Deck The Castle Halls

By LizD

Written December 2009

A little piece to slip into the Winter Break in shows. Please enjoy.

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"Oh, my, my … Clive Christian, No. 1." Martha picked up the box to inspect it and sniff it to see if she could get a scent. Darling, you shouldn't have."

"I didn't."

"Ah, yes ... Beckett." She put the box down. "It's a little last year, but still an extraordinarily nice gift."

"I'm taking it back," he explained.

"Back?" Martha was disappointed and then relented. "Yes, it might be too much at that."

"Too much?" He glanced up at her. "I was thinking it was not enough." His resumed his browsing.

"Enough?" Martha shook her head. "My son, my son, my son. Take it from your deal old mother … Any more and you'll embarrass the woman." He shook his head in disagreement. "Unless there is something you aren't telling me about your relationship. What really happened in that alley?"

"We don't have a relationship," he protested ignoring the alley question altogether. "Well not like that … but she has saved my life ... on more than one occasion and … and … and I want to give her something befitting my gratitude."

"Right, gratitude." Martha came around behind him to see what he was fixated on. "Oh, very nice."

He snapped the laptop shut. "It's just a watch."

"A watch is very personal," she told him. "Didn't you tell me that she wore her father's watch?"

"It was broken in the incident the other night."

"The incident are you calling it? In the alley? The one where she saved your life … AGAIN?" He shrugged a nod. "The one where she was put on administrative leave and had to deal with IAD, peer review and a shrink?"

"Do you know everything?"

"I know this … Beckett did her job. She would never allow anyone … including you … to prevent her from doing her job. And if you are trying to buy her forgiveness because you feel guilty that you yet again didn't follow her instructions and she was forced to deal with the fall out of that, well she will never allow that either."

"I'm not trying to buy her forgiveness," he protested. "I just think perfume is not a Beckett like gift. Nor is a scarf, a sweater, leather jacket, boots or an iPhone."

"All of which you have bought and taken back."

"What's your point?" He was frustrated.

"Only this: It would be easier for you to pick an appropriate gift for Beckett if you could answer one question."

"Tell me oh wise one ... what would that question be?"

"Why you are still hanging around? Is it for Nikki Heat, the job or Kate Beckett?"

He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "You tell me; clearly you have an opinion."

"You know me so well. You are not there for Nikki Heat." She waited for him to protest which he didn't. "You barely made your deadline for Heat Wave and every word was an effort for you – totally unlike Derek Storm."

"That's not true."

"Isn't it?" She studied him for a moment. "You have been writing for how many years? Over 20? You have written more than 35 books, 26 of which went best seller. You have never had writer's block and you have never missed a deadline. Typically you bring them in a month or more before they are due. In those 20 years other than Alexis – you have never worked a day in your life." Castle was about to debate that point but Martha kept talking. "You have done research but that was little more than meeting new friends - playmates - and conducting an interview. You never walked a mile in your characters shoes, or followed one around - not even for Derek. Now you have a job, a place to go everyday with professional adults and work to be done. I dare say you are enjoying being a detective."

"I am ... and there is nothing wrong with that. " Then he added, "research."

"Research ... BAH!" she proclaimed. "What is the last thing you have written?"

"I write ... almost daily." He got up and moved away busying himself with coffee. He couldn't look her in the eye after that lie.

"So I will rephrase my question – are you hanging around Kate Beckett for Beckett or for the life you get to live while doing you research? If it is the latter, then you need to back off with the over the top presents. If it is the former – then you need to pursue that woman like an adult – openly, honestly and don't hide behind expensive gifts and leave her to interpret what it means. Let the relationship run its course and move on and more importantly let Beckett move on."

"Seems odd to be getting relationship advice from you."

"You know I'm right."

He didn't say it, but she was right. At least right to ask the question. Was he there for Nikki, the work or Beckett herself? Did he have to pick only one? Nikki Heat was a given. He had a book deal - a three book deal to be precise for a great deal of money and who was to say it had to end with four volumes. The next Nikki Heat novel would be so much better than the first - at least in his own mind - and the two after that would be phenomenal. He had a plan to grow and develop Nikki Heat as he had never done with Derek Strom. Nikki would be so much more than a mere character on a page she would be real, tangible, accessible. Nikki would have dark places and challenges to overcome. She would be someone that the reader could really laugh with, cry with and cheer for. However mother was right. He wasn't writing - for all his protesting about research, he hadn't come up with an outline for the next book. All he had was a thin underdeveloped arc thread that would span the next three books and a few vague scenes; rather scene impressions. If he were really being honest they were intimate vague scene impressions between Heat and Rook - VERY intimate. He had enough to work on the books, in fact he had more than enough. If he really wanted to write, he needed to focus on that. So maybe it really wasn't for Nikki.

Staying for the work was not so farfetched and not a bad thing either. Mother was right about enjoying being a detective. He liked the guys and the camaraderie. He liked going to work every day and working through a case. It was challenging and exciting and for the first time in his life he wasn't in control of every word, paragraph and plot development. He did like that he could be creative and think outside the box and he did like being dragged back into the box to find real evidence to support a theory. He also liked helping to put the bad guy away. He liked giving closure to the families. He liked the feeling of a job well done and having it mean something REAL. So for the first time in his life he was working - really working and he enjoyed it. But he wasn't really working. It was still safe. He didn't have to worry about review boards, getting fired or living on his paycheck. He didn't have to make the tough decisions. He didn't have to make life or death decisions. It was still just a game for him. It wasn't a game for Beckett. She had to take responsibility not only for her own self, but him as well.

"Kate," he said softly to himself.

She really was extraordinary in so many ways. There was no question that he was attracted to her and that Nikki Heat started as a way to stay close to her. And what would be so wrong with getting closer? He never had a problem pursuing and catching women in the past and letting the relationship run its course, but Beckett was different. She inspired a full blown main character in at least four books - or would eventually. And getting involved with Beckett more intimately could definitely help with his writer's block. Not that he was blocked, but she definitely would be ... inspiring. Hell, she would inspire a lot more than four books. She was not someone that he wanted to get out of his system as his mother and Paula so tactlessly put it. Why did they assume that she was just another Castle Conquest? What did that say about him - at least their opinion of him? Didn't they see, couldn't they understand that Beckett was different? Which is not to say that he had any expectation that a relationship with Beckett would NOT run its course but he didn't want to lose her friendship or a place in her life. Castle had enough women to know that when it ended, it was best to just walk away. Not that he didn't remain friends with women, but it was typically friends in name only - there was no dinner, no lunches and definitely no working together. Gina was a great example of that - but Gina was special too - special as in one who rides in the SPECIAL BUS. She was crazy. Enough about Gina, back to Beckett. A relationship with Kate Beckett for however long it lasted would definitely affect their working relationship and it was a better than even bet that it would be affected adversely. He couldn't take the chance of ruining that. Bottom line was that he was committed to Nikki Heat for at least three more books. Did he need to continue to shadow Beckett to accomplish that? No, but it would feel really weird writing about her - about Nikki - if he and Kate weren't together. So in the end, he was staying for Nikki - maybe not for the research as much as to keep the peace. So no watch, no perfume, no over the top present. Maybe just some quality time.

He opened his laptop. Just to shut it down appropriately but something caught his eye.

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Kate sat in the middle of her living room floor with a few old boxes of Christmas ornaments. She took the forced time off as a good thing. She would be able to give herself a little Christmas nostalgia. She normally didn't do anything to honor the holiday in terms of decorations. She was never home long enough over the holidays to appreciate it. There were a few people she got presents for, but those were pretty small - tokens really. There was no family dinner that she needed to attend. Typically she volunteered to take extra shifts so the people with families could stay home with them. She always worked the day itself and often Christmas eve too. It only seemed fair. She saw her father sometime during the days between Christmas and New Year, but there was not much festive about it. Christmas was never big at their house and since her mom died it was almost nonexistent. She wasn't really planning on putting up a tree that year either, but thought it might be time to take a little trip down memory lane. It was good that she was alone. It was good that she didn't need to be anywhere at any given time. It was good that she just replaced her bottle of Vodka in the freezer and picked up a new box of Kleenex. Kate deserved a good cry, followed by a hot bath, a good night's sleep and not where to be for a couple of days. She would be good as new when she reported back on Monday morning.

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"Merry Christmas," Castle said when Kate opened the door.

"Hi," she said. "What are you doing here?" The boxes remained unopened on the living room floor, the vodka bottle was still sealed and the hot water tank was still full. Kate had been reading in front of the fire. In truth, she was rereading Heat Wave.

"Came by to check on you," he stated.

"I'm fine," she dismissed.

"And to make sure you weren't alone on Christmas Eve."

"Thanks Castle ... was actually just about to head out." She lied "Family dinner and all ... you know."

"I know." He studied her for a moment. "And I know that you aren't going anywhere."

"You think I have nowhere to spend my holidays?"

"I am sure you have plenty of people who would LOVE your company on Christmas, but I am pretty sure you turned them all down."

"So you are here to issue and invitation that I can turn down too ... just to make you feel better?"

"Kate," he said softly. "I am not here to fight ... I don't want to fight. I don't even want to banter - as much fun as that is most of the time. I just came by to visit. Just a visit ... and to bring you some cookies that Alexis made. They are actually pretty good. I had to taste them." He grinned. Kate didn't step back but did eye the basket of cookies he had in his hand. "So, may I come in?"

She relented reluctantly. "Sure." He came in and went straight for the living room as if he had been there many times before. He took it all in quickly - writer's habit. She followed and was a little embarrassed that that his book was the one she was reading - well actually it was THEIR book. "Coffee? Tea? Milk?" She nodded toward the basket still in his hand.

"Actually, I would love a drink ... but something a lot stronger than coffee."

"Hard day?" She passed him on the way to the kitchen.

"Last minute shopping," he claimed. "All that clicking from page to page can really wear a person out."

"I hear you," she called back trying not to be amused. She poured two very stiff martini's into chilled martini glasses and returned to the living room.

He picked up the book and flipped open to the page she was on. "You never told me what you thought of the book," he said taking the offered glass and replacing the book.

"Didn't I?" She sat down on the couch away from the fire.

"No, you didn't." He took the chair by the couch caddy corner from her.

"Well, I am not really a critic ... and you know that I will have a hard time being objective."

"But?"

"It wasn't your best work," she said almost a little too harshly.

All kinds of comebacks flashed though his mind, but he quickly reminded himself that he was not there to fight. "And what do you think was my best work?"

"Well ... other than the title ... I would have to say When It Comes to Slaughter. But that is only one person's opinion."

"And what about that book made it so compelling?"

"Well with a name like that you would expect blood, guts and gore ... but it wasn't like that. It was a very psychological look into the mind of detective hunting a killer."

"Not the killer? Not a look inside the killer's mind?" That was how he intended it to be.

"No ... we don't know, we don't ever know what the killer is thinking. We only know what your detective, Detective Marsh thought - how he pieced the clues together, how he caught the killer, how he saved that one girl's life. Much of Marsh's history helped him fit those clues together."

"And you don't think Marsh got into the mind of the killer?"

"I think he got into the mindset of how a killer might think, but Marsh was not the killer nor did he ever get a chance to find out if his assumptions were correct."

Castle nodded slowly. He hadn't really thought about it but Detective Marsh was a little like Beckett - compassionate, relentless, tenacious and smart, very, very smart. It was interesting to think that he had never thought of Marsh as the HERO of that book. There were many scenes with the killer and his victims though the reader never gets a glimpse into what the killer was thinking only what he was doing. There were many scenes of victims before they were killed and the reader got to know a bit about them. Marsh wasn't privy to any of those - he just followed the clues and found his killer and took him out when no other choice was left to him (like another detective he knew). Marsh's thought process was the spine and outline of the book- yet Castle didn't think of him as the hero. He was the plot; he was a useful prop to advance the story. But Beckett did think he was the hero. "Interesting," was his only audible comment.

"You asked," she hedged.

"No, no ... another point of view is always good to hear. It's just that When It Comes to Slaughter was admittedly a little book in the Castle library; not well received critically and not one of the best sellers."

"So I'm not mainstream."

"I would never have suggested you were," he smiled warmly at her. He thought about pursuing the Nikki Heat question, but thought better of it. "What's in the boxes?" he asked changing the subject.

"Christmas ornaments," she said without thinking. "Was just about to put them up?"

"Up as in decorate?"

"Up as in away," she corrected.

"It's not Christmas yet and you have already taken down your decorations?"

"I am sure you won't be surprised to know that I don't really get into Christmas."

"I would have guessed that about you."

"Is this where you ask me to dinner?"

"A good a place as any," he admitted. "Mother is cooking, but don't let that scare you. She usually pulls it off somehow. There will be clean up involved and it will require Hazmat gear, but the food is not toxic and the conversation will be sparkling - like the wine. Besides, you have to come. Alexis got you a gift."

Beckett smiled. He could be quite charming in a very nonthreatening way. "I appreciate the invitation, but I will have to decline."

"Got a date with a frozen dinner you can't pass up?"

"One of those new Marie Callender's." She laughed. "Thank you, but I prefer my Christmas alone."

He stood up. "For once ... and probably only once ... I will respect your wishes, but please know that you are more than welcome and a place will be set for you - no pressure."

"Thank you," she said standing up and walking him to the door. "Thank Alexis and Martha for me and I will see them soon."

He spied the boxes again. "I am sorry ... I can't do this."

"What?"

"Call it a character flaw."

"You have a few."

"I can't bare the idea of Christmas ornaments not being hung on a tree. I won't allow it."

"You won't allow--?" She was shocked.

"Get your coat ... come on ... get your coat."

"Castle!" she protested again. "No."

"You don't know this about me," he stated as he pulled her coat off the hall rack and forced her arms into the sleeves. "I am the champion Christmas Tree Picker-Outer."

"I don't want a tree," she protested again which he ignored.

"Fifteen years running. It is not an art as much as it is a science. Do you have lights? Tinsel? Garland? you probably don't even have a stand."

"What? Lights? Tinsel? Stand? No. Castle ... No," she objected.

"Then we have a lot to do."

Castle ushered her out of the house. Beckett argued with him the whole way down the street, but he was determined. The was a tree lot at the end of her block across from a drugstore. They were in an out of the drug store in minutes with lights and tinsel. The tree lot took a little longer. Castle looked at each tree dragging Kate from bush to bush and moving on. He debated the merits of Noble vs. Blue Spruce with the man who was grateful to be making another sale on Christmas Eve. It was slim pickings for sure, but Kate's living room (first floor of a New York Brownstone) had 10' ceilings at least. Most people don't want a tree that big. After what seemed liked forever, he found the one - THE TREE. It was perfect and even Kate couldn't deny it. Beckett insisted on paying and haggled the guy down on the price quite a bit. As the assistant was binding the tree up, Castle found something else that was necessary and way over paid the guy for it, stuffing the treasure into his pocket to be revealed at the right time. He dragged the tree back to Beckett's house like a hunter in from the hunt and then set to work stringing the lights. Beckett could hardly contain her smile as he methodically strung each branch with an even number of lights. Of course Kate was sent out on a second trip to the drug store because they didn't have enough lights.

Then it came time for the ornaments. Kate gingerly opened each box and carefully pulled each dangling, glittering memory from the safety of the tissue. She admired each one remembering where it came from and a little bit of history. Sometimes she would share and sometimes she just passed off the ornament to be hung by Castle. When both boxes were empty the tree still seemed sparse, but tinsel took care of that. There was the obligatory debate about the proper way to hang tinsel - clump vs. single strand - and Kate naturally won. They shared a second martini and admired their handiwork as each shared tree trimming stories from Christmas's long forgotten. Kate hadn't had a tree in more than ten years. She didn't know how much she missed it until that moment. "Thank you Castle."

"Welcome," he said easily pleased with the result of both the tree and the change in Kate. "Well one more thing, and then I really have to go."

"What's that?"

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his prize. It was a pretty sad looking sprig of mistletoe. He hung it above the door on a nail that apparently Kate never knew was there. "Merry Christmas, Detective Beckett," he said proudly. She stepped closer to him, leaned in and kissed him. His arm came around her and held her close as he deepened the kiss but ended it just as quickly. He was only slightly surprised by his response, but very surprised by hers. "Good night, Kate."

"Good night, Rick." He slipped from the house and Kate was left alone with her tree, her mistletoe and a new memory to add to her Christmas bank. It was amazing how annoying and aggravating his intrusions could be at times, and yet how they could change everything on a dime.

Kate spied the few presents she had gotten that year wrapped in store paper on the kitchen table. Nothing special - ties for Esposito and Ryan, a pashmina for Lanie, the captain got a bottle of his favorite scotch and Castle -- well Castle got a scarf. She struggled long and hard before she decided to get him anything. It would have been easier to do nothing than a scarf. But now after the whole Tree Trimming event, a scarf would just not do. There was still time. The malls would be closing in several hours, but she had some place better in mind - they should have something special for a guy like Castle.

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Beckett was home again in short order. She had rewrapped the gifts and tucked a little something extra into each present. Nothing really special, but more than nothing - a couple of pair of Nicks tickets for Ryan and Esposito, a day spa gift certificate for Lanie (the pashmina would go to Martha) and Alexis would get a day with Beckett (including lunch) doing the Museums of NYC (something she had mentioned when she was working with her). She placed them all under the tree. She sat back to admire and for the first time in a decade felt the spirit of Christmas.

She called her Dad and asked if he was free for the holiday. He wasn't but suggested that she come up over the weekend. They had a very nice talk and ever discussed Christmas of her youth. She told him about Castle and the tree and she asked if he would come down to NYC instead. He agreed and promised to come early Saturday morning.

She sat with only the lights of the tree and the fireplace setting a glow in the room. She used to do that as a child. She would sit there for hours just watching the tree. That was the best part of Christmas. Presents were never big in the Beckett household. Typically clothing or books was the staple. The grandparents gave too much money to a child which was quickly deposited into the college fund never to be seen or appreciate by a kid. But once she got a tennis racket and it was the most exciting thing she ever got. With it came a four week stay as Tennis camp that summer. When she got home she found out that her parents were separating and that kind of colored the racket, camp and tennis.

Something was off. There was an extra present under her tree. Something she hadn't wrapped. She reached under and pulled it out. It was addressed to her and the penmanship was clearly Castle's. The card read: Thank You, from another life you saved. She opened it: possibly the most stunning watch she had ever seen. Nothing fancy, nothing gaudy and lady's sized. It was clearly a watch picked out for her and meant to be an everyday watch. Her father's watch had been broken during the incident. It was no one's fault but the fact the Castle had noticed that the watch had been broken and knew how devastated she would be was touching. Funny, on any other day she might have been annoyed by his presumption - but at that moment she was touched. Touched by the fact that he didn't need to be there to see her open it. Touched by the fact that it was not a standard GIRLY watch. He had to look for it. He had to really search for something that would not REPLACE but take the place of - it was pretty impressive that he would do that. It could have backfired on him six different ways. It was a stunning watch.

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Beckett waited until she thought it was safe: long enough after Christmas morning, but long before Christmas dinner. She knocked on Castle's door. Alexis greeted her still in her pajamas and forced her to come in. She retreated quickly to the living room to allow her father to welcome his guest.

"Merry Christmas," he said brightly putting down the latest remote control device he acquired. Truly a kid at Christmas.

"Merry Christmas, Castle," she said looking down. "I don't want to disturb you, but ..."

"Don't be silly," Martha came barging into the conversation. "Come in, come in. Rick, get the woman some champagne."

"No Martha, please."

"No please about it ... I am about to serve dinner and I won't even consider you not being here. How many times have you saved my son's life? And what do I owe you for Nikki Heat ... no, no, no ... you are here. Besides, I need someone on my side." She took Kate's coat and nodded for both of them to go into the living room which was now empty of all people.

Rick noticed the watch almost immediately but didn't know how to ask. Kate helped him out. "Thank you ... I mean really ... it is stunning."

"I am glad you like it."

"Thank you," she said humbly. "I got you a little something ... not really ... I don't know ..."

"A present?" he brightened up. "FOR ME???"

"You probably have one, but ..." She handed him the present wishing should could have left it by the door and split. He opened it up carefully. It was a book, a very old book. "It is a first edition ... like I said you probably have one." He turned the cover over and it was a first edition of Casino Royale by Ian Flemming. "I signed it to you." The breath in Rick's through nearly choked him: she wrote in a first edition? He turned to the title page and saw that she had stuck a note page in there From the Desk of Kate Beckett. It read: Thanks for having faith in Nikki. I hope she doesn't disappoint too often. He looked up at her and his expression said it all. There was no disappointment or anything close.

"Wash up for dinner," Martha called.

Alexis came tromping down the stairs and the family dinner began. There was a place set at the table for Kate, the conversation was sparkling, the clean up was a bit of a disaster but it was nice - really, really nice. Probably the first time Kate felt that she was part of a family in too many years to count.

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Just a little Holiday cheer to pass the time until the next new Castle.

Merry Christmas to all ... and to all a good night.