Title: Good For You

Disclaimer: Writers worry about mid-season sweeps, not mid-term exams.

Summary: When the Dragon is slain, there's just a life to be lived. And sometimes there's more to learn in peace than in war.


Chapter 45:

He walks a few paces behind them, watching as his daughter and fiancée talk, heads close together while they all wind their way through Herald Square. Light snow swirls down all around them, and everywhere, people look happy and harried, trying to do their shopping in the last few days before the Holiday.

"Castle," Kate calls out when he nearly passes them where they've stopped at a window display for Macy's.

He doubles back and plants himself at her side, sliding their gloved fingers together. She smiles up at him, wearing flats today and a gorgeous red coat that hangs perfectly over her lovely figure.

Alexis leans around Kate to grin at him and he smiles back at the both of them, wrapped up in the Christmas cheer—in Kate's open, happy smile. The insecurity of the day before—the woman he met in that booth is all but gone now. She's laughing and smiling and wrapping her arm around his kid's shoulders as they chatter about the coats on display and the boots. All the girly things.

"They've got that wonderful ornament area, dad," Alexis prompts. "We should start there."

"Sounds good," Kate agrees.

"Okay. Macy's it is, then," he exclaims, tugging on Kate's hand so they all stumble, laughing.

She shakes her head at him and arches up onto her toes to press her lips to his chilly jaw. He opens his mouth to tell her something, anything—how much he desperately loves her—but Alexis pulls them over to the doors.

Kate squeezes his hand and then he's following them inside, into the cavernous, open first floor. Kate and Alexis stare around, smiles on their faces, pink in their cheeks, and he grins to himself, letting them lead him through. They wind through stands and racks and sales people with perfume.

He watches as heads turn, follow their progress and the girls lead him to the escalators. Just as many eyes seem to track his daughter as his fiancée, and the thought makes him instantly uneasy. He's used to men staring at Kate; he can handle that. He gets to sleep with her. Kind of (usually) stalls the possessive tendencies.

But men ogling his daughter? His little girl, with her hair in a perfect french braid, black pea coat bringing out the cream of her skin, blue eyes sparkling as she and Kate laugh—oh, God, his kid is Beckett, little Beckett—a red headed, shorter, slightly curvier Beckett.

"Castle?" Kate prompts, tugging on his fingers as they step onto the moving staircase.

"Hmm?" he manages.

His fiancée is hot. And that means that men think his daughter is hot. Men are going to hit on her like they hit on Kate, undress her with their eyes, walk up with terrible come ons and try to buy her drinks.

Holy hell.

"Castle," Kate repeats, a little more bite in it this time. "What's up?" she asks as he nearly trips following her off the escalator.

"Nothing," he hedges, watching as Alexis breaks free from Kate to lean over a train display.

A guy walks by and does not make any effort, at all, to hide the fact that he's checking out Alexis' ass.

Kate whacks his arm lightly and Castle breaks his gaze from trying to burn a hole in that guy's head. He looks down at her and finds her looking up at him, all irritation melted from her face.

"It's fine," she whispers, tugging him over to the side of the escalators, across from Alexis. "She's got Graham."

"But—"

"Looking but not touching," she continues, and honestly, she's just not helping.

"They shouldn't be looking at all," he lets out in a harried whisper.

"Have you seen her?" Kate returns, and he glares at her. "She's gorgeous, Castle. Men are going to look at her."

"But she's—she's my—no."

She laughs and pats his chest, reaching up with her other hand to straighten his hair. "She's a woman. A beautiful woman. You'll get over it."

"I will never get over it," he says, but he can hear the defeat in it. He won't. He won't ever get over it. But it's not like it'll ever go away, either.

"Come on," Kate says, her cheeks held firm from trying not to laugh at him more. "Let's get ornaments for the tree."

(…)

"What are you doing?" he mumbles, shuffling out of the office and into the living room. "Come back to bed."

Kate shakes her head from the couch where she's curled up around a mug. "Come sit with me."

"S'four in the morning," he tells her as he, none-the-less, plops down beside her, smiling as she tosses the blanket over his legs as well.

"It's beautiful," she says after a quiet minute.

He rips his gaze from his far-too-awake fiancée and looks over toward the tree. It towers in the corner of the living room, seven feet tall and twinkling with white and colored lights, casting the loft in a soft, multi-colored glow. Their ornaments hang all over—some from Alexis' craft days, some from their trip shopping. There's a gun, and a pair of handcuffs, and Alexis got them two little coffee cups as well. All of them are there on the tree, their family. Little points of light fall all over the carpet around the base, speckling the garish presents beneath the tree.

Kate arranged them all, shaking a few and shooting him smiles as she knelt on the carpet, making sure they looked perfect. She's a picky Christmas perfectionist, and he couldn't be more surprised.

"Yeah, it is," he agrees as he tears his eyes away from their tree and back to meet her smiling ones. "Merry Christmas."

Her eyes light up and she gives him that gleaming-toothed smile, leaning over to snag his lips briefly with hers. "Merry Christmas," she whispers as she pulls back.

They sit quietly for a minute, just watching each other.

"Why are you up?" he wonders as she sips at what he thinks is cocoa.

She shrugs and holds the mug out to him. He watches her as he takes a sip, something chocolaty and spicy sliding down his throat.

"What's this?" he asks as she makes to take it back and he pulls it away. He could finish it.

"Mom's recipe," she says, laughing as they wrestle playfully until she wins back her mug.

"Teach me?"

"You've gotta earn it," she says, smirking as he puts on a pout that gets interrupted by a yawn. "Go back to sleep, Castle," she chides.

"Nu-uh," he says, sagging beside her. "Come with me."

"I'm not tired," she admits, running a hand along his thigh. "But don't let me keep you up. Alexis said you have a pretty hectic day planned."

"We," he corrects. "Have a busy day. Come sleep, please."

"I'll keep you up, tossing around," she argues, taking another drag from her mug. "I just wanna watch the tree."

Her fingers curl up at her chest and he notices for the first time that she's wearing her mother's ring.

"What did you guys do when you were a kid?" he asks softly, sliding his arm along her shoulders to pull her into his side.

He feels her resist for a half a second before giving in and melting into him, her mug pressing against his side as she curls her legs over his.

"Mom and I would wake up early and watch the tree, and then I'd help her make a big breakfast—pancakes or french toast, every year."

"Sounds nice," he murmurs into her temple.

"Yeah," she agrees, leaning forward to place her mug on the floor before settling back against him. "And we'd watch Christmas movies all day. She always took both days off, my dad too."

"What have you done for Christmas…since?" he asks.

She sighs and leans her head into the crook of his shoulder, eyes still trained on the Christmas tree. "Dad and I have dinner. I used to work, but Montgomery started to make me take it off when they could spare me. I went to his house once too, with Dad."

"How was Christmas with the Montgomerys?" he wonders, trying to picture Kate and Jim at that table.

"Strange," she says with a small laugh. "Roy had a whole thing about cutting the ham, and his kids had all these napkin tricks and traded vegetables—something about it being okay as long as all of them got consumed." She pauses and glances up at him. "It was loud."

He laughs. "We're kinda loud too."

"Oh, I know," she replies, patting his chest with a smile. "It's different when you're part of the noise."

"Gonna be louder next year," he adds softly.

"Oh yeah?"

He smiles as she scoots back to look at him. "If you want. If you're not ready—if you want to wait for work to settle out—if you want to wait to get married—if you want to wait years—anything," he says, running a hand over her bare knee.

She reaches up and traces his cheek with her fingers, letting her hand glide down to rest against his neck, curling around him. "I want to try, and if we're lucky, we're lucky. And if we're not, there's a lot of stuff in between to keep us busy."

"While we're getting busy?" he asks, laughing as she wrinkles her nose and whacks at him.

"Our first Christmas together, and you had to go and ruin such a nice moment," she whines, but the smile she's holding back tells another story.

"I'll make it up to you," he promises as she curls back into him, obviously unperturbed by his uncouth humor.

She shakes her head, rubbing her temple against his chin as she snakes an arm around him. "Long as you follow through with the getting busy, I'm good," she admits.

He laughs, the sound ringing out around the quiet loft. "Could start now, get you all tired."

She hums and he feels her lips press quickly against his neck. "Alexis'll be up in a little bit anyway," she says quietly.

"Like, three hours," he protests.

Kate lifts her head and looks at him with a sleepy, seductive smile. "You think it'll take less than that?"

"I'm—" he stutters as her eyes twinkle. "For one round—well, I'm flattered—"

"One? Oh, stud, I'm thinking two or three. Give it our best shot."

He leans down and captures her mouth, hauling her against him until she's fully in his lap and his hands can travel all over her soft cotton-clad body. "Three?" he mumbles against her lips.

"If you're up for it," she replies, breaking away to nip at his jaw.

"I'll show you up for it," he growls before flipping them and pinning her underneath him in the soft glow of the tree, wrapped up in Christmas blankets and the dull light beginning to shine through the windows.

"Castle," Kate sighs as they break apart a few minutes later. "Castle, tonight."

He laughs into her hands as she cups his face between her palms. "Okay," he whispers as she smiles up at him. "Going for the innocence of Christmas. I got it."

"I just don't think Alexis would appreciate her siblings being conceived on this couch."

He laughs and settles down along her side, squishing around to get between her body and the back of the couch. She yawns and cuddles into him until they're spooning together, facing the tree.

"Can we make this a tradition?" he murmurs into her ear half an hour later, when they're both hovering just on the edge of sleep.

"An almost-ravishing before presents?" she mumbles back.

"Yeah."

"Oh, definitely," she sighs out.

He grins as he feels her drift off in his arms.

Best Christmas ever, and it's only 5am.

(…)

Seven hours later, the loft bursts with sound.

Alexis and his mother giggle over coffee at the counter, while Ryan and Esposito talk with Jim by the tree. Lanie, Jenny, and Kate sit on the couch, a plate of cookies on the table in front of them.

The boys and their respective women stopped by for lunch before heading off to split time with their more biological families. But as Castle looks around the room, he figures biology has little to do with it, not when everyone is so happy, so united. Not when they are their own little family.

"Rick," Kate calls out, startling him out of his reverie, leaning against the door to his office, bags in his hands for the boys.

He stumbles forward, mock-glaring as the women laugh at him, smiles on their faces and green, red, and white sweaters on their bodies.

"Javi, Kevin," he calls out.

The boys trot over, Jim, Alexis, and Martha following in their wake. Everyone piles onto the furniture, creating a mini audience that could as easily bode well or turn on him.

"These are for the four of you," he explains, handing the bags over to the two couples on either side of his fiancée.

Ryan and Espo eagerly rip into the bags while Lanie and Jenny try to help along, getting more tissue paper than anything. Kate laughs as twin exclamations of joy burst out of her partner's mouths.

"These were sold out," Espo tells him, holding up his copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Ryan joins him in awe while Lanie and Jenny shoot him twin grins.

"Thank you, Rick," Jenny says happily.

He smiles at her and then at Lanie, who mouths the same. "While the three of us hole up here one day to defeat that game, the ladies will be taking a day to pamper themselves," he explains as both of the guys lean over to see what the girls got. "You included," he adds as Kate meets his eyes.

She shakes her head but smiles at him before turning to Lanie and Jenny, who are eagerly discussing their plans, dates and times floating through the air. Castle watches them, and laughs at the way Javi and Kevin talk over their three heads, pointing to things on their game boxes.

Alexis walks around the couch and over to his side while his mother and Jim talk quietly by one of the armchairs.

"Hey," he says quietly as Alexis reaches him.

"Hey," she replies, smiling. "Good Christmas."

He nods, considering her, all grown up and beautiful and an adult. "I hope this is okay," he says after a moment. "I know it's not what we usually do—"

"It's perfect," she says, interrupting him with a grin. "It's great. And you know," she spins around and looks out at the group. "It's nice to see the place full. Don't get me wrong," she adds, turning back to look at him. "I loved every Christmas we've had, when it was just us, or just us and Gram—every one."

"I know," he interjects softly. "I know you did."

"But this," she gestures to the room, "this is what it should be, you know? We got our morning, and now there's family, a big family."

He pulls her into a hug, pressing his lips to the crown of her head as she burrows into him, just like she used to when he could up her on his shoulders and make her the tallest person in the room. But now she's all grown, a woman attracting men, and sassing him, and growing up to be so very amazing. And he wishes—wishes for things he can't change.

"I'm sorry I couldn't give you this before," he tells her temple.

She shakes her head against him. "This is perfect," she whispers, pulling back. "I got my time with just you, and now I'm old enough to share."

He grins and yanks her back in, smiling at Kate over her head. His fiancée watches them, totally lost to whatever Lanie's trying to say to her. Her fingers toy at her wrist, spinning the bracelet he gave her this morning—silver strands woven together, strong and fierce and supple, just like her.

"Just, promise, when there are little guys running around, I can still have the gingerbread spoon?" Alexis mumbles into his collar.

He laughs and pulls back to find her grinning, her eyes shining and bright. But he can see it—that reality, the spark of a little truth behind her eyes.

"Of course," he promises. "And hey, the gingerbread spoon is for my ginger," he adds, watching as she laughs.

"What if they're gingers?" she wonders, laughing at him as he looks from her to Kate.

"By the time they're old enough for the spoon, how about we get you gingerbread schnapps?"

Alexis laughs, her whole body shaking. She spins around and meets Kate's eyes as his fiancée approaches them. "Dad just promised me booze in replacement for the gingerbread spoon when your kids inevitably steal it."

Kate laughs and slings her arm over Alexis' shoulder. "Solid parenting," she tells him. "The gang's about to leave."

"And just FYI, I don't like gingerbread schnapps. I prefer peppermint," Alexis says before she darts out from beneath Kate's arm and goes to hug Lanie goodbye.

"I—" he starts, looking after Alexis.

"Come on," Kate says, laughing as she hooks her fingers into his belt loop and tugs him toward the crowd at the door. "I'll teach her to do shots, don't worry about it."

He stills to a halt and she laughs, crashing back with him. "Solid parenting," he grumbles as she gets him moving again.

(…)

"You know, for four people, we're messy," Kate says as she walks around the living room, picking up bowls and glasses.

"But we're fun," he tells her as he grabs the last of their dishware and follows her back to the sink, setting the bowls into the dishwasher even as she reaches for the sponge. "Come on, let the machine to it, just this once. A little Christmas Magic."

She snorts and rolls her eyes. But she hands him the dishes and lets him turn the appliance on. "That's a little heavy for a dishwasher. Magic?"

"I'll show you magic," he grunts as he hauls her into his chest, laughing against her lips as she squeaks.

She steps back after a long minute, her lips red, hair a little the worse for wear, white sweater slightly askew. "Come on," she says softly, taking his hand to guide him back to their room.

Her knuckles knock between his, her hand stretched wide to accommodate his larger one. He smiles as she tugs him into the room, letting the door shut heavily behind them.

He backs her up to the bed, fingers nudging under the hem of her sweater to splay wide on her soft, warm hips. Her hands tangle in his hair and she stumbles as her legs hit the bed.

"You sure?" she whispers, pulling back and arching onto her toes to press her forehead to his. "No goin' back after this."

"There was no going back after our first case," he says, his breath hot between their mouths. "I'm in, Kate. You sure?"

She smiles and bumps her nose into his, squeezing her hands against the back of his head. "I'm sure, Castle," she whispers.

He smiles and tugs her into his chest, squeezing her against him and laughing as she hums into his neck, her arms gliding to press against his shoulders. Slowly, she pulls away from him and drags him gently down to the bed, smiling as she scoots along the comforter, beckoning to him with her fingers.

He follows her and wraps his arms around her, rolling them until he can look down at her, her hair splayed on their pillows, her face flushed and bright, her eyes shining, so ready to jump into this adventure with him.

"I love you," he says as her hands run up and down his forearms.

She smiles at him, her eyes crinkling with it, and leans up to snag his lips before she lets herself fall back to the pillows. "I love you too," she says softly. "You ready?"

"To do this with you? Always."

She reaches up and pulls him down to her lips, her palms soft and warm and solid on his cheeks. Her ring rasps lightly against his shallow stubble and he smiles into the kiss. She breaks away to meet his eyes and he sees her staring back at him, everything there in her eyes.

"It'll be great," she whispers.

"Yeah, it will."