He's never happier about heated floors than in the dead of winter. The wood is warm against the soles of his feet, a soft heat that makes him curl his toes, the tiny bones popping under his skin. His robe flutters around his knees, the loose ends of the belt bouncing against his thighs as he shuffles out of the bedroom in search of her.
The light from the tree filters into his office, catching on the glossy spines that line the bookshelves, bouncing off the crystal decanter on the edge of his desk, reflecting in the darkened façade of his touchscreen. He loves this time of year, the way the whole world seems to soften and slow, wrapped in a haze of twinkling lights and the spirit of the season. Snow falls lightly outside the window, tiny flurries that will probably melt as soon as they hit the ground, and he smiles, sends out a silent thanks to the universe for conspiring to make this day - and his life - as picture perfect as possible.
He finds her in the living room. She's curled on the couch, her body sunk deep into the leather cushions, knees pulled up and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The lights play over her face, highlighting the slope of her nose, dipping into the fine lines around her eyes and mouth, casting her hair in a golden halo. Castle feels his breath catch and his heart seize, the sight of her stopping the natural functions of his body. He wants to freeze this moment, live inside the comforting warmth of it with her for the rest of his life.
"The staring is still creepy, Castle."
Her voice, lilting and soft, restarts the world. He moves over to meet her on the couch, dropping himself down onto the cushion next to hers, the leather cool and creaking under the weight of his body. His thigh rests over her feet and she flexes her ankles as she smiles at him, her toes digging into his hamstring. Castle wraps the fingers of one hand around her ankle and drops his head onto the back of the couch, neck angled to look at her.
"And what do you call what you're doing?"
"I'm watching, not staring. Completely different."
"At three in the morning?"
Kate laughs at him, a fluttering thing that he breathes in, trapping her happiness inside his own chest. "Like I haven't caught you doing the same thing twice already this week."
He smiles. She only caught him twice. The rest -
"Besides," she continues, "it's Christmas; gives me an excuse to be sentimental."
"I think you have a better reason than Christmas." He nods at her lap, reaching up to lightly tap his index finger on the top of the little knit cap covering the baby's head. "Babies are pretty much a free pass for sentimentality for at least the first six months."
A watery smile floats over her lips as she looks down, runs the tip of her finger over their daughter's cheek. The baby is fast asleep, one little fist curled around the edge of the swaddling blanket she's secured in. Just over a month old and she already has both of them wrapped firmly around her miniscule pinky. Castle watches them, his wife and his daughter, cast in the ethereal glow of the shimmering lights, and feels his heart stumble, his chest overflowing with love and gratitude.
"I love you," he chokes out, the words sticky on his tongue.
Kate looks up at him and smiles, her rings flashing in the light as she reaches out to caress his cheek, thumb whispering over his temple. "I love you too."
The baby fusses, her little face scrunching up, body wriggling within the confines of her blanket. Kate moves her to her chest, slipping a breast free from her loose fitting top. He watches in absolute awe as the baby latches on, soft snuffling sounds floating on the air as she eats. Her hand, thin fingers tightly curled into her palm, lands on the side of Kate's breast and he reaches out, picks the tiny hand up with two of his fingers; the fist uncurls for just a moment before closing around his thumb. He rubs his finger over the back of her hand, marveling at the silkiness her her skin, how delicate it feels against his own. After a moment, he slips his thumb out of her grasp, gently placing her hand back where he'd found it. Reaching behind himself, he grabs a throw pillow and wedges it under Kate's arm, giving them both a little added support.
"Thanks," she murmurs, her eyes lifting from the baby to him.
She looks so soft like this- her hair loose around her shoulders, face tired but glowing, their daughter at her breast - and he can't help himself. Supporting his weight with one hand planted on the back of the couch and the other fisted into the cushion next to her hip, Castle leans in and captures her lips in a gentle kiss, tries to let everything he's feeling, all the things he can't quite finds the words for no matter how long he searches, spill into her mouth. Kate hums happily in her throat and kisses him back, her tongue sweeping over his bottom lip.
"What was that for?" She asks as he settles back down on the couch, her feet lifting to rest on top of his thigh.
"Just a little early Christmas present," he grins. "Since I'm allowed to give you things now."
"Speaking of," she segues, ignoring his years old complaint, "what time did you say everyone is coming?"
"Alexis and Matt are having breakfast with his parents at eight so they should be here around ten-thirty. I told our parents to get here about the same time." He squeezes her ankle, watching as she lifts the baby, switching to the other side. The hat that Alexis had brought over about a week before she was born - pink with little bunny ears that stick straight up - falls off and he scoops it up, wiggles it back down over her head. "I figured we could open presents first and then have lunch around noon. That good?"
"Yeah. Hannah should sleep through the presents if we do it that way."
"I can't believe you wouldn't let me buy her anything," he groans, the words surfing out on a wave of mock petulance. "What is it with you and no presents for the first year? She's going to be traumatised. She'll think we don't love her."
"Castle. She's five weeks old. She has every possible thing a five week old could need. Hell, she has every possible thing a five month old could need." Her gaze drifts over their daughter, making sure she's eating well, but he can hear the eyeroll in her tone. "You got her that 'Baby's First Christmas' ornament that probably cost way more than I ever want to know. It's good. It's enough."
"I feel guilty, though." He rubs the flat of his thumb over the bottom of the baby's blanket covered foot. "I went a little crazy for Alexis' first Christmas; I don't want Hannah to feel left out."
"Again, Rick, she's five weeks old."
"I know," he huffs, flopping back against the cushion.
"How about this -" She pushes down on his thigh with the ball of her foot, curling her toes into the soft cotton of his pajama pants. "We'll take a picture of her in the bouncy chair with presents piled all around her. Then when she's older you can show her and tell her about all the things she got for her first Christmas."
"Are you suggesting that we outright lie to our kid in order to appease my guilty conscious?"
"Okay, I'm in."
Kate chuckles, her lips stretching into a wide smile. The baby falls off her breast, a tiny sigh hitching in her chest. Castle reaches over and takes her, lifting her to his shoulder as Kate adjusts herself, slipping her top back into place. His hand spans her entire back and he closes his eyes; tries to memorize the way her ribs expand and contract under his palm, how the gentle puffs of breath feel on his neck, the simple pleasure of having her tiny body cradled against his. Kate leans into his other side and he wraps his arm around her, presses a kiss to the top of her head as she nestles into his shoulder. Her hand comes to rest on his stomach, fingers toying with the loose edges of the baby's blanket.
"Merry Christmas, Hannah," he whispers into the top of her head, running his thumb along the scant space between her shoulder blades. "You're gonna love this day. And no presents doesn't mean no stockings, right? 'Cause that thing is full. And about three times your size. Don't tell your mom, okay?"
"I heard that," Kate mumbles. "And did you really think I didn't already know?"
"I might be on maternity leave, Castle, but I'm still a detective." She tilts her head up to look at him, her eyes drooping heavily and a sleepy smile pulling at her lips. "And you're still predictable."
Castle leans down and snags a kiss. "You love it."
"Yeah, I do."
He presses their lips together again, slow and sweet, before resting his forehead against hers.
"Merry Christmas, Kate."
"Merry Christmas," she breathes, her hand lifting to rest over his on the baby's back.
They sit in silence with their daughter, watching the flickering lights on the tree, the snow still falling outside. Kate's head grows heavy on his chest, her hand falling limply into his lap. He knows he should wake her and send her back to their bed, put the baby in her crib, but he wants this for just a little longer. Wants to remember the quiet magic of the moment, the way it seeps into his veins, fills him with a joy so pure that he thinks his heart might burst. The baby shifts against him, her nose pressing into the side of his neck, and he brushes a kiss over the top her head, his eyes slipping closed as he listens the soft symphony of their combined breaths.