Now he's five.

Dashiell can already tell it's better like this. Being five is round, has more for him, more words to it. It means there are five things to do in the morning, and he already knows this morning what he needs to do.

Pack up to go home.

He loves the beach, and the big waves, and the sand beasts, and the ice cream, ooh, and the awesome pool with the fountains. But he really wants to go home now.

He wants his bed and his building; he misses the street and all the people always around, his preschool class and his teacher, and the smell of the subway grate right outside Mommy's work. He misses playing in the study and listening to Daddy write at his desk.

Dash jostles his dog awake and then climbs over the side of the bunk bed, down the ladder, and to the floor. Ellie is still sleeping, and the dog whines at him, but he's got to pee really bad.

He washes his hands and stands on tiptoe to look at himself in the mirror. He looks like a five year old now too. He looks like Daddy, but he doesn't have the same scrunched up eyes that Daddy has when he smiles. He has eyes that are just like Mommy's - she says it's a crime that a boy should have such beautiful eyelashes, and he moans at her for saying it, and then she pretends to arrest him and put him in jail.

Dash creeps through the bathroom to his own room where his people are still sleeping. But one bed is empty. It looks squashed up, both of them together, but they seem okay. Maybe it's like a Castle dogpile but with only Allie and Rafe piled up. Dash likes dogpiles, so that makes sense.

Mommy said he could pack stuff when he got up, but he needs clothes to wear. That's the next thing when he gets up in the morning - find clothes. From the bottom drawer, he pulls out shorts and a black tshirt Mommy got him for his birthday - it has a tie printed on it, so it looks like he's wearing a grey-striped tie. It's very cool. It's like dressing up as Daddy when Daddy has to go to meetings or when Mommy and Daddy have a date.

He sneaks back to Ellery's room and the dog is whining at him still from the top bunk.

"Stay, Rex. I'll get help," he whispers. He slings his pajamas up on the top bunk and his pants land on Rex. He laughs and Rex wags his tail, making them fall.

Dashiell creeps out of Ellery's room and down the hallway. His Papa and Ms Kelly and Gram spent the night with them the other night, but they rented the condo right next door for last night. So he doesn't have to worry about waking Mommy and Daddy on the couch when he watches tv; they're back in their room.

He finds the remote and turns on the tv, has his finger poised on the volume button, but it's already low. The perfect number - 11 - for quiet. He flips through the guide until he finds cartoons and then Dash tosses the remote back to the ouch and remembers.

"Oh, my dog."

He steps up to Mommy and Daddy's door and presses his nose to the crack, listening as he breathes in, smelling the smells - paint and wood and sand and ocean. No sounds. He remembers a five on the clock, so Mommy won't be too sad if he comes and gets her.

Daddy is no good. Daddy doesn't make any sense if the number is in the fives.

He wraps his fingers around the door knob and turns it slowly, leaning against the door to make it creak less. It's still dark in the room and he can see them asleep in the bed as shadows, layers of more solid dark over the slippery dark of too early in the morning.

Dashiell comes into the room and makes his way to Mommy's side, trips over a bowl and a bottle of chocolate sauce. Mommy and Daddy had ice cream from his birthday party! No fair. When he gets to the bed, Mommy isn't on her side. She's over there and - flipped. Dash tilts his head and turns his body, and realizes Mommy is upside down. Like Ellery does sometimes, with her head where the feet are supposed to go.

And so is Daddy. Funny.

Dash climbs up on the bed and over his daddy, crawls in between them. Mommy is facing him, her hair all over, and the sheets pulled up. On his hands and knees, Dash leans down over her.


She's very still for a moment, like she always does, and then her eyes dart back and forth under her eyelids. Then she wakes, struggles with it, and he has to help her again.


Her eyes open. Her fingers curl out from the sheet, lift to his cheek as she looks at him. And then she knows. "Baby, what time is it?"


Her eyes slide back down, but that's okay. Mommy doesn't go back to sleep like Daddy always does. "Mm. Why are you in here?"

"My dog is stuck."

She looks at him again, then blinks a long blink, like she's remembering. "Oh."

"Can you get him down?"

"I - uh - I don't know, baby. Let me - get on some clothes and come figure it out."

"What happened to your pajamas?" he asks, scooting back down on the bed and rolling over her to drop off the side. "Did they get all sweaty and you have to take them off? I have to do that sometimes."

She laughs and he glances back at her, surprised. She slides an arm out and catches him by the neck, but her fingers are gentle. "That's exactly it, Dash. How's your second day of being five?"

"It's great. I need my dog."

She grins and nods at him. "Go, go. I'll be there in a second."

Dashiell runs for the door. Mommy never falls back asleep; she always comes. He's not worried.

The tv is on commercials, so he heads for Ellery's room to reassure his dog.

It's already today.

Ellery sighs and watches Mommy pull out the pink skirt with the ruffly pockets. Pockets for things. One by one, hide them in the ruffly pink pockets. But she wants the purple tights, so she slides off the bed and leans against Mommy, reaches for purple.

"Mm, that's my favorite color too," Mommy says, kissing her cheek. "Okay. Purple tights, pink skirt. What shirt, cricket?"

She peers over Mommy's shoulder and into the suitcase. Already. Already time to go. She doesn't want to go.

"How about this one?"

Black with stuff in swirls down the front. She shakes her head.

"Mm, what about this?"


"Then you pick something."

"This," she says, and reaches for the striped shirt, white and blue, like the sky. Mommy takes it and helps her pull it on; she beams at her as her head comes through the hole. "Thanks, Mommy."

"No problem. Where are your shoes?"

She shrugs and drifts to the door, peers out, down the hall. No shoes.

"Maybe Dash packed them up on accident?"

Ellie scowls and gives her brother - all the way in the living room - the mean eyes. He doesn't notice. T-Rex swishes his tail and comes for her instead, bounding down the hallway. She throws open her arms and they tackle each other.

"Oh, careful, careful. Ella, honey, don't hang on his neck."

Rex licks her all over, wriggling, and she giggles at all the tickling of his fur and tongue. Mommy is trying to push through the door, and they both knock over, Rex on top of her.

"You okay, cricket?"

She laughs and opens her eyes, sees Mommy smiling over her. Ellie raises her arms for Mommy, gets scooped up.

"I okay."

Mommy's kisses go all over her neck and cheeks and eyelids, making her laugh again. She grabs Mommy's ears and tries to breathe past the funny feeling.

"I know you don't want to leave, baby girl. But we've had a really great vacation. Time to go back home."

Ellie wraps her arms around Mommy's neck and lets herself be taken to the living room. Mommy drops her on the couch with a bounce, and she laughs again, wriggling up to sit with Mommy.

Oh! "Shoes, Mommy. There - there."

Dashiell sees them first and snatches them up, comes running to Mommy with them. Ellie sticks her feet out and wiggles her toes, grinning.

"Little piggies went to market," Dash crows, grabbing for her feet. "Wee, wee, wee! All the way home."

Ella grunts and pushes him away with her foot, wrinkling her nose at him. Mommy grabs her by the ankles and twists her around, feet now in Mommy's lap. "Be nice to your brother."

"Toes. Not piggies," she says, sticking her tongue out.

Daddy leans over the back of the couch and taps her tongue. She tastes chocolate and looks up.

Daddy is making pancakes for leaving day. "Daddy!"

"Chocolate chip pancakes, cricket. Gotta be a good girl. Rafe and Allie have already eaten. Just you guys."

"I already ate too," her big brother says, bouncing on his toes in front of her. "Just you and Mommy."

Ella sneaks a look at Mommy, but she's giving her a big huge smile. Happy smile. Ellie grins back and curls her toes as Mommy ties the last shoe into a bow.

"Hi, Mommy."

"Hey, sweetheart. Ready to eat pancakes? We let you sleep late, but we really need to go soon."

All her stuff is in the suitcase. Oh. Except - not- "Totoro?"

"He's here. Daddy put him in your backpack. That way he goes with you on the plane."

"Okay." She pulls her feet back and climbs into Mommy's lap, curls up around her, burying her face in Mommy's so-soft hair. Her mommy hugs her nice and tight, stands up and takes them both to the table where she can already smell pancakes. Yummy.

Dashy is dancing around them and running into Rex and Daddy until Daddy sends him out with Rafe to load the car. Mommy tries to put her in a seat, but she wraps her legs around Mommy's waist and holds on.

"Okay, baby girl. Sit with me and eat then."

Ellery hums a song and wriggles down in Mommy's lap, feeling warm and sleepy and good. Like when they played in the sand and got in the ocean and then came back up and she got in bed, and it was all floating and rocking like the waves. Mommy is good like that.

"Want syrup?"

She wrinkles her nose and shakes her head. "No."

"Me either. Good girl. Here, Rafe got us some strawberries. Eat 'em up, baby girl. We'll take the rest with us on the plane."

Ellie uses two fingers to pop a piece of strawberry in her mouth, hums the song again as she sucks on the fruit, mushes it up with her tongue.

"Eat pancakes, srce moje."

"Kako se kaže strawberry?"

Mommy jumps, clutches Ellery too tight, but she's getting twisted around to look at Mommy. "Baby - I - did you ask me how to say strawberry? Say it again."

"Kako se kaže - you learned me that, Mommy."

"I - I did. My smart girl. I didn't know you remembered it. Strawberry is jagoda."

Ellie gnaws on the jagoda and lets it swirl around in her mouth, her head. "Jagoda."


Yes to strawberry. Da inside strawberry. Yes inside jagoda. Pretty. "I like."

"You do?"

She sings a little, a Mommy song, with words that are funny. Mommy hums with her, sings softly, and kisses her cheek, picks up a piece of pancake and tries to make Ellie eat it. She turns her head and eats more jagode instead.

"Eat, cricket. You'll be hungry on the plane. It's nearly lunch time."

She picks up a pancake and licks a chocolate chip off, half-melty, soft. Mm. Good. "Daddy?"

"He's packing the car. I need you to finish your food."

"Take some with me," she says instead.

"They'll be cold."

"I like cold."

"Okay, Ellery. I know you're sad about leaving, but I need you to eat some. Just some. I'll put the rest in a plastic bag and put it in your backpack. But you need to eat at least two of these."

Ellie glances at her plate - their plate, because Mommy shared with her - and picks up one. "Him a little one."

Mommy laughs and kisses her neck. "Yeah, a little one. Eat two of the little ones, srce moje."

"Mmm, pancake?"


"Palačinka. Same same." Ellie claps and wriggles in Mommy's lap, grabs her cup of milk with both hands, lifts it to drink some. It's good. Strawberry milk. Daddy makes good strawberry milk.

"You got it all over your mouth." Mommy rubs a napkin over Ellie's lips and she presses back into Mommy's chest, squirming. "Okay. One more pancake - palačinka - and then we need to get your backpack and check to make sure we have everything for our drive to the airport."

One more. One more. She can do it.

Ellie crams a baby one into her mouth and chews, humming the song again. Oh, the words. There they are. "It's the colors you have. No need to be sad. You still have your . . .Mommy? Still have what?"

"Oh, in the song? I think it's 'You still have your health.' But it doesn't really sound like it, does it?"

"No. You still have your hair-air," she sing-songs.

Mommy laughs, brushes a hand through Ellie's hair and pulls it up off her neck. "Want me to braid your hair for the plane? Allie's got hers braided too."

Ellery bounces in Mommy's lap. "Ooh, yes. Yes, yes." She turns around, dropping the jagoda on the plate and wrapping both arms around her mommy.

"Okay, cricket. Let's brush teeth and braid your hair. And then get ready to go."

"Don't forget my palačinke." Ellie squirms down to the floor and runs for the bathroom. Mommy is going to braid her hair just like Allie's. It will be so pretty.

Even if it means they have to leave the beach.

"Bye beach," Ellery says as the car leaves the parking lot.

Dash watches her wave out the window and snorts. "That's not the beach. That's our condo."

Ellery glares at him and Mommy turns around in the seat, tugs on his foot. "Leave your sister alone. She's sad to be leaving."

"But we had fun. Why is she sad?"

"I'm sad too. It's just what happens when you've had a good time and you don't want to stop having a good time."

"Oh. But - but Mommy?" He scrunches up his face. "Don't you have a good time at home too?"

Daddy laughs and Mommy gives Dash one of the really good smiles - warm in his chest and making everything sunny. "I have a great time at home, baby. Don't worry."

"Then why be sad?"

"Because it was special. And I didn't have to go to work. We played and got to spend time with Allie and Rafe too."

"Oh. Yeah. I don't want them to go back to Chicago."

"Yeah, it's all of that. But I'm very glad you're not sad."

"Ellie, you sad?" He leans over and checks his baby sister, but she's got Totoro hugged against her chest. Huh. "Daddy? Are you sad?"


Dash grins and bounces in his seat. "Yeah! Home is fun too. And home has my bed. And now I've got my dog."

"Well, yeah, but I'm not sad about leaving because I'm excited about the things we're going to do when we get home."

"What we do, Daddy?" Ellie asks softly.

Mommy turns to Daddy, takes one of his hands. They hold hands alllll the time. "Yeah, Daddy," she says, and her voice is so very quiet that Dash almost can't hear it. "What are we going to do when we get home?"

"Love each other," Daddy says. Mommy squeezes his hand and smiles at him, but-

That's a stupid answer.

"Can we play dinosaurs instead?"

A/N: Thank you so much for loving the Castle family I've envisioned! I have enjoyed hearing all of your ideas and comments and feedback and awws - loved seeing new people come along for the ride, and long-time fans get pulled even deeper into this world.

So don't worry. The third Dash Epic is titled Mad Dash. I'll start posting it after the season finale. In the meantime, I have four different companion pieces. Between Dash Away and Dash It All, we had the Light series. And so between Dash It All and Mad Dash we will have the Life series. The first one will be posted this week: Proof of Life.