The young officer sat up a bit straighter in her chair and turned to face her commanding officer. The mustachioed much older man stood beside her desk, his hands clasped in front of him as he gazed down at her. "Yes sir?"
"I'm sending you home."
Kate blinked for a moment, not sure she had heard correctly. She glanced down at the clock on her computer screen, did a quick mental calculation, and then turned back with confusion. "But...there are over four hours left in my shift, Sir."
He shook his head, firm in his decision. "You've already pulled a double and you'll be here tomorrow. Go. See your family."
She pushed herself away from her desk and stood to face him. What he said was one hundred percent correct and also completely by design. "Sir, I really don't mind."
"But I do. You're more than pulling your weight." He smiled softly at her. "Go."
When her superior walked away, Kate slowly turned back to her computer to save the document she was drafting and begin to log out of all her programs, still not sure of what to do with herself. She'd planned to finish off her shift, grab some Chinese takeout, and then go to bed early since she had the early shift on Christmas day. Now what was she supposed to do with nearly four-and-a-half hours of extra time?
Just as she reached behind her to grasp the coat off the back of her chair, a pair of elfish ears affixed to a headband descended below her nose onto the desk. "Here; for Christmas." Kate looked up to see a dark-skinned female rookie handing out the holiday adornment. Instead of thanking the girl, Kate stood with jaw slightly agape while an ingenious idea formulated in her mind. Elf ears—Santa Claus—Rick and Alexis! The writer and his daughter were delivering presents to homeless shelters that afternoon and if she hurried she could catch up and join them on their quest.
Kate grabbed her coat and the elf ears and hurried away from her desk. She skidded to a stop in front of the elevator and frantically pushed the call button until the doors opened with a chime. She stepped inside, gazed down at festive object she clasped, and laughed at herself. Adorning herself with Christmas accessories? Hurrying to meet up with a man and daughter to deliver presents? Who was she? This was the first thing even remotely Christmas-related she had wanted to do since her mother passed and that had to mean something. Rick meant something. Rick and Alexis. As her heart swelled, she pressed her hand against her chest to alleviate the fluttering. She wasn't sure she would ever feel this way again, but she did, and she thought maybe, just maybe, she was on the cusp of starting a new holiday tradition.
"Well thanks for letting me tag along, guys; this was great."
Rick looked back over his shoulder at the woman still wearing her elf ear headband. He slung his now empty sack of presents over his right shoulder and pulled off his itchy Santa hat for what he hoped would be the last time that season. "We're glad you could make it." Truly, he was. When she had showed up two hours earlier, elf ears and all, he'd been so caught off guard that it took him a moment to recognize her, but there she stood: rosy cheeks, ear-to-ear grin, and with a handful of seasonal headbands similar to the one she wore. Simply put he was shocked—and very, very pleased.
After she had explained that her shift had been cut short, he happily ushered her in to their final present-giving location, and she and Alexis worked together to unload games, toiletries, and even a few pairs of socks to those less fortunate than they. Even though, as the Santa of their operation, he tasked himself with handing out gifts to the children, Rick found himself continually distracted by Kate and the bright smile on her face. He was thrilled that she had joined them and even more thrilled at the prospect that her presence there meant maybe she was relaxing some of her anti-Christmas rules.
"Are you going to see your dad now, Kate?" Alexis asked as they continued to walk along the sidewalk.
She shook her head. "No, he's at our family cabin upstate; I'll see him next weekend. I'm just going to grab some takeout and head home."
"By yourself!?" Alexis asked as though the concept was the most scandalizing thing she'd ever heard. "Dad."
"Way ahead of you, Pumpkin." He winked at the little girl and then turned to Kate. "C'mon."
She stopped walking. "Wha—oh no. No it's Christmas Eve. I can't possibly."
"Kate." He half whined at her since she was being ridiculous. There was no reason she needed to spend the evening alone, holiday or not.
"C'mon." Alexis encouraged. "Dad makes the best hot chocolate and you can even pick which movie we watch first."
"See." He smiled at the detective. "That's an offer you can't refuse."
For thirty second she stood with her bottom lip trapped between her teeth gazing back and forth between the father-daughter duo until finally she relented. "Okay, but only for a little while."
Rick reached back and slid his arm around her shoulders so she would not back out of their agreement, but he very much doubted she would only be staying for "a little while"; he definitely would not be satisfied with that.
"Seven-thirty?" Kate questioned moments after Alexis announced she was heading up to bed. They had just finished watching A Muppet Christmas Carol and she was stunned, figuring the girl would milk at least another hour or so out of her father—it was a holiday, after all.
Alexis gazed at her quiet seriously. "I have to or Santa won't come. He starts his shift at eight, right?"
"Ah—oh. Right. Of course," Kate said quickly, trying to recover from what she hoped was not a faux-pas. The last thing she wanted to do was be the new girlfriend who accidentally spilled the beans about Santa not being real.
"Alexis," Her father said warningly. Then, he turned to Kate. "She's teasing you; she knows there's no Santa." When the red-head smiled innocently at her father, he patted her bottom with the magazine he held. "What do you say?"
She shook her head and waved off the event, too relieved to even care that the girl had been teasing.
Rick hugged his daughter and bid her goodnight. Kate wished her a merry Christmas as she headed to the stairs and Alexis returned the sentiment. Kate then helped the writer carry the empty cocoa mugs and bowl of snacks to the kitchen. "Guess I should be going," she said once the items were in the sink. She had stayed several hours longer than she intended to—not that she was complaining.
Spending the afternoon with the Castles handing out presents had been quite magical for Kate. She'd never experienced giving in quite that way before, and was shocked at just how much it tugged at her heartstrings and made tears form at the edge of her eyes. She was so thankful to her superior for giving her the chance to experience something like that—and to find yet another reason why Rick Castle was an amazing man.
She truly did not want to intrude on their family Christmas—she had already shared in their holiday time enough—but the writer had insisted. Apparently his mother had a show that evening so she wouldn't be around; it would just be the two of them, so Kate's arm was twisted into joining them for dinner, Christmas cartoons, and then a full-length movie, but she felt she'd spent more than enough time with him that day and did not want to overstay her welcome.
"Really?" Rick responded as casual as ever as he opened the kitchen cabinets and began to pull objects wrapped up in plastic grocery bags from the highest shelves; Kate assumed these to be some of Alexis's hidden presents. "You don't want to stick around and watch me fail miserably at putting together a pink scooter? We can even have another round of hot chocolates – this time with some Bailey's. Or is this too much Christmas for you?"
She flushed under his half-teasing smile. "You make me sound like the Grinch."
Folding her arms over her chest, she walked over and stood in front of him. After a long exhale, she decided to explain her version of Christmas. "You know what my holiday tradition is, Rick? Being on shift. Making sure the city is safe for everyone celebrating. My dad and I…" She shook her head and lowered her gaze momentarily to his mid-chest. "We can't celebrate the holiday like we used to so I found my own way of giving back. Plus, without a family, I'm letting one of my colleagues spend Christmas morning with his kids instead of behind a desk. I really don't mind, but," she paused as her heart began to flutter even more, "it's been almost six years so maybe next year it'll be time for a new tradition."
An ever-present smile on his face, he rubbed his hands over the tops of her shoulders and pressed a gentle kiss on her lips. "You could still stay and leave before anything Christmasy happens."
She half-laughed. "Yeah? And when would that be?"
"Depends. How early is your shift tomorrow?"
"I…Are you asking me to stay the night?" She was nervous to make such an assumption, but his wording had been suggestive, and the darkened gaze he was giving her left very little to the imagination.
Moving his hands from her shoulders to her mid-back, he said, "Maybe I am."
"Rick…" She hesitated as his stare pierced into her heart and sent warm tingles out through all her appendages and a swirl of butterflies that settled in her low-belly. Yes, he was definitely asking her to stay the night and she imagined sleep was not high on their "to-do" list, especially not since his daughter had gone to bed early, but was that really what she wanted? She wanted him—of course she wanted him, but was it too soon? Given her disastrous history with relationships, she wanted—needed—to take things slow and be cautious less she scare herself out of something she really wanted. Plus, she didn't want her judgement to be clouded too much by the enthusiasm of having a nice Christmas for the first time in half a decade.
Buying herself a little more time to answer, she deflected with, "What about the scooter?"
"Alexis is ten; its time she learned how to use power tools."
"Rick!" She laughed loudly, giving his chest a little shove with her fingertips.
He snagged her waist and pulled her close. "C'mon."
"Wait." She stopped him just before their lips met. He gazed at her, curious. "I just… thank you. For everything."
"Always." He replied, casual. Then he kissed her and she looped her arms around his neck thinking about how much her life had changed in three short weeks.
Rick had called their meeting fate, and at the time she'd brushed off the comment as ridiculous, but she hadn't known who he was then. She hadn't known that the comfort she drew from his written words paled in comparison to what his smile, his touch did to her heart. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was something else. But maybe, just maybe, it was time she believed in the magic of Christmas.
A/N: Thank you all so much for reading - have a wonderful holiday season!