To those that celebrate I do hope it was a merry one.

This chapter is for the reviewers, who, without fail, made my day and made me think. You are the best people an author could ask for in a self-challenge like this.

December 25, 2010

Kate woke to bouncing.

She wasn't used to it. She was used to beeping, or ringing, or… well, anything but bouncing. But there was definitely bouncing. Her eyes blinked open and she took a second to realize it wasn't her apartment. It was typical. When it came to her job, she could be awake in seconds, but if she was on holiday? Seconds turned into very long minutes.

"Good morning, Kate."

She looked up to find Alexis at the end of the bed, looking perky and awake. Kate cleared her throat. "What time is it?"

"A little after nine," Alexis offered. "But Dad warned me," She reached for the bedside table and came back cradling a mug that smelled heavenly to Kate's groggy brain. So she sat up and accepted the mug, more used to balancing coffee on a shifting mattress than Alexis. Her eyes closed as she took in the scent, then sipped gratefully.

"Dad was right. It is like a drug to you."

Kate eyes snapped open at Alexis' voice and her grin.

"I'd leave you alone with the coffee, but I know Dad's excited for presents."

Kate rolled her eyes. Of course he was. Of all the traditions he could be excited about… Still, she was excited too, She was looking forward to seeing what Rick and Alexis thought of her carefully chosen gifts.

"Good morning, Detective," Rick greeted, coming from the kitchen with his own mug. With a skill that surprised her, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him. There was a quick glance at his daughter before he chose to press a kiss against her cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Rick," Kate murmured in reply as he pulled back, his arm still wrapped around her.

Alexis grinned. "Come on."

Kate settled beside Martha on the couch, both of them out of the way of the melee that ensued. Watching the Castles open presents was a gift in itself. She sat back happily as Alexis and Rick tore into presents and even Martha seemed to be in the gift-giving spirit. Kate was not a passive participant, however, and she'd had to stop Rick and Alexis from opening her gifts more than once. They were sentimental and special and the last thing she wanted was for them to get lost.

It was surprising to see two people who had, both separately and together, hated the holiday, tearing so childishly into gifts. But it made Kate smile, if only because it seemed obvious they were having fun.

When they were down to the last pile of gifts – and Martha had departed for her 'dramatic pause' between the hullabaloo of present opening and breakfast – Kate finally stood from her ball on the couch. The first gift she picked up was kind of rectangular. She handed it to Rick, but pulled it back at the last minute, eyes narrowed.

"Don't shake it," she scolded.

He pouted, but it quickly changed to a smile as she let him take the gift. He tore off the paper, the same way he'd done for his gifts from his mother and daughter and paused in confusion at the plain white box. He pulled out what was inside, and folded the tissue paper aside.

He paused, looking down at the solid wood picture frame. Inside, was a picture of him and Alexis she'd taken at her dad's. Her dad had always been big on pictures, so the camera was always lying around and she'd taken full advantage.

"I have some others in my purse," she said, watching as his fingers stroked over her neat script. She'd written 'First Christmas' on the bottom of the frame and the date on the back for memories. "Other pictures, I mean."

He met her eyes. "Can I see them?"

Kate went to her purse, withdrawing the small envelope and offering it to him. He set the picture frame down before dropping to the couch. Kate perched on the edge, watching him flip through them. He paused on one and pulled it out of the pile.

"Can I switch the picture?"

Her smile felt a little tighter than she wanted it to. "If you'd like."

With a couple of quick movements, he changed the picture, then turned it around for his daughter and Kate to see. Instead of just Rick and Alexis, Kate now joined them, laughing. Kate remembered the moment vividly. Her father was trying to urge her to get in the picture but Kate had resisted. Until Rick had grasped her hand and tugged her onto the couch. She'd spilled over his legs, landing on both of them and they'd all laughed.

The sentiment wasn't lost on Kate as the blush heated her cheeks.

Alexis, rather thankfully, broke the moment and exchanged a look with her father before he stood and picked up one of the gifts.

It was a small box, but not the size of a ring or earrings. It wasn't long, so Kate felt comfortable in concluding it wasn't a bracelet. But it was small enough that it could still be jewelry. Her heart beat heavily as she accepted it and sucked in a deep breath. Then, with careful fingers, she picked apart the paper. Sure enough, the box was definitely for jewelry. Kate knew her hands were shaking as she lifted the lid.

The intake of air was instinctual.

The burning behind her eyes was insane.

The snowflake pendant was small, but beautiful.

"A little birdy told me Whos live on snowflakes," Rick said quietly, taking the box and pulling out the pendant. Kate moved without thought, turning her back and lifting her hair so he could fasten it to her neck. Her fingers drifted over it as she met Alexis' sparkling eyes. The teenager had watched both versions the night before while Kate and Rick were at the charity gala.

"Rick-" she breathed.

"You're keeping it," he told her as his hands came to rest on her shoulders. His thumbs traced the tendons down her neck and into her back and she turned to face him, her finger still ghosting over the stones.

"Are these-?"

"I'm pleading the Fifth," he replied with a lopsided grin. "Same with the metal."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"You're welcome," he answered, squeezing her side where one of his hands had drifted.

Alexis caught their attention again as she lifted one of the last two gifts under the tree. Kate's breath caught as Alexis stepped towards her.

"It's from me," Alexis said with a shrug. "Just because."

If it wasn't Christmas, and Alexis wasn't all but vibrating as she stood in front of Kate, the detective probably would have agreed. But Alexis looked so anxious and so terrified that Kate doubted this was just any gift. Much like Rick's she picked at the wrapping paper, opening it carefully. There was another box inside. She broke the tape and pulled out the bubble-wrapped object inside.

And felt tears actually flood her eyes.

It was a little figurine of two women skating. Well, 'women' was a generous description for the figure on the left. Kate watched it go blurry as she held it in the palm of her hand.

"You were here when my mom wasn't," Alexis said softly, settling on the coffee table. "And I know how much your mom's memory means to you right now." She shrugged again. "It seemed appropriate."

Kate very slowly and very carefully wrapped the figurine back in its bubble wrap. She tucked it back into the box and set the box aside.

Then yanked Alexis into a hug.

Kate felt her let out a heavy breath as she wrapped her arms back around Kate. They stayed there for a minute as both tried to get ahold of themselves. Then Alexis leaned back and wiped her eyes.

Kate went for the tree and lifted the last present, biting down on her lip as she held it in between her hands. She flattened the ribbon, blinking back heavy emotion, some of which still lingered, then held it out for Alexis.

"This is for you."

Kate bit her lip as Alexis carefully pulled the paper apart. She'd been careful to leave this particular one for last. She felt Rick's hand on her back, felt her body heat, but nothing mattered beyond Alexis.

Alexis placed the paper to the side and looked down at the simple white box. She broke the tape easily and opened the box.

Inside, was an angel, browned with age, holding a bow. Alexis lifted it out of the box delicately. "Kate," she breathed out.

"It was my mom's," Kate said quietly.

She felt Rick's hand still completely on her back and Alexis' head snapped up to meet her gaze.

"Well, it was mine as a kid," Kate amended. She shrugged. "It's your first Christmas with your dad in a long time, and I wanted to make sure you had something to remember it by."

"Kate," Alexis breathed. "I can't."

"You can," Kate argued back with a smile. "I want you to." She looked fondly at the angel. "The one thing about Christmas that I've always remembered is that you have to make the best of what you have. It may not be perfect, it may not be a fairytale, but that doesn't mean it can't be good."

Alexis put the angel aside and stood, wrapping her arms tightly around Kate's body. "Best Christmas ever," the teenager whispered in Kate's ear.

Then she darted away, taking the angel with her and bounding for her grandmother's room. Kate watched her go for a moment, then wiped at her eyes, cleared her throat and set about cleaning up the room.

Rick caught her hands as she went to pick up the wrapping paper beside him on the couch.

"Go out with me," he said, standing.

Kate sucked in a breath. "Like a date?"


She chewed her lip slightly then shook her head and stepped back. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

Rick rolled his eyes as she tried to go back to cleaning up his living room. He reached over and gripped her arm, tight enough to get her attention, but not tight enough to hurt.

"I'm not blind," he argued. "You put a lot of work into making us believe in the miracle of Christmas. You wanted us to see this holiday like you do. And face it, Kate, you wouldn't have done it if you didn't care." He ran a hand through his hair in agitation. "There's something here, Kate. And I'm done doing it your way."

That didn't settle well with Kate. She felt a spark of something akin to fear race through her. "Rick-"

"No," he interrupted forcefully. "You know we're good together, Kate, and those thoughtful gifts prove you care. You know I have feelings for you. We've already kissed for goodness sake!"

"That was for Christmas."

"Was your mother about Christmas?" he asked quietly, searching her eyes. "You don't share Johanna with just anyone, Kate, even I know that. So why did you share it with us?"

Kate almost snapped her mouth closed and just watched him, warily. She couldn't help the fear. He was Richard Castle and as much as she wished his reputation didn't matter, it did. So did the way he drove her nuts, so did her job, so did Alexis… there was so much at stake. Too many things mattered and she was terrified that even if they had explosive chemistry, that would be it.

And she couldn't help but think she'd be thrown out with yesterday's trash.

"I'll make you a deal," he said quietly, reclaiming her attention. "Three dates. If I can convince you that this is worth it, that we can be good together, we give it an honest shot."

"Rick-" She still wasn't sure it was a good idea.

"What was it you said earlier? 'It may not be a fairytale'? I get that relationships are hard work, and I know that with us, with everything we've been through, it's going to be even harder but… I'm willing to try. I'm ready to try."

She could feel herself giving in. He wasn't making promises or guarantees; he was pointing out that things between them probably wouldn't be perfect. But was she willing to take that kind of a chance? She closed her eyes. It was a terrifying concept to think about what she could lose.

But then again, what could she gain? What if he wasn't in it for one night? What if they did make it work? She already knew she liked it when he pulled her pigtails. She already knew he could be there for her when cases got too dark and he'd started to show that he was more than willing to be there for her when things got tough. And there was a traitorous part of her that could admit that Christmas with him had been fun.

"Three dates, Kate. That's all I'm asking for."

And Kate, chewing her lip, and thinking of Christmas, took a leap of faith.


Cha-ching! 25 chapters, 25 days and this is even posted before midnight! I have met my deadline and I have to admit, it's honestly a little bit of a surprise I did. This as one of my more frustrating Christmas fics to write, much to my surprise.

I will write the 26th to the 1st. I've set up for it, and I feel like it would be kind of cruel not to finish it. Plus, it's kind of silly when you guys review this one like crazy not to give you an official ending.

I will apologize for not being able to respond to each of you in person. I do prefer to do that but, as you guys are very well aware, things got crazier than I wanted them to. It means a lot that you reviewed anyway, especially those of you who left long ones and pointed out the things they liked and didn't and loopholes in my story. I do try and make it as 'real' as I can, but what matters more is that you've enjoyed it.

As a side-note, and not as a self-promotion, I am looking to get back into the fics that aren't finished yet. I'm hoping Rome will be up first since T&B deserves more time and effort than I've been necessarily willing to put in. And I have to find where my muse went on vacation for that one. So look for an update on "When in Rome" next.

Well, beyond the sequel for this which is going to take up most of my next six days.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!