Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.
It's Big Tree Day. Castle has gone down to get the car and Kate is sitting on the end of their bed. Oh, God, she says to herself, I hope I got the timing right. I hope he's okay with it. She's putting on a pair of Christmas socks—black and white with little black flippers at her ankle bones and a beak and eyes in between. She sticks one leg straight out and moves it up and down so that the flippers bounce. The penguin socks are her favorites and make her laugh even now, two years after she'd found them in her Christmas stocking.
It's hard to believe that it's been two years. She's been feeling sentimental about their first Christmas together for the last week. She hadn't opened a stocking since 1998 and had forgotten the fun of it. The penguin socks had been the first thing she'd seen, nestled next to a bar of soap in the shape of a snowflake. Every little thing in there had exemplified Castle's imagination, his understanding of her, his love. The last item, a small box in the toe of the stocking, had taken her by surprise. She remembers exactly how shocked she'd been when she had flipped up the lid and been nearly blinded by the sparkle of a magnificent pair of diamond and emerald earrings.
"Castle!" She'd gasped. "I said that everything in the stocking had to be ten dollars or less."
"Well, those cost ten followed by some zeros, and zeros stand for nothing. Therefore, those earrings—which, by the way, you're clutching as if you're afraid the dog is going to eat them—did not cost more than ten dollars."
Yes, sometimes it's still impossible to argue with his logic. She adores those earrings. She'd be wearing them now but they're not quite right with jeans, a green turtleneck and a red hoodie that's emblazoned with JUST SAY YES TO THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS. She heads for the door and spies the dog, who is curled up on his big cushion in front of the fire.
"You been keeping an eye out for Santa, Noel?"
He opens his eyes and trots to her, wagging all over.
"Wanna go down and meet Dad?"
Wag, wag, wag.
"Wanna ride in the car?"
Pant, pant, pant.
She grabs his leash. "Okay, then, let's go."
Noel dances in place, his front paws tapping rhythmically.
"Good boy." She clips on his leash, gets into her coat, and the two ride down to the lobby. She sees Castle, who's in the car at the curb. "Up, Noel," she says, opening the back door so that he can jump in.
It's clear but dark—sunrise is still a way off—and they reach the tree lot in minutes. Mathias spots them before they've taken more than half a dozen steps and races over to fold Kate into a huge, woolly hug. "I hear you got married! Congratulations. Rick told me when he was here for the wreaths."
"Blabbermouth. I wanted us to tell you together."
"Couldn't help it, Kate," her husband confesses sheepishly.
"Did Rick tell you about the ring bearer?"
"The ring bearer?" Mathias looks a little puzzled. "What's that?"
"The person who carries the rings for the bride and groom before their vows. Lots of times it's a little kid. In our case," she leans over a bit to scratch Noel behind the ear, "it was our big shaggy kid here. The rings were tied to his collar with ribbons."
"You should have seen him, Mathias. Totally amazing performance. Never batted an eyelash even when a seagull stood right there in the middle of the aisle."
"A bird came to your wedding?"
"We got married outside," Kate explains. "By the ocean. The seagull was an uninvited guest. A yellow-legged wedding crasher."
"Well, I'm glad you two are an official couple now. It makes me really happy."
"Us, too," Castle says.
At six-thirty, with the giant balsam safely fixed to the roof and the TREE ON BOARD flag tied to the freshly-sawed trunk, the newlyweds and Noel are on their way home. They've driven about a block when Kate starts to sing, thrumming her fingers on the dashboard.
"Jingle balls, jingle balls,
Jingle all the way!"
"What? Why should I shh?"
"You shouldn't say things, sing things, like that in front of Noel. He's only two and a half."
She can't help snorting. "In dog years he's a teenager, Castle. I'm sure he's heard much worse at the dog run."
"You're probably right. There are some pretty rough pooches there."
Since the tree helpers aren't arriving for another 30 minutes, they're parked outside their building on Broome Street, waiting. "I'm freezing," Kate says. "I'm going around the corner to get us coffee, okay?"
"We'll be right here."
She returns with a cardboard tray holding two coffees and a blueberry muffin, and gives it Castle to hold while she settles in. He's got one of the cups in his hand and is halfway to his first sip when she yelps, "Wait! That's mine!"
"He's perplexed. "What's the difference? We have the same."
"No, we don't. I wanted something different today. Gimme."
"Let me try it. I might like it."
"No, you won't."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's, it's walnut and you hate walnut." Walnut? Walnut? She's mentally chastising herself. That's the best you could come up with? If he'd drunk it the jig would be up.
He's appalled. "They make coffee with walnut? That should be illegal."
"Yeah, well I like it once in a while."
"No accounting for taste," he says, wrinkling his nose as he passes the cup to her and takes the other from the tray. "I'm going to have to eat this whole muffin just to expunge the idea of walnut coffee from my mind."
"Be my guest. I got it for you."
"Thanks," he says, taking a large bite.
"Be careful waving it around like that. It's Noel's favorite."
The tree helpers arrive right on schedule. Kate and Noel take the passenger elevator to the loft while the three men wrestle the tree onto and then off of the freight elevator. The stand is already in position in the living room, and they manage to set up the towering fir after only a few false starts.
"Would you like to stay for breakfast?" Kate asks when they're through.
"Thanks, but no," says Sam, the off-duty doorman. "I should get home. Taking the kids to see Santa out at Roosevelt Field."
"And I start my shift in ten minutes, so I gotta get down to the basement," Richie, the handyman, says. "Thanks, though. Always a pleasure doing this."
"Thanks again for your help," Castle says, shaking hands with them and pressing money into their palms. "Couldn't do it without you."
He's silently rejoicing that they hadn't taken up her offer. He has to speak with her about something. "You want some breakfast, Kate?"
"Not really hungry."
"You should have a little something. You need to keep your strength up for tonight when we trim the tree. It'll be settled enough by then."
"Okay. Toast. Just want to put on my slippers. I'll be right back."
While she's in the bedroom he takes his phone out and checks the countdown clock that he'd installed so long ago. It's an unnecessary exercise, since he's known precisely how much time is left for months. He gets the coffee going and puts four slices of bread in the toaster. It's been 24 months. 104 weeks and two days. He's grateful that Leap Year hadn't occurred in this time period; the additional day—1,440 minutes—might have been his undoing.
The bread in the toaster pops up just as Kate returns and plops down on a kitchen stool. Déjà vu, he thinks. Except this same scene really had happened before, exactly two years ago. She's even sitting in the same place.
It hits him just as he picks up the plates: they'd had cinnamon toast that morning. He turns around, grabs the shaker, sprinkles a liberal amount of the spiced sugar, and sits on the stool next to her. Just as he had in 2012. He's a little nervous this time, too, and puts his phone between them.
"Do you remember that conversation we had a while ago?"
"Could you be a little more specific, Castle? How many conversations do you figure we have in a day? And when was this chat?"
"Two years ago. This date in 2012. We talked about, you know, something in the oven."
She looks coolly at him. "Didn't really talk about it."
"Right, right. True." Why is he sweating? "You said, well, kind of, that maybe in two years we could. You might be ready."
"Did I say that?"
His heart is contracting. Shriveling to the size of an infant's heart. The infant who he's been picturing for the last 17,520 hours. The infant who would be a perfect combination of their DNA. She's changed her mind. Or isn't ready. If she isn't ready, that's all right. But if she's changed her mind? His heart is now the size of a fetus's. "Yeah, you did."
She shrugs. "We could talk about it, I guess. But first I want to show you something."
What could she possibly show him that's more important than this conversation? He's not going to push, but. "Okay. Whatca got?" Even he knows he's seldom sounded this unconvincingly casual.
"I was thinking about saving this for your stocking," she says, drawing a little package out of her pocket. "It cost eight ninety-nine, so it's safely in the under-ten-dollar rule."
"I like that we kept that rule, Kate. It's a nice idea." Why is he commenting? He should just open the package and start talking about the possibility of kids.
"Would you rather I saved it?"
No, just give me the damn thing. Get this over with. "Oh, you know me, I never like to wait for anything."
"You waited more than three years for me. And you waited two years for that," she says, nodding her head at his phone and touching the screen with her fingertip. She smiles.
"Wait, whoa! You knew about? About, uh."
"The countdown clock? I'd be the world's worst detective if I didn't, Castle."
"Ha! You snooped."
"Did not. But you've checked it about ten times a day ever since you started it. About every half hour lately."
"So, you want to unwrap this? I just got it yesterday. I think you'll like it, even though it didn't cost ten dollars with a lot of zeros after it."
He unties the ribbon and unrolls the tissue paper to get to—. He can't believe it. His heart is swelling. It's huge. It's full. "Is this?"
"A pregnancy test? Yeah. I took it when you were getting the car this morning. It's positive, see?" She points to the little plus sign.
He lifts her out of her seat and kisses her as hard as he can. "Really? You're positive?"
"I'm positive. It's positive. That's why I had decaf this morning. Didn't want you to know yet. I really wanted to time this for your clock. How'd I do?"
She's leaning against him. He has one arm wrapped around her and is reaching for the phone with the other when it chimes, signaling the end of the countdown. It's the opening bars of "All I Want for Christmas Is You."
Kate laughs as she looks at him. "Well, you got me." She pats her stomach. "Us. You got us."
A/N That's a wrap! Thanks to all of you who came along on the sleigh ride. BTW: Kate's penguin socks are real. I own a pair just like that.