Paint the Town Red
Summary: To solve the murder of a young woman, Beckett and Castle take their case into an underworld of Slayers and the supernatural. …Looks like Buffy is visiting the Big Apple after all.
Disclaimer: I owneth not, rather I owe—debts of gratitude to two good friends, one who introduced me to "Buffy" and one who introduced me to "Castle". Thanks, R.B and S.Y—if I owned them, I'd share with you.
Author's Note on Continuity: I am as up-to-date as it is possible to be with "Castle" and will try very hard not to contradict things that have been previously established. As for "Buffy", I have not read the comics, and have been advised not to do so. So everything that happens After Sunnydale is made up by me. But I'm really trying to make it ring true and have had loads of fun inventing and inferring a Slayer 'culture'. This is set in "Castle" mid-Season Three, "Buffy" about four years after Season Seven. The years have been altered and meddled with to make them congruous, so please don't point out to me that they don't match up.
ON WITH THE SHOW!
Chapter One: Dead Things
When she came down the stairs on Wednesday morning, Alexis could hear the sounds of her father writing in his study—laptop keys clicking, a piece of the playlist she'd put together last Christmas for him to listen to while he worked, and shapeless mumbles of self-congratulation and self-criticism as he wrote. Not wanting to interrupt him, she surveyed the fruit options available for breakfast. Unfortunately, the orange she grabbed from one of the bowls slipped from her hand and dropped into the sink, causing two sounds—an echoing metallic thunk, and a word from the study that Alexis was reasonably sure she was not meant to know.
"Dad?" she called, retrieving the errant orange. "You all right in there?"
"Alexis? Oh." Rick Castle appeared in the open doorway, still dressed in the sweats he'd been wearing when she'd gone to bed the night before, but now with a laptop tucked under one arm. "What was that?"
She waved half a peeled orange at him. "Don't worry, Dad, I'll save you from the terrifying citrus." Through a mouthful of orange, she added, "Unless it's a mutant space orange, in which case I'm sure to become a fruit zombie, infecting the helpless citizens of New York with an overwhelming desire for healthy food."
"Then what would we do with the bacon?" he asked no one in particular.
"Speaking of, how was the monster movie marathon?"
Castle left his laptop on the couch in passing and stole an orange segment from his daughter. "Oh, it was lots of fun. You should have stayed."
"School night, Dad. Remember? Did you get any sleep at all?"
He pulled a sour-orange face. "I may have dozed off at one point—which would explain a lot, actually, because I really don't think the zombie flick I was watching at the time was supposed to have whales in it." A moment's thoughtful pause yielded, "Attack of the zombie whales…has Hollywood done that yet?"
Alexis abandoned the rest of her orange to her father's mooching and tossed away the peel. While she rinsed her sticky hands, she replied, "If they did, I have erased all memory of it in self-defense. Sure you want to be writing after last night? Somehow I don't think your next book needs zombie whales."
"Oh, please, as if my writing could be influenced by outside forces," he scoffed.
"Uh-huh. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't your main character entirely influenced by 'outside forces'? And what about that time you wrote three pages of Lord of the Rings into a Derrick Storm scene after watching "Fellowship of the Ring" every night for a week?"
"You are entirely too clever for your own good," Castle defended. He had rewritten parts of "Fellowship" into his story by accident, and hadn't caught it until two chapters later. Alexis had never let him live it down. "And I can assure you that absolutely no werewolves, ghosts, banshees, or zombies will besiege Nikki Heat in the near future. …Unless they're chemically controlled humans that act like zombies, which might be kind of cool, now that I think of it."
"Check," Alexis reminded him, "just in case." Grabbing her backpack from its resting place in the hallway, she added as she waved goodbye, "But no whales! See you later, Dad!"
"Bye, honey," Castle called after her, carefully controlling the instinct to startle again as the door slammed behind her. All-night horror movie marathons really were much more fun with someone else, even if he had seen some of them before. He eyed his abandoned laptop suspiciously. Maybe he should reread what he'd just written. Somehow, he doubted Beckett would be very amused if Nikki Heat did suddenly end up confronting Frankenstein's monster. His editor wouldn't like it either, but really, Beckett was the more immediate concern.
Extremely immediate, as it happened—when his phone rang, Castle nearly knocked it off the countertop in a frantic snatch. With no one around to notice, he was unaware of the way his face lit up at the sight of the caller ID.
"Good morning, Detective Beckett," he began effusively. "So tell me, what are we going to do today?"
Beckett had warned him over the phone that she was running a bit late and he would probably get to the crime scene first, but that didn't stop him from scanning the familiar faces of the 12th Precinct cops in hopes of seeing her. True to her word, she hadn't arrived yet, although he did catch sight of Detective Ryan talking to one of the bystanders that always seemed to congregate at and around crime scenes. Maybe the guy was a witness.
Castle would have waved, but he was holding a mug from that one little coffee shop he knew Beckett liked in each hand, and anyway, Ryan and Esposito had told him not to wave at them anymore, because 'seriously, man, we see you'. He caught Ryan's eye and nodded instead, and was rewarded with a gesture directing him up a flight of exterior stairs that were exposed to the street below.
In addition to the crime scene tape being put up all around, sections of movable metal construction fences were scattered like dropped raw spaghetti. They had probably formed a barrier between the street and the abandoned-looking building, before a detachment of homicide cops had moved in and taken over. Rather than packing all of them out of the way at once, they had just been moved whenever necessary in whichever direction seemed most convenient.
After two stories of metal stairs that seemed more rickety by the moment, Castle followed the sound of crime scene cameras to a small room that went beyond Spartan and would have seemed unremarkable, were it not for the body on the floor and the dark and sticky stain surrounding it.
"Morning, Castle," Lanie greeted him without even looking up from her work on and around the corpse.
"Hi," he responded automatically, too busy staring to come up with a more coherent reply. The dead woman lying on the floor with her hands crossed over her chest had been young, white, and petite. Her eyes were still half-open. Based on the sturdy and very serviceable boots, she had probably been dressed casually, but it was hard to tell. She, her clothes, and the floor beneath her were coated in drying blood. Her short, tightly-cropped hair might have been reddish-brown, but then again that might have been the blood in it. On a warmer day, it would have stunk, and the cool air already had a nasty, metallic tang that made Castle want to break out the Tic-Tacs. He wished he'd thought to bring Tic-Tacs for everyone, and resolved to bring several boxes to the very next crime scene to which he was invited.
"So I'm guessing the cause of death was exsanguination?" Castle asked as Lanie gathered another tiny sample from the body. "The splatter pattern's really weird…"
"Give the man a cigar," Lanie snarked. She'd just ruined a nice pair of pants in the puddle of blood surrounding the corpse, and would have appreciated some Tic-Tacs if Castle had thought to bring some. "That's because the pattern's not natural. The wound's too small."
"Wound? Singular, as in one wound? That must be a hell of a hole," he blurted.
The pretty M.E. finally looked up at him, if only to see the expression on his face. "Not exactly," she hedged. "Just hold your horses until Beckett gets here so I don't have to repeat myself; okay, Castle?"
He nodded mutely and tried to stay still, despite wanting to look at everything at once in hopes of having something insightful to say to Beckett when she got there—or at least a joke to make. All he was coming up with was "this is a really empty room". It was. Apart from the body on the floor and the cops coming in and out of the room, it was a vacant space, no larger than his study at home. Old wood floors had soaked up blood, but it wasn't their first stain—the floorboards were pockmarked and corroded with age and wear. Despite the obvious age of the building, or perhaps because of it, the walls were solid. Castle could barely hear the cars outside, and when he rapped his knuckles against the nearest wall he did more damage to his hand than the building.
"Watch it, writer boy," Lanie commented, watching him suck on the abraded knuckles out of the corner of her eye, "there's enough blood on this floor without you putting some on the walls too."
Castle was saved from having to come up with a witty retort by the arrival of one of his three favorite people in the whole entire world, with the other two spots going to his daughter and his mother (some days). Abandoning the body in favor of meeting Kate Beckett in the hallway, he presented her with her coffee as she was pulling on a pair of blue crime scene gloves to replace the far more stylish and comfortable gloves that she'd just taken off. She accepted the coffee mug automatically, without even looking at him, but she wasn't ignoring him—she handed him a pair of blue gloves of his own in trade. Detective Esposito, who was walking with her, eyed the fresh coffee jealously, but said nothing. Castle brought Beckett coffee, and everyone else could go whistle for it. That was the way the world worked, and it was better all around if no one ever said anything about it, ever.
"She was found this morning around 6:45 by one of the city workers who were preparing this place for demolition," Esposito continued his briefing with a nod at Castle, consulting his notepad. "The team finished up two days ago, but the guy—get this—forgot his lunchbox and came back to get it. When he got here, he felt like the place had been 'disturbed', couldn't be more specific as to how. Ryan's talking to him," he added, jabbing a thumb back over his shoulder in the general direction of his partner.
"What brought him up here?" Beckett asked over the top of her coffee mug.
Esposito shrugged. "Figured some homeless guys were squatting, wanted to remind them to clear out before the building came down tomorrow. Last thing the city wants is to find a body in one of their demolition sites."
"Boy, did they ever not get lucky today," Castle chipped in.
"No kidding. At least they found her before the building went down—and the demolition wouldn't have killed her, someone else already did that for 'em. There was no ID found on the body, by the way, so we'll have to wait until we get a hit on Missing Persons or the fingerprint database."
This brought the detectives, both professional and amateur, into the room. Castle had been to some incredibly strange crime scenes with Beckett in the past, so the last thing he expected was for her to be fazed by this one. He was surprised, therefore, when she stopped short and made a small distressed sound.
"Beckett?" he asked, concerned.
"I know her," she said softly, dropping to her knees outside the drying blood pool. "…I liked her. Lanie, what happened to her?"
"So who is she, and how do you know her?" Esposito interrupted before the M.E. could answer her friend.
Beckett waved one hand over the corpse's face as if intending to close the half-open eyes, then remembered herself and pulled back. "Her name is Stephanie, Stephanie Amador. She's a Slayer."
"No way!" Castle yelped, forgetting his partner's distress for a moment. "Sorry. I thought they were just an urban legend! You know, like the crocodiles in the sewers. Wait. Are there crocodiles in the sewers?"
Beckett made that face he knew so well, the one where she rolled her eyes without actually rolling her eyes at all. "I don't know, Castle, I've never seen one, and no, I haven't checked. But if there were, Steph could have taken them on and won. Slayers are very real, there just aren't very many of them. And they're tough—Lanie, what the hell did this to her?"
"Look at this," Lanie said, using a pair of long tweezers to move the corpse's head to one side, exposing the side of the throat. "Despite all the blood, these are the only wounds I can find just by looking at her here. I may find more under her clothes and all the blood once I get her back to the lab, but for the moment, this is it."
Castle stared, and bit down on a million things he wanted to say. The one that got out was, "Is that a bite?" It looked like every blood-draining bite in every vampire movie he'd ever seen, including two he'd watched last night, although it may have technically been this morning.
Lanie shook her head. "I don't think so. They're too neat, and the flesh wouldn't have stayed open long enough to drain this much blood out of her."
"But it looks just like a vampire bite!" Castle protested, hearing the edge of a whine creeping into his voice and expecting to be slapped down by Beckett any second now.
"No it doesn't," she contradicted him—but not in the way he'd thought she would. "Those are messy."
"Close your mouth, Castle." She hadn't even looked away from the body.
"What I want to know is," Beckett resumed, "why couldn't she fight off her attacker—whatever or whoever that was? Slayers are incredibly powerful—Steph could have broken through whatever restraints were put on her. Was she unconscious when this happened?"
Using the tweezers she still held, Lanie tapped the top of the dead woman's head. "No head trauma, see? She could have been sedated, but that'll have to wait on lab tests."
"Okay. Anything else this room can tell us?" she asked Castle and Esposito.
"No windows, and the walls are really solid…I observed earlier," Castle said, ignoring Lanie's grin at his expense. "She could have been killed here."
"All the blood's a pretty good indication of that," Beckett agreed. "I don't suppose anyone found the weapon? Any weapon?"
"Nothing," Esposito confirmed. "Apart from the fencing outside, the place was gutted."
Beckett pointed out: "That's odd in itself. Steph always carried some sort of weapon, even if it was just a wooden stake."
"Talk about tools of the trade," Castle muttered.
She applied the Castle Filter that screened all irrelevant comments and ignored him. "Unfortunately a stake is essentially just a sharp stick. In a building scheduled for demolition, we're never going to find one, or rather we'd find too many. All right, Lanie, once CSU is finished here, you can go ahead and take her back to the lab. Esposito, you and Ryan organize the canvass and let me know if there are any potential witnesses."
"You got it," Esposito confirmed.
"Castle, you and I are going back to the Precinct so I can answer all the questions I can just see lining up to be asked. Also, I need to contact the other two, and it's better I do that than someone they don't already know. Besides, I have their numbers."
"The other two?" Castle called after her as she and Esposito headed out to get to work.
By the time they got back to Beckett's car, Castle had so many questions he was considering writing them down just to keep track of them all. After putting his half-empty coffee mug into the passenger-side cup holder, he started with, "What other two?"
"There are three Slayers that work New York City," Beckett began as she negotiated the car's way out of the crime scene area. "Stephanie seemed to think that most of Manhattan was her jurisdiction. I don't know Leesha and Perrin quite as well, and I'm not sure how they divided their time."
"Three people to cover all of New York City? That's impossible! How do they manage?"
She shrugged as they emerged onto a street and settled into the usual Manhattan morning traffic. "They don't. But Steph once told me that until recently, there only used to be one Slayer at a time in the whole world. When one died, a new one took her place. Something changed a few years ago, but she didn't say exactly what. She did say that no matter how outnumbered they looked, the current state of things was an improvement."
"All I know are rumors," said Castle, contemplating briefly the idea of being the only line of defense for the entire world, "so correct me when I'm wrong. Slayers are all women, right?"
She chuckled briefly. "All of them. They're the ultimate feminists."
He didn't know quite what to make of that statement, so went on with "Stronger and faster than normal humans?"
"Right so far. They also have more endurance, and heal a lot faster than regular humans. Injuries that would put you or me in the hospital they take and keep running, and they'll be back to full strength in a couple of days."
Castle grimaced. "So why haven't they taken over the world yet?"
"They don't want to, as far as I know. And there really aren't very many."
"Okay," he accepted, "but here's the most important question."
"Last Halloween? The vampire case? You insisted that you didn't believe in monsters, that everyone involved had to be human! Even the crazy dude who bit me!" Castle exploded. "And, and, with the psychic a couple months ago? Suddenly Kate Beckett, feet-on-the-floor extraordinaire, believes not only in monsters, but in super warrior women who fight them?"
Beckett actually laughed at him. "Calm down, Castle. For your information, one of the first things I did on the vampire case was to call Steph and make sure that they had nothing to do to it and that we had jurisdiction. She said that if our body was really a vampire, it would have turned to dust and we would never have found it in the first place. Look, I don't believe in most of the stuff Slayers do; they actually do believe in magic and fate and all that."
"I like them already," he retorted. She'd passionately denied any belief in extra-human powers during the psychic case, and he just couldn't reconcile that with this Beckett who was a friend to Slayers.
"Yeah, I thought you might. Besides, even if I don't believe in magic like they do, I like Slayers, at least the ones I've met." Beckett grinned at him as they turned into the street that would take them into the 12th Precinct's parking garage. "They have a very practical approach to things they don't like—if it threatens them or theirs, hit it. If that doesn't work, hit it harder."
"And they believe in magic. And you like them," he repeated.
"Slayers believe in everything, Castle," Beckett retorted as she parked the car. "…except bullshit. Come on, I have some next-of-kin phone calls to make. We can't do anything until we get in touch with the people who knew what Stephanie was doing recently."
TO BE CONTINUED