Castle and Beckett join the crew of Serenity to prevent an atrocity. But at what cost?

While this story builds on events portrayed in "Firefly in the Castle", it can be enjoyed independently.

The events herein are post-BDM and pre-Serenity: Leaves on the Wind.

Richard Castle sat back and read the story fragment he'd started this morning.

"Who the hell am I, Nikki?" asked Rook. "Do you know?"

Nikki Heat blinked. "What? Is this where you tell me that Jameson Rook is an alias and that you're really a deep-cover NSA agent?"

Rook smiled. "I strike you as the NSA type? No, what I mean is, who am I? How do I define who I am?"

Nikki, reached for her blouse, slipped her arm into the sleeves, and replied as she fastened the buttons. "It's a bit early in the day for existential angst, isn't it? I mean, wouldn't one normally wait until after their morning coffee?"

Rook got out of bed and pulled on his trousers. "If you really loved me, you'd be more sympathetic towards my existential angst."

"Yes I would, wouldn't I?" replied Nikki Heat with a wink.

Castle, lost in thought, was unaware of his mother until she set down a mug of coffee beside him.

Smiling, Martha Rogers said, "Taking your next book in a new direction?" she asked.

"Oh, I probably won't use it," Castle replied, returning his mother's kiss on the cheek. "Still, it got me to wondering, who is Jameson Rook? I mean, besides comic relief for Nikki Heat?"

"Why that's easy," said Martha. "He's you."

Castle sighed. "Which begs the question…"

"Oh here we go," Martha said. "I've been dreading this day and now here it is."

"What?" Castle asked.

"Why your mid-life crisis, of course. What else?"

"My… I'm hardly at the middle of my life, mother," said Castle.

"Of course not, dear," his mother said, patting him on the shoulder. "Don't mind me." And with that, she smiled and left him to his work.

"Well… I'm not." Castle insisted as she left.

After she closed the door, he raised an eyebrow and whispered, "Am I?"

"Got a moment, sir?" Zoe asked as she sat in the co-pilot's chair.

Mal turned to her. "Always," he said. "What is it?"

"I've got a lead on a new crew member."

"A new… Zoe, we can barely look after the crew we got. Why'd we be lookin' for another?"

"He'll be a might young," Zoe continued. "Or she."

Mal set down the instrument he'd been repairing and regarded Zoe. Her flat expression was unreadable. "Zoe, what exactly you tryin' to tell me?"

Zoe's expression didn't change for a moment, but then, to Mal's astonishment, her eyes started to tear up. After wiping her eyes, she said, "I'm pregnant." Then Zoe proceeded to sob, her hands covering her face.

Mal sat back in his chair, his eyes wide. Then his hands started to move as if of their own accord, first here, then there, as if they couldn't work out where to go or what to do. Finally, Mal reached into a pocket then offered Zoe his handkerchief.

After she'd blown her nose, Mal asked, "You sure?"

Zoe nodded. "Doc just confirmed. I knew I'd missed a period or two. Thought it was just due to stress."

When she saw Mal's expression, Zoe smiled through her tears. "Sorry sir. You don't want to be knowin' that I'm actually a woman with periods and all."

Mal winced. Then, hesitantly, he went to Zoe, gave her a light hug, then seated himself.

Both were silent for a time, then Mal's mouth opened and closed. After turning his head back and forth, his mouth opened and closed again. Finally, Mal said, "OK."

"OK," Zoe repeated. "That all you got to say?"

"Um, you can still do this job we got?" Mal asked.

Zoe regarded Mal for a moment then, her expression flat again, said, "Yes, sir." She got up and left the bridge.

Kaylee was waiting for her in the corridor. "How was he?" she asked.

"Clueless," said Zoe, continuing to her cabin.

Kaylee shook her head and replied loudly enough for Mal to hear. "Well, that figures."

Still lost in thought some several minutes after his mother had left, Castle was roused by a text message from Beckett: "At crime scene. Pls join me." This was followed by an address.

Castle got right to his feet. "Good timing, Beckett," Castle said to himself as he closed his laptop. "You've saved me from a morning of self-absorption."

When he reached the address, Castle was puzzled not to see any squad cars, officers, or areas cordoned off. It was an old warehouse district. The warehouse in front of him was in dilapidated condition, with dirty grey paint peeling off the walls, windows coated with so many layers of soot that they were opaque, and a large, double door, open, fairly hanging off its hinges. Above the door, an old sign, faded to near illegibility, proclaimed this the location of the Alliance Lighting Co.

Castle walked up to the door. It was dark inside. Some light from the skylights grudgingly admitted a sprinkling of light, enough for Castle to see that the interior was almost completely empty.

"Beckett?" he called.

There was no reply.

Turning on his phone's flashlight app, Castle entered the warehouse warily. There really seemed to be nothing here but a lot of dust. After a few steps he stopped and called out to Beckett again, louder this time.

This time he heard a muffled response. It was coming... from somewhere off to his right.

Heading in that direction, Castle discerned a structure jutting out from the wall. Perhaps it was a small office. Opening the door, he shone his light inside. It wasn't an office, more like a storage container, with bare metal walls and floor. And there, in the centre of the floor, was Beckett, gagged and tied to a chair.

Castle dashed in and removed Beckett's gag.

"We have to stop meeting like this," he said.

Beckett shook the hair out of her eyes then smiled up at him. "Well, you know, I thought the whole damsel in distress thing turned you on."

Reaching into his pocket for a Swiss Army knife, Castle smiled and said, "You've no idea." He set his phone on her lap and started cutting the cords binding her hands and feet.

"What happened, anyway?" he asked.

But before Beckett could answer, the door behind them slammed shut. Castle dashed back but it was too late. It was locked.

Speechless he and Beckett looked at each other. "Not again!" they both said.

Jayne rolled his eyes as Mal negotiated with the Alliance soldier.

"We've done this sort of thing before," Mal explained. "Probably best we knock you out. You really prefer, we can shoot or stab you somewhere non-vital. You could even get a medal. You know, valor in the face of duty."

They were standing outside a small building on the eastern outskirts of a dusty town on Newhall. Sparsely populated, Newhall served primarily as a way station for transport from the Central to the Rim planets. Aside from the transport station, the town consisted largely of some specialized repair shops, a general store, and a few farms. A reservoir fed by an underground spring supplied drinking water. A water tower mounted on a hill a few hundred feet to the east of town was the only significant landmark.

The soldier considered Mal's proposal. "Sure you won't just give yourselves up? It'd look great on my record."

"Sorry son, that ain't going to happen. So what'll it be then?"

But he never got to decide, falling to the ground as he did in a senseless heap.

Jayne, who'd moved behind the soldier, said, "Was turning into the most gorram boring heist we ever pulled."

Mal sighed. "OK, go in and check out the vault. Zoe and I'll keep watch here. Keep your eyes open, though I ain't expectin' anythin' to go wrong."

Jayne drew his rifle, opened the door, and proceeded slowly down the corridor.

"Somethin's gonna go wrong," Jayne muttered. "Always does."

Mal had received word from an old army buddy that a shipment of medical and food supplies was awaiting transport to the Central planets, though it was desperately needed in the Rim. Those supplies were locked in a vault inside the building. They'd been offered a 50/50 split for the job. Mal's team would acquire the supplies and the others would distribute. Mal had readily agreed.

Jayne hated the jobs that involved folk from Mal's past. They had a way of ending not so well. Mal and Zoe, though, they didn't let go of old allegiances any too easily. Still, this was a payin' job and times had been lean of late. 'Twas money brought him into Serenity's crew. That and his own bunk. A purse that seemed most often near empty might see him leave someday. Not today, but someday.

Slowly making his way along the corridor, Jayne kicked in each door, checked that the room was clear, then moved on. Finally he came to a stairwell that led to the basement. Peering down, he saw that it was empty, then proceeded down the steps.

Castle and Beckett, in complete darkness, moved their hands along the cool metal walls of their prison.

"Anything?" Beckett asked.

"Nada," said Castle. "I can't find so much as a seam, let alone an exit."

A sudden lurch of their prison caused both Castle and Beckett to tumble to the floor.

"You OK?" Castle asked as he picked himself up.

"Fine," said Beckett. "What was that? Earthquake?"

"Could be," Castle said. "Or someone was moving this storage container."

"Well, we didn't move far. We're completely stationary now as far as I can tell." said Beckett.

Castle followed the wall until he reached his fiancé. "Not much we can do," he said. "We may as well make ourselves comfortable until help arrives."

They sat in a corner in the dark, Castle's arm around Beckett, her head on his shoulder.

There was a small landing at the bottom of the steps beyond which was the door to the vault. According to Mal's source, it used a simple electronic lock mechanism that River's device should easily override. Jayne placed the device on the door, entered the key sequence, and stepped back. After a few seconds came the satisfying sound of the door unlocking itself. Jayne smiled and, rifle poised in his right hand, he swung the door open with his left.

It was nearly pitch black inside, but he caught sight of something moving. Shining a light into the vault, his eyes widened in surprise and he stepped back a pace.

"Mal?" Jayne said.

This story is dedicated to Twisha on the auspicious occasion of her birthday.