Window 24: Where the Love Light Gleams

She stirs her coffee, inhales the fragrant steam that rises from the mug, then takes a first sip. The flavors burst over her tongue, rich hazelnut and the dark roast of the coffee, softened by thick cream and a small spoonful of sugar. She relaxes back against the couch, her arm pressed against Castle's, warm and solid by her side.

The loft is quiet now, the late evening curling around just the two of them peacefully. The fire roars in his fireplace, its warmth wrapping around her like a cozy blanket, the lights of the Christmas tree shining brightly upon them and she closes her eyes for a moment, soaks up the comfort of this moment, the quiet happiness that seems to tingle through her blood.

"I'll be right back," he murmurs and she opens her eyes, watches him as he rises off the floor, his knees cracking. He vanishes through his study and she admires the curve of his taut butt cheeks for a moment before she leans her head back against the edge of the couch, letting her eyes fall closed.

She missed her mother today, like she did every Christmas before this. But sitting together, having a festive dinner with Castle's family, she realized she also missed her father. Very, very much. When there was no reason for it, when he was still there, when they had each other. So she'd called him, and he agreed to come over for dinner tomorrow night. Not quite ready to do the full Christmas Day, but it's a start and she's glad for it, hoping for small steps because she wants him ready, needs him to be there one day when it's her family, his grandchildren-

Her heart thumps and she reins in her galloping thoughts, tingling all the way down to her fingertips. She sucks in a deep breath, tries to calm the flutters in her midsection that have been her unvoiced companion all night, ever since she knocked on his door with that gift bag bumping into her calf.

"Hey." His warm voice draws her from her musings and she blinks open her eyes, smiles lazily up at him as he sinks back down next to her on the floor. She doesn't know why they ended up sitting in front of the couch instead of on it but she likes it down here, her legs outstretched underneath the coffee table, looking up into the dark green and gaily dressed branches of the tree that rise high into the ceiling, almost never-ending.

He keeps staring at her from the side, smiles at her pensively, fidgeting with the seam of his pant leg.

"What is it, Castle?"

"I wanna give you one of your gifts tonight already, when it's just the two of us…" He trails off, reaching for her hand, absentmindedly rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand. "If that's okay with you?"

"Yeah," she nods, the butterflies in her stomach intensifying. "Of course." She reaches up to the couch, pulls down the sparkling red gift back she's brought with her. Now or never. "I actually had the same idea." She laughs breathlessly and he joins in, sounding just as nervous as she is.

And then her eyes widen and her heart starts galloping in her chest, the blood roaring in her ears when he places a small, black velvet box on top of her knee.

"Castle-" She tries to suck in a breath but her lungs feel constricted, her thoughts racing and then his eyes widen too, his eyebrows raised almost comically.

"No, no Kate, it's not…" He flips it open for her and it's only now that she realizes that the box is larger than it would be if- More rectangular than square. Her eyes spring to the gleam of silver that flashes on the bed of black velvet.

"A key." She slowly reaches for the cool metal, lets its weight press into her warm palm, stares at it against her skin.

"Yeah, for the loft," he explains needlessly, his voice a bit roughened and she's still gaping at it, her skin warming the metal, making it her own.

"I want you to be able to just come in whenever you want. I want you to be at home here…" He rambles on and she tears her eyes away from the key, looking up at him, finds him staring at her, darkened eyes boring into her intensely. The smile stretches across her face automatically, widens to her cheeks, her skin flushed and tingly with warmth.

"Thank you."

"Did you…? I mean, you aren't disappointed that it isn't-"

"No, Castle that'd be… We're not…" She sighs, shakes her head. "No."

Yet for a short moment, this one terrifying, wondrous moment it had seemed real, and her heart had thudded with all the possibilities, tempting, alluring. Big, but not as intimidating as she feared it to be.

She reaches out, cradles her palm over his cheek, finds his eyes, still wide and apprehensive. She takes a moment, waits one, two beats of her heart, and then she leaps.

"Some day?" It's both question and promise and his mouth falls open as he gasps in an astonished breath, and then he nods, slowly, his mouth stretching with a tender smile.

"Some day."

He leans forward, rests his forehead against hers and she closes her eyes, lets the quiet promise soak into her skin, enrich her blood with it all, with everything there is to come. He wants her in his life in all ways already, gave her a key to fill in where his words leave off.

She pulls away, caresses her thumb across his bottom lip. Her stomach flutters, nervous but even more so she's excited, at once eager to see his reaction to her gift. Kate reaches behind her, grabs the red bag.

"This is for you."

He sits down on his haunches, pulls the white box out of the folds of tissue paper, and lifts the lid. She realizes she was actually holding her breath when she has to gasp for air as he lifts up the gift, looking curiously as the long chain of golden plastic beads unfolds from the bottom of the box, the origami stars folded from gold paper dangling off the chain.

"It's for the tree?" He wonders, looking surprised as he unravels the long string of beads. "You made this?"

"Yeah," she nods, leaning forward. "But that's not…" She arrests his fingers; reaches for the first paper star attached to the chain. "Remember the day you picked me up from work, and we went to see the Christmas tree?" His eyes glued to the movements of her fingers, she carefully unfolds the star, shows him where to tuck for the intricate origami pattern to simply open up.

"See, that night I wrote down a thought I had, something I felt was important." She points to the interior of the star, to the hand-written words she had carefully penned onto the paper. "About you."

Castle looks up at her, eyes widened in surprise.

"And then every night since. It's not poetry or anything," she rambles on, the flutter of nerves winning over her confidence because he is the writer and she's always admired his words, fell for them long before she fell in love with him, and it's truly nerve-wracking to give him something he's so much more accomplished at.

"They're probably not very good, not well written but I wanted you to know. To have them. The words."

"You…" He reaches for the first star, lays it onto his palm, his movements measured. "You gave me words."

"Yeah." She nods.

And then his smile widens, his eyes sparkling, bright blue with exhilaration. "Wow. Kate. This is…"

"Read them already," she nudges him impatiently, nervous, so nervous because those are her words, for him, and she's been holding them in for a long time and he really, really needs to read them now, finally.

"Okay, okay," he laughs but she sees the tender spark in his eyes, the warmth with which he regards her, pleased and happy and so in love that it takes her breath away.

"Can I read them out loud?"

She feels her cheeks flush. "Uhm, sure. They're yours to do with as you wish."

He smoothes a finger over her handwriting on the inside of the paper star, and then he reads:

'I love the way you can quiet the turmoil of my thoughts, how you lighten the burden of my days.'

He looks up, his face awed, astonished. "Kate… wow. I'm so glad I can be there for you like this. I was always hoping…" She nods, resting her palm over his knee.

"I wanted you to know this." She points to the remaining stars. "All of this."

He unfolds the next star, his eyes skimming over the words, quietly at first before reads them out loud, his voice filled with awe and tenderness and she watches him read, take in all her carefully guarded thoughts.

'I love how your eyes light up when you see me first thing in the morning, and your sleepy smile when we go to bed.'

'I love the taste of your kisses and the feel of your lips on mine.'

'I love the feel of your body pressed to mine, the heat of your skin, the fire of your touch that makes me forget everything, everything but you.'

He pauses for a moment to look at her, eyes blazing, so filled with longing for her that a swirl of images unravels in her mind, a frenzied movie of all the ways she wants to touch him, feel him surround her, naked and strong. She licks her lips and his eyes darken but she wants, needs him to read these first, all of them. Her eyes flick to the next star and he reaches for it, his fingers not quite steady.

'I love that you can make me laugh even when the world around us seems only dark and grey.'

'I love how you spoil me, with your gifts, your laughter, your care, your love.

"Kate, those are incredible," he murmurs, his brow creased as he focuses, already unraveling the next star, the next secret she's revealing to him.

'I love how you make me dream of a future, of all those wonderful things I never dared to hope for, that I never thought I could have.'

'I love how much you need me, the way you seek my touch, my closeness, my comfort.'

She watches as he keeps reading, sees it in the creases of his face, the spark of his eye and the tilt of his mouth, just how much it means to him, every word she's written. Many things she's sure he already knew but she understands how he needs words, how each written sentiment gives credence to all his hopes and dreams.

'I love the way you touch me, how you worship my body until I no longer know where we start and where we end.'

'I love how you look at me, your eyes alight with love, the admiration in your smile, how you respect every part of who I am.

'I love that I miss you when you're not with me.'

She stops him before he reaches the very last star, leans forward to kiss him tenderly while her hands reach for the folded paper, unravel it for him.

She says the words just as his eyes fall on them, infuses them with her voice.

'I love you.'

The End

AN: Thank you all for reading, for the lovely and heartwarming stories and thoughts you've shared, for the love and excitement you've shown this story. A very special Thank you goes out to that wonderful group of you who have faithfully reviewed every chapter – there are not enough words to express how much your enthusiasm has meant to me; you have kept me going when doubts were nagging. If I've made this Christmas season more joyful for just one of you, then it was all worth it. :)

Thank you for an amazing year in this fandom. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!