Sunlight streamed through broken shutters on windows mounted high on the walls. It illuminated the dust in it's path, swirling around in small gusts as though it were dancing. The morning light almost made the abandoned warehouse a pleasant place to be... and yet on this morning more than any other, it was definitely not.
The roller-door at one end was slightly open and a small blonde woman rolled easily through the gap. She sprang lightly to her feet and casually brushed her trouser legs as her eyes became adjusted to the light. The petite blonde wore a smart yet practical trouser suit that said she meant business. There were several street and plainclothes cops in the building already and she strolled towards them, hailing the nearest.
"What have we got Marty?" Buffy Summers ducked beneath the police tape strung between two pillars, she swiped her long blond hair out of her face as she straightened back to her rather small height.
"Got a nice one for you today Detective Summers," Marty ushered Buffy towards the centre of the warehouse.
As Buffy followed she turned back over her shoulder to see another person squeezing their way beneath the propped up roller-door.
"Hey, Willow... Detective fat-arse! Hurry up!" Buffy yelled back over her shoulder to where her partner was still wedged under the door.
"I'm stuck!" the red head protested.
She wrenched herself through the gap and was rewarded with the sound of torn fabric as her jacket sleeve sagged on a jagged piece of iron.
Willow Rosenberg stood and wrinkled her nose as she examined the damage to her favourite suit. She was still looking glumly at the tear as she joined Buffy to stroll across the open concrete space side by side. The red headed young woman was the taller of the two, just as lithe and trim in her own smart suit... smart even with the tear. Her green eyes surveyed the seen keenly, not missing a single detail as they walked along. She drew out her palm pilot and began taking notes.
"Marty," Buffy looked at the paunch on the officer who was leading them, "How the hell did you squeeze beneath that door?"
"Didn't," he replied with a grin and pointed to an open door at the other end of the warehouse.
Buffy laughed and Willow rolled her eyes as she fingered the tear in her jacket. As they approached, the other officers turned to stare at the two beautiful women joining their midst. Both Buffy and Willow ignored the grins on some of their faces as they went into work mode.
"Well, there you go," Marty stopped and stood to one side so the pair could survey the scene in front of them.
Near the centre of the dusty, stained concrete floor were two large circular designs drawn in multicoloured chalk... as though there were an evil kindergarten child on the loose. There were weird symbols drawn around the perimeter of the design, strange letter-like shapes that meant absolutely nothing to Buffy or Willow. What did mean something to them were the two bodies, one in the centre of each of the circles.
Willow knelt at the very edge of the nearest circle, cocking her head to one side as she studied the body. It was a short, fat man with a balding head. He wore a plain black robe that looked suspiciously like something purchased from a costume shop. The short, bloody knife lying in his outstretched hand however was not a toy. A pool of now congealed blood had spread out around him.
"An evil Friar Tuck?" Buffy asked with raised eyebrows, walking around the edge until she reached the second circle.
The second body lying in its own pool of blood was that of a young man. A boy really, possibly no more than sixteen or seventeen. A handsome young fellow, his black hair still carefully mussed and held in place with liberal amounts of hair wax. He was wearing a letter jacket, now stained with blood from the mortal wound in his stomach. Lifeless brown eyes stared up at the unfeeling ceiling above him.
Buffy sighed, "Poor guy... what d'ya think Will? It looks for all the money as though Friar Tuck stabbed our young jock here and then killed himself," she stood again, her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on the chalk symbols, "In some wacky sort of... cult... witchy ritual... maybe he thought he was summoning up some ancient evil?"
"More evil? As if this city isn't bad enough already," Willow commented sadly, walking over to join Buffy, "And I wouldn't be placing your bets yet Buff... things are never what they seem in this job."
The pair of them looked down at the body of the boy, both feeling the weight of their chosen occupation bearing down on their young shoulders. Both Buffy and Willow were twenty-five, young for the job of detective but they had proved their worth in investigation after investigation. Fellow detectives often remarked on their uncanny ability to uncover the clues that others missed, solving crimes and saving lives where everyone else had given up hope.
"Good thing the city has us then, right Detective Rosenberg?" Buffy patted Willow's shoulder.
"Get down off your bandwagon and do some work Detective Summers," Willow replied, hunkering down as she noticed something strange.
Just inside the chalk circle was another circle of some strange, black, sticky substance. Willow drew out a pen from her pocket and poked at it delicately. She scooped up a blob and examined it at eye level.
"Don't taste it!" Buffy said urgently.
Willow looked over her shoulder, giving Buffy her best 'do you think I'm a complete moron?' look, "Why on earth would I do that? You're the one that always sticks strange things in her mouth!"
"I do not," Buffy spluttered.
"Ah Buff... remember the talcum powder incident?"
"Do some work Willow," Buffy muttered as she went away to talk to the other cops at the scene.
Willow nodded with a resolute smile as she drew out a paper notebook and started copying down the strange symbols. As she did she realised that there was one symbol which kept repeating throughout the writing. It was like a Greek letter, only far more complex. Willow was beginning to think that she had missed a few things out of her double degree with double majors. If there was one thing Willow hated... it was not knowing something.
"Another day on the job," Willow's brow furrowed in bewilderment as she stared at the strange writing.
Buffy pushed open the door with Det. Willow Rosenberg stencilled on the glass without pausing to knock. Willow was hunched over the phone book as Buffy came to stand next to her, taking a huge bite of the cream-filled donut in her hand.
"What have you got there Will?" Buffy lent her chin on her partner's shoulder, and read the ad in the yellow pages Willow had circled, "The Magic Box, your one stop shop... what a terrible ad!" she straightened and looked Willow in the eye, "A magic shop? Willow, honestly, what on earth do you expect to find there besides tacky ceramic unicorns and love candles?"
Donut crumbs fell over the page and Willow looked up sharply at Buffy. The blonde looked slightly abashed and she made an obvious attempt to chew with her mouth closed.
Willow leafed through the papers scattered on her desk until she came up the symbols she had copied down from the crime scene, she tapped the page absently, "Yeah I know it's kind of corny... but I looked up some websites on witchcraft" she pointed to the screen of her laptop, "Symbols like these are often used as part of incantations... spells I guess you would call them..."
"They actually have websites for that sort of thing?" Buffy rolled her eyes and took another bite of donut, already forgetting to chew with her mouth closed, "Earth to Rosenberg... incantations... spells? So you're trying to tell me that our guy was performing some sort of wacky... ritual thingee with the victim... and himself?"
"Pretty much..." Willow shrugged, "I figured that if I could find out what the symbols meant then we might be able to figure out what happened."
"Hence getting some spooky old crone at a magic shop to look at them?" Buffy snorted, "Tell you what Will, I'll go to the lab to check on the results of the unidentified sticky substance found with the body and you go and... commune with some nut job in a magic store... maybe she could pull out her crystal ball and tell us exactly who did it! Would save us a hell of a lot of time."
"It's probably silly..." Willow said, beginning to think this was not such a good idea after all.
"Oh no Will, you're not getting out of it that easily... it was your idea so go, just bring me back some frogs legs okay?" Buffy giggled and left Willow to jot down the address of the Magic Box.
Willow ran her fingers over the table as she walked, sliding skin across the smooth, clean wood. Her keen eyes missed nothing as she looked at the strange paraphernalia around her... strange jars full of unknown substances. Willow picked up one full of some sort of dried plant, it appeared harmless enough. The next jar looked to be full of tiny little pickles, until Willow held it up for closer inspection to reveal it was actually full of little eyeballs. Twisting the jar slightly she saw a hand written label...
"Newt eyes," Willow read, she smirked and set the jar back in its place, "I suppose I'll find the frogs legs next..."
"N-next table along... r-right beside the dried bat's droppings... t-they're very good for curses... of the less complex variety mind you, giving people warts and the like."
Willow laughed softly and turned to see who had spoken up behind her, "You know, there are a few people I wouldn't mind..."
She stopped in her tracks when she came face to face with the most gorgeous young woman she had ever seen. Long blonde hair framed a pale, high-cheekboned face with a pair of the most gorgeous, sapphire coloured eyes Willow had ever seen. For a good many seconds all Willow could do was stare with her mouth open, a small amount of drool beginning to form at the corner. The blue eyed beauty stared right back at Willow until she had to duck her head, obviously uncomfortable beneath such intense scrutiny. Willow finally realised she was ogling and quickly fumbled for the piece of paper folded in her jacket pocket. With a slightly shaking hand she held it out to the young woman.
"I'm Detective Rosenberg," Willow flashed her badge quickly, "I was wondering if you could possibly help me? Can you tell me what this means?"
The blonde lifted her gaze to meet Willow's and she smiled slightly, a sort of lop-sided grin that Willow found absolutely enchanting... leading to more drool.
"O-okay," she replied in a soft, musical voice.
She reached out and took the paper from Willow's hand. Willow snatched her hand away much too fast just in case their hands might possibly touch. Then once the page was in the blonde's hands she instantly regretted it and had to settle for imagining just how soft her skin was.
The blonde had only studied the paper for a few seconds when she looked up and pointed to the symbol found next to Friar Tuck, "T-this one... i-it usually denotes opening..."
"Like a jar or something?" Willow asked and then immediately felt like a moron.
"Um... no," she replied tactfully, "More like a gate between d-dimensions... and I-I'm not sure about this other one but it seems like it should be familiar... if you'll just follow me..."
Gate... between dimensions? Willow was beginning to think she was going to get a lot more than she bargained for on this case.
She lead Willow to the counter and walked behind it to a locked cabinet. Willow came to a stop in front of the counter and lent both her elbows on it. With the blonde's back turned as she opened the cabinet, Willow had a view of her shapely bottom and she made the most of it before she turned back around. She was a little disappointed the young woman wore a long flowing skirt when she would have looked gorgeous in a pair of tight jeans... Willow quickly looked back to her face when she turned around again with a small book in her hands, it was an even better view anyway. Those lips, slightly parted in concentration... Willow predictably began to imagine how they would feel beneath her own...
She had to look away before she started to pant embarrassingly. Looking beside her she found a half unpacked box of candles. She picked one up to see 'Love' written in guilt script on the label. She sniffed at it and her nostrils were assaulted with a horrible, cloyingly sweet scent.
"A love candle?" Willow asked scornfully, "People can't seriously buy this and expect it to work can they?"
The young woman looked up from the pages of her book, "I-it will if you believe in it enough."
"Well, have you ever burnt one and had Mr Right show up?"
She looked at Willow with a slight frown on her gentle features before turning her attention back to the book.
Obviously not! Willow almost snickered out loud and tossed the candle back in the box.
Willow watched the blonde as she flicked through the pages of a book before obviously deciding it was not the right one. She placed it carefully back in its slot on the cabinet and selected another. This time she browsed it with her face half-turned to Willow. The red head stared at the smooth, pale skin and full lips, still slightly parted in concentration. Willow was mesmerised.
"B-banishment," she said suddenly and set the book carefully on the counter-top, "The symbol is for banishing..."
"Bad stuff?" Willow asked, studying the picture, "Like zits?"
She laughed lightly, it was the most beautiful sound Willow had ever heard.
"Um... no, more like um... more... people-like stuff, people... b-but are you sure it was facing the circle this way, you didn't copy it down wrong or something?"
Willow looked suitably insulted, "I most certainly did not!"
"W-well, the s-s-symbol up this way... it completely nullifies the spell. L-like a banishing spell..."
"That doesn't banish anything?" Willow finished.
"P-precisely," she nodded and handed Willow both the book and her slip of paper, "Um you can borrow the book... if you promise to take care of it."
"I promise not to stand coffee cups on it, or dog-ear the pages," Willow accepted the book with a smile.
"Was there anything else I could help you with, frogs legs perhaps?" she asked, her lips twitching as though she wanted to smile again.
Smile... please! Willow shifted on her feet awkwardly, gulping in desperate, much needed air, "When do you shut up shop?"
"Ah, five-thirty," she replied with a frown instead of a smile.
"Great... I mean... well, I know we move in... different circles, but would you like to come out and have a drink with me when you close up this place?"
"I-I really don't think so..." she looked decidedly uncomfortable, as though she wanted to sink through the floor.
"Aw c'mon... just one drink?" Willow pleaded, using all of her woman-winning charm.
"I don't drink," she replied abruptly, turning her back on Willow to lock the cabinet.
"Well, a cup of... herbal tea or some... stuff like that..." Willow stopped and bit her lip, really smooth Rosenberg... you're one smooth talker!
"No..." the cabinet was locked and yet she would not turn back to face Willow again.
"Hey, did I sense reluctance there?" Willow asked brightly, "Because I'm really a nice person, I mean, despite the fact that I ask complete strangers out for drinks... I can hold a very entertaining conversation and I don't babble... okay, that was a lie, I babble but I promise to let you get a word in... if you'll just join me?"
Willow stared with an expression resembling that of a puppy waiting for it's supper, not wanting to say another word lest she dig an even larger hole for herself.
Willow watched as a strange expression passed over the young woman's face. It was as though she had spent the last few minutes trying to guess where she knew Willow from and all of a sudden it had finally dawned on her. It was an expression of familiarity, her gaze softened for a split second... just for the tiniest fraction of time...
Willow's lips parted in amazement as she felt something coursing through her... an energy she could not even begin to describe. Whatever it was, it was the most wonderful feeling in the world... as though she had...
The moment was interrupted by the little bell above the door jingling lightly. Both women spun around to see a small girl enter the shop. Her blonde hair was done in twin braids that peeked from beneath a battered baseball cap. Beneath the visor two huge blue eyes stared at the scene in front of her, blue just like the woman standing in front of her. Her sister perhaps? Willow mused.
"Hey Mom," she grinned, shrugging her backpack off her small shoulders and dumping it by the counter.
Willow's face fell, Or not...
"Hey sweetie," the woman replied, reaching down for a warm hug.
When the small girl extracted herself from her mother's arms, she turned to look at up at the stranger who had been talking with her mother.
"Who are you?" she asked curiously, her voice was politely inquisitive rather than rude.
Willow grinned and hunkered down a little, holding out her hand for the little girl to shake. She did so with a very firm and confident grip
"My name's Willow... I'm a detective and your Mom was just helping me out."
"Ashley," the little girl introduced herself and then in a completely serious voice, "Can I see some identification please?"
"You most certainly can," Willow reached inside her jacket pocket and drew it out, flipping it open with a flourish.
Her face lost all trace of seriousness and her eyes sparkled with excitement, "Cool!"
"Ah, Ash sweetie," her mother laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, "Run upstairs and get yourself some milk and cookies okay?"
"But afternoon tea isn't until my chores are done... and I haven't..."
"Ashley Maclay," her mother's voice carried a soft warning tone.
"Sure Mom," Ashley grabbed her bag and headed for the stairs at the back of the shop, she paused halfway and turned with a big grin on her face, "See ya Officer Willow!"
Willow couldn't restrain a grin as the little girl bolted up the stairs, she then looked back to the older blonde to find her face somewhat stormy. Her blue eyes were so like her daughters, except they were not sparkling at all... except to the extent that steel sparkled. Willow wished she could make her smile again.
"Now, Officer Rosenberg... is there anything else I can do for you or are you quite finished?" she asked coolly.
"It's Detective..." Willow started to explain before she realised that the young woman had her arms folded and a stern expression on her face as though she would brook no more of Willow's nonsense, "Oh, I'm finished," Willow replied quickly, "All with the finished here because I asked you... and you helped so yes... all done, and that means you want me to leave right..."
The speed at which she responded told Willow that she was going to have no further luck today. The little girls father was most probably at work... or maybe he was even upstairs and if he came down to find a strange lesbian hitting on his wife... well, Willow thought she had better make herself scarce.
"Well, thank you for your help... um, Ms Maclay..."
Willow bolted out the door, not even glancing back despite wanting to more than anything in the world.
Buffy plonked herself unceremoniously down on Willow's desk. In one hand she carried a box full of donuts and in the other was a half eaten one. Her butt covered the papers Willow had been so carefully studying.
"So?" she asked, taking a huge bite of her donut.
Willow looked up in annoyance, "I thought you said no more donuts?"
"I said no more jelly n' crème donuts, this is a plain, ordinary..."
"Sugar encrusted, fat-filled... should I continue?" Willow tried in vain to pull her papers out from beneath Buffy. She just ended up tearing the corner of one before she gave up in exasperation, "Honestly Buffy, one of these days all the donuts you eat are going to go straight to your arse."
"Want one?" Buffy held out the box.
"Sure," Willow chose a chocolate coated one and took a savage bite.
"So, did you find anything at the hocus pocus store?"
Willow took another bite and continued with her mouth full of fatty goodness, "As a matter of fact, the woman was very helpful. I found out some interesting things about our symbols... meanings for instance."
"Was she all mystic, spooky or wrinkled? All of the above?" Buffy asked, fishing out her second donut.
"Mystic?" Willow frowned, there had definitely been something about the blonde that was mysterious, "I guess so. Spooky, no. Wrinkled, no. She was young... around our age I think, maybe a little older but definitely young." And hot! Oh god was she hot...
Buffy's eyes narrowed as she saw an all too familiar look on Willow's face.
"Will?" she asked in a suspicious tone.
A debate raged in Willow's head as to whether or not she should confess. It did not take long before she decided that no prodding was needed. Buffy had ways of making her talk, mostly involving threatening to post juicy secrets about Willow on the precinct's intranet.
"She was my type Buffy... well, almost anyway, but I think I'll make her my new type..."
"Will, you don't have a type, you go for anything with two legs and boobs," Buffy snickered at the indignant look on Willow's face, "Sorry Will... you mean she was young, incredibly cute and..." Buffy raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"Yeah," Willow replied, "She was married... or at least I'm pretty sure she was... though I can't actually remember seeing a wedding ring..."
"How do you always do it?" Buffy slammed the donuts down on the desk beside her, a chocolate one jumped out and landed on Willow's palm pilot, "You always get the married ones! Only... Will, you don't look happy enough for someone who has a date on Saturday night..."
"She turned me down Buffy," Willow was trying to scrape chocolate from the screen of the small electronic device.
Buffy swiped the little device away from her partner and licked the offending chocolate off, handing it back to Willow with a grin, "Willow Rosenberg, lesbian lover extraordinaire got rejected! Obviously she wasn't aware of your reputation... or maybe she was and that's your whole problem!"
Buffy stood up and ran to the door of Willow's office. Her voice sounded out down the corridor, "Okay everyone, listen up! I have an important announcement to make! Willow got rejected!"
There were various catcalls and comments issuing from surrounding offices as Willow went beetroot red and buried her face in her arms.
"Cheer up Will," Buffy patted her on the back, "There's plenty of other cute women out there for you to shag."
"I didn't want to shag her Buffy," Willow replied glumly as she looked up, her fingers reaching out to touch the book the young woman had lent her.
Buffy paused her chewing and exclaimed incredulously, "You didn't? What the hell did you want from her then?"
Willow sighed, "Her name... I just wanted to know her name."