A Firefly in the Castle

Let's face it. It had to happen...

[Refers to my fan fiction story Goodbye, but is not a direct sequel.]

In the dark of his bedroom, Richard Castle, father, son, author of the Derek Storm and Nikki Heat mysteries, tossed and turned and groaned. Finally, pajamas damp with sweat, he shot up in bed and whispered, "Reavers."

Castle splashed cold water on his face and looked at himself in the mirror of his en suite bathroom, hands braced on the counter.

Cannibals. Again with cannibals. Where do these dreams come from? One night it's cannibals, the next it's a spaceship with a hold full of cattle. Who could make up stuff like this? But it wasn't just the dreams, was it? Once, while chasing down a lead with Beckett, he'd found himself speaking Mandarin. He'd joked that he picked it up watching television, but where on Earth had that come from? He knew no Mandarin whatsoever, yet the Asians had understood him perfectly. Maybe he was the reincarnation of the last Emperor of China. Wouldn't that be something? That still wouldn't explain the cannibal dreams. Or the cows in the spaceship. Shaking his head, he went back to bed, hoping for a dreamless sleep.

The man on 5th Avenue, New York City was remarkable, not for what he was doing, but for what he was not doing. For amongst the noon-time throng of people, he was the only one not in motion. Content for the moment to stand and gaze about him, passersby shuffled around him and assumed he was another lost tourist. He wore a long, brown coat over a dark, mauve shirt, leather suspenders, beige pants, and dusty, dark boots. Hidden beneath the coat, holstered to his right leg, was a gun. It was a gun that none of the passersby would have recognized.

This is a right-fine town, thought Malcolm Reynolds. A might dangerous, though, at least until he'd learned not to cross the street when the overhead light was red. The folks weren't so bad, least-ways, those that didn't try to rob him. Those that did, well, they'd learned the error of their ways quick enough.

Mal started walking again, maneuvering through the crowd with practiced ease. No worse than flying through an asteroid field, he thought. Stopping to stare at a long, red transport making a loud, high-pitched racket, Mal felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned towards a teenage girl with long red hair. Mal blinked. She seemed familiar somehow.

"Can I help you, miss?" Mal asked.

The girl looked Mal up and down.

"A space cowboy? Again? Dad, it's not even Halloween."

A space cowboy? Well, thought Mal, it kind of fits at that. "Sorry, miss, I think you have me mistaken for someone else."

"What, so space cowboys don't have daughters?"

"Well... this one doesn't."

"OK, I'll play along. So where are we going?"

"I'm going to meet a guy about a job. You're going somewhere else."

Mal turned and continued walking, but the girl came up alongside of him. She wasn't giving up.

"So what do you need a job for? You're already a writer and you moonlight as a police consultant. Finding yourself with too much time on your hands?"

Mal stopped again. "A writer. Miss, who exactly is your father?"

The girl stopped and sighed with exasperation. "You? OK, right. You're a space cowboy now."

"My name is Malcolm Reynolds. Captain. And you are?"

"Your bored daughter. Are you really going to pretend you're not my father?"

"Just play along for a minute. Now, who is your father?"

"Richard Castle. Happy now?"

"Your father is Richard Castle?"

With a sigh and a role of her eyes, the girl nodded.

"And you're Alexis Castle. So it's true. Well," said Mal, smiling, "this is going to be interesting."

Ensconced in his office, oblivious to the outside world, Richard Castle sat back in his workstation chair and pondered Nikki Heat's latest dilemma. Knocked unconscious, she had been bound and gagged with duct tape in Rook's penthouse loft. Now what? Scenarios ran through his head like outtakes from a movie, each discarded in turn.

Gradually, Castle became aware that the doorbell was ringing. Sighing, he did what he usually did with distractions. He ignored it. In a moment, however, someone started pounding the door. Hard. With a shake of his head, Castle closed the laptop and rose from his desk. "I'm coming!" he yelled over the din.

Unlocking the door, Castle yanked it open. "And what is so urgent..." he began, and trailed off to silence. In front of him, dressed in his favorite Halloween costume, was... himself. Both men's faces wore the same blank look. Alexis came from around the corner in the hallway, pale and silent, eyes darting from one man to the other and back again.

Recovering first, Castle said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Well, this is going to be interesting."

Serenity, the Firefly-class transport boat captained by Malcolm Reynolds, former sergeant with the Independents during the Unification war, accelerated sleekly through space on route to Jiangyin. In stark contrast to his boat, Mal lurched to the galley, poured himself some black coffee, and dropped into one of the chairs.

"You look even more like crap than usual," observed Jayne while wolfing down the eggs, sausages, and toast that River had prepared.

Regarding Mal for a moment, Simon finished sipping his coffee and asked, "Hard night?"

"It's those dreams again, Doctor. The same ones. There's a dead body. The torso is covered with rose petals and the eyes are covered with sunflowers. A wall, covered with pictures of faces, arrows and notes I can't quite read. Then there's the women, the two red-headed women: a girl and someone older. I'll admit none of that is cause to be disturbed, but it disturbs me nevertheless."

"Perhaps," suggested Inara, almost concealing a smile, "you were dreaming about Saffron."

"I said it was a dream," Mal replied, taking another sip of the steaming coffee. "Not a nightmare."

"Speaking of dreams, sir," Zoe chimed in as she entered the galley, "does this job seem too good to be true?"

"Altogether," replied Mal, almost nodding off. He jerked awake again and added, "We'd best go in with our eyes wide open."

"I don't mind stealin' from the rich," said Jayne, thoughtfully, for him, "or from the Alliance. And if we can kill two birds with one stone, well that's shiny. But books?"

"Not our usual cargo, I admit," answered Mal. "But these books are valuable. At least to those who collect such things. And our buyer is willing to pay a pretty penny for these ones. So books."

Zoe shook her head. "The residence is isolated and poorly guarded. Something ain't right. And that client. Seemed scared almost that we wouldn't take the job, and didn't try to talk us down from our price."

"Well, it's like I said," Mal replied. "Eyes open."

River had easily disabled the alarm systems and Jayne handily silenced the sole security guard on the premises. When they entered the library, Mal and Zoe found themselves in a large room, jam-packed with shelves that were stuffed with books, more than they had ever seen in one place.

Zoe's eye was attracted to one shelf in particular. The books here were placed so you could see the front cover of each. And they were the very books they'd been contracted to steal, including Sir Walter Scott: Ivanhoe, Charles Dickens: Dombey and Son, John Steinbeck: East of Eden, and Richard Castle: Naked Heat. Smiling at the latter title, Zoe picked up the book and browsed the story outline on the inside of the jacket. A crime story. How appropriate. Putting the book back, Zoe's eyes widened when she noticed the large photo on the back. "Sir," she called, "you're going to want to see this."

Taking the book from Zoe, Mal studied the photo. "This is no coincidence. This is a message. Someone wanted me to see this, and something tells me it wasn't the Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng who hired us."

Mal pocketed the book and strode towards the door.

"Sir, what about the other books?" asked Zoe.

"Leave them. I want to pay our nervous friend another visit."

When Mal burst through the front door, pistol in hand, the man seated casually on the sofa in front of him was smiling. Alright, Mal admitted to himself, not quite the reaction I was expecting.

He was middle-aged, muscular, with silver streaks throughout his brown hair. With his square jaw, relaxed expression, and clear blue eyes, he seemed... trustworthy. Mal pushed that thought aside.

"Captain Reynolds," said the man. "I see you got my message."

Mal withdrew the book from his coat pocket with his left hand, pistol still at the ready in his right. "Your middle man gave you up. He gave you up so easily that you obviously wanted me to find you. Now here I am."

"And do you know who I am?"

"My crew has become somewhat adept at intercepting Alliance codes and penetrating their databases. You don't exist. And that can mean only one thing."

"Very good. You're getting close to the truth. Yes, I'm an operative of the Alliance. Now, would it surprise you if I told you that I had work for you?"

Mal paused, working on not letting the surprise show on his face. Nothing about any of this was turning out as he expected. "You know who I am, and you think that I would take on a job for the Alliance?"

The operative smiled. "Before we talk about that, let's talk about your family."

"Let's not," answered Mal decisively.

"Specifically, let's talk about your brother," the operative continued smoothly. "Did you know that you have a brother?"

Mal looked closely at the operative's face but didn't see a lie. "Where?" he asked.

The operative smiled. "The question isn't so much where, as when."

For a moment, Mal's perfect poker face softened into a frown. Then he glanced at the photo on the back of the book jacket and back to the operative, whose smile broadened.

Recovering, Mal stepped closer to the operative. "It sounds like you have a story you want to tell. So tell it."

"It starts, perhaps, with a scientist by the name of Ignatiaf. You've heard of him?"

"Can't say as I have," Mal replied evenly.

"I see. In that case, you aren't aware that he perished earlier this year when his laboratory exploded on Persephone. He'd been experimenting with a primitive form of time travel."

"Sounds dangerous."

"Indeed. Now, let us suppose his work was carried on. Let us suppose further that in time the technology was perfected. And lastly, let us suppose that it was... advantageous for the Alliance to influence history in certain ways."

"Tell you what. Let us suppose you've spun enough fairy tales and get to the point."

"Ah, but this is the point. Because the work was carried on. The technology was perfected. And history has been influenced."

"And all of this happened this year?"

"Not this year, but over the course of fifty years."

"Fifty years." Mal stopped short to process this. "Now you're telling me that you're from the future? Fifty years in the future?"

The operative said nothing.

"You've gone this far. Finish what you have to say. Then I'll decide what I'm going to do with you."

"Of course, time travel isn't the only science to have matured in fifty years. So has genetics. In particular, the process of cloning." And now he looked directly into Mal's eyes. "Human cloning."

When Mal said nothing, the operative continued. "Our attempts to influence history directly were unsuccessful. We learned that a better approach was to seed time streams with people bearing the desired characteristics. People, in other words, who could make things happen. Clones of one particularly promising embryo were implanted in two women in two time streams. One in the year 1971, on Earth. This individual became a writer of fiction." At this point, the operative glanced at the book in Mal's hand. "The second, 32 years ago. This individual became a sergeant in the Independents army during the Unification war, and later, the captain of a cargo boat." At this point he paused. "Need I go on?"

His head reeling and his gun wavering, Mal sat down on a chair. After a moment of indecision he holstered the gun. The room was silent for a time as Mal thought furiously. "You're saying that the Alliance created me." Then with a lopsided smile, he added, "So how's that working out for you?"

"I can truly say that you exceeded our expectations. You're surprised, and rightly so. Our plan is known to a small number, an inner circle within an inner circle, if you like, within the Alliance of your time. This inner circle has been watching over you. At times, protecting you."

"This just gets better and better. And how exactly has the Alliance ever protected me?"

"You recently had some experience with an Alliance operative from your time. It was known that this operative favoured disabling his opponents by paralyzing them with a strike to a particular nerve cluster. It was also known that, in your case, this nerve cluster had been moved, thus giving you an advantage. That is why the operative was selected."

After a pause, the operative continued. "And we have protected you in other ways that we need not discuss at the moment."

Mal could only shake his head. "This is a pretty fantastic yarn. You about finished?"

"Almost. We have now come to the point where we can discuss the work I mentioned earlier. You see, outward appearances aside, the Alliance is not always completely unified from within. In my time, certain elements inside the Alliance oppose our temporal interventions and are working to undo them. One particularly important intervention is currently at risk. As it happens, your 20th century brother did one important thing: he bore a daughter. And that daughter, well, let's just say she's going to do something very important indeed. A renegade operative has gone back in time, we believe, to murder the daughter. Your niece, as it were. We want you to stop him. To save the life of your niece."

"Stop him," repeated Mal. "You want to send me back in time. I don't know whether to laugh and shoot you or just shoot you. You haven't offered me a shred of proof of what you say."

"Ah. Proof. I believe, Captain Reynolds, that is what you are holding in your hand."

Mal looked dumbly at the photo on the back of the book.

"You will be compensated for your intervention, of course."

Mal waved his hand dismissively. "I've got no problems taking Alliance money when it's not offered. That doesn't mean I'm going to accept it when it is." Then he thought, I must be crazy. I'm actually going to do this.

"The last time I faced one of your operatives it was a near thing, even with an 'advantage'. Who's to say I can succeed?"

"As before, Captain Reynolds, you will have an advantage. In this case, the operative will not attempt to kill you."

"And why is that?"

"Ah. For that, I'm afraid you'll just have to trust me."

"Trust you? Is that a joke? Even if I do this, and I succeed, how do I know you'll bring me back?"

"Come now. We don't want you meddling with history, now do we? Besides, the Alliance may have need of your services in the future."

"Now let's just be clear about this," said Mal grimly, rising and moving right up to the operative. "My own kin are in danger and I'm going to help them. That doesn't mean I will ever become one of your puppets."

The operative didn't reply with words. Instead, his smile simply broadened.

"You know," said Mal, "I'm starting to hate it when you smile."

In Castle's apartment, Alexis was seated next to her father on the sofa. Clutching his arm, her gaze was still torn between him and Mal.

"So," Castle began, "Obvious questions first. Who are you?"

Mal was standing, seemingly restless. Taking the copy of Naked Heat from his coat pocket, he tossed it on the coffee table in front of Castle.

Castle's jaw fell almost as hard as the book. He picked it up, turned it over and flipped through the pages.

"Where did you get this? I haven't even finished this yet. I've only just approved the artwork for the cover."

After a moment he added, "It looks old. Very old. How can that be?"

With Mal not offering an answer, Castle thought furiously. Then his eyebrows shot up.

"No. Way. You're from the future?"

Nodding, Mal turned and started to examine the apartment.

"Well, how cool is that!" Looking at Alexis, Castle gibbered excitedly. "This is great. I hit a roadblock this morning, but now I know how the whole book will play out."

"You've got bigger problems than writing some fairy tale," Mal admonished. "Much bigger."

Continuing his examination of the apartment, including line of sight from the windows, Mal finally introduced himself. "My name is Malcolm Reynolds." Turning to look at Castle, he added, "My friends call me Mal." Then continuing his reconnoitre of the apartment, he continued. "I never knew my father. How about you?"

"No, I never did."

"Turns out there's a reason for that. You and I, we're brothers. Clones, to be precise. Don't ask how or why. It's a long story and truthfully and I don't understand it all myself. What I do know is that someone else from the future is here, or soon will be, and he's aiming to kill your daughter."

Castle and Alexis look at each other.

"You mean, like a Terminator?" Alexis asked. "A cyborg from the future?"

"Cyborg?" replied Mal. "This isn't one of your father's fairy tales. We're talking about a flesh-and-blood man. Someone very dangerous."

"Sorry," Alexis replied, miffed. "We have a time travelling space cowboy in our living room. I thought maybe there could be cyborgs too."

Shaken, Castle set the book down. "But why? What has Alexis done? Why her?"

"It's not what she's done, but what she's going to do."

"And what's that?" Alexis asked with a smirk. "Lead the resistance against the machines?"

Mal came up to Alexis and bent over so their faces were very close. "You seem to think this is a joke. It's not. I know the kind of people who are behind this, and you should be scared. Very scared."

After a pause, Mal straightened and continued. "The last time I met someone like this, two of my crew died, not to mention hundreds of innocent people. Men, women and children."

Alexis shrank back into the sofa under his gaze and became even paler than before.

"I know we've just met," Mal said, softening his tone somewhat, "but we're blood. You're my niece in fact, and I ain't aimin' to let you get killed."

Continuing his tour of the apartment, Mal stopped in front of a photo. It depicted a middle-aged woman, eye's beaming, red-hair flowing. Picking up the photo, Mal asked, "Who is this?"

"My mother, Martha Rodgers." Castle replied. "She's out of town for the week. But why do you ask?"

"Redheads. I've had dreams about redheads. One older, this could be her in fact, and..." Mal looked closely at Alexis, "... and one younger." Turning to Castle, he added, "I've dreamt about your mother and daughter. How is that possible?"

Castle shook his head. "Talk about strange dreams. I've dreamt about cannibals and a spaceship full of cows. How crazy is that?"

Mal was stunned and took a moment to reply. "Turns out, not all that crazy."

After another pause, Castle's eyes widened. Mal nodded and continued. "You and I, we've been somehow connected all along, even though we're centuries apart."

Castle's eyes twinkled as he rubbed his hands together. Looking at Alexis, he said, "This just gets better and better."

"Um, Dad," reminded Alexis, "are you forgetting the part where someone's trying to kill me?"

"Oh. Right," replied Castle quietly.

For some time the apartment was silent with Mal, Castle and Alexis lost in their respective thoughts. So, when the doorbell rang, everyone jumped.

"You expecting someone?" asked Mal.

Getting to his feet, Castle shook his head and started towards the door.

"Just a minute," said Mal. "Alexis, come here behind me."

Alexis looked at her father, who nodded. Mal positioned himself against a wall, in line of sight with the door. With Alexis shielded behind him, Mal drew his pistol and aimed it at the door.

"OK," he said. "Go ahead. Carefully. If you don't know him, then get rid of him. Or drop."

Looking at Mal, Castle said, "This is really real, isn't it?"

Mal nodded slightly and motioned towards the door.

Taking a moment to steady himself, Castle opened the door slightly, then sighed with relief.

"Beckett," he said. "It's really not a good time."

In the hallway, puzzled that Castle didn't invite her in, Kate Beckett replied, "You weren't answering your phone."

She tried to peek through the crack in the doorway, her concern increasing. "What are you hiding in there anyway?" she joked, her hand on her revolver. "A starlet?"

Castle, wondering what he should do, turned his head towards Mal. While he was distracted, the doorway opened slightly further. Beckett saw an outstretched arm and pistol.

Giving the door a powerful shove, Beckett entered, both hands gripping her revolver, as Castle stumbled back, off-balance. "LAPD!" Beckett announced. "Drop your weapon!"

Beckett and Mal stood just a few feet apart, weapons trained on each other. Without taking his eyes off of Beckett, Mal asked Castle, "Friend of yours?"

"Wait," said Beckett, "Is that even a real gun?"

"A Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model B in point of fact. You really don't want to find out just how real it is," Mal replied levelly.

Castle moved beside Beckett. "He's my brother. If it's all the same to you, can you please not shoot him?"

"Your brother?" Looking at Mal closely now, she asked, "Your twin brother?"

"Not exactly," answered Mal.

"Please," said Castle. "Both of you."

Beckett glanced at Castle who nodded, his eyes pleading. Beckett looked back at Mal.

"Together?" Mal suggested.

Beckett nodded and slowly lowered her gun. Mal gave his a few backward twirls and slipped it neatly into his holster.

Castle and Beckett both stared. Looking at them, Mal asked, "What?"

Castle grinned. "You've got to teach me to do that."

"Castle," queried Beckett, "would you care to tell me what's going on here?"

"I don't think you'd believe me if I told you," Castle replied.

"I doubt anything you tell me would be crazier than how my day started. That's why I came to get you. You'll love this. We have a man in custody who claims he's from the future."

Castle, Alexis and Mal all looked at each other. Puzzled, Beckett asked, "Am I missing something?"

Beckett glanced at her passenger as she drove back to the station. It was hard to believe he wasn't Castle. But he wasn't. He said his name was Malcolm Reynolds, and, like her suspect, he believed he was from the future. What was going on here?

"You know, you've obviously convinced Castle that your cockimamy story is true. He kept your gun, if it is a gun, and he's never used one in his life. And you've managed to spook Alexis. She wouldn't let her father out of her sight. But I don't buy it for a minute. The only reason you're here is that Castle made me promise to take you."

"As to whether you believe me or not," replied Mal, "it's really not my concern. All I care about is protecting my niece."

Beckett shook her head. The best thing was to stick to her plan. Get these two crazies together and see what happened. She decided to pump him for information. See if there were any inconsistencies in his story.

"So what makes you think you can protect Alexis, anyway. Do you have any training?"

Mal smiled. "You might say that. I commanded over a thousand soldiers in the war. Since then, well, I've been in a scrap or two."

Beckett turned to him. "And which war was this?"

"It hasn't happened yet, from your perspective."

"Right," said Beckett, nodding. "A war in the future. Convenient that there's not a shred of evidence to back up what you say."

At that point, the car in front stopped short and Beckett jammed on the brakes. Mal commented, "The way you drive, you could use some grav dampers in this vehicle."

"Never mind how I drive. And believe me, I get enough Star Trek references from Castle. Don't you start as well."

Puzzled, Mal simply replied, "OK."

Beckett paused, thinking what angle to pursue next. "Speaking of Star Trek, you claim that now you fly a spaceship."

Mal smiled. "I'm the Captain. I have a small crew. They're like family. The closest thing I have. Leastways, until I found out I had a brother."

"And what do you do with your spaceship?"

"Carry cargo mostly. We do whatever work we can get to keep fuel in the engines and food on the table." He paused, then added with a smile, "We're still flying."

"And how did you get here anyway? How are you getting back?"

"My underwear," Mel replied with a lopsided grin. "It's shiny in more ways than one."

"And what's that supposed to mean? No, wait. On second thought, I don't want to know."

At the station, Esposito called out, "Hey, Castle!" as Beckett and Mal walked by.

"Nice suspenders," commented Ryan.

"He's not Castle," said Beckett without pausing.

"What do you mean he's not Castle?" queried Esposito. "Sure he is."

Beckett turned her head. "Trust me, he's not."

Looking at each other, Esposito and Ryan both called out, "OK. Hey, not Castle!"

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Ryan asked.

"I wouldn't miss this," replied Esposito. Then they both scrambled up from their desks and followed Beckett and Mal.

As they passed the murder board, Mal stopped. "That's it," he said.

Beckett also stopped. "What's it?"

"That wall. I've seen it when I dream."

Beckett shook her head. "And I think I must be having a nightmare."

Grabbing a file folder from her desk, Beckett led Mal to the interrogation room.

Beckett dropped the folder onto the table and took a seat. Mal sat to her right. Across from them sat a man, handcuffed, in his thirties, medium build, with short fair hair, dark eyes, and a prominent chin. He seemed perfectly at ease.

At the sight of Mal, the man's eyes widened for a moment, then he smiled ironically. "Well, they are resourceful, aren't they?"

Beckett turned to Mal, puzzled. "Do you know him?"

"Can't say as I do," replied Mal truthfully. "Who are you?"

"You already know the answer to that," he replied. "I don't have a name. I have no family. I don't exist."

"No?" said Beckett. "You look plenty real to me."

She opened the folder and withdrew two photos. One was of a woman, dead, lying on a sidewalk. The other was of the suspect with his right arm around the throat of a struggling young girl.

"This is Sandra Dudek, wife and mother to a twelve-year old daughter. We have a dozen witnesses who say you walked up to her, snapped her neck, and then grabbed and threatened her daughter. Right in front of our police station. That's you with your arm around her throat, and that's how the police found you when you were taken into custody. What I want to know is, why?"

Still smiling, the man looked at Mal and said, "I think you know why."

Mal nodded slowly. "So that you could be here. In this room. To find out who the Alliance had sent to stop you."

Beckett was taken aback when the man nodded. Could there be a grain of truth to Mal's story?

Her voice rising, Beckett demanded, "Are you saying you killed an innocent woman at random just to get our attention?"

When he said nothing, she tried again. "My friend here alleges that you've threatened the life of his niece. Is this true?"

Ignoring Beckett, the operative addressed Mal: "Alexis Castle will be dead within 24 hours."

In one swift move, Mal flipped open Beckett's holster, withdrew her Glock 17, and stood, training the weapon on the operative. Beckett yelled and tried to stop him, but Mal only switched the gun to his right hand and held her at bay with his left. As he started to squeeze the trigger, Mal said, "The only one that will be dead is you."

At that moment, Ryan and Esposito burst in, each grabbing one of Mal's arms. As they wrestled with him, Ryan looked at Esposito and said, "Guess he isn't Castle after all."

The air in the car was thick as Beckett drove Mal back to Castle's apartment.

"You know," she said finally, "you're lucky you're not rotting in a cell yourself. Nobody takes my gun from me."

Mal, his face dark with anger, erupted: "Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze!"

"What? So you know some Mandarin. Am I supposed to be impressed?"

Trying to calm himself, Mal added, "If my niece dies because of what you did..."

"Nothing's going to happen to Alexis," Beckett snapped back. "That man is locked up in a building with a hundred police officers. He's not going anywhere."

Turning to Beckett, Mal responded, "You still don't get it, do you? He was only there because he wanted to be there. You have no idea who you're dealing with or what he's capable of. I do. And now Alexis' life is in danger because of you."

Beckett kept her eyes on the road. She was still fuming when her phone rang. Flipping her phone open, she spat out, "Beckett." Then after a moment, "What? What do you mean? How?" She turned to Mal who was shaking his head. Her eyes wide, Beckett terminated the call.

"He's escaped." There was shock in her face. "Two officers are dead. Esposito is on his way to the hospital with a broken arm. I have to go back."

"No!" commanded Mal. Then he softened. "No, please. We know where he's going. We have to get there first."

Still looking at him, Beckett nodded, started the siren, and sped on to Castle's apartment.

"We should leave," Castle said. "Get Alexis to a safe house."

"There's nowhere that's safe," Mal said, shaking his head, "and there's no point in running. He'll find her. Sooner or later. The longer we hide, the higher the death toll. We need to face him. We need to stop him now."

"You said his type have killed hundreds. What's to stop him from just blowing up the building, and us along with it?" Castle asked.

"That's our advantage," replied Mal. "He won't do anything that might kill me."

"Oh?" said Beckett. "And why is that?"

"As to that," said Mal with an ironic smile, "you'll just have to trust me."

Beckett snorted. "Trust you? The only reason I'm evening listening to you is because of Castle."

"You had it your way once," said Mal, "and that didn't work out so well."

Beckett turned away. "Look," Mal continued, reaching out to her, "as it happens, I have a plan. I think it's a good one. But I can't do it alone."

"Is anyone going to ask me what I think?" Alexis asked.

Walking over to her, Castle took her in his arms and they held each other for a moment. Releasing her, Castle said, "Alexis, honey, what do you think we should do?"

"I don't want to spend the rest of my life on the run. I agree with Mal. With my uncle. Let's stop this. Let's terminate the bastard."

Mal and Castle had finally emerged from the study where they'd been sequestered for several minutes. Beckett had been getting impatient and was about to speak when Mal cut her off.

"No more talking. Let's get into position and be ready."

Now it was evening. The only light came from the city through the living room windows, casting long shadows throughout the apartment. Beckett was positioned close to the door, Mal near the window, and Castle in the centre of the living room. Everything was quiet.

Until the quiet was shattered by the sound of breaking glass as the operative crashed into the apartment through the living room window. Blinded by flying glass, Mal was helpless as the operative made a quick jab at his throat, temporarily blocking his windpipe. Then, in one smooth move, the operative kicked his legs out from under him and pushed down on his chest, sending Mal crashing to the floor, out cold.

Taking out her gun, Beckett muttered, "A lot of good he was."

As the operative stooped to pick up Mal's gun, Castle jumped onto his back, trying to take him down. As reward for his efforts, he got an elbow in the midsection, knocking the wind out of him. As he fell, Beckett, who had been ready with her pistol, let off three rounds. They all missed as their target ducked and rolled over to the sofa.

Beckett approached the sofa cautiously. Swift as lightning the operative popped up and tossed a heavy ornament at her. As she tried to block it he reached her, grabbed her gun, and stunned her with a blow to the chin. When she came to moments later, the operative was handcuffing her to the staircase railing. "Appropriate, don't you think?" he said. She frantically searched her pocket with her free hand as he walked away.

"Looking for this?" the operative asked, holding up the key to her handcuffs. In his other hand, he had her gun. Striding across the room, he tossed them both out the broken window.

With that done, he grabbed Castle and hoisted him roughly to his feet. Placing him in a choke hold, his left arm around Castle's neck, the operative called out to Alexis.

"It's over, Alexis. Come out and your father will live. If not, I'll kill him then kill you anyway."

There was no response. Beckett struggled frantically but was unable to escape the cuffs. She called out, "Mal! Mal!" and hammered the floor with her fist in frustration. "You useless, delusional, son of a..."

"There, there," the operative admonished with a smile. "Anyone can be taken by surprise."

The smile faded then, and the operative called out again to Alexis, "Ten seconds, then your father dies."

Castle started making gurgling noises. The operative loosened his hold just enough to allow him to speak.

"You know," said Castle, "on this world, people say that clothes make the man. As for me, I do not hold to that."

As the operative's eyes widened with understanding, Castle touched his left forearm with three of his right hand fingers. The operative was jolted by an electric shock, dropped like a stone, and lay twitching on the floor.

"Castle?" said Beckett in amazement. "What just happened?"

Castle grinned. "I told you in the vehicle. Shiny underwear."

She digested that. "Mal?" Beckett asked. Mal nodded.

Scooping up his gun, Mal said, "We changed clothes in the office. Sorry for not telling you, but I wanted your reaction to all this to seem as genuine as possible."

Mal aimed his gun at the operative, still prostrate on the floor.

"Ca... Mal," called Beckett, "What are you doing? Wait, no, you can't just kill him in cold blood."

"He's already killed three people," Mal explained. "That we know of. All that matters to him is the mission. He won't stop until Alexis is dead." Mal fired. "Or he is."

Turning to Beckett, he nodded at his weapon and said, "Real gun."

Kneeling down, Mal touched the operative's sleeve several times then stepped back. Beckett's jaw dropped when the operative vanished.

"Where did he go?" she asked weakly.

"I burst his bubble. Literally. The time bubble that brought him here. He's back to where he came from," Mal replied. "Somewhat worse for the wear, if truth be told."

Turning to Castle, Mal helped him to his feet.

"That was some bravery you showed there," Mal said. "Your daughter should be proud of you, as am I."

"Thanks," said Castle, holding his aching head in his hand. The two brother looked at each other and gave each other a big hug. Castle then turned on the lights and called out to Alexis, using the safe word they had agreed upon. "Alexis Connor, it's over."'

Alexis emerged from the secret lair off of Castle's study, took in the scene in front of her, and ran to her father, hugging him tightly.

"Wait a minute," Castle said. "We switched clothes. How did you know it was me?"

"Well, frankly Dad, you look like you've had the crap beaten out of you. Mal here looks the same as ever. I just figured..." she trailed off with a smile.

"And now, brother," said Mal laughing, "what say we trade clothes? It's getting near time for me to leave, and I'm rather attached to that coat."

Mal was gone. He had said his goodbyes, then activated the suit under his clothes, bursting the time bubble. He vanished with a puzzled expression on his face as Castle had held up his right hand, fingers separated, and told him, "Live long and prosper." Beckett and Alexis shared a look, each shaking their heads. Without saying a word, Beckett had asked, Will he ever grow up? And Alexis had silently answered, No, but isn't that what we love about him?

Castle had called Ryan to come and release Beckett from the cuffs. Seeing Beckett handcuffed, the window broken, Castle bruised and limping, and the blood pool on the floor, Ryan was stunned. He had started to query her when Beckett cut him off.

"I have a really bad headache," she said, "and I've no idea what I'm going to say in my report. It's over. Let's just leave it at that for now."

Now Beckett, Castle and Alexis sat by the kitchen, drinking coffee, recovering from the shock of their ordeal.

"You know, it's already starting to feel like a dream," said Castle.

"Some dream," Beckett replied. "And with both of them gone, there's no evidence that this actually happened."

"But just think about it. My brother. Captain of a spaceship." Then his face lit up. "I think that Malcolm Reynolds just might make an appearance in the next Nikki Heat book!"


The story references characters and situations in TV episodes and movies. Here they are if you're interested:

One night it's cannibals [Serenity]

spaceship with a hold full of cattle [Firefly: "Shindig"]

found himself speaking Mandarin [Castle: "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind"]

"A space cowboy? Again? Dad, it's not even Halloween." [Castle: "Vampire Weekend"]

The torso is covered with rose petals and the eyes are covered with sunflowers [Castle: "Flowers for Your Grave"]

"Perhaps," suggested Inara, almost concealing a smile, "you were dreaming about Saffron." [Firefly: "Our Mrs. Reynolds"]

You recently had some experience with an Alliance operative from your time [Serenity]

I think that Malcolm Reynolds just might make an appearance in the next Nikki Heat book! [Heat Rises, chapter 16]