the two of them, but even words feel inadequate for him, 'love' not a full explanation to describe the way he floods her heart with light, burning away the last of the dark, decaying pieces inside of her. To explain the good he's done for her, what he's given her, how he has become the home she never knew she needed.
"Love you too," she manages, staining the words to the corner of his mouth, still dancing with him long after the music stops.
A/N: All of my love and gratitude to those who took the time to acknowledge this story, who read and reviewed and offered so much enthusiasm and joy. To my dear friends, Evan, L, and Jill for the invaluable support and unending encouragement when I needed it most. And to Danielle, for the absolutely gorgeous cover art.
Thank you all for another beautiful year. Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays.