In the first light of a new day, no one knew he had arrived

Things continued as they had been while a newborn softly cried

~Bob Kauflin, In TheirstLight

December 18, 2011

"Ssh, precious one. Please don't cry," the young mother pleaded softly, holding her newborn son close to her chest and casting a worried glance at her husband as she rocked the infant in hopes of soothing the angry cries.

"Someone is going to hear him," her husband hissed, his eyes sparking with fear and protective concern for his new little family.

"I can't just turn him off," she retorted in a near panic. "He didn't come with a remote control!"

"I know," the barely-old-enough-to-drive father began, raking his trembling fingers through his blond hair. "I'm sorry." He looked out the window of the dingy motel to the street beyond, the first light of dawn painting a picture of peace and calm that belied the fear that threatened to choke him. A movement in the dimming shadows caught his attention, and he held his breath.

"What is it?" his wife whispered. "Did they find us?"

He raised his hand in a request for silence, his eyes narrowing as he followed the darkened figure with a searching gaze. "Just the maid," he assured her after a moment, her sigh of relief as audible as his had been.

A sudden knock on the door startled them both, sending the baby into another fit of tears and putting his parents' senses on high alert. "Yes?" the father asked. "Who is it?"

"Housekeeping," came the reply.

"We don't need the room cleaned right now," he called back in response. Though, truth be told, childbirth was messy. The room really could use a thorough sanitization, but now was not the time.

Silence answered him for a few beats, then – "Sir, we got a call for more towels."

That's true. They had asked for more towels. The ones in the room when they'd arrived had been used during the long labor, used to clean the baby and the mother, used to wrap the newborn in warmth in an attempt to still his cries. Exchanging a glance with his wife, the young man echoed her nod and undid the chain and latch that kept them locked away from the rest of the world.

As soon as the door swung open, he realized he had just made a deadly mistake.

"Ho, ho, ho!" Castle's deep voice boomed around her as he flung open the door to his loft to find Kate on his figurative doorstep. He saw the fond eye roll and chose to ignore it, choosing instead to latch onto the smile that lit up her face (in spite of her best intentions to the contrary, he wagered).

"Must we be so jolly?"

"Ouch," he winced, stepping aside to let her enter. "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the Christmas Carol this morning."

"Oh please," she turned toward him, ready to snap a feisty retort in his direction but pausing instead as her dour attitude registered with her. "Sorry," she apologized with a meek smile. "This time of year makes me miss my Mom even more. You know – the whole 'focusing on what you've lost' holiday mentality that keeps shrinks busy during Christmas."

He regarded her with an expression of tender compassion and let his hands linger on her shoulders as he helped her shed her coat. "Maybe this year you should try something different," he suggested, his lips pursed, his eyes twinkling. "Maybe – focus on what you have instead of what you don't have."

Her eyes narrowed slightly, and he braced himself for a sharp verbal jab. Instead, she relaxed and nodded thoughtfully. "You know, Castle – sometimes you sound really smart."

"Well – that's because I am," he parried, leading her toward the kitchen with a boyish glance over his shoulder to make sure she was following. "10 points to Detective Beckett for finally figuring it out."

She snorted, but he recognized it as her affectionate snort – not her irritated one. He was getting quite astute at differentiating between the two. "So, what did you need, Castle?"

"Ah yes," he braced his hands on the island that now separated them, looking every bit a rakish bartender and bringing a couple of fantasies back to Kate's mind that really had no business being there. "Hot cocoa? Coffee?"

His hand was already reaching for the coffee maker when she surprised him by asking for the former instead. Blinking in surprise, he absorbed her quick laughter and committed it to memory. "One hot chocolate for the lovely detective. Coming right up."

She sank to a seat on the nearest barstool and rubbed her hands up and down her arms to ward off the chill that still lingered from being outside in the arctic weather that had descended on New York City. "You're stalling," she pointed out, nodding affirmatively when he held up a bag of marshmallows with a questioning lift to his brow.

Waiting for the milk to heat, Rick leaned a hip against the counter and regarded her with a gaze so intimate that she could feel herself beginning to blush. "I just thought that – this year – you should be included in our Christmas traditions. I mean, after all, I celebrate them with the other two women in my life. We all thought it was time you joined us."

Kate didn't know what to say. So many things had just been implied, confessed even, in his brief explanation. Things she wasn't ready for yet. She let her eyes hold his, saw the understanding behind the blue, and felt her heart began to pound erratically. "Castle, I don't –"

"Nope," he shook his head. "Notice I didn't ask if you wanted to be a part of Christmas with my family. It's time for you to enjoy the holidays again, Kate."

"And you're the one who can help me do that?" It was a question, but she knew it was really more of a statement of truth. He just didn't need to know that.

But the gentle smirk that creased his features told her that he already did. He handed her a steaming mug of hot chocolate, piled high with marshmallows, and invaded her space, noticing with pleasure that she didn't immediately shy away. "Yep."

The chirping of her cell phone startled them from the meaningful stares they had perfected (patent pending), and Kate averted her eyes as she answered the call. "Beckett."

He wiped down the counter, listening with one ear as she talked with Esposito, turning his attention back to her as she hung up. "A body?"

"Two, actually," she informed him. "Got a travel mug for this?"

Obliging her request, he transferred the hot chocolate and handed it to her, tightening the lid and purposely letting his little finger brush against hers. He noted with male satisfaction that the soft touch altered her breathing – even if just slight and momentary – and couldn't help but whine at the interruption to the plans he'd made for the day. "A new case? On a Sunday?"

"Murders don't take the weekend off, Castle." She hopped off the stool and retrieved her coat, shoving one arm at a time into the sleeves as she balanced her cocoa. "You coming?"

She knew he would.

"Can we at least find one of those radio stations that play nonstop Christmas music on the drive to wherever we're going?"


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