Chapter Twelve/Epilogue: Once Upon A Crime

Author's Note: This is the last chapter of "Paint the Town Red". Since the bottom of this page is taken up with a "making-of" section, I'd like to take this chance to thank several groups of people. ONE: Everyone who has reviewed this story, including the people who made helpful suggestions or had useful insights and those who I couldn't contact directly because they did so anonymously or with the PM function switched off. TWO: The people who have PtTR on alert list, who waited patiently for updates while I did strange things like become a legal adult, write an academic research paper on Discordianism, or see The Avengers five times. THREE: Those readers who added PtTR to their favorites list, helping it achieve my personal standard of success (as many or more favorites than chapters). FOUR: My brother, who brainstormed the plot with me, beta-read the whole darn thing a chapter at a time, and laughed at all the right places. FIVE: Andrew W. Marlowe and Joss Whedon, the real owners and creators of Castle and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, respectively. Of course.

ON WITH THE SHOW!

"It's her blood," said Lanie.

"Are you sure?" Beckett asked, looking over the clothes lying on Lanie's autopsy table where bodies usually rested. The last time she had been down here, the table had been occupied by Steph's corpse. Then, both detective and victim had been missing some things. The sweatshirt, t-shirt, and once-khaki pants that now lay there filled in the missing pieces of blood and evidence, cooperatively provided by Martin Bulis, Steph's murderer, during yesterday's surprise confession. It had taken Beckett and her team a while to find the clothes, but once they had…

The little M.E. nodded confirmation solemnly. "As close as I can be without extensive DNA testing," she amended a moment later. "The blood type matches your victim, and it's full of tizanadine—a very high concentration." Catching her friend's train of thought before Beckett could even open her mouth to utter the words, Lanie raised a hand to cut her off and added, "I've put in a request for the DNA analysis anyway. It'll be a few days before it comes back—no amount of harassing the lab will make the machines work any faster—but I can tell you based on just what I can do here that whoever was wearing these clothes was in very close contact with your victim as she was bleeding out. And I can do one better. Look at this."

Castle and Beckett obediently looked as Lanie held up a sample tube that contained three barely-visible slivers of—

"Are those fingernails?" wondered Castle.

She beamed approval at him, and he grinned back. "That they are. Pulled out of the weave of the sweatshirt, and they match up to the very ragged nails on her right index and middle finger and left thumb. She fought back as much as she could."

"They don't quit," said Beckett quietly.

"So I've heard," remarked Lanie, cutting into an impending reverie. "And the sweatshirt and tee were full of hairs and skin cells. More than enough to identify the owner."

They knew what the solution to that riddle would be, but they still let Lanie wrap it up with, "Your boy in the cells."

"We've got him." Beckett cracked a smile through the scowl that had been on her face ever since finding the blood-stiffened, stinking ball of clothes that had been abandoned in an alleyway. Martin Bulis must have been hoping that they would be taken, because he had left them on the street rather than in a trashcan, which might be searched by investigators before the garbage collection had been taken up. That had backfired on him. They had been far too ruined for even the most desperate of individuals to take and wear, and although the flies had mostly moved on to other haunts, she could easily imagine the buzzing cloud that must have discouraged any passersby from investigating further.

"The hair is enough to establish it as his even without whatever he told you," Lanie assured her. They'd filled her in on the bare details, but she was reserving the bulk of her curiosity about Martin's impromptu fit of guilt until after her friend had gotten everything resolved to her satisfaction and the two were talking it over in the comfort and privacy of somewhere that wasn't a morgue. "The large quantities of drug-infused blood and fingernail shards are hers. I'd like to see anyone come up with an innocent explanation for that."

"Maybe—" Castle started up irrepressibly. Both women glared at him, and he stopped with his mouth open for a moment before thinking better of it and closing it again.

"And by now you'd think I'd know not to say that in front of Castle," Lanie muttered, mostly to herself.

"Thanks, Lanie," Beckett said, already mentally moving on to the next step in locking away a murderer and physically heading towards the door.

Castle, predictably, followed her, but caught the door as it was closing behind him and leaned back into the room. "Solved-a-case party at the Old Haunt!" he told her. "Tonight. 8:30. I'm buying. You should come."

"Off shift at nine, writer boy," said Lanie. "Think you can keep the fun going until then?"

"I," he told her archly, which is hard to do when you're leaning backwards through a doorway, balancing on one foot, and hanging onto a swinging door for tentative support, "am a maestro of fun."

She waved a clipboard at him. "Get out of my morgue, Castle."


"Box it up!" Beckett greeted Ryan and Esposito. The boys were hovering around her desk waiting for the forensic results that would determine whether Martin's abrupt reversal and apparently unrestricted confession would actually have any real-world applications. They'd all gone with her to track down the missing blood-covered clothes that Martin had claimed he'd just left lying around, but all blood looked and smelled the same, at least to humans. It could have been someone else's blood. It could even have been animal blood.

It hadn't been. "I'm calling the DA," she told them, lifting an empty evidence box out of her chair and taking its place. "With the forensic evidence, we've got more than enough to make a case."

Esposito high-fived Ryan, who high-fived Castle, who high-fived Esposito. Beckett bit her lip, looked intently at her computer screen, and tried not to laugh at them. She appreciated their humor more than she usually let on—if she admitted she found them funny, they might stop trying. The actual detectives in the room started tracking down and packing up file folders (Esposito) and disassembling the murderboard (Ryan).

Castle dumped himself into his usual chair and devoted himself to interrogating Beckett while she was trying to be on the phone, which he considered to be a highly underrated form of entertainment. "So, what if he starts talking to a lawyer about demons and monsters and superwomen and all? Isn't that going to invalidate his confession if he doesn't seem to know what 'reality—'" He made air quotes, and finished, "—is?"

Momentarily ignoring him, Beckett gave her identification and reason for calling to the male underling who had picked up the phone in the legal office on the other end. She was promptly put on hold. While the hold menu talked in one ear, she turned her attention to Castle.

"He probably will," she agreed amicably, "once he gets over the urge to confess. He'll probably even try to retract his confession. Unfortunately for him, he told us where forensic evidence was, and we found it. We needed one or the other, and now that we have his sweatshirt full of Steph's dosed-up blood, we don't actually need his confession anymore, even though we got it on record and there's no evidence to show that it was coerced." Although she had developed some suspicions about that overnight.

Castle understood that, but it wasn't what he'd meant. "No," he persisted. "What if he tells the complete truth and the lawyer that's defending him decides he's not mentally competent?"

She told the phone that she would continue to hold, and went back to squaring things with Castle, since Ryan and Esposito were beginning to move things around him in a way that not-so-subtly suggested that he was in their way and would only be out of their way if he would get up off his butt and help them.

"Castle, even if his lawyer, a jury, and a judge decide that he's not guilty by reason of insanity, he won't go free. As long as he tells the whole story about Slayers and demons, the legal system will believe that he needs psychological care and he'll be confined in a state hospital or other mental health facility rather than a jail. If he sticks to the story he told us earlier, which is essentially the truth without any element of the world Slayers live in, the forensic evidence will convict him and he'll be sent to prison anyway. He's not getting out of this," she assured him. "I won't let him."

He seemed satisfied with this explanation, and got up to help the boys move things around for transfer to the DA's office before Ryan could 'accidentally' whack him in the head with another full box.

Since she was on hold, she didn't have to pack, which gave Beckett the chance to do some thinking instead. Martin's confession was too convenient. The man who had gone back down to the holding cells had been confident, having found a winning strategy of consistent denial of everything the police had with which to accuse him. If he had stayed silent, it probably, she privately had to admit, would have worked. Instead, a little over an hour and a half later, he had demanded to talk to her again and shown up in the interrogation room paler than before and distinctly nervous.

Something had frightened him. Enough so that he had chosen to confess and give up valuable evidence that they wouldn't have found otherwise. It was quite the reversal—a godsend to her and her team, but…

Beckett was suspicious. It was, after all, her job, and one she was very good at. At the moment, she had no way to confirm the idea that had developed as she considered possible explanations, but Martin Bulis had appeared scared of…something. There were some very dangerous people out there, she knew, none of which had any particular reason to like him. And one of those had acquired a habit of walking in and out of the 12th Precinct, unnoticed, as if she belonged there.

Hmmm…

But then again…just because Beckett wasn't allowed to intimidate suspects didn't mean that someone connected with the case couldn't walk in off the street and do so. Especially because Beckett hadn't condoned it or even known about it. She didn't like her interrogation process being taken over, but there was no way she was going to object just to be petty.

About then her call got taken off hold and she found herself verbally filling out paperwork to transfer a murder case to the legal division of the city's justice system. As she spoke, checking her notes and waiting for responses and confirmation, she could hear Montgomery congratulating her team and Castle inviting him to tonight's post-case party. She caught her Captain's eye and smiled as he nodded significantly at her. They'd done well, he managed to communicate with only a few seconds of eye contact and a single gesture. She and her team—with more than a little unofficial help—had caught a killer before he could kill anyone else, and they'd done it without putting anything supernatural on the official record.

That was worth a party for the good guys.


Monday night wasn't a terribly busy rush hour for the Old Haunt, so no one objected when the man who had recently bought the place decided that he wanted to run the bar and mix drinks for all his friends. The basement office had been securely locked and the piano lid closed for its own safety.

Word had gotten out. Ryan had invited his fiancée Jenny, who had decided that she loved the Old Haunt and promised to invite all her friends some other night. Montgomery had accepted Castle's earlier effusive invitation and shown up just as Castle had invited a ridiculously fizzy, brightly colored, utterly nonalcoholic drink for Alexis, who had until 10:00 before she was sent home for school the next morning. The drink had subsequently fountained out of the glass and across the bar to pool on a bar stool, so some of the proportions had, out of necessity, been rethought. By Alexis, as it turned out, who had seen where her dad had gone wrong the first time.

Martha was drinking something elegant that looked like it had come out of a silent movie and was sharing anecdotes about all of the people in pictures on the wall that she could remember, to anyone who would listen and occasionally to the bar staff. She'd congratulated Beckett on their solved case, sympathized over the detective's loss of someone she'd known and liked, and tried to find out how her wayward writer son and his detective partner had ended up, apparently, in the abandoned subway tunnels.

Beckett had dodged the question. The two of them still hadn't come up with a believable answer, and had petitioned Montgomery to not officially inquire into those missing seven hours. He had agreed partly in self-defense; they had let him know that he wouldn't like the answers they came up with. The free drinks that Castle was buying for all his friends weren't part of that deal. They just came with the territory of being friends with Rick Castle.

Even the eyes of bar patrons who were innocent bystanders were on Castle at the bar as he was persuaded to repeat the unabridged version of his newly-dubbed Rainbow Volcano for an audience of appreciative people with towels—and one sarcastic umbrella—at the ready, so Leesha and an assortment of her friends managed to enter the bar relatively unnoticed. That didn't last very long as Castle spotted at least three familiar faces—Leesha, her very own teenage witch Holly, and the woman Jessie—among the crowd and waved them over enthusiastically.

No one bothered with large-scale introductions. 'Friend of a friend' was clearly sufficient, and the Old Haunt filled up with a wide variety of people who came and went as they pleased and were all willing to admit that they had something in common, at least. Beckett immediately lost track of who answered to whom, and who had invited who else. Perrin showed up with her own contingent of friends and allies, all of whom were subjected to Castle-invented drinks—and that was before Ryan and Esposito got in on the mixing game.

That opened the floodgates to let everyone try their own mixture. At least three combinations fizzed wildly and messily. More were rejected as clearly diabolical in taste. All books of matches, which most bars still provided for the advertising value, were hurriedly removed from the area before anything could actually explode, and a Great Match Hunt ensued for a few minutes. It was shaping up to be a large, silly party, full of people talking at cheerfully cross purposes and Castle's laugh cutting through the noise often.

Lanie showed up in company with Steph's good friend Danielle and two blond young men who had also apparently been friends of Steph and looked alike enough to be brothers, if not fraternal twins. They'd been walking the same way on their road to the Old Haunt and had ended up strolling as a group. Shooing the possibly-twins in the direction of the seething bar, Lanie headed over to Beckett's table, which the detective had claimed early, along with a drink mixed by people who actually knew what they were doing and weren't named Castle, even though Castle could mix a better-than-decent drink when he wasn't trying to show off. She had been holding the table against the tide ever since, but one of the chairs had still gone missing while she hadn't been looking.

"Since when do you throw a party when you close a case?" Lanie wanted to know, accepting the chair that Beckett pushed out for her. "Not that this doesn't look like fun, but if you guys did this every time you nabbed one of the bad guys, you'd never leave."

"We'd catch a lot less bad guys that way," Beckett pointed out.

"You know what I mean."

"This isn't a party," she explained. Lanie raised her eyebrows and looked around.

"Sure looks like one. Lots of people, giant blue drinks…all it needs is a bunch of balloons and some—nope, there it goes." Someone had found a stereo. In the fifteen loud and busy seconds between the end of Lanie's sentence and the beginning of Beckett's reply, the radio station was changed twice and a call for a music player that could be connected to an iPod was taken up. All of the music clashed equally terribly with the antique atmosphere of the Old Haunt.

"It's a wake," explained Beckett. "This isn't for us, it's for Steph. For the friend they lost—someone they loved."

"Ah," said Lanie. No further explanation was needed.

Castle, having escaped the bar, made his way through the crowd and approached their table. "May I join you ladies?" he asked. With the hand that wasn't holding one of his own drinks, he produced an overly elegant flourish that just avoided hitting Perrin's friend Santiago, who ducked adroitly as he passed, grinned back over his shoulder, and headed off to wherever he had been heading in the first place.

"It's your bar," Lanie cracked at him.

"It's your table," he countered.

"Sit, Castle," Beckett pitched in before they could tangle themselves up in details—or Castle actually managed to hit anyone.

"Arf, arf," Castle barked at her teasingly, and sat.

"Sure you want to leave your bar in the hands of the—" Party poodles flashed across her brain inexplicably and inappropriately. "—post-case partygoers?" Beckett compromised.

"Lloyd and Trevor can handle it," he replied confidently, referring to the two actual bartenders—whom he had called earlier to give plenty of advance warning that the owner and an unspecified number of friends would be descending on the bar to throw a party. They had promised to rise to the challenge. "And they'll be paid overtime."

Lanie got to her feet, patted her friend Beckett's hand, and smacked Castle on the shoulder rather harder. "In that case, I'm going to go see what they can make that doesn't explode," she told them both. "I like my drinks to stay where I put them."

As she left, Castle smiled at Beckett, and she couldn't help smiling back. Maybe it would be a mess later, but they'd all been under a lot of stress. She'd lost a friend, just as the people all around them had—the casual bystanders having sensed that a private party was in progress and mostly left. It helped to be surrounded by people who understood, and who had decided the proper response was to celebrate someone they'd cared about rather than grieve or get angry for longer than it took to deal with the person responsible.

She was going to say something to him along those lines, possibly deploying the bumper-sticker philosophy phrase get angry, get even, get over it, but was interrupted before she could even begin. Someone had evidently wrested control of the stereo or whatever music player had taken its place and begun playing vaguely danceable music, which jumped, in quick succession, between an insanely popular pop song, something nameless and techno, and what Beckett was embarrassed to know was the theme song from a Disney channel cartoon kids' series. A space was being haphazardly cleared, but a number of people weren't willing to put that much effort into it and were simply dancing among the tables. They looked outrageously out of place, and seemed to find that ironically hilarious.

Amidst all this, Leesha and Perrin appeared at Beckett and Castle's table. They looked quite serious, as if they had something important to say, and for a moment the two pairs looked at each other, unsure where to begin.

In the end, Perrin spoke, plainly.

"You do good work," she said. "We won't forget."

It was the simplest possible praise, but it took Beckett's breath away. She had no proper response. Beside her, Castle was equally speechless, a tiny bubble of silence in the hubbub surrounding them.

After a moment, Beckett settled for, "Thank you." It was apparently sufficient, because the two Slayers nodded to the detectives respectfully and left without another word.

Taken aback by the blunt but clearly extremely high praise, both Beckett and Castle resorted to drinking their drinks as they absorbed the enormous amount of respect they had clearly earned from people who most of the world thought were legends.

"Wow."

To his embarrassment, Castle jumped. He knew the voice, knew she was going to turn up…but he still jumped. He was pretty sure that after the time he had spent down in the tunnels, watching her fight, he was never going to be able to look at Buffy Summers the same way again. He was impressed, he was truly impressed, but at the same time he was also a little unbalanced. Despite everything Beckett had told him, what he'd learned about Steph over the course of the investigation, and getting to know Leesha and Perrin, he still hadn't quite believed everything he had been told about Slayers. Down in those tunnels, he had learned that not only was it all true, but that they had been understating matters. It was going to take time for him to adjust.

Either Beckett wasn't having the same thoughts, or she was better at hiding it. "I wondered when you'd get here," the detective commented lightly, gesturing the younger woman towards a seat. "Didn't think you'd miss it."

She took the offered chair, grinning. "You got shoutiness to do," she greeted Beckett. "Let's hear it, then."

The detective couldn't resist the urge to roll her eyes, but she was smiling, too. "You mean, about bullying my suspect?" And, when the accusation was not denied, "You threatened him, didn't you? You walked right back into the Precinct after I specifically told you not to do that, and you threatened him."

Buffy was unrepentant at best. "Mighta suggested we were going to come after him," she admitted. "Maybe said something about Slayers following him all over to kick his ass until he went and hid under a table and never came out."

Beckett privately thought it was an appealing image, unlike Castle, who was obviously at risk of spilling his obscenely alcoholic drink across the table again as he guffawed openly. She had some reservations, though.

"Would you have hurt him?" she had to know. "If he hadn't confessed and was going to walk free?"

She thought about it, carefully, taking her time with the question and looking around the room at the people she had, in some small way, brought here—through her war, her way of doing things. Beckett watched her check on people she clearly knew, size up those she didn't, sweep the room for potential threats almost subconsciously, and approve of the result. Although she couldn't see the person on the other end of that gaze, the detective also noticed her catch the eye of—probably—her partner Spike, and send some sort of message through a single glance.

Beckett didn't know what, exactly; she didn't have the key to that code. But Beckett was pretty sure she recognized the broad strokes of it. She was beginning to understand that that was what she and Castle looked like. It was an interesting thought which she decided to set aside to ignore at a later time.

"No," Buffy said finally. She seemed sorry to say it, and, at the same time, pleased that she'd made the right call for herself and all the other people who looked to her. "But…we wouldn't have saved him."

Beckett thought she understood, and in her peripheral vision, Castle was nodding slightly. But she still raised her eyebrows and gestured for the Slayer to continue.

"He woulda got into trouble again. People like him always do, they can't stop. It's what they know. But," she struggled to explain, "we don't have to act. There aren't enough of us, we can't save everyone, so…sometimes we choose. Even now. This is the Second Age, and it's so, so, so much better…but we're not enough. Maybe…" The Slayer stopped and looked away. Just as Beckett thought she was finished, she added, "When monsters kill each other, it's not our problem."

She kept watching the crowd move and mix and mingle, as if embarrassed either to be saying something she clearly cared about so much or to be doing so in a historic bar currently full of dance music off somebody's iPod and exploding, fizzy, and/or alcoholic drinks. Whatever she saw as she looked around made her change the subject in a hurry. "Um, you still want this place in one kind-of-not-on-fire piece, right?"

"Yes," said Castle emphatically, twisting around in his chair in an attempt to follow her gaze. Futilely. Again. "Why?" he added in tones of dawning dread.

"No reason," she said, insincerely. "I'll be right back, yeah?" She leapt from her chair and vanished impressively quickly.

"Okay, now I'm worried," said Castle. Beckett tried to work out if she should laugh or not, and decided not to. At least, not loudly.


Buffy actually didn't come back for quite a while. During that time, word apparently went around that the people sitting at that table there were the ones who had found and successfully locked up the man who had killed Steph Amador. This was evident from the string of people who found time away from the party to stop by Castle and Beckett's table to mutter quick thank-yous or disconnected hellos, or bring them another drink each, although they were obviously one-of-a-kind experimental drinks that had mixed especially for them without proper testing. If there had been cake, they would have been brought cake. Ryan and Esposito, up at the bar with Jenny and Lanie, respectively, were getting similar treatment, although they were allowed to mix their own drinks. Montgomery was nowhere to be seen. He had probably gone home once the pop music had come out—as a man with children, he got enough of it at home and had never been a big fan of the genre to begin with.

It would have been kind of a nice feeling, if Castle wasn't worrying about his bar burning down the whole time and Beckett hadn't been struggling not to laugh at him.

The bar didn't burn down. Nothing exploded. No bottles were broken over any heads, which was an especially good thing because there were plenty of bottles to go around, the contents of some of them were worth quite a bit of money, and some of the people in the room could have done instantly fatal damage with a well-placed bottle, not to mention the shards that would have resulted. No one got hopelessly drunk and threw up. Someone changed the tone of the music and someone else changed it to yet another song thirty seconds later. This lasted for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes before the party died down as quickly as it had flared up.

"Got work to do and butts to kick," Leesha told them as she stopped by their table to say goodbye. "See you around." A little later, Perrin blew them both a kiss and departed hand-in-hand with Santiago.

Some people, mostly the ones who hadn't gotten sucked into the impromptu dancing and those who weren't getting carded by the redoubtable Lloyd and Trevor, stayed a little longer, but things had calmed down a lot by then. Martha called a cab for herself and Alexis, kissed her son on the cheek and hugged Beckett, and departed with a faux-elegant wave largely ruined by the sarcastic fanfare of applause from party-leaving passersby.

"I feel like we've made friends for life," Castle said after the dance music had stopped and the blond boys had departed with what he rather thought had been Steph's iPod. That suited his narrative fancy. He made a face halfway between amusement and doubt. Now that the music had stopped and the bar had lost the atmosphere of a raucous party, he was free to think and be serious rather than hold up his 'maestro of fun' reputation. "Or maybe they'll forget all about us by next week."

"I don't know," Beckett admitted. "Steph…well, I guess I didn't know her very well. I didn't know that she liked every kind of music imaginable, or that she worked at a dojo, or that she had so many friends, or what color she'd painted her apartment. I do know loyalty is very important to them. If you can't rely on your friends…" She mirrored Castle's expression of uncertainty. "So maybe they'll remember."

"Slayers are funny people." There was only one person in the room who spoke with that accent, so Beckett didn't have to look up to know that Spike had come over to talk to them. Or, more likely, look for Buffy. She met his gaze and acknowledged him anyway.

"Stubborn as anything," he explained. "They'll ignore a bunch of stuff as long as you're on their side. You fought for them, so they'll tear the world apart for you, you ask 'em now." He leaned on the back of a chair and shrugged, technically a difficult move, but one he made work. "Or maybe I just live with a crazier than usual one."

"I can hear you, you know," Buffy retorted tartly, having finally made her way back from putting out whatever fires, literally or metaphorically, she'd gone to take care of. Or maybe the fire starters had just left with the rest of their friends.

"Can repeat it, if you like."

This, Castle and Beckett had learned, could go on for a while. Beckett decided to head it off at the pass, which she did unintentionally well. "So where do you go from here?"

Whatever she'd said, the reaction was amusing. "Kate!" Buffy wailed. "Don't say that! Not allowed!"

"Um, okay," was the only possible response. "Why?"

"It's a long and embarrassing story," she didn't really explain, "and if I told it, I'd have to go hide in the corner until everyone stopped blushing and looking at the ceiling. Family rule. Anyway…" Buffy reclaimed the missing chair from a table that had been moved off the now-abandoned dance floor and the pair joined Castle and Beckett at their table.

"Now that you've got your killer, the two of us should probably head home," she said. "I bet the world has tried to end while we were gone, so we should maybe go find out how they stopped it."

"Think they've run out of 'vacation' jokes?" Spike wondered rhetorically to her, since Castle and Beckett were trying to figure out exactly what they meant by 'world ending' and finding that they simply didn't have enough data.

"They've had almost two weeks to think of more. So…no. That's a really long time for things to go wrong," Buffy explained to the confused New York detectives. "If it was super important, Willow would have found some way to contact me, but…they can handle a whole lot, they've had practice. We should go see."

"Have you ever had two weeks where nothing happened?" Spike asked her. She thought about it and shook her head.

"Wait—there was this one time…nah. No there wasn't. It was almost two weeks, remember? That time with the…"

Beckett hid a smile in the remains of her drink, less at the backchat between the Slayer and her companion than Castle trying to pump them both for details and getting nowhere. They were clearly having a lot of fun not telling him anything he actually understood.

"So will someone take over for Steph here?" she asked before Castle could explode with curiosity. "I thought it wasn't enough that there were three Slayers for all of New York, and now… As much as I respect Leesha and Perrin, I don't think they can handle it alone."

Buffy accepted the distraction and nodded. "Word gets around," she said. "Someone will want to come here and take over." She scowled faintly. "The people that used to run the Slayers, they left us quite a bit of money, so we can send someone here. Steph's friends will have to choose whether they want to work with the new girl, play on their own for a while, or get out of the game. They'll sort it out."

Beckett's expression at the way she summed things up must have been indescribable, because Spike felt obliged to add, "They've had practice."

The Slayer ignored him with what was obviously also practice. "You miss her," she said to Beckett.

Throughout the case, Beckett had kept herself from thinking about that with the puzzle to solve, the 'story' to finish (as Castle would have put it), and the culprit to catch. When she could think about that, she could avoid really realizing that she had lost another friend to violence. "Yes," she now admitted sadly.

Buffy sighed. "Kate," she said seriously, "I'm sorry. But…we die fighting. It's what we do."

"That's horrible," objected Castle. "How can you live with that?"

"Because this is better," she told him hotly. "We die, we can't change that, but we live longer, too, the Slayers. We don't have expiration dates anymore."

Beckett and Castle weren't to know that, because of their history, Buffy and Spike were very rarely openly affectionate to each other in public. They sniped and they argued and out-and-out fought—and they understood each other, although they creatively misunderstood each other almost as often. But both detectives were mildly surprised to see him reach out and silently place a hand on her shoulder—maybe as a restraint, maybe as a caress. Maybe both. Whatever it was, she understood, calmed down, and tried to explain.

"Willow and Giles," she said, "my friend who is like my sister, and my teacher, did some research. During the First Age, when there was only one Slayer in the whole world at a time, she was lucky if she managed to live anything more than four years. I," she specified, "have been a Slayer since I was fifteen. I should have died before I graduated from high school, and I knew that. It was—" She caught onto Castle's word. "—horrible. We can work together now, we can do better. Look at what we did here. You two and us and Leesha and Perrin…and Steph, she wasn't alone and that's all that matters. She didn't die alone, and she knew it…"

Buffy seemed to have lost her train of thought. Everyone stopped and thought about what she'd said. "We all die fighting," she settled on after a moment. "But—sometimes, it doesn't suck."

"And that's it?" Beckett wanted to know, a little harshly. Maybe they accepted death—hell, she was a homicide cop, she lived with the death of others every day—but it seemed like a pretty unforgiving philosophy. "That's how you manage? …Does it help?"

She smiled at Beckett, a shade sadly, and rose from her chair. "Sometimes," the Slayer said simply, which seemed to close the conversation for her, because she changed the subject. "We should probably go home," she repeated to Spike. "You gonna drive?"

"You ever gonna drive?" he retorted. "She hates driving," the vampire added over her head to Beckett and Castle.

"I suck at driving, it's not the same. Hey, wait a second, did I just—" Bickering with Spike and holding a conversation with someone else simultaneously was an old habit for Buffy, so she added to the detectives, who had also stood up and moved to escort them to the door, "Whoever ends up here, we'll tell her you're good people. So if someone drops by…"

"We'll keep an eye out for her," Beckett agreed.

"And if you come back—" added Castle.

Steph's case was closed and her wake was over, and if the smile was any indication, Buffy at least was moving on. "This was fun. Let's not do it again sometime, okay?" She reached out to Beckett, who took her hand willingly, and then had to repeat the gesture with Castle.

"Not a ghost," the Slayer commented to no one in particular, presumably referring to Castle. "Always good." She laughed at the looks on their faces, stepped back, made a mocking little bow, and slipped out through the door where Spike was waiting for her. Before following her, he looked the pair of detectives over, obviously saw something funny, and essayed a sarcastic little wave of his own.

And then they were gone. Except that as the door swung closed Beckett and Castle could clearly hear them laughing together.

"Well, that was interesting," Castle managed, deciding that understatement was the better part of valor.

He looked around the bar. Nothing was on fire and nothing seemed to be broken—always good, to borrow Buffy's parting words. Lloyd and Trevor weren't giving him death glares for bringing a private party in and then giving them free rein to mix their own drinks. He was willing to bet clean-up duty that they'd had the sheer common sense to hide the good stuff. At some point, Ryan, Jenny, Esposito, and Lanie had left, and there were some actual Old Haunt patrons drifting in for a late drink. They seemed undeterred by the detritus from the earlier party, which was vanishing at an incredible rate as Lloyd and Trevor worked their magic.

More importantly…Beckett was smiling, another thing that was always good. True, sometimes 'smiling' meant 'I have played a prank on you in conspiracy with Ryan and Esposito and made the espresso machine explode on you', but no actual harm had come of that, and she was even more gorgeous than usual when she laughed. It balanced out. They'd proved once again that they were a good team, even though they'd had some unconventional help from supernatural and, well, anti-supernatural forces.

"Good party, Castle," she congratulated him playfully, picking up her empty glass and tipping it at him in a parody of a toast before taking it and the remains of her other drink over to the bar for Lloyd and Trevor.

When she returned, he said with mock courtesy and a slightly more courtly attempt at a bow, "May I escort you to your car, Detective Beckett?"

"Why, Mr. Castle, you may," she deadpanned right back at him, and he indicated the obvious path to the door with an overdramatic swish of his hand.

Smirking at him—but in a good way—she took his arm and they headed towards the exit—which opened before them unexpectedly.

So much for leaving; it was Buffy again.

"Forgot to say," she said, as if she'd just looked away for a minute. "What I said, about dying in battle sometimes not sucking all that much?"

"I remember," Beckett agreed, despite her surprise.

"More important," the Slayer specified. "Winning? Sucks less."

She didn't wait for a response, stepping back and closing the door again. Even through the door of the Old Haunt, Castle and Beckett could clearly hear the sound of her footsteps running up the stairs leading to the street until, presumably, she reached it and vanished into the city.

"That," said Castle, grinning, "managed to be utterly true while being so far from deep it's practically a kiddie pool."

Beckett laughed, although whether it was at him or Buffy's last-minute correction he wasn't sure. "I love these people," she said, not clearing the issue up any. "Come on, Castle, let's go. We won this one."

This one, he thought as they headed back to their homes and their lives and the work that they shared. And between the two of them and enough good friends, maybe they'd manage to win the ones that mattered most.

Together. For as long as they could.

END


Author's Note: The following is a 'making-of' segment, which I tossed in there because I watch a lot of Doctor Who, and the new series always does a 'making of' after each episode, and I love them. If you are interested, go ahead and read. If not, which I understand you may not be, I ask most sincerely that you take this opportunity to review this story. This is the last chapter and your last chance—even 'good story and I liked it' will make the work that has been the background to the last six months of my life worthwhile. I'd love to hear from you…what you liked, what worked, what made you laugh, anything you think I missed…although please don't tell me that I don't have the true Buffy dialect down. I know. She's hard for me to write; my internal spell-check won't let me pin her voice down. I think in semicolons even when I'm exhausted—the spell-check won't go away.


AND NOW FOR…

Things You Never Knew You Wanted To Know: An Utterly Superfluous Making-Of Section

What made you cross these two series over? One week last year, I couldn't decide which series to watch, so decided to watch both of them in alternating episodes. That worked nicely until characters started showing up together in my dreams and I couldn't get them to leave.

How much did you plan in advance? Whodunit. Whydunit. Howdunit. Character names. The basic shape of the plot, which held until four of the main characters dug in their heels and did their own thing for three chapters that I hadn't planned on. In retrospect, there's also a fair dose in here of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which I suppose was inevitable at the intersection of Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion, in that a villain character tries to impress a girl and it all goes Horribly Wrong.

Why episode titles as chapter titles? Several reasons. One: They're pre-selected for suitability (read: I am lazy). Two: In tribute to my grandmaster fanfiction-writer friend SonOfTed; he did the same thing for several of his Star Trek epics, which you should read. Three: When I started writing Chapter One, I'd just re-watched the BtVS episode "Dead Things" and couldn't think of any other more appropriate titles. I typed it at the top of my page as a placeholder and it stuck.

Is there a real Stockbridge? Yes. And no. There is a real English town called Stockbridge that I know nothing about. There is also a fictional English town called Stockbridge often visited by the comic strip series of Doctor Who Magazine. In there, as in here, it's a place where much weirdness happens on a regular basis. Buffy and her crew should fit right in, while affording me the amusing possibility of one or more of the various incarnations of the Doctor tripping over them one of these days.

Do any of your characters' names mean anything relevant? No. I like my original characters to have existences both before and after the story (unless they die) and name them as if these pages weren't the be-all and end-all of their lives. I did shorten 'Leesha' from the Alicia I'd called her to begin with because anything over two syllables takes too long to yell at a Slayer in a crisis. Radinka is a real name. It's obscure and Russian. Jessamine is also a real name, obscure but not Russian. The only person who was deliberately named for her character traits is Holly, and I didn't realize I'd probably named her for Holly Short (from the Artemis Fowl series) until I'd already posted the chapter. And I tend to steal last names and the first names of background characters from the incredibly vast reservoir of Doctor Who New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures authors. Why? Frighteningly large numbers of those books sit about six feet from where I write.

Why the forgotten abandoned (probably not actually demon-infested) subway tunnels of Manhattan? Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the authors of the fantastic thriller Reliquary and many other equally fantastic books, are two of my favorite authors. If Michael Crichton and Stephen King had ever written together, that book would have read the way these two write. If this sounds good to you, start with Relic. Reliquary is the sequel and won't make any sense unless you've read Relic. Then read everything else they've ever written. You want to. You do.

So what is Spike wrong about in Chapter Ten? If you don't know that, you obviously haven't seen "Chosen" recently. The running joke they have going is a little bit "Princess Bride", in which 'as you wish' does not mean what you think it means—two "Princess Bride" jokes in one!

How does this story compare to the rest of your writing? I always think my most recent story is my best, although I still hold a soft spot for "Fortunes and War" (Doctor Who) and parts of my "Lost Boys" collection (Death Note). "A Time for Pizza", probably the only romance-free Inu-Yasha/Yu Yu Hakusho crossover out there, stands up well. But "Paint the Town Red" was certainly new ground for me (never before written a mystery, never before written for "Buffy", never before written for "Castle"). It stands as my most-followed and second-longest story—my Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfiction Free Enterprise is almost 83,000 words long, but took me a year and a half.

More forthcoming? More fanfiction? Yes. Doctor Who stories and possibly random Avengers stuff loom on my horizon. More for "Buffy" or "Castle"? Maybe. More crossover between the two? Don't hold your breath any.


THANKS FOR READING! –Le'letha