Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.

AN: Feeling the Christmas spirit a little early this year. Huge thanks to Jess for the cheerleading and support and beta work.


Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.

~ Dale Evans

The elevator is too warm and stuffy, the lingering scent of Ms. O'Leary's White Diamonds sticking in her lungs, choking her with its cloying sweetness. Kate huffs, blowing her hair off her cheeks as she tugs off her gloves, shoves them deep into the pockets of her coat, eyes trained on the numbers over the door, her impatience growing as the digits flicker on and off far too slowly. The day has been long and all she wants is to get out of her heels and into her pajamas, curl up in her bed with a book and glass of wine, wait for the holiday season to end.

Castle's voice echoes softly in her ears and she sighs, an uneasy wave of guilt cresting in her chest. She'd sent him home shortly after lunch, just before his relentless good cheer and holiday spirit managed to drive her completely insane. The sad pout on his face when he'd boarded the elevator had lingered at the back of her mind all afternoon and into the evening, his downturned lips and pleading eyes tugging at her heart. She knows he's trying. It's their first Christmas as couple and he's trying so very hard to make it perfect. Trying to stitch her into his family and his traditions, to show her how seamlessly they fit together. How they work.

She wants it too. She wants to be able to bake cookies with Martha and Alexis on Christmas Eve. Wants to drink wassail and listen to carols while they sit in front of the tree. Wants to be able to unravel the threads of loss and longing that have knotted around her heart, kept her rooted in the tradition of tragedy, remembering and honoring. She wants to throw herself into his winter wonderland, let the decorations and the laughter and his unabashed joy set her free.

She just can't.

Christmas was her mother's favorite time of year. She loved the pageantry of it; the way the city transformed into a sparkling ball of lights and decorations and cheer. The spirit of giving that shrouded the month, the freedom of smiles and greetings. Presents were her specialty. Her mom always had the perfect present, the one thing a person never knew they had been missing until she brought it to them. A pocket watch for Jim, made by the same small company in Massachusetts that his grandfather had worked for as a young man. A blank journal for her intern, the pages crisp and white, just waiting for him to fill them with all the doodles and sketches she found along the edges of almost every piece of paper that passed through the office. The perfect scarf to match a new coat for their long-time neighbor, a bottle of wine from the vineyard where they honeymooned for her best friend and her husband, a stack of new comic books for the kid that delivered the mail at her office. Perfect. Every single time.

The last present Kate ever received from her mother had been an assortment of used books, the spines cracked and pages bent, cloth covers stained with coffee and fingerprints from eager hands. With the box up on her pajama covered lap, she'd traced her fingers over the embossed spines, huffing derisively in the way only a nineteen year old college student can when she hit one in the middle of the stack; a thin hardback, newer than the rest. In a Hail of Bullets.

Don't scoff , Katie. It's a good book. I think you'll really like it.

Her mother had given her Castle.

Perfect. Every single time.

Cinnamon and pine assault her lungs as soon as she opens the door, the combination of scents both overwhelming and comforting. Bands of white and red light ripple across the walls and floor, a twinkling dance reflecting of the gleam of the window panes. Her bag falls with a muffled thump as she scans her apartment with wide eyes, a hiccupping breath caught in her chest.

The tree is small - no more than three and a half feet, barely filling a corner of her living room - and sparsely decorated, just lights and a strand of garland twined through the branches, a silver star perched on top. She sees a single ornament buried in the needles when she gets close; a tiny stack of books, the covers painted in primary colors and artfully askew, suspended by a glittering brass hook. The lights cycle through their programmed pattern again as she stands mesmerized, heart fluttering wildly against her ribs.

She spots something else in the tree after a moment, a tightly wound scroll of paper, tied off with a thin red ribbon. Her lips curl up without permission as she unrolls it, Castle's untidy scrawl immediately recognizable.

I know you're not ready for the full Castle family Christmas experience this year. And I do understand. You have your own traditions and memories to honor. I hope that we can eventually fold our separate traditions into something that we can call our own but perhaps trying to force all of that on you at once wasn't one of my better ideas. If I've learned anything about you by now, it's that you have to come to things in your own time and no matter how much I might want to walk on your heels and hurry you along, I have to let you do it your way.

Now I'm sure you're looking at that tree and wondering just how in the hell a three and a half foot Fraser fir falls under the category of me letting you do it your own way and so I will take this opportunity to remind you of the one thing you should know about me by now: I'm going to push you as much as I think I can without getting shot.

Christmas is a time for joy, Kate. I hope this can help remind you of that.

She has her phone out of her pocket before she even finishes reading, thumb sliding swiftly over the touch screen, hitting his button on her speed dial. She watches the lights dance as the line rings, her right hand resting over her chest, fingers searching through the thick material of her sweater for the necklace she no longer wears; hasn't put on in months, not since the day she left him sleeping in her bed and went to confront the man behind the curtain.

"So, should I be wearing my vest the next time I see you?"

His voice, rich and smooth, filters down the line and she laughs, toeing off her heels and letting her body sink down into the soft cushions of her couch. Her hand moves from her chest to her lips, fingers dipping into the deep curve of her smile.

"No."

"A helmet?"

"No."

"Cup?"

"No protective gear needed, Castle. I love it. It's -" She props her elbow up on the back of the couch, cheek resting on her bicep as she stares at the tree, a forty-two inch reminder of his kind heart and gentle soul. "It's pretty much the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you."

"Sweet enough for you to forgive my blatant disregard of your 'this key is for emergencies only, not for you to sneak in and rummage through my stuff' rule?"

"Did you rummage through my stuff?"

"I don't have a death wish."

"Then we're good," she laughs, her chest loosening, the stress of the day seeping out of her bones. A chime sounds over the line and Kate closes her eyes, listens to the steady sound of his breath. "You at home?"

"No, actually. I'm in your elevator. Which reeks, by the way."

"Yeah, it does. Why are you in my elevator?"

"Well, I figured this little experiment in yuletide cheer could go one of two ways. Either you'd hate it and immediately try to throw it out, which I would of course have to stop, or -"

"Or?"

"Or you'd like it and be open to having some company with whom you could share such a glorious and wonderful sight."

"Glorious and wonderful? It's a three foot tree with one ornament, Castle."

"It's three and a half feet, Beckett, and it's magnificent."

"Why are you always so preoccupied with size?"

His retort is cut off by the chimes of the elevator. She hears the airy swoosh of the doors, his voice friendly as he greets one of her neighbors.

"Use your key," she instructs, laughing at his tiny squeak of excitement. "I'm comfortable."

She hits the button to end the call and drops her phone on the coffee table, pulling her legs up under her body. The key scrapes in the lock as she settles down and Castle tumbles in, a grocery bag dangling from one hand.

"I brought eggnog." Kate rolls her head toward him as he lifts the bag, the thin plastic crinkling. "Want some?"

"Not right now."

He nods and puts the carton in her refrigerator before walking toward her, tossing his coat over the back of a chair, kicking off his shoes. The couch sighs when he plops down next to her, his right arm falling next to hers on the back, left wrapping around her waist. His hand slides under the hem of her sweater, fingers stroking lazily along her stomach.

"Your hands are cold."

"I can think of at least three different ways to warm them up."

"Later," she tisks, pulling the hand roaming across her stomach back down to her waist. "Right now we have some three and a half foot magnificence to admire."

Castle whines but leans into the couch, tugging on her until she scoots back, lets him arrange her body across his lap. His cheek comes to rest on the top of her head as she twists toward him, her breasts slipping over his ribs as she nestles herself under the heavy blanket of his arm.

"Why only one ornament?"

"Didn't want you to have to clean up a bunch of glass shards when you decided to toss it out in a fit of 'my boyfriend is a presumptuous ass' rage." His lips float over her crown, a feather touch that sends tingles skittering across her scalp. "And I didn't know if maybe you had some decorations of your own you'd like to use instead."

The warmth in his words settles on her chest and spreads out, thick strands curling around her ribs, holding her together.

"I don't. Have decorations, I mean. My dad -" Castle's hands skim her body, fingers spread wide over the outside of her thigh, dipping into the valley of her spine. "My dad has all of it. Mom had boxes and boxes of stuff; heirlooms, pipe cleaner reindeer I made in elementary school, novelty ones that sang and danced. She loved ornaments. Collected them, really. I helped her take down the tree about a week before she died." She tilts her face up to look at him, wants him to be able to see the happiness in hers. The lights strobe over his skin, casting him in a warm glow that makes her stomach flip. "It took us hours, Castle. She had to make sure everything was protected and perfectly arranged, had to tell me the stories behind each one. Never mind the fact that I'd heard all of them at least a dozen times before."

Kate drops her cheek back down to his shoulder, her forehead pressed to the side of his neck. His arms circle her, holding her tightly to his chest as he runs broad palms up and down her back, soothing and gentle. Sighing, she closes her eyes, lets the memories come flooding out.

"Her favorite one was the one she bought on their honeymoon. They got married in February so of course they wanted to go somewhere warm for the honeymoon and Mom picked the Virgin Islands because that was the kind of sense of humor she had. She never explained how she managed to find a Christmas ornament for sale in the middle of February but she did. It was this clam shell with a Santa face painted on the front. Oh, it was so ugly." He chuckles, a warm rush of air against her forehead. "And creepy too. It had those stick on googly eyes and I always felt like it was staring at me when I walked by the tree." His chest shakes violently under her cheek this time and she pinches his waist, laughing as he yelps and squirms underneath her. "It's not funny, Castle. That thing was seriously freaky. Mom actually had to hide it on the back of the tree for a few years when I was little because it made me cry."

"And here I thought little Kate Beckett wasn't scared of anything."

"I wasn't scared of it. Just leery. It got even worse once the eyes fell off."

"Okay, yeah, eyeless seashell Santa does sound sufficiently creepy."

Kate hums and nods, the tree filling her vision as her eyes slip open. The branches are full and springy, perfect for supporting ornaments. Her heart seizes as she pictures it, her mother's ornaments decorating this tree, the tree that Castle bought for her simply because he loves her and wants her to be happy. Longing surges in her chest, her throat convulsing as she swallows back the thick knot of tears.

"Maybe - I can call my dad tomorrow. See if he would mind if I came by to get some of her stuff. He's been trying to give it to me for years." Castle's fingers dig into her back, eight points of pressure that push the rest of words out of her lungs. "Would you come with me? I'm going to need some help going through all of them, picking out the ones that would look best."

"A chance to see seashell Santa and your second grade craft projects?" The emotion in his tone belies the playful cadence of the question and Kate turns her face into him, love and gratitude swirling in her veins. "I'd be a fool to pass that up."

They fall into a comfortable silence, the click of the lights and the gentle push of the wind against the windows a soothing undercurrent of white noise. Castle's hands slip under the hem of her sweater, fingertips swirling over the small of her back, and heat simmers in her stomach, a slow burn that pushes her lips against his neck, sends her hands skimming up his sides. His throat bobs when she nips at his collarbone, the rounded protrusion of his adam's apple rubbing over her cheek.

Kate works her mouth up the thick line of his neck, lips and teeth dragging over his skin, pulling a hum from the back of his throat. Her body twists in his lap when she reaches his mouth, her legs landing on either side of his, bent knees pressed up against his hips. His mouth is hot and open under hers, slick tongue tracing her bottom lip before catching it between his teeth. She groans and buries her fingers in his hair, pressing herself hard into his chest. His hands slide down to grip her ass, fingers tracing over the line of her underwear through the thin fabric of her slacks.

"Can it be later now?" He huffs the question into her mouth, leans back to catch her gaze. His eyes reflect the lights, pricks of white scattered across the dark blue, a night sky that steals her breath, sends her pulse racing. All she can do is nod and dive back in, desperate to feel him, taste him. Castle moves to scoot forward on the couch, the muscles in his legs tensing under hers, and she grunts, pulling him away from her mouth with a fistful of hair.

"What're you doing?"

"Taking you to bed." He fights against her hold and drops his mouth to her neck, noses his way under the collar of her shirt to suck lightly at the dip between her collarbones.

"No," she pants. "Here."

"On the couch?" The words vibrate against her skin, shockwaves sliding down to collect in her stomach.

"I want to watch the lights."

Castle leans back, a dopey grin tilting at his lips. "You want to have sex in front of your Christmas tree?" She nods and he laughs, hands sliding up to strip off her sweater and toss it to the floor. "Well, I'm not gonna say no to that."

Planting her hands on his chest, Kate pushes back and stands, her fingers falling to the waistband of her slacks. Castle watches her with happy eyes as she pop the button and tugs down the zipper, lets the pants collapse into a puddle at her feet. She bends over and grabs his belt, pulling on the leather as Castle's hands trail slowly over her thighs and hips, fingertips kneading into her flexing muscles. He lifts his hips and she tugs his pants down, a surprised laugh bubbling up in her chest.

"Mistletoe boxers? Really?"

He shifts on the couch, thighs rippling under the loose black fabric. A hungry grin flits over his lips as he reaches up and tugs on the end of her hair, pulling her in for a heated kiss.

"'Tis the season, Beckett," he breathes into her mouth, tongue flicking against her lips. Her hands work at the buttons on his shirt and slip inside, nails scraping down his chest "There's a matching pair waiting for you under my tree."

"What makes you think I'm going to wear novelty Christmas underwear for you?" She gasps when his hands close over her breasts, thumbs sweeping across her nipples, teeth nipping at the corner of her mouth.

"You don't want me to kiss you under the mistletoe? Where's your respect for tradition?"

Her legs shake as he tugs on her nipple, the lace of her bra rough against her skin, and she lets her knees buckle, sinking down to the floor. The rug scratches at her shins as she reaches for him, slipping her hand into the slit of his boxers. His hips twitch when she closes her fist around him, hot and hard, and draws him slowly out into the air, her hair brushing over his thighs.

"Well, if it's tradition you care about -"

She drags the flat her tongue up the length of him, her lips pulling up into a smile as he hisses, his eyes slamming closed. Castle's hands fist in the cushions when she pulls him into her mouth, her free hand slipping inside his boxers, feathering between his thighs, rolling the silky flesh across her fingers. She moans around him, wet heat sliding through her abdomen as he thrusts into her mouth, a stream of guttural curses falling from his lips. Hands land on her head, sweeping the hair away from her cheeks, fisting at the base of her skull. His thumb is impossibly gentle at her jaw, tracing the rounded bone over and over as his eyes roam her face, watching.

"Kate," he groans when she slips down over him as far as she can, her nose pressing hard into his pubic bone as she swallows around him, a moan trapped behind the thick weight pushing against her tongue. "You - shit - you have to stop."

Drawing back from him slowly, she watches him fight to keep his eyes open as she pushes to her feet, slides her body into the the cradle of his lap. Her hips twist into his, the wet slick of his erection grinding across her stomach. His fingers are clumsy as he tugs the soaking crotch of her underwear aside and slips across her, his chest vibrating against hers as he moans.

"Fuck, you're so wet."

Grinning, she pushes up onto her knees and shifts over him, her hand fisted at his base, dragging him against her. "Just trying to get into the holiday spirit, Castle." She sinks down over him and they both groan, his hands gripping her thighs.

His teeth work at her neck as she rocks into him, a hum trilling at the base of her throat. The strap of her bra slips off her shoulder and he chases it with his mouth, his late evening stubble scraping her skin. Need burns in her veins and she throws herself into him, hands clawing at his back, pulling him closer. She wants it. Him. This. Everything.

"Lay down," she growls, her lips pulling on his ear. His hands slide around her back as he complies, twisting on the couch until he can stretch out, his left leg extended across the cushions, the right still bent, foot planted on the floor. Kate grasps his hands, pulling them off her slick skin and threading her fingers through his. Leaning forward, she pushes their hands down into the cushions on either side of his head, rolls her hips in time with the flicker of the lights.

Castle arches up into her, neck straining as he reaches for her mouth, the soft cotton of his boxers brushing over her thighs as he thrusts against her. Her stomach rolls and she collapses onto him, lungs burning with all the things she wants to tell him, secrets and desires, the stories of her past, her hopes for their future. She pours it all into his willing mouth, her breath coming in hard pants as she shatters, pelvis grinding hard against him. He groans out her name and shudders, his tense right leg spasming as he slams into her one last time.

Releasing his hands, she slides off him, burrows her body into the crevice between his and the back of her couch, left leg tossed over his lap. Castle lifts his arm and wraps it around her, pulling her breasts into his ribs, fingers twisting through the tangled spill of her hair. Kate closes her eyes, listening as his heart decelerates, shifting back into a natural rhythm.

"Can this be our first tradition?"

Kate lifts her head, propping her chin on his chest. His eyes sparkle as he looks down at her, lips curling up into an adorable grin. "What?"

"Sex in front of the tree. Can that be our first tradition as a couple?"

She laughs but nods, her heart clenching as the smile grows, joy spreading over his whole face. He darts in and gives her a smacking kiss before dropping his head back down to the couch, eye cast toward the ceiling. She watches him for a moment before laying her own head down, cheek pressed into his shoulder. The lights flicker and flash across her ceiling, a soothing dance that hypnotizes her as the residual arousal fades out, the comforting weight of sleep pulling at her mind.

"We should move," he whispers after a few minutes, fingers drawing lazy patterns over her sticky skin. "Take a shower. Go to bed."

"Just - In a minute, okay?" Her voice is sleepy and small, the vulnerability she rarely lets him see floating on the surface. Castle nods and pulls her closer, pressing soft kisses to her hairline.

"Whenever you're ready, Kate."

The layers of his statement hit her slowly and she curls her hand over his heart, hopes he understands.

"Soon," she promises. "Soon."