Title: Of Finding Innocence

Disclaimer: No judgment, but I kind of look like an unemployed college kid…

Summary: Kate Beckett met Richard Castle once, long ago, at a book signing. What if things had gone differently that day? Castle, but with a large, large twist.

Chapter 20:


"Hey, Beckett. Sorry about that writer guy," Karpowski said as Kate returned to her desk.

"Excuse me?" Kate replied, confused.

"You mean you haven't seen…oh, um, never mind," she turned around and sat back down, but Kate's interest was already piqued.

"Seen what, Karpowski?" Esposito was watching them, looking rather conflicted. When Karpowski didn't respond, keeping her curly head firmly facing the opposite direction, Kate turned on him. "What's she talking about?"

"You got a Ledger on your desk?" Esposito asked slowly.

"Yeah?"

"Page Six," he told her. "But really, I think everyone's making a bigger deal out of it than it…Castle's a good guy. I'm sure it's nothing."

Kate stared at him and then found the paper. If Esposito was giving it a build up, whatever Rick had gotten himself into wasn't good. She flipped through the paper and found the Society section. And there they were. Rick and Gina had gone to a big Charity function Sunday night, and apparently it had taken until Tuesday morning to run press about it. Richard Castle and Publicist, Gina Cowell Sharing More than Manuscripts? She snorted. What a terrible and tawdry tag. But then she looked at the picture.

Gina was raised on her tiptoes, whispering something into Rick's ear, and he was grinning as they twirled around a large ballroom floor. She looked relatively radiant in her blue ball gown and Rick looked fantastic in a tux, like he always did. They made a cute couple. So that explained the headline. To be fair though, it wasn't as though they were making out on the front cover. Kate looked at it objectively and then set the paper down. She wasn't jealous, and wasn't upset, and would be completely mature about this. At least she'd try.

"Um, can I still…should I still play Halo with him Friday night, or do I need to punch his pretty boy face in?" Esposito asked quietly.

Kate met his eyes and couldn't stop the small smile that spread across her face. It fit though. They'd been in a few gunfights together recently and it was hard to be under fire and not come out with some affection for the person hiding behind the packing crate with you. And it was nice to know that she trumped Rick when it came to allegiance.

But she couldn't really acknowledge it. That would step over some boundary, and she liked the tentative friendship they'd formed. So she put the paper down and flipped on her computer.

"Remind Castle that if you guys eat all of the tortilla chips, he'll have to get more before Monday, since it's taco night next week."

Esposito grinned and turned back to his desk and they worked quietly for a few minutes. It was Tuesday and they were both covering the morning shifts so that they could have Wednesday morning off. Kate wanted to be able to sleep in tomorrow, since she was staying with Alexis tonight after they went shopping, because Rick had yet another holiday function. Esposito needed to go visit a relative in Long Island—his grandmother, if Kate remembered correctly.

"And tell your grandmother I say hello," she added a few minutes later.

"Will do," he replied.

"Beckett," Kate looked up and found Traikers, one of the older Detectives, standing by her desk. "Sorry about your boy," she said quietly, her red head bowed low so that other people wouldn't hear.

Kate blinked. "Oh, um, thanks? It's not really what it looks like," she rambled. "But, thank you."

Traikers walked off and Kate turned to meet Esposito's eyes. "This place is terrible," she muttered.

"It'll blow over."

Kate hoped so. It was starting to grate on her. And she had enough trouble staying even keeled about Gina, who got to have her hands all over Rick every so often. Not that it mattered, really, since they were actually just friends. But she and Rick had been just friends for a while…No. She wasn't going to let the fishbowl get to her.

She glanced at her clock and sighed. She still had two more hours of paperwork to get through. And as she glanced around, she found more than half of the Precinct glancing back at her. She'd have to punch Rick for that arm move he'd pulled when they left last week. If he hadn't, maybe now the whole 12th wouldn't think he was cheating on her. But he wasn't, and she knew that, so she just needed to find her focus.

After an hour of tedious work, she got up and headed for the break room in a desperate search for caffeine. She walked in and poured herself a cup of the admittedly abysmal coffee and leaned against the counter just as Velasquez and Pelosi walked in.

"And he's practically wrapped around her. If I were Beckett, I'd cut him loose. Who needs a play…hey, Beckett," Velasquez spluttered, coming to a halt and causing Pelosi to crash into her. "Enjoying the coffee?"

Kate simply nodded. She was a few years younger than Velasquez, but that didn't stop the woman from floundering. She looked absolutely horrified. Good. She should be. "Having a good day?" Kate asked.

"Yeah, yes. And you?"

Kate bobbed her head. "Working a half on my day off to have some time tomorrow. Paperwork, you know?"

"Not fun," Pelosi piped up. "Are you okay, otherwise?"

Velasquez elbowed her and Kate rolled her eyes. "I'm fine."

They considered her for a moment and then Velasquez took a step closer. "Because, you know, Beckett. You're young, and men, they're…they're a dime a dozen, you know?"

Oh, God. She was getting the 'big sister' talk. That was embarrassing, for both of them. Please, stop. Just stop. "Thanks," she said with a false smile. "But really, I'm fine. And I have to get back. Have…have a nice day."

She fled, skirting around Pelosi and ducking out of the room. She received more sympathetic looks as she walked back to her desk and she sat down, fuming. God damnit. She'd worked hard to get to where she was. She wasn't a little girl getting her heart broken for the first time. And hell, she wasn't getting her heart broken at all! The paper meant nothing. Rick was hers. Gina didn't mean anything.

Thoughts swirled as she attempted to do her paperwork, getting more and more frustrated as her own insecurities capitalized on the article and the gossip. Rick wasn't going to leave her for Gina. He wasn't. And going out with her was just for publicity. And he was doing it because she, Kate, wasn't ready to have her name all over the tabloids. They hadn't even gotten the chance to have a first date yet.

Her phone rang and she grabbed it, bringing to her ear and barking, "Beckett," into the speaker, with far more force and irritation than whoever was on the line deserved.

"Hi, Kate," Rick said slowly. "Everything okay?"

"No," she replied. "I mean…yes, everything's fine. What's up?"

"Um…I was just making sure you're still going shopping with Alexis after school? And you're sure you're okay with hanging with her tonight?"

"Plans haven't changed," she replied. No, she couldn't be this petty right? Rick hadn't done anything.

"Great," she could tell he was smiling. "Hey, can I get a woman's opinion from you?"

"Because I'm more likely to give you a frog's opinion if you don't ask?"

He laughed and she couldn't help the small smile that lit her face at the sound. Maybe he could break her out of the gossip-induced funk she'd fallen into. "What shirt should I wear tonight?"

Kate blinked. He actually wanted a 'woman's opinion.' "Really?"

"Really," he replied. "Because Gina's got some gold dress or something, and I don't want to clash with that, but I need a tie too, and I'm…I'm floundering here."

"What, Richard Castle can't get dressed for a date without help?" Apparently he hadn't snapped her out of her funk after all.

"I…can," he stammered back. Well crap. "Everything okay, Kate?"

"Everything's fine," she snapped. Damn it. No. This wasn't how it was supposed to work. "She's got a gold dress? Blue goes with gold. You can't just wear a tux?"

"It's not that formal," he sighed. "And Paula wants us to match. I'm assuming you've seen the article in the paper today? Paula's delighted."

"Yeah, I've seen it. I've heard about it. You two make a great couple," she replied as she filled in a line on her file, pressing her pen to the paper with more force than was necessary.

"We're…not a couple. Kate, are you sure you're okay? You sound pissed."

"I'm not," she replied. But she was. She was irrationally angry about it. Because Rick was hers and she felt possessive. And she wasn't comfortable with that, or how much it bothered her, or how it was making her want to claw at people who were giving her sympathy for it. Because she, Katherine Beckett, was more level headed than this. And it was his fault. She wasn't quite sure how, and somewhere, in the back of her head, she knew that she was being unreasonable, but there it was.

"Okay. I can let you go if you're busy."

"It's fine. Wear a deep blue shirt and screw the tie. It'll make you devil-may-care, and won't that help your image?"

"I…I guess. Kate, did I do something? You've got that tone, and I really can't figure out why."

"You didn't do anything," she replied. Another line filled out, another irritating pang of jealousy that seemed to open her mouth and make stupid words fall out without her consent. "Have fun on your date. I'm sure Gina will think you look fabulous."

"Hey. Gina hasn't done anything here."

"I didn't say she had. I'm sure she's great. Blonde, coiffed and great," Kate replied. Seriously. Stop talking.

"Really? Are we going there?" he sounded annoyed now too and Kate would have slapped herself if she could just take a step back and look at it more objectively. But, as these things usually do, there wasn't a step to be taken.

"Going where, Rick? You're the one that's going to the party. Make sure you guys get an angle with more of your face this time, right? That'll be great for publicity."

"Hey. I'm going out with her because I have to, not because I want to. And you know that I would rather be going out to dinner with you and watching a movie at home. But I have to do this instead."

"Some sacrifice. Say hi to the Mayor, will you?" No! No, that had been stupid. Damnit.

"Very mature," he replied. "Do you want me to give him your regards? And how should I put that? My girlfriend, who would rather gouge herself in the eye than be seen in public with me, sends her best. By the way, have you met my friend Gina? Doesn't she look lovely?"

Heads were turning to look at Kate and she realized with a start that she was still in the middle of the bullpen. She stood rapidly and escaped to the women's room, fuming. "I'm not the only one who agreed to keep us out of the papers," she hissed as she banged the door to the bathroom open and stormed over to the window. "You said you weren't ready to have marriage announcements floating around again."

"And you nearly passed out at the mere suggestion of them," he fired back. "Don't pin this all on me, Kate. I don't want to spend my evening with Gina."

"Because being out with a gorgeous blonde is such a bother for you!" she exclaimed. "Holding her and dancing with her and whispering into her ear is such a chore, I'm sure." Petty, jealous, irrational and vindictive—man, she'd hit the jackpot today.

"You told me you were okay with this," he growled. "And now you're treating me like a criminal?"

"I'm not treating you like a criminal!"

"Then what is this? Why the hell are you so pissed off? I haven't done anything but cater to your need for privacy."

"Because that need is such a difficult thing to understand? God, just today I've been picked on and pitied because you put your arm around me last week, and now you're rubbing noses with Gina in the paper," she ranted. She definitely needed to stop, but he was fighting back and she wasn't focused on what was right.

"I was under the impression that you were stronger than people's opinions about you."

Wow. "Wow," she murmured, the fight snapped out of her. That one had stung a bit.

She could hear him breathing heavily on the other end. It was an off day for both of them. "I think we need to fight in person," he said after a silent minute.

She wasn't sure if being able to see him would make it better or worse, really. "Maybe," she replied. But they wouldn't be having this argument, regardless, if she hadn't let herself blow up. "Rick, I…"

He sighed and she could imagine him slumped against a window, just like she was, rubbing a hand over his face. "I have to go. I have a meeting and then I have to get back here to get ready. Let's put this on hold."

"Really, I'm…"

"Later, Kate," he said quietly. "Maybe I'll see you before we head out, maybe not."

"Okay." She let her head fall back against the frosted glass. She'd stepped in it big time. They both had.

"You're still picking Alexis up?"

"Of course," she said immediately. "Whether or not I've been a bitch, I'll always be there for her, and nice to her."

She heard him laugh quietly. "That is not the word I'd use, but really, I have to go."

"I'll see you late tonight, then?" she asked tentatively. Crap. How were you supposed to make up for that?

"Yeah. I'll see you tonight."

She at least wanted to try to explain. She didn't like the idea of just letting all of it stew. "Rick. It's wasn't really ab…"

"Kate," he cut in, his voice both hard and soft at once. "I get it. But I have to go. Can we argue about it more later?"

She blew out a breath. "Yeah, okay," she said quietly. "Have a good meeting."

"Thanks. Have fun shopping, without me." At least he wasn't running for the hills, if the pout in his voice was any indication.

"We're shopping for you, so it would be impractical to have you along."

"Right, right. Okay. I actually have to leave. See you tonight."

"See you tonight."

He clicked off and Kate let her arm drop to her side, staring at the dingy walls of the bathroom. What was that? What the hell happened? She'd been fine today. She'd even been fine after seeing the article. But then she'd just snapped and she'd taken it out on him, and he'd fought back. And it wasn't just this; she always got testy at the holidays, and her father got quieter, and she had nightmares. None of that, however, gave her the right to lash out.

She sighed and picked herself up. She had paperwork to finish and then she had to go and get Alexis so they could find a present for Rick. And she had to figure out how to make this up to him. Admittedly, a sincere apology, explanation and discussion of how to prevent 'Sudden Jealousy Syndrome,' would probably suffice. But that didn't seem like enough, especially since they were both stressed. Rick needed to make some final edits to his manuscript, but had been swamped with publicity meetings and family, and she…had enough problems to need an industrial forklift.

Kate spent the next thirty minutes filling out files and wracking her brain for a solution to their problem, and a suitable gesture of apology. But the clock beat her to it, and before she was truly composed, she was on her way to Alexis' private school to pick her up. She took a cab, but knew that the town car would be there to meet them, as per Rick's request. When she got out and paid, she stood on the sidewalk in front of the building, waiting with a bunch of other parents, all holding scarves over their faces or pulling their jackets closed against the cold.

Kids began spilling out of the large stone building, running down the stairs and sliding down the banisters, much to the chagrin of their parents. They all wore green and plaid uniforms, but some were more proper than others, and Kate enjoyed trying to match kids to their parents. The more rambunctious children normally ran to nannies, or more casually dressed parents, while the 'proper' children walked slowly to stoic, obviously wealthy and prim parents or strict nannies.

Alexis skipped out of the building and Kate smiled as she spotted her, her flaming red hair easily distinguishable amongst the blonds and browns. She looked around and then her face split in a wide grin as she found Kate in the crowd. She sped down the stairs and bowled into her, wrapping her arms around her in an aggressive hug.

"Hi!" she greeted, tilting her head back to look up at her.

"Hi, Lex," Kate laughed, giving her a squeeze before shifting her back to get a good look at her. "Are you okay with going shopping in your school uniform?"

"It's comfy," Alexis replied, swinging her hips so that the skirt shifted around her. She was very cute and Kate caught a few of the unclaimed parents watching them, including an attractive man next to her.

"Are you Alexis' nanny?" he asked, extending a hand when he caught Kate's eye, his thousand-watt smile displayed for all to see. "I'm Chris Hanson, Adrian's father."

"I'm Kate," Kate replied shaking his hand. "And no, I'm not her nanny."

His expression fell a bit, but he looked undeterred. "I didn't know Richard was dating. Actually, no, wasn't he in the paper with Gina Cowell?"

"They're not dating," Alexis giggled. "They're just friends."

"And how are you, Alexis?" Chris asked her.

"I'm good. This is the Kate I told you about when I was over last week," she explained. And she was back to being 'The' Kate. Marvelous.

"Oh," his eyes widened with some past recognition. "Richard's best friend, if I'm correct." What exactly was Alexis telling people about her? Apparently it wasn't that Kate was Rick's girlfriend, even though she'd been given permission to do so.

"You are," Kate said with a smile. And his girlfriend. But she couldn't just decide to go public with that now, especially not after the fight she'd had with Rick just an hour ago. Paula would murder them both anyway.

"Alexis speaks very highly of you," he continued. But Kate wasn't really interested in being chatted up, and she could see it coming.

"Well, I think pretty highly of her too," she replied, giving Alexis a squeeze.

"Ernie's here!" Alexis interjected. "Bye Mr. Hanson."

"Nice to meet you," Kate added as she let Alexis tug her away. Were all single parents that easily interested? It wasn't like she looked fantastic today. She was in jeans and a purple turtleneck with her pea coat. She certainly wasn't dressed for success.

Ernie was waiting about half a block away, standing beside the car and Alexis pulled her inside, grinning at him.

"Nice to see you again, Miss Beckett."

"Likewise, Ernie. Thank you for shuttling us around today."

"It's my pleasure," he replied as he shut the door and walked around to get in the driver's seat. "Where to?" he asked as they settled in.

"J&R at Herald Square, please," Kate replied.

"Shopping for Mr. Castle?"

"You know it," Alexis replied. "Do you think he'll like it?" she asked, turning to Kate, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth. Oh, crap, she'd taught her that, hadn't she?

"Alexis, your father will absolutely die for it. You can't see him thinking laser tag is the coolest thing ever?"

"I guess," she giggled. "You think so?"

Richard Castle creeping around his apartment while trying to shoot at Alexis, wearing gear that glowed and made sounds when you shot it, like something out of a sci-fi movie? Oh, Kate knew he'd love it. And he'd love it even more because they had bought it together. It didn't escape Kate that every time she and Alexis did anything together, from baking cookies to laughing at him, Rick melted a bit. At least she knew how to be a good pseudo-parent, even if at the moment, she was a pretty crappy girlfriend.

"I know so," she replied.

Alexis smiled. "I'm glad Ernie came to pick us up then. Mr. Hanson was trying to ask you out."

Kate coughed. Oh, the perceptive and surprising things that came out of Alexis Castle's mouth. "Was he?"

"It's the same way women act around Daddy when you're not with him. And he always says no now, and they look just like Mr. Hanson did when we were walking away."

She wished Rick could hear this. It was both tragic and hysterically funny all at once, which, when she thought about it, kind of summed up both of their lives, didn't it? "Well, then I'm glad Ernie showed up when he did," Kate replied.

"You can't date Mr. Hanson," Alexis continued. "Cause you're Daddy's girlfriend."

Kate nodded and Alexis beamed, scooting over to snuggle into her side for the rest of the ride, content to stare out the window.

"You're nervous," Rick observed as Kate flitted around his kitchen, trying to put the finishing touches on the Turkey and stuffing, all while chopping a salad and silently freaking out.

"Shut up," she replied, adjusting the apron she'd found as she lifted the edge of the tent and decided that the bird needed another three minutes or so.

"Why are you nervous? Your Dad's been here before."

She turned to face him. "You're not a little bit nervous?" It seemed unfair that she'd be alone in this. He wasn't worried about explaining it to his mother, or worried about her opinion or…making too big a deal of everything. "Shut up," she said as he went to open his mouth.

He grinned and stepped up behind her as she turned back to chopping up peppers for the salad. "It'll be fine," he murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist and pressing himself flush against her back. "Your Dad will be happy, and my mother will be smug, and everyone will get over it."

Kate leaned back into him as he bent down and kissed her neck, a gesture of affection that never failed to make her smile. "And Alexis?"

"Will be overjoyed. Do you want to tell her before they get here?"

Kate nodded. They'd decided to do the reveal today, since the whole family would be together, and they hadn't gotten to tell Alexis yet because Kate had worked straight through until ten the previous night, and they'd both been outlandishly busy over the weekend and at the beginning of the week.

"Lex?" Rick called, not bothering to move.

Alexis clattered down the stairs and Kate put down her knife. Alexis would be happy. And if they were lucky, she wouldn't ask too many questions. But chances were that she would. Rick had promised to field most of them, but Kate was still a bit nervous about telling the little girl who had captured so much of her heart.

"What's up?" she asked, as Kate turned and walked toward her, Rick clinging to her back like some sort of sloth. "Daddy," Alexis giggled.

"What? Kate's snuggly!" he replied, grinning over her shoulder.

"And your father is silly," Kate added. "But we actually have something to tell you."

"Okay," she smiled, climbing up onto one of the stools so that Kate and Rick didn't have to waddle their collective way to the living room.

"You gonna stay attached to me like a koala?" Kate asked, turning her head to glance sideways at him.

"I'm comfy," he replied, digging his chin gently into her shoulder.

Kate simply shook her head and turned back to Alexis, who was smiling at them. "What?" she asked, feeling a bit self-conscious, which was ridiculous. Alexis was eight. There was nothing intimidating about her.

"You guys are cute," Alexis replied easily. "What do you want to tell me?"

"Well, Sweetie," Rick began as Kate squeezed his hands. "Kate and I are…dating now."

Alexis stared at them, seemingly unimpressed. "And?" she asked.

Kate gaped and Rick laughed. "What do you mean, and?" Kate exclaimed.

"It's not a big deal, is it?" Alexis asked. "You kiss and hug now. And you'll kiss and hug tomorrow. Does this mean…what do I call you?" Alexis asked, finally looking a bit confused. It made Kate feel better to know that they inspired at least some emotion in the little girl.

"She's my girlfriend," Rick replied. "But you still call her Kate."

"Well duh!" Alexis giggled. "But do I tell people you're Daddy's girlfriend? Isn't he dating Gina in the paper, even though he's got you?"

"You told her about Gina?" Kate asked, looking at Rick over her shoulder.

"She reads everything," he protested. "And…I guess you do say Kate's my girlfriend, if you're asked, Sweetheart."

Alexis nodded. "Okay. Can I go finish my homework so I don't have it to do for the rest of break?"

"Sure," Kate replied, utterly dazed.

Alexis pranced around the counter and threw her arms around both of their waists, tilting her head up to look at Kate. "I'm glad you're dating officially," she told her. "I love you."

"Love you too, Munchkin," Kate smiled, laying a hand on the back of her head. "Now go do homework."

"Yes Ma'am!" she laughed, and then turned and ran out of the room.

They stood there, staring after her. "My daughter just turned our dating into something almost insultingly insignificant, didn't she?" Rick asked quietly.

"She did," Kate replied. "Does she really understand what dating is?"

"I think Alexis gets that we're not really dating, Kate," Rick chuckled. "And for her, there really isn't a difference. And if she's not bringing up step-mothers and marriage, I suggest we don't either."

Kate coughed. "Right. Right. Good plan." God. The two of them really were going to kill her.

The oven beeped and Rick reluctantly relinquished her waist to take over chopping while Kate got the Turkey out of the oven and set it on the stove top with the stuffing. They moved around each other with ease, grabbing plates and glasses and moving things over to the dining room table just as the door opened and Martha and Jim bustled in, calling out hellos.

Rick and Kate called back, and they heard Alexis thunder down the stairs to greet her 'grandparents,' a development of title that never ceased to make Jim beam a bit. The three of them traipsed in and sat down while Kate poured sparkling grape juice for everyone and Rick began carving, pausing to pull Kate's chair out for her.

"Are we still in the chivalry stage? Hi, Martha. Hi, Dad."

"Yes. Hi, Mother. Hello, Jim," Rick replied. "Happy Thanksgiving."

"And to you too," Jim replied while Martha raised her glass. "This looks amazing. Did you both cook?"

They nodded as everyone passed plates around, loading up on the huge, garlic roasted Turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes Rick and Kate had spent the better part of the morning and afternoon slaving over. It had been fun, and oddly comforting to make a big holiday meal. And pausing for kisses throughout the process, some chaste and others downright indecent had been wonderful. So far, even though they hadn't actually managed a date yet, and probably wouldn't for another week, dating Richard Castle was rather fantastic, even if Alexis was right, and nothing was really different yet.

Rick sat down. "Happy Thanksgiving everyone," he proclaimed, raising his glass.

"Happy Thanksgiving," they chorused, clinking glasses. And then they were quiet for a while, eating happily and only exchanging words to compliment the food.

"This is amazing, you two," Martha announced as she reached for a second helping of stuffing. "Richard, you are hereafter never allowed to cook a holiday meal without this woman again."

"Katie, I can't remember the last time you cooked like this," Jim added.

"I haven't since mom," Kate replied quietly. "But this was fun." Rick's hand found hers on the tabletop and he laced his fingers between hers, squeezing gently as Kate watched her father swallow hard. But his face was fuller and he still looked healthy. And he hadn't had a drink since July.

"Then I heartily approve of Martha's mandate," he said after a moment, smiling at Alexis and easing the dull ache in Kate's chest. "You'll just have to keep having us over for holidays."

"That's good," Alexis replied. "Cause I think Kate's gonna be here for a long time."

"Yes, I don't plan on letting her go," Rick interjected. "Especially now that I know how well she cooks."

Kate turned and narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm being kept for my culinary skills?"

"I'm surprised you admit to being kept at all," Martha said, glancing at Jim. "I was under the impression that you were just friends."

"Yes, have we missed something?" Jim added, glancing between Kate and Rick.

Kate went to open her mouth, but Alexis was already talking. "They're dating now. But I think it's silly."

Martha choked on the sip of sparkling grape juice she'd just taken and Jim gave a loud laugh. Kate met Rick's gaze and he just smiled at her. She'd definitely built this up too much. She smiled back and he squeezed her hand as they turned their attention to Alexis, who was watching Martha with some concern as she took a few great, deep breaths and Jim patted her on the back.

"I'm sorry, your father and Kate are dating?" Martha managed.

"Yes," Alexis replied. "But it's silly. They say 'I love you' all the time. I thought you dated to get to know people."

"You're in love?" Jim asked. "And you're just dating now?"

"We're, uh," Kate glanced at Rick, a bit mystified. They never really spoke about being 'in love' with each other. They just loved each other, but it hadn't been…categorized, per say.

"We're dating," Rick replied. "And we'll have to get back to you on the status of the former."

"Excuse me?" Martha chuckled.

"Because best friend love and Mommy and Daddy love are different, right?" Alexis asked.

Martha and Jim stared at Alexis, mouths open, while Kate and Rick slowly began to laugh. "Exactly, Alexis," Rick replied, his hand bumping both of theirs on the table while Kate giggled.

They glanced at each other and Rick grinned mischievously. "Love you," he said quietly.

"Love you back," she replied easily. How they loved each other was a matter to discuss later, and at some point when…well, hopefully once he'd seen her naked. And to that end, it might be a while. Work and functions and Thanksgiving dinners seemed to get in the way.

"I give up," Martha exclaimed, obviously having recovered enough to watch their exchange. "You don't make sense."

"Perhaps that's the reason they work," Jim mused.

"Perhaps this is why we vowed not to do this again," Rick mumbled while Kate shook her head.

"Perhaps I could have more potatoes?" Alexis asked.

They wandered around the big electronics store for a few minutes, stopping to pick up various gadgets and test them out, or ponder what they did. Alexis seemed to know more of them than Kate did, and it left her feeling a bit old in comparison. But, then again, Rick was a huge electronics buff, so it wasn't all that surprising that Alexis was schooled and in the know.

The high walls of shelves wound through the store, interspersed with displays for all kinds of things, from the newest laptops to animatronic animals and robots. If Kate had the money, she would have splurged for the T-Rex, partly because Rick would love it, and partly because it was cool. She wondered when she should tell him that she was secretly as nerdy as he was. Or maybe she should just let him figure that out, like a long-term, overwrapped present.

"Found them!" Alexis called, bringing Kate out of her thoughts as she followed the flash of red down two aisles, stopping at a large display. There were about seven different types of vests hanging on the wall, with various models of guns between and among them.

"Which ones do we get?" Alexis asked quietly. "They don't have to be super fancy, do they?"

"No," Kate replied, relieved. She only had so much to spend on this present, even with the added money Alexis insisted on chipping in. Martha's lecture about letting the girl spend some of her own money had forced Kate into accepting.

She reached up and pulled two of the vests down, one in an adult size and one in a child size. They weren't as flashy as the set that lit up and screamed when you were shot, but they were still cool. Black with a few lights and a center target, the vests were stylish and lightweight—perfect for durable wear.

"How about these?" she asked, extending them for Alexis to see.

"They're cool. But we need another vest," she replied.

"Why?"

Alexis blinked at her. "For you," she said, in a tone that made it obvious that Kate had made some sort of ridiculous error. "You're gonna play with us, right?"

"Oh. Well, yeah, I guess I would," Kate replied slowly. She hadn't really considered it. "But I thought this was a present mostly from you."

"Only if you're gonna play too. It's a family present, Kate," she explained. "And unless you're gonna carry me piggy back, two vests aren't enough. And I wanna fly solo. I can take you both down."

Well, with a challenge like that, how could she resist? "Okay, okay," Kate laughed. She reached up and gathered another vest into her arms while Alexis picked out three lightweight guns. "Perfect."

Alexis grinned and Kate led them up to the counter. They stood on line, Alexis chatting about how much fun they'd have and how awesome it would be, while Kate nodded along. Alexis had used the word family, which she hadn't ever done before. Kate and Rick tossed it around enough, just like they tossed around a number of other words, because that was just what they did. But Alexis had been removed from that until now. It made Kate want to hug her, and simultaneously made her want to hide, because it was terrifying, being a true part of a family—terrifying in the kind of wonderful way that made her both nauseous and excited.

They paid and then met Ernie outside, climbing into the town car just as the first cars of rush hour started to crowd the streets. She asked Alexis about school and her homework as they drove to Kate's apartment, listening and chiming in when needed. Alexis was oddly fascinating; she seemed to see the world much like her father—as a collection of people to be observed.

Ernie parked and kept the car waiting as Kate dashed upstairs to hide the laser tag equipment, leaving Alexis in the car with a book. She put the bag on her couch and then left her gun and badge in her drawer. As she was leaving, she snagged a cheap Santa hat she'd brought home from the Precinct earlier in the month, figuring she could wear it with Alexis for pictures or something.

She hurried down and got back into the car, smiling as she found Alexis thoroughly engrossed in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. She looked up and gave Kate a smile as they pulled off from the curb, and then continued reading, leaving Kate to stare out the windows. She let her mind cycle back to the fight she'd had with Rick, and how on earth she was supposed to make up for it. Yes, he'd said a few things that were hurtful, and she fully expected him to apologize for those, but he wasn't the one who picked the fight.

Kate didn't often deal with her more aggressive, womanly, jealous, petty, angry, easily hurt side. She'd closed the door on that in high school, after having spiraled down into the world of teenage angst for a few years. But now, it was rearing its head, and she honestly had no gauge for dealing with it. It just grated at her, the way people talked about Rick and Gina, and how they looked in the paper, and the stories Rick sometimes told about the fun they'd had. Though, he usually told them when they were cuddled up on the couch together, just before or just after a heated make out, so she didn't normally mind that so much. But all of it, coupled with her exhaustion and the kind of emotional roller coaster the holidays always were, was just too much.

Before she knew it, they were thanking Ernie and heading into Rick's building, greeting Eduardo as they went. They got into the elevator and Alexis turned to Kate.

"Can we have pasta tonight?"

Kate smiled. "With the garlic onion sauce, since your Dad won't be here?"

Alexis nodded. "Yeah!"

"Of course."

Kate smiled as Alexis leaned into her side and they stepped out of the elevator and walked up to the door. Kate pulled out her keys and unlocked it, laughing as Alexis sped inside and barreled up the stairs, yelling back about getting her homework done before dinner. It never ceased to amaze Kate that Alexis, who was eight and in the third grade, had homework. Kate slowly set her things down and then wandered into the kitchen, listening for Rick. She didn't hear any typing coming from the office, but then she heard the shower going.

She sighed and got down a glass and rummaged around to find the orange juice. She just wanted to apologize. Kate didn't like leaving things raw and letting things stew. She liked to fix things, especially when they were important. And this was important. The shower shut off and a minute later, she heard Rick bustling around his room. This was really important.

She made her way into the office and sat down in one of the chairs, staring at the picture of the spiral stairs behind his desk. She had no idea how to do this. She just didn't. She and Will had fought, but it had never been about something so unimportant yet important at once. And Kate had never let her emotions get the best of her like that. Then again, she hadn't really had emotions to share with Will, for the most part. They'd been good together, but she hadn't shared the same things she did with Rick. She wouldn't think twice about coming over to curl up and hide in his shoulder after a hard case. But with Will, they fixed hard cases with sex, affirming their own lives. But they didn't talk about the emotions. It wouldn't have been fair to unload on each other.

She got lost in thought and was startled when Rick emerged from the bedroom, tugging on a suit jacket over a pair of black dress pants and a deep blue button down that brought out his eyes. He stood in the doorway and they looked at each other.

"Hey," she said quietly, watching as he straightened his collar and then took a few steps toward her.

"Hey."

"You look good," she offered. He did. It didn't help the little green monster raging in her chest, but he looked amazing. It would be good for his press. And maybe she needed to think about it like that; if he worked in Vice, he'd have to do things like this, of a sort. She wouldn't begrudge a partner his work in Vice. It wasn't a perfect analogy, but at least it was something.

"Thanks," he replied. "You look good too."

Kate snorted quietly but gave him a small smile. "Thanks. I look exhausted and like I spent the morning doing paperwork. But thank you."

He shrugged. "You're always gorgeous."

They just looked at each other. They were still them, and they weren't broken, but they'd had a fight. They'd never had a fight before. They'd never had anything to fight over before, not as friends, and not as…whatever they'd been before they'd decided to actually date, even though they weren't actually dating yet.

"Are you guys gonna order in?" Rick asked as he leaned against his desk.

"I'm going to make the onion garlic pasta Alexis loves," Kate replied.

"Because I won't be here?"

"Exactly," she laughed. "Will there be good food at this event?" She wanted to make an effort. She could do that. He deserved it.

"It'll be lackluster, but it's just dinner, not a big function. I should be back around nine, I think."

"Do you want me to have food for you?"

He gave her a soft smile. "You don't have to work so hard, you know. We fought. I said stupid stuff, you said stupid stuff."

Kate narrowed her eyes at him. "I can't just do nice things for you? They have to be gestures of apology?"

He chuckled. "No. Just, you know, don't spend the next four hours dwelling on it. I have to be fully present at this event, and it's not fair if both of us aren't worrying about it."

"Only you would have fight protocol, Richard," she replied with a shake of her head. But it didn't seem like he was mad. He looked…maybe a bit unsure, or hesitant. And there was some amount of disappointment there, but he wasn't angry. Angry might have been easier to deal with.

There was a knock at the door and Rick sighed. "That's Gina."

"She's picking you up?" Kate asked as he extended his hands for her and she took them, allowing him to pull her up.

"It's closer to the loft than her place, and it's a limo, so she got picked up first. Come on, you guys should meet," he added, giving her hands a squeeze before ushering her out of the office and toward the door.

Kate plastered on a fake smile and watched as he opened the door. She didn't really want to meet Gina. And as she came into view, she really didn't want to meet Gina. She was in a sparkling golden cocktail gown that fell to the floor and showed off her impressive figure. Her hair was pulled back in an elegant braided bun that left tendrils of blond hair falling gently over her face and neck. She looked fantastic, and Kate suddenly felt like she was back in high school and standing next to the most popular girl.

"Rick," she greeted, leaning up to peck his cheek. Then she spotted Kate. "Oh, and you must be the Kate he never stops talking about," she said with a smile that disarmed the confused Officer.

"Um, I guess I am," Kate replied, extending a hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," she grinned. "Oh, it's great to put a face to the stories. You know, I can't remember seeing him happier."

"I…uh…" Kate stammered while Rick met her gaze, smiling.

"Yeah, she's something special," he replied. "How's Ryan, by the way?"

Gina looked from Rick to Kate and back and then bit her lip for a moment. "He's great. He's excited for our trip out to my parents."

"We should get together sometime, real dates with fake," Rick continued.

"Yes, that would be fun," Gina replied. "But we've got to go. Say hi to Alexis for me? I haven't seen her in ages," she added.

"Will do," Kate nodded. And now she felt like a complete ass. Great. Gina gave Kate a smile and then disappeared into the hall while Rick turned to look at her. "Would you like a big gift basket or a sky writer?" she asked, sighing slightly.

"For what?"

"Because nothing says 'I'm an ass' like sky writing," she continued, meeting his eyes. "I would say that you're playing dirty, but I kind of deserve it."

He smiled and leaned down to pull her in for a kiss, wrapping one arm around her as he held the door open with the other. "Not an ass. I don't think jealous and slightly passive aggressive really suits you, but somewhere in the middle of that fight was an ego boost," he murmured as he rested his forehead against hers.

She snorted. "Right."

"Have fun with Lex. And hey, maybe we can have makeup sex later."

She went to fire something back but Gina's voice interrupted her; "You know, holding the door open means I can hear you. And I'm sure you're great, Kate, but I really don't need this much information, Rick."

Kate blushed and Rick's mouth opened and closed for a second before he grinned mischievously and leaned down to capture her mouth one more time. "Okay, gotta go. Think on that, yeah?"

"Go. Dance. Take pretty pictures," she laughed, pushing him out of the apartment. "Keep him in line, Gina. No Police Horses."

"Police Horses?" she asked, popping back into view while Rick gaped at Kate.

"What, you don't think I went and looked for that prior arrest after Montgomery's little slip?" Kate asked innocently. "I'll have to tell you about it sometime, Gina. Mr. Castle here had an exhibitionist streak."

"Oh, thank you," Gina laughed. "Now we have something to talk about tonight."

"You'll pay for that," Rick threatened, glaring at her, even as his eyes sparkled.

"Go and do your job, Richard," she replied, shaking her head at him. She watched as they made their way down the hall and then she stepped back into the apartment and closed the door.

Kate leaned back against it and blew out a breath. She turned her head and let it rest against the door and her eyes fell on the Santa hat that was poking out of her purse. Slowly, a smile spread over her lips and she knew the perfect way to apologize.

(…)

"Kate?"

"In here," she called quietly, listening as his footsteps approached the office, dragging tiredly against the wood. He was at least an hour late, and had called to tell her that they'd been roped into a meet and greet.

She shifted in his desk chair and raised a hand to adjust the hat on her head as he opened the door. He stopped cold in the doorway and stared at her.

"Merry Christmas to me?" he asked after a silent moment, his eyes wide and a grin slowly spreading over his face.

It was surprisingly easy to fashion a skimpy dress out of two pillowcases and a belt. And it helped that they were the perfect color green. Kate stood slowly so that Rick could appreciate the faux-elf costume she'd managed to put together once Alexis had gone to sleep. It was a two-piece number, with one pillowcase serving as a sort of toga top, ending just above her navel, and the second pillowcase fashioned as a short skirt that was very loosely attached to her body by one of Rick's belts. She'd have to ask why he had a bright red belt, but that wasn't the point tonight. The Santa hat was the finishing touch, and Kate was rather proud of the dumbstruck expression on Rick's face at the sight of her.

"Ya polnaya dura" i "ty bilochen' horoshim mal'chikom v etom godu, " sovsem kak kostum elfa"," she said, her voice low and throaty as it rumbled through the Russian words.

Rick's mouth fell open and he stumbled toward her, reaching out to wrap an arm around her bare waist as his other hand came and tangled in the back of her hair. He pulled her mouth to his and kissed her fiercely, biting gently at her lower lip and then sucking, groaning as she released a little moan. She loved it when he did that, and he knew it.

When they broke apart, his eyes roamed her body, even as he continued to hold her tightly to his chest. "What did you say?"

Kate smiled. "Nothing says, 'I'm a complete idiot,' and 'you've been a very good boy this year,' quite like an elf costume," she replied.

He chuckled and then pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. "I didn't have time to change, but I need to jump on this little sorry chain too. I was out of line. I know you don't care about what people think, but even the strongest of us get weighed down, and this is new for you."

"Thanks, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you. Everyone at the station was giving me their condolences, since they all thought you were cheating on me, and by the time you called, I was just so pissed, and I kind of snapped," she mumbled.

"I do like to think that you trust me enough to know that I would never, ever, cheat on you," he said after a moment.

Kate looked up to meet his gaze and nodded. "I do know. And I do trust you. I promise you that." Jealous or not, she knew very well that he wouldn't cheat on her. She didn't worry about that. Because he couldn't look at her like that and have someone on the side. She knew that she was the only one seeing that smile.

"Good," he murmured. "Maybe after the holidays we can talk with Paula about easing us into the papers? Make it a painless process?"

"Does such a thing exist?" she asked, running her fingers through the hairs at the nape of his neck.

"If not, we'll make it exist," he replied.

That sounded fair enough. And it was a while away, so maybe she'd be able to wrap her head around the idea by the time they needed to give a statement. At least she hoped she could find the kind of maturity to get to that point. "Okay."

They stood there for a moment, smiling at each other as the last of the angst and worry fell away. "So, now that our fight's officially over, and in one day, I might add, is there, a, uh, secondary function to this outfit?" Rick asked, running a hand over the bare skin of her back.

Kate let her smile turn from adoring to lustful and gave a small shrug. "Well, I did think it was customary to open one's Christmas presents."

Rick grinned and then she felt his hands slipping up to undo the knot at the back of her top, letting it fall down to reveal her lacy, red brassiere. She couldn't actually take credit for it, since it had been the last clean one she could find that morning, but if the dark color of his eyes and his hot trailing fingers were any indication, it had been a good day to run out of clean laundry.

"God, you're gorgeous," he murmured, leaning down to press a string of hot, open mouthed kisses up her neck as her hands worked into his jacket and pushed it from his shoulders. "Merry Christmas to me indeed," he added as she tossed the jacket toward one of the chairs and zeroed in on the buttons of his shirt, deftly freeing every one until the shirt hung open.

"We either need to close the office door or take this celebration somewhere more private," she managed while his fingers toyed with the clasp of her brassiere, his lips busy teasing at her neck, and jaw, and ear.

"What are you suggesting, Miss Beckett?" he growled.

"That if you're going to keep unwrapping me, we need to be somewhere where we won't ruin Christmas morning for Alexis forever." But oh, she didn't want him to ever stop. Had his lips always been this talented?

He hummed against her skin and began to walk them backward toward his room, pausing to meet her in a set of hot kisses that kept them stumbling and off balance all the way to the door. "Is it bad that I find that sexy?" he asked as they crossed the threshold and he kicked the door closed.

"Find…what sexy?" she stammered as he finally managed the clasp and her brassiere fell away, leaving her bare from the waist up.

His eyes traveled up and down, focusing on her chest and then her swollen lips and her dilated pupils. "You mean besides this?" he replied, pulling her back to him after she helped rid him of his shirt.

She ran her hands up his firm chest and then wrapped them around his neck, dragging him back down to her. Their mouths met and she pressed herself to him, enjoying the feeling of being completely surrounded by his warm arms, hot against her cool exposed skin. He shuffled them back and hit the bed, pulling her down with him as he fell back. Then he flipped them quickly and rose over her as she scooted up toward the pillows, smiling as he followed her movement for movement.

His eyes were drinking in the sight of her, panting on his comforter, her hair probably already riled up. She could feel her answering smile, even as she bit her lip, a bit self-conscious under his gaze. Because she couldn't remember the last time someone had looked at her like that—like she was a goddess or some sort of heavenly being. It warmed her heart and lit her nerves on fire as he trailed a hand up her stomach and over her chest, leaning down to pepper her face with butterfly kisses.

"You know that you're the only one I want to do this with," he murmured as he pulled back to look at her. "Promise me you believe that."

"I promise," she assured him. She'd have to prove it, because he deserved to know that she trusted him, but the words were what she had now. "I believe you, and you're the only one I want to do this with. Promise me you believe that too."

"I promise," he replied. "There's no going back, you know."

"Oh, I know." This was it and it was probably forever. But that was too big to think about tonight, since just the look in his eyes was nearly enough to topple her over.

"You're sure?" he whispered, as he rested one hand beside her head and laid his other on her stomach, warm and large.

She met his eyes. "Yes," she replied, arching up to meet him in a kiss. "Now, unwrap me, Mr. Castle. It's impolite to keep the gift giver waiting."


Author's Note: Disclaimer: I used Google Translator to procure the Russian translation. If anyone reading this speaks Russian, please let me know if it's horribly mangled.

This chapter was fun to write, in a kind of sadistic way. And look, Ma! No Ginagate! I figure that I didn't need to defame EVERY one of the other incidental women in Rick's Canon life. And as much as I hate Canon Gina, I never got the feeling that she was a bad person. So, there you go.

As for the Album Version of this chapter—it will happen. I don't have it ready now, and it may take a while (and perhaps when I present it, it will have more than one chapter), but it will eventually come into being. For now, you'll all just have to be satisfied with the lead up, and use your own imaginations. I have a feeling you're just as creative as me, especially when it comes to the more, ahem, mature content.

Also, for a view of Rick and Kate cooking Thanksgiving, check out this graphic by Hysterical-blindness from Tumblr: http:/ . tumblr. com/tumblr_lqf2nygQLT1qcbgf2o1_500. jpg. (remove the spaces to view) It's exactly how I envision them to look in my head...without the slight baby bump. And no, that's not a subtle spoiler.

As always, you are all amazing, and I love you for being such a fantastic and enthusiastic group of people.

Emma