She doesn’t remember the last time she had real holiday plans. That’s what she tells him, after maybe just one or two too many awkwardly devised cocktails drunk behind the bar of The Old Haunt on a Friday night. Castle closed up the bar over an hour ago, and the lights have been mostly shut off, there’s just the glow from above the bench, resting in the shine from the bottles on the shelves. She’s drinking something cloudy out of a highball, he can’t even remember what was in that one now, and looking slightly more pensive than her tone suggests. She leans her head back against the wood, stretches out her legs bent at the knee and closes her eyes. “Usually it’s just me and Dad, we spend it at his place and I head home on Boxing Day. I don’t know, we just don’t really celebrate it anymore.” He knows what that implies, spelling things out to him is not a Beckett thing to do but he’s learned to read between the lines. If he took a guess he’d say that her mother had been the conjurer of holiday spirit in the Beckett family household (not believing in Santa at three years old helps with the impression).
He prods her a little further. “But this year?”
“He wants to go to my uncle and aunt’s.” He hears the disdain in her voice, but for who he doesn’t know, and she also doesn’t tell him why – that her father has found another band-aid, another someone who’s got me for good, Katie. She’ll be gone in three months, whoever she is, once he realises yet again that you can’t always replace what’s been lost. “Dad’s good at faking relationships,” is all she says, and her smile pains him as much as it pains her, he’s pretty sure. Her habits always tend towards hiding away when it comes to what hurts her, she conceals one emotion with another and the phrase faking it comes to mind. She shakes her head, downs what’s left in her glass and her thin fingers pull the strawberry from the bottom. Momentarily distracted by her, he watches as she pops it into her mouth, sucking it for a bit before biting down; he swallows right before she does, then clears his throat.
“Well, the Castle family Christmas usually involves dragging my mother and Alexis out to the woods to cut down the biggest tree we can find and taking it up to the Hamptons. Then they watch as I try not to fall off the roof while perching Santa’s reindeer up there.” He pauses, hesitates at the hurdle he doesn’t know if he should jump, “You’re welcome to join us if you want to.”
She looks at him sidelong, and he can see her tongue running over her teeth while she gauges his sincerity. He waits for the quip, something about only wanting to take her up there to ply her with eggnog, but it doesn’t come. She just looks at him, contemplating and unblinking.
“It sounds nice. But it seems like something to invite... you know, family to.”
He gets it. “Gina’s spending Christmas with her folks like she usually does – and it’s not like we’ve been the most exclusive people in the world lately.”
She nods like she agrees but he sees her mind ticking again. “I just mean... I’d feel like I was imposing on some kind of tradition.”
“What are traditions but something to be shared, Detective? I think I speak for the entirety of my admittedly small family that nobody would object to you coming with us. I’m pretty sure my mother is already halfway to adopting you anyway.”
She smiles. “I’ll think about it, Castle.”
She stares at him for a moment, their conversation slowed to a natural stop, then goes to stand, grip tight on the edge of the bar above her.
When she’s up she winces. “I hate to ask what the alcohol content of those last drinks was.” She tries a few careful steps and doesn’t fall, probably due only to the fact that she’d discarded her heels after they moved from the bar stools to the floor.
(“Maybe, Beckett, you shouldn’t criticise my drink mixing skills before trying it for yourself.” He knows he sounds petulant, but he also knows Beckett likes to accept challenges. Taking the bait, she hops off her stool, kicks off her shoes, and then in a moment that makes the breath catch in his throat, she hoists herself onto the bar and slides over, dropping to stand next to him, sans the three extra inches he’s so used to her having.
Her fingers brush over his to grab the ice scoop, and he feels her gaze flick to him and then away again before shovelling the crushed cubes into two glasses and pouring a mixture into them. The rum he tastes is what he’s sure lion hearts must be made of, so as he crouches to settle himself on the floor, he grabs her fingers to pull her with him. To his surprise, she obliges.)
She gazes around the dimly lit room, wandering to the middle. “I’ve only just realised just how many Christmas decorations you’ve put up.”
He glances quickly at the mistletoe squarely above her head, attached messily to a light fixture, and moves around the bar to her, chuckling at her fascination with the fairy lights strung around her. “I thought you were supposed to be able to handle your drink.”
She crosses her arms. “I can. I’m handling it right now.” Her smile is only a smidgen wider than sober, and he finds himself grinning back. Then she runs a hand through the tangles her hair has made in inebriation, sighs, looks in the vague direction of her shoes. “I should call a cab.”
Thinking about the tally of chances he’s taken already tonight, none with disastrous outcomes, he gathers himself and tries for one more.
“You can’t leave yet.”
Her quizzical eyebrow curves upwards. “Why not? It’s almost midnight, I’m tired, and we really don’t need to drink anymore.”
“That’s not what I mean. Look at where you’re standing.” His finger points up, and once her gaze follows it he sees her eyes roll.
“It would be my luck to stand right under the mistletoe.”
He decides not to mention the other five or so sprigs strategically placed all over the bar, and opts for a sheepish grin instead. “I have been known to bring luck to people more than once before. Maybe I’m a leprechaun.” He walks closer to her, feels her tense up, but she doesn’t back away.
When she replies, her voice is several octaves lower than he expected, quiet, and a smile plays into the corners of her mouth. “Aren’t leprechauns tiny and Irish? Last I checked you were over six foot and had an extremely American accent – or is that another irritating mystery nov-”
Now seemed as good a time as any to cut her off, closing the gap between them with his palms heavy on her hips his lips press, searching, into hers. Sighing in defeat, her hands come to rest on his neck and he cradles her into him. She is warm and alive and electric, and the first press of her decidedly rum-flavoured tongue against his sends the blood rushing unmistakably south.
He’s not sure she knows what she does to him (but then, maybe she knows exactly what she does to him), the fabric between them a light shift as she presses closer, and he barely contains a groan when he’s sure he feels the slightest grind into his hips.
He pulls back for air, and at the same time puts this moment on the list of greatest things that have ever happened to him. Beckett breathes out and blinks, clearing the alcohol haze from her eyes.
His gaze drifts over her face. “Merry Christmas, Detective.”
“Good to know we’re still using formalities even when your hands are distinctly low on my back, Castle.”
He smirks, and he’ll neither confirm nor deny that he moves them down an inch lower as they slide back around her hips before he lets go.
“I should go.” She steps back and when her hands drop from his chest, something between them fractures; a carefully spun moment snapped in half, drawing back to where it sat before.
“Think about that offer, won’t you?”
She nods, says goodnight, and he watches her all the way out the door, being alone now meaning he can be utterly convinced he just got the best Christmas present ever.