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: I'm a huge fan of those cheesy/cliche Hallmark/Lifetime/ABC Family Christmas movies that flood the airwaves this time of year. This fic is, I guess, kinda my homage to that. It's totally AU and probably is going to end up being pretty sappy so if that's not your thing, bail now. Also, I'm still suffering from terrible writer's block so this is - well, it's not the greatest thing I've ever written. I'm posting it because these are the first words I've managed in months and I'm hoping that maybe getting them out will help clear the path for better ones to follow.
The corner of the page curls as it catches fire, bright orange flames licking at the embossed letterhead. The paper buckles and she drops it onto the logs, Dear Ms Beckett turning to crumbling black ash. Folding her arms tightly across her chest, Kate sits back, the heat-softened leather cushions giving easily under her weight. She watches the letter disintegrate, the warmth from the fire doing nothing to thaw the frozen fist clamped around her stomach.
Closing her eyes, Kate lets her head fall back against the chair. Her lungs fill with the scent of pine and smoke when she breathes, skin stretching taut over her ribs. The familiarity comforts her, grounds her. Reminds her why she's doing this.
This is her home. The place where she grew up, trekking up and down the mountains and racing through the fields. Where she learned to cook and drive and dance. This is the place where her memories live, where she can close her eyes and take a deep breath and almost hear the fading echo of her mother's voice.
This is her home.
And damned if she's going to give it up.
The fire crackles and pops behind the grate and she stretches out her legs, pointing her toes toward the warm bricks. Her left knee twinges and she draws back, pulling her feet up onto the cushion of the chair, arms looping loosely around her shins. Digging her pinky into a hole in the cuff of her sweater, Kate opens her eyes again, lets the heat of the fire dry her eyes.
A knock at the back door has her sighing. Slowly, Kate unfolds her legs and stands, rakes her fingers through her long hair. Her socked feet slip on the slick hardwood floor as she makes her way down the short hallway between the den and the mud room. The door cracks when she yanks it open, the stiff wood protesting loudly in the frigid night air. Billy gives her a small, rueful smile through screen door, flurries of snow melting in his auburn beard.
"Hey, Billy," she says, trying to return his smile even as her eyes catch on the idling truck in the driveway. "How bad?"
He shakes his head. "Not too bad, all things considered. Was singing James Taylor up until I got him in the truck. Passed out just before we hit the bridge."
Shoving her feet into the first pair of boots she sees, Kate follows him off the porch and around the side of the late model Ford, squinting against the bright white of the high beams. A patch of steamy fog clings to the window of the passenger door and she can just make out the profile of her father's slack face through the darkness, his cheek pressed up against the cold glass. She reaches for the handle, her bare fingers burning in the cold.
"Let me," Billy says, angling his body between Kate and the door. "He's dead weight tonight."
Clenching her teeth, Kate nods and steps back. Hands pulled into her sleeves, she wraps her sweater more tightly around her body and watches as Billy pops open the door and catches her father's limp body.
She has no idea how he's still alive.
Billy turns to look at her, Jim Beckett clutched in his burly arms. "Cabin?"
"Yeah." She steps in and closes the truck door softly, trying not to wake any of the guests sleeping in the main house. "Let's go."
Billy shuffles across the lawn, her father a limp marionette dangling off the barman's shoulder. His head lolls, rolling bonelessly with each heavy step. Kate trudges up the steps to her father's small cabin, dead leaves crunching under the soles of her untied boots.
"Just put him here," Kate says, flipping on the small blue lamp next to the couch.
Billy frowns at her. "You sure? I can take him back to the bedroom, Kate. It's not a problem."
It is a problem. It's been a problem since that cold January night fifteen years ago. But it's her problem, not Billy's.
"I'm sure. He'll be fine on the couch for tonight."
Gently, Billy lowers Jim onto the couch, one large hand supporting his limp neck like an infant. Kate steps forward as Billy moves back. She pulls a throw blanket off the back of an armchair and spreads it over her father before untying and tugging off his boots, the routine so second nature by now that she doesn't even think about it. Her muscles lead her through the motions while her mind shuts down. She doesn't want to feel it tonight. Doesn't want to let the anger and the hurt take over.
"Jo?" Jim's eyes, glassy and vacant, flutter open and he stares up at her, unseeing. The corners of his mouth turn up in a smile Kate only sees on nights like this as he slurs, "Jo, is that you?" Kate shrinks back when a shaking hand lifts toward her face. "Beautiful. So beautiful, Jo."
"No, Dad," she sighs. "It's Kate."
Both the smile and the hand fall as her father blinks at her. "Katie?"
Jim closes his eyes. "You look too much like her," he sighs and the whiskey on his breath makes her eyes burn.
"I know, Dad." Kate tucks the blanket around his shoulders as her father slips back into the darkness. "I know."
Her knee catches when she stands, a hard pop that steals her breath and sends sparks flying up her thigh. Billy reaches for her, his fingers hovering at her elbow. She pulls away from him with a tense smile, bending her left leg gingerly. The lamplight reflects off his brown eyes as he looks at her, his face a soft mask of pity and adoration that she refuses to acknowledge. With one last look at her father, Kate turns and heads toward the door.
Her breath fogs the cold night air when she steps off the front porch of her father's cabin. "You could have just called me," she says, boots crunching the frost covered leaves and grass. "I would have come for him."
"You know I don't mind, Kate. I wanted to -"
"Billy," she says softly, turning to face him, "not tonight, okay? Please."
She can't deal with him tonight, with his misplaced affection and almost pathological need to ask her on a date every time he sees her. Can't deal with the way his hopeful smile melts into a resigned frown when she inevitably turns him down. Stepping forward, Kate presses a light kiss to his whiskery cheek.
"Thanks for bringing him home. I really appreciate it."
Silently, Billy nods and walks away. Kate watches him climb into the cab of the truck, the engine revving when he shifts into gear. Tires crunch on gravel as he rounds the circular driveway, snowflakes dancing in the light of his headlights, and Kate raises her hand in a wave before heading inside.
She stops by the kitchen for a cup of coffee on her way to the front desk. The grandfather clock in the entryway ticks steadily as she walks past, unable to resist running a finger over the smooth, century old oak.
Low lamp light reflects off the computer monitor and Kate shakes the mouse, bringing the machine to life. She glances at the emails waiting in her inbox, making a mental note to respond to the one from her accountant the next morning. The guest list for the week catches her eye and she swallows. Only ten out of twenty-two rooms reserved. Something's gotta give. Soon.
Headlights flash across the front window and Kate straightens, slipping her stockinged feet back into the heels sitting under the desk. She takes a deep, calming breath and rolls her shoulders back, pulls her lips up into something resembling a smile.
Snow swirls across the threshold when the front door opens. The man bounces a little on this toes as he shakes off his gloves, gaze travelling intently around the room. He smiles broadly when he sees her, blue eyes crinkling up at the corners in a way that makes her own smile widen.
"Mr. Castle," Kate says, as he steps into the room, gloves hanging out of his jacket pocket. "Welcome to the Besito."
Thanks for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.