Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.

She steps off the elevator into the empty bullpen and immediately senses that something is wrong. For the last two months she's been coming in so early that sometimes the night shift is still working, and not once has Captain Montgomery arrived ahead of her. Until today. There he is, poking his head out of his office door and looking her way.

"Detective Beckett? May I have a word, please?"

What has she done? He doesn't seem mad, but he does appear deeply serious. He keeps his eyes on her as she drops her bag on her desk, brushes nonexistent crumbs from her jacket and pants, and walks towards his office.

"Good morning, sir. You're here, um." She's jittery, and can't finish her sentence, or her thought.



"Not as early as you."

What is he talking about? He's already halfway through a cup of coffee and she just got here. "Sorry, Captain, what?"

"Sit down, please, Kate."

Oh, God, he called her Kate. This is not good. She perches anxiously on the edge of the chair opposite him. She doesn't remember it being this hard, but it's poking into her and she can't get comfortable.

"I understand that you've been coming in before dawn lately, for weeks and weeks, in fact." He's very still, and when she doesn't comment he asks, "Do you know what time the sun came up today?"

"No. No, I don't."

"That's because it hasn't. Today is July twenty-ninth and dawn in New York City this morning is at five nineteen. Which is"—he breaks off to check his watch—"twenty minutes from now."


"Why are you here, Kate?"

She feels her chest tightening, which is better than a noose, but not much. Her hands unconsciously go to her throat. The only relief she feels is that there's no rope around it. "Why am I here? There's a lot to do. I have, well, a lot to do."

His eyebrows, which were already raised, go even higher, and he works his jaw a little. "Really? You haven't had a new case in almost a week, and you wrapped that one up in less than a day." He points at a neat stack of folders. "And you're more than caught up on your paperwork. From what I can see, you've even done some of Esposito and Ryan's."

"Just doing them a favor. It's summer. They like to, you know, go to the beach. Whatever." How the hell does he know what her hours have been, anyway? Why does he care? And what nosy son of a bitch ratted her out? She doesn't know where this conversation is headed, but she doesn't like it. It takes almost more strength than she has, but she tries to lighten things up. "I'm pretty familiar with the criminal code, sir, and I don't think that coming to work early is even a class D misdemeanor."

"Kate." His expression morphs into an unsettling combination of severity and tenderness. "I'm a father, you know, and my BFF detector is really, really good."

Best Friend Forever detector? Huh? "BFF?"

"Big Fat Fib. I wouldn't believe that story from any of my kids, and I'm not buying it from you, either."

She could tell him the truth, but she won't. It's been two months since she's seen Castle. Two months since he told her quietly that he "understood her decision" not to come to the Hamptons for the weekend. Two months since he shook her hand, told her it had been "fun, an honor, sometimes terrifying," to have worked with her but that he had enough material for a lot of Nikki Heat books and should "get my ass out of this NYPD-issue chair and into my ergonomically correct one at home, and write." What would Montgomery think of her if she confessed that she misses Castle so much that she can hardly function? That because he's not shadowing her anymore her life is unspooling like some dingy, frayed thread? She can't bear to say anything, so she says nothing, but she's aware of him faintly clearing his throat, shifting slightly behind his desk.

"I'm surprised that you haven't cut your hand," he says.

Now she's completely lost. "Excuse me?"

"I'm surprised that you haven't cut your hand on your cheekbones. That's how thin you've gotten. I'm worried about you." He picks up a sheet of paper and passes it to her. It flutters a little in front of his desk fan, and she feels fluttery, too. "Take a look at that and tell me what it says."

Shit. It's from HR. "It, uh, it looks like my vacation time?"

"Correct. You have twenty-nine days in the bank. That's almost six weeks."

"Meaning no disrespect, Captain, but I don't need to take a vacation."

"Oh, but you do. It's that or mandatory sick leave, which I doubt that you want on your record."

Now she's bristling. "I'm not sick. I'm perfectly healthy. And I'm not required to take vacation."

"Meaning no disrespect," he echoes, his tone suddenly steely, "but I disagree. Your missed a couple of details on the Higdon homicide. Not big ones, but the kind that that Armani-suited, thousand-bucks-an-hour lawyer would attack like a hawk on a rat, might even be able to use to get his skeevy client's case thrown out."


Montgomery puts his palm up. "Stop right there. Your team caught them before any harm was done. But what about the next time?" He sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes. "Look. It's no secret that you're the best detective I've ever worked with, but you're exhausted, and exhaustion also slows your reflexes. What happens if someone draws down on you, Kate? What happens if you're in your squad car, lights and sirens, and you don't see a kid who darts into the crosswalk? Hmm? What then?" He lowers his voice and softens his tone again. "You may not believe me, but I'm pretty sure I know what's bothering you. You don't have to tell me, but you do have to take some time off, starting now. Three weeks vacation, minimum."

Three weeks? What the hell will she do for three weeks except sink deeper into the trench she dug around herself? The trench she continues to dig with a shovel of her own making, and the muddy water rising.

"Go home, go to the shore, go to Paris, go anywhere but this precinct. And if you don't start eating, I'll send Meals on Wheels to your apartment." He reaches behind him and retrieves a small wax-paper bag, which he pushes across his desk until it bumps up against her knuckles. It's only when she feels the paper against them that she realizes that her hand is balled up in a fist. "Here's a blueberry muffin to get you started. Now, vamoose."

She's indignant. More than that, she's furious, but too tired to unleash her anger on anything. She grabs the bag, storms to her desk to retrieve her purse, and takes the stairs to the street. The fewer people she sees, the better. The one person she won't see in the elevator—or on the stairs or walking through the door that he's walked through hundreds of times—is the one person she wants to see. Castle. But he's lost to her now. If she's lucky, she'll see him at a Nikki Heat book launch. If she's unlucky, she'll see him at a Nikki Heat book launch. The thought of it makes her heart crack open. She's actually gasping for air, and leans against the concrete wall of an office building opposite the subway station until she can breathe steadily again. The sun has just come up, and she's going nowhere but down.

That was eight days ago. She's spent most of her waking time since—and since she's hardly sleeping, that's most of the time, period—thinking about Castle. He hasn't called or texted or emailed, but why would he? He'd called it quits. Very nicely, but still quits. He's in his house in the Hamptons. He'd shown her a few photos: it's a castle, really, a castle on the sand. A sandcastle for Castle. And Gina. Gina went with him. They're probably skinny dipping in the pool at night. In the day, they're rubbing suntan lotion on each other's backs. What does Castle's back feel like? It must be smooth. Definitely smooth. She's felt his cheek once or twice—twice, as if she didn't know exactly—and it's baby soft. When they danced together last year undercover, she couldn't believe his skin. She can still conjure up how it was against hers. Silk-satin-velvet, cool but warm.

She remembers a case last Hallowe'en when he'd said, "You smell like cherries." He smells like verbena and lime. She couldn't quite place the scent, until she spent an hour in a high-end shaving store and tested everything they had until she found it. She'll go to the grave without revealing that she bought a bottle, insanely expensive, and hid it in the back of a bathroom cabinet. This summer, though, this summer she's opened it many times, and even sprinkled a bit on her pillow, blushing as she did. She did it anyway, especially recently. Every night for the last four nights.

Castle is out of her life, but Lanie isn't. She's called several times this week, and Kate has let everything go to voicemail. Her loving but prying friend wants to have a girls' night out. Wants to go to a movie. Wants to go shoe shopping. Wants to know what the hell's going on. That's just it. Nothing is going on. With each dreary rotation of the earth, less is going on. The only thing that she can still do, that can fully occupy her, is work, and now she has none. The Captain won't let her come back for at least another thirteen days. Maybe more. He'd hinted at more yesterday when he Facetimed her.

"You look like hell, Beckett," he'd said. "I bet you still haven't finished that blueberry muffin I gave you."

"Not true." Not entirely true. The muffin has undoubtedly been finished, just not by her. She'd tossed it in the trash can on the subway platform where a greedy rat family must have dined on it.

She doesn't want to think about the rest of the conversation, so she doesn't. Instead she thinks about Castle. How did she fuck things up so badly? What if she really never sees him again? He'd bulldozed his way into her life and now he's not there. He'd gone so gently, and that had made it so much worse. What the hell is she supposed to do? Without her realizing it, he'd somehow taken over all her senses, and now she can't make sense of anything.

Maybe she should write down her thoughts, try to straighten things out. She sits heavily in her desk chair and opens up the drawer to look for paper. There isn't any. How can she have no paper? What kind of person has no paper in her house? She pushes her hand to the very back of the drawer and her fingers land on something. She pulls it out: a small pink pad on which people left messages in the pre-email era. A WHILE YOU WERE OUT note pad. She'd loved them when she was kid, used to ask her mom to bring some home from the office. She'd write silly notes to her on them. "While you were out a dinosaur came over." "While you were out I found a million billion dollars under my bed."

She gets a pencil and stares at the blank piece of paper. In the "For" line she writes "Rick Castle." She marks the URGENT box with a black X, and fills in the date and time. After considerable thought she writes that Kate Beckett had telephoned. There are five other boxes, and she checks off PLEASE CALL and WANTS TO SEE YOU. Then the tough part: the message. What's the message? She sharpens the pencil. Sharpens all the pencils in the mug from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, which she'd gone to with her parents. The message. Oh, hell, just write it down. It's the truth. A true message.


Coffee. He always brought her coffee. She'll have some coffee. She makes her way into the kitchen and finds a pot already there. Had she made it? When did she make it? In the morning? It's night now, isn't it? She hasn't opened the blinds since the beginning of her enforced vacation, so she has to pull them aside to check the sky. Yes, it's night. Ten, it's ten o'clock. She'd meant to watch the Yankee game, but didn't. This coffee tastes weird. Coffee never tastes weird. It's weird. And she's sweating. Isn't the AC on? She turns and sees the edge of a curtain moving, so it must be. Why is she sweating? She doesn't feel right. Is it the coffee? It can't be the coffee. Coffee is her lifeline, so why does she feel like she's dying? Her chest hurts. Jesus, her chest hurts. The mug slips from her hand and falls onto the floor. She grabs the edge of the counter, but she can't hold on.


A/N I have not abandoned "Well, That's a First," but real life has been fraught lately and I hit a bump in the road with that story. I decided to try a new one, which I hope will ultimately jar me loose on "First."