"It's Christmas!"

He's never been so glad to hear those words, to hear that clear treble and the thundering of small feet tramping down the stairs. Saved from further interrogation by his children.

He stands from the couch, jostling Minnie out of the space between his thigh and Kate's, earning himself an indignant meow. But in the next instant the cat and his wife are both nearly forgotten, his arms full of squirming boy and his legs wrapped up by a grinning girl.

"Merry Christmas," he murmurs into his son's ear, the boy stilling in his tight embrace.

"Merry Christmas, Daddy," James says softly, and then Castle feels a warm hand sliding under the back of his flannel shirt, knows Kate is there behind him. "Merry Christmas, Momma."

Her fingers feather against his ear briefly on the way to run her fingers through their son's dark curls. "Merry Christmas, sweet boy."

The detective steps around him and her arms slip between his chest and the small body clinging to him, tugging the boy out of his father's grasp and freeing him to reach down for his little girl. His littler girl.

Lilian comes willingly, her arms twining around his neck, her soft cheek gliding against his own, her tiny lips pressing a smacking kiss to the hinge of his jaw.

He hugs her tighter, has to close his eyes to will back the sudden rush of happy tears, so thankful for this family they've become.

"Merry Christmas, baby girl," he whispers, his nose nudging into her messy hair, stretching his fingers until his hand spans her whole back.

"Merry Christmas," she returns quietly, her face pressed into his shoulder.

He hears a click and the turning of a key, opens his eyes just in time to see Alexis and his mother stumbling into the loft, their arms tangled as they laugh together.

"Darlings!" Martha calls, her hands thrown up in the air as Alexis turns back to catch her husband's elbow and drag him in behind them, his arms laden with brightly wrapped boxes.

Kate is reaching for Lilian before he has a chance to set her down, and he barely hears the exchanged greetings between his wife and his younger daughter as he steps past them to welcome the rest of his family.

Bending slightly so she can reach his neck, Castle wraps his mother in a gentle hug, kissing her on the cheek soundly.

And then Alexis is there, rising up on tiptoes to bury her nose in his neck, and he bands his arms around her waist, lifts her up in a bear hug, spins her around, her giddy laughter ringing through the loft.

"Hey Dad," she says breathlessly when he sets her down. "Merry Christmas."

He just grins. "Merry Christmas to you. You're here early."

"We figured they'd be up early," a warm baritone says, and Castle turns to find Drew standing next to a pile of presents and holding out a still gloved hand.

Castle laughs. "You were right."

He bypasses the younger man's offered handshake, going straight for a warm hug. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Castle," Drew says as the two men step apart.

The writer gives him a stern glare. "We've been over this, Drew. It's Rick. Or, you know, Dad."

His face reddening slightly, the younger man grins, nods. "Yes, sir."

Castle shakes his head and beckons them all toward the living room, toward his smiling wife, toward the children who have already escaped their mother's grasp, their grandmother's effusive greeting, and are running straight at their sister and brother-in-law.

Kate catches his eye, her gaze tender, her mouth set in a gentle curve as the two of them survey their little family.

Minnie, not to be left out, winds her way around rapidly moving legs, rubbing up against ankles until Alexis finally picks her up.

Perfect. Everyone is here. Everything is perfect. He couldn't ask for anything more.

And then he hears it.

A rustle. A yelp.

The tinkling of broken glass as a snowman-shaped ornament shatters on the hardwood floor.

Then Drew's voice rising over the din as the young man plucks a tiny calico kitten from the branches of the Christmas tree.

"And who is this?"

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