DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter and Law & Order SVU do not belong to me, nor do the character contained herein, ‘cept for the original ones, like Jimmy, he’s all mine and no one else can have him. This is for fun, not money…suing is bad and provokes the wheel of Karma in a negative fashion…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: : I need to get this out of the way quickly. First of all, I try my best to backfill information from the previous two stories. I don’t think it’s wholly necessary that you read One Last Shot or Dark Passenger first, although it may help. Second, there’s a loose pattern to the scene shifts as they switch POV from character to character…I’ve been told that it can be a bit distracting, tough cookies on my end. There’s no way for me to go back and change it. If you pay attention and know the characters, it should click during or right after the first paragraph. The pattern goes BtVS character – SVU character – BtVS character. Third, thank you to my long suffering beta, Dirk. The poor bastard has to put up with my awful spelling. Last, read and enjoy, comments are unnecessary, but welcome if you feel so inclined.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Whedonist


Ch. 5 – Wrongful Suspicion

"Yeah, you too, Loe. Take care," Buffy says as she hangs up the phone and blows the bangs from her eyes. Cupcake's all sortsa frazzled and given the hour and the info that came back from C.S.U. …

I really can't blame her. I smile at her and lift the file. "So you wanna start with the basics?"

She nods and sips at the coffee we picked up this morning. I look around the pen to make sure no one is listening. The place is dead quiet. It's way too early for half of these detectives to be in. Satisfied that there's no one listening, I start in, "Alright, so we have the basics that we already know. We know how Teddy…" I stop at Buffy's raised eyebrow. I shrug and say, "You want I should call him Vamp Snack or how about Bat Chow?"

The joke gets Cupcake and she finally sorta smiles at me. I'll take it. "Not to offend your delicate naming sense abilities, Buufffeee. Can I can continue?"

She sticks her tongue out at me before waving her hand in a hurry up motion.

"So Teddy dies of blood loss, we know what caused it. We also know the Dracula that did this tried to cover it up."

"Dracula wouldn't have," she says not even looking up from the evidence log in her hand.

"Come again, Blondie?" I ask scratching my neck.

"Dracula. This really isn't his style. He's all into 'feeling your pain' and 'getting to know your inner killer'. In short, he's a prick that's way too in love with himself." I watch her set the report down and look up at me.

I raise my eyebrow and swallow. "Alright," I say running my fingers through my too long hair and try to wrap my head around what she just said. Not like I should be surprised, but I am. "Let's side bar my inquisitiveness with me expecting a story later on. Teddy's killer wanted to hide the marks on him, but not on the little girl. Why?"

"Old Man, I'll see your 'why' and raise you a 'what the hell'. The evidence logs for both vics were pretty standard." Her brow knits together and I know she's about to lay somethin' on me that I haven't seen yet. "The one thing that ties it all up is a piece of paper found on both the father and the daughter."

She passes the file to me and two evidence bags fall out. I hold up the first one and examine the aged paper. A hand drawn eight pointed star looks up at me. I slide open my right top drawer and pull out a pair of latex gloves. Slipping them on, I pull the evidence bag open and reach in.

The first thing I notice about the paper is that it's thick. Not the standard stuff. Even through the gloves as I bring it out of the bag, it's heavy and has a waxier feel to it. The gloves are slick on the surface of the paper.

Buffy rounds the corner of my desk and has her own set of gloves on. We both notice the sample that was cut from the corner of the paper. A piece of the paper and enough of the star to test the type of writing instrument used are gone. I hand the star over to her and pick up the other bag. I pull the paper out of the other bag and notice it's the same kind. The difference with the two pieces is that this one doesn't have a star. It's got a lion drawn on it instead.

I inspect the drawing. Even out of the bag it's hard to tell that it's a drawing. It's meticulous in the lines and form of the animal. If the shit bag who drew it wasn't a maggot farm that should be filling the bottom of an ashtray, I'd be more inclined to be impressed. As is, it kinda pisses me off.

"Loe says that they're getting some more info on the paper and the drawing utensil." Buffy slips the paper back in the evidence bag and seals it. She peels her gloves off and tosses them in the trash. "My guess is it's old. It looks old. I don't know enough about art to say what was used, but given the type of paper, I'd say a wax base."

I follow her earlier actions and my gloves go in the same trash can. "Fair enough." Our heads whip around to the entrance of the squad room and Nicole and her partner, Adil, come in. Out of the rest of the D's that work the twenty-fourth, they're my least favorite. Something stinks about them.

I grumble, "What the fuck are Frick and Frack doin' here so early?"

Buffy slaps my shoulder for the question. "Morning, you two," she chirps.

They smile back and Adil looks at the clock and then our desks, "What, you two sleep here?"

No, you piece of fuck we were here early doing our job. Instead of saying what I really want to, I chime in, "Well, we got a hot one. Just trying to work it out."

Nicole drapes her jacket over the back of her chair and heads for the coffee pot. After setting up a fresh pot, she says, "Yeah, I heard you two got stuck working with the Panty Patrol."

"Panty Patrol?" Buffy looks to me for an answer.

Before I have time to answer, Adil cuts in, "Special Victims Unit."

Not seeing the correlation, my partner still motions for more information. I supply, "They investigate rapes, molestation, crimes involving kids."

I see the recognition and then the flash of anger in Buffy's eyes. She knows the name isn't one that's meant respectfully. "So you call them the Panty Patrol because?"

Nicole snorts and manages between the snicker and condescension, "'Cause most of us know, that it's a shit unit. It's all 'he said, she said' cases or the vics are too screwed up or too young to make a credible witness. That's if you can even find the alleged rapists."

I watch my partners jaw clench. I'm still sitting in my chair, but she's not. She's standing against my desk and I feel her take an imperceptible step forward. I reach out and grab her forearm. I give the tense muscles beneath my hand a light squeeze.

"Cupcake, this ain't a battle you wanna pick. They're assholes. You know it. I know it."

I feel her relax and she leans against my desk. Looking down at me, she gives me a brief nod and asks, "Jimmy, we need to get our notes loaded up in the system." She lets the conversation drop and goes back to her desk.

I shoot a dirty look in the general direction of Adil and Nicole before tucking back into my desk and the stacks of paper that hold it up.

One last look at Cupcake's pensive face and I open a DD-5 from another of our open cases.

For some reason, I don't think it's gonna be a good day. 'Course it could just be the pessimist in me or the wicked ass heartburn starting to crawl up my throat.

Guess we'll wait and see.

"Oh, and Cupcake, I still need the why?" I wink at her and I see the gears begin to turn. She'll have a theory by lunch.

I go back to the DD-5 a little more jazzed and proud that I was able to stave off her foul-ass mood.

Shit's hell on my acid reflux.

I rub the grit from eyes and reach for the cold cup of coffee on my desk. Glancing at the clock, my eyes go wide as I look to one of the slivers of a window in the squad room. Liv should be in soon. Then we can go over what I found.

It should be a helluva morning.

I just can't believe I've been here since eleven last night. I shake it off and go to loosen my tie. My hand fumbles for the piece of clothing, but I feel the knot's already down as low as it can go without it coming off. Shrugging, I whip the stupid thing over my head and stuff it in the pocket of my sports coat.

My watch beeps seven a.m. and right on the nose, Liv breezes through. She stops when she sees me and raises an eyebrow.

I smile sheepishly and shake a folder at her. "You're gonna have some fun with this."

She swings by the coffee pot and starts a fresh one. Not bothering to put the decanter under the drip she places her coffee mug first. "Oh, no. I get to tell you mine first. Last night was…enlightening." She smirks and checks the cup. Skillfully, she swaps her mug for the decanter and fixes her cup.

I lean back in my chair, lace my fingers behind my head and wait. She ain't usually this perky in the morning…and the fact I just called Liv perky may signal a need for some crash time in the crib.

She sits down in her chair and wheels it over to my side of the desk. Her face now reads serious and now I'm curious. "Liv?"

"El," she says patting my knee, "we need to talk before the rest of the boys get in."

"All ears, partner." I sit forward and wait for her to start.

"I'm gonna get this out of the way first and then we can move on to the more interesting topics." I watch her, closely. She's nervous. That isn't good. "Last night," she takes a sip from her mug, "I went with Alex to her charity function."

I shrug. So? "So?"

"El, I went as her date." Her eyes twinkle in a way I haven't seen in as long as I care to remember.

Her date?

Why would Alex…?



"Oh." It's lame. It's what I got right now.

Well, fuck me sideways and call me Sally. Really didn't see that one coming. Not even kind of. I scratch at my neck, trying to figure out if more needs to be said. Instead of eating leather, I decide on the more tactful approach until I can wrap my head around what she just said and what she didn't say. The didn't way fucking more important than the did. "So, what was the other news you have?"

She seems a bit shocked but I give her smile. Hoping to convey that we really have bigger fish to catch this morning.

I wait as she processes what I haven't said. A small smile tugs at the corner of her mouth and she nods. "So, Alex and I get there and you'll never guess who we're sitting with?"

I ask the expected, "Who?"

"Detective Summers and her fiancé, Doctor Rosenberg." She scoots back a little and rests her arm on her chair. The pen in her hand tapping against the wood. "Seems Doctor Rosenberg is the liaison that Alex has been working with for the charity. Those two…El," she stops and tries to figure out the words, "something, there's more to them then what they show."

Smiling, I play the devil's advocate, "That's true of anyone."

"Yeah," she concedes. "But, it's more than that." Wheeling herself around to her desk, she pushes the sleeves up on her sweater and waits for me to fill in.

I give off a low whistle and laugh. Leave it to her. "Well, while you were off wining and dining New York's best looking A.D.A. and a personal friend of mine, I might add…" I tease her and waggle my finger in her direction, "I was hard at work here. "

Her eyebrows lift and I say, "Oh yeah, but it's more in the vein of finding out some info on our lead D's for this case." I scratch at my chin, deciding on how best to continue. "See, Wednesday, right, it wasn't just the vibe. Their place. They live together with Buffy's doctor. Got me thinking. Also got me looking."

I slide the folder over to her desk and she flips it open. She scans the information that I could find on Detectives Summers and McAllister as well as Doctor Rosenberg. None of it wholly damaging, but enough that it makes me wonder why the Rat Squad ain't sniffed around their trees yet.

"I knew that," she says not looking up from the printouts. "I didn't know she and her partner are Detective First Grade." Her mouth drops open as she sees the different commendations that are in there for Jimmy and Buffy. "The goddamned Governor. George Pataki gave her her shield?"

"In 2004, yeah. She wasn't a Uni for six fucking months and then she catches a case with Jimmy. One letter of recommendation and a trumped-up test, and Little Miss California's got herself a second degree detective's shield." I smirk, and tell her to look at the other commendation that got her to D-1 status. Her eyes get larger and she hisses, "No way."

I fold my arms across my chest and laugh. "It's legit. Senator Clinton gave the recommendations for both Summers and McAllister."

She leafs through the rest of the file and shakes her head. Finally, after a few more minutes, she looks up shaking her head, "And she's taking the exam to get her Sergeants Shield next week?" She leans back and closes the file. "Who the fuck is this woman?"

"That's not all, Liv." I lift up another file. "This goes back to two-oh-oh-five. There was a crazy ass M.E. that started killin' girls. Seems he was after Summers and her lover, Rosenberg. It all ended badly. One of their friends, Aradia Iver from London, England, gets killed. Their other friend, Faith Lehane, was kidnapped along with Summers and both were tortured. At the time, Lehane was pregnant."

I take a sip from my coffee and look at my partner. I know that I have her attention. "To add fuel to the fire, it seems that not only Lehane, but Summers as well, were prime suspects in a couple of murder investigation from her hometown."

"Where's she from? Can we get the full records?" Liv leans forward on her desk, her elbows propping her up.

"Would and could if the town was still around. Can't. They're from Sunnydale." I wait for her to catch up. "Moreover, it was her, her family and a few others that were the ones that made it out just before that place became a crater."

I slide over another folder and start up again, "Seems that they were closely affiliated with a company called the Watcher's Council International. Her sister, Dawn Summers, is now the acting C.E.O. Another interesting tidbit is that Buffy's records are all but sealed. I tried to get to some more stuff, but according to the F.B.I. I don't have the proper clearance to access the files on anyone from Sunnydale or even on McAllister."

A mirthless laugh escapes my partner's lips and she says, "You know John would have a field day with this?"

"I don't think it would hurt to ask him right now." I add, seriously.

She chews on her lower lip before asking, "So what do we do with this?"

I shrug and go back to resting my head on my hands that are laced behind it. "I don't know. Really, I feel a little rat like pullin' the info, but between the apartment and their behavior…it didn't sit right."

She nods her agreement.

"So, what did you find out last night as you schmoozed with them?" I wiggle my eyebrows.

"Not nearly this much." Her mouth turns down and she says, "I think we should talk to them."

"What?" She can't be serious.

She licks her lips and thinks through what she's about to say. I hate the look she's got. "Meeting them last night, I don't think they're on the take at all." She rubs at her neck and says, "Last night, Buffy asked me to trust her. Said you and I would get answers eventually. I didn't know about any of this, but for some reason, El, I do want to trust her and Jimmy. I think they're good cops. I don't know what they're mixed up in, but I think if we ask, they may just tell us."

Well that was certainly not what I was expecting. Shit.

Ugh, I think another shower is going to be in order. I blow some bangs from in front of my eyes and wipe at the sweat that's started to drip from my forehead.

Why didn't we get the movers to unpack? They did everything else.

I heave one of the last boxes I've got to unpack over to the bookshelf in the room. I watch as droplets of sweat fall from the tip of my nose and splash the box of books. I'm a sweaty, grimy mess. This is not how I wanted to spend the last day of my three day break.

But it is.

Buffy and Jimmy haven't had time. They've caught a new case to round out the other ones they're working. I wonder what they really have cookin' away at the precinct. Buffy's been kind of quiet about it, and last night, well, let's just say that I only got the bare bones.

I wipe my forehead on the arm of my t-shirt and make a note to recheck the thermostat on the apartment.

Criminey, it's hot in here.

Pulling the lid from the box, I see it's the one that has a set of photo albums that Dawn had put together the Christmas before last. Smiling I take them out and start putting them on the built in bookshelf.

"Poop." I grunt as I get up to answer the shrill ringing of the telephone. "Hello?" I ask into the receiver.

"Hello, Doctor Rosenberg?" the male voice on the end of the line asks.

"This is. How can I help you?" I sit on the edge of the bed and grab for the glass of water.

"I'm Doctor Anthony Cipriani over at the Chief Medical Examiner's office. I was wondering if you're still interested in the position we have open."

I take a sip of water and answer, "I would be. I am. I just didn't think that it would be anytime soon. As I understand, your offices were going through some budget constraints."

He laughs lightly on the other end of the phone and says, "We were or rather we are, but not so much so that I can't hire another much needed M.E. I've only two full time doctors. I need another. Would you be willing to come in and interview?"

I resist the urge to shout a loud yes and instead manage, "Of course, when?"

I hear pages flipping on the other end of the line and I pick at the lip of the plastic cup. I look at the cup and try to remember who in the hell went to Atlantic City.

Why would anyone go to Atlantic City? I've never heard anything good about it. All you do is smoke, drink and lose the money you work your fanny off for. Where's the fun?

"Well," Dr. Cipriani's voice snaps me out of my internal rant, "if you can, I'd like to meet in the morning, Monday. Say eight a.m.? I know that you are working over at Presby and then filling in at some of the off-site clinics, but the sooner the better."

I run through my work schedule quickly and figure that I can get Padesh to cover an hour or two of my shift Monday morning. He owes me for his anniversary. "I can make that work."

"Fantastic. I'll make a note with my admin and tell her to expect you then." He hesitates and then before I have a chance to say thank you, he asks, "Doctor Rosenberg, if I may, why work with the M.E.'s office?"

I smirk and can only imagine the look on his face. "Because I know it's something that I can do. I'm good at it and it allows me to help people that can't help themselves anymore." I set the water glass on the end table and look at a picture of Buffy and I together from our first Thanksgiving. "Because I see the value in giving voice to those that can't speak for themselves anymore."

He clucks on the end of the line and then says, "Very well. I look forward to meeting you on Monday then."

"I'll see you then. Thank you." I smile into the phone, hoping he can hear how happy this has made me.

"Thank me if you get the job, doctor. Have a good day." With that he's off the phone.

I fall back on the bed and let my arms splay out. A sense of relief washes through me. I stare up at the ceiling with its fan not circulating any air. I reach for the fans remote and put it on low. The slight whirring overhead picks up creating a cool breeze. It chills some of the sweat on my over heated body.

I can't believe they finally called. I sorta, kinda wanna cry I'm so relieved. I don't think I'll have a hard time getting the job, but it would mean…it would mean some type of frickin' freedom. I took the job at Presby so that I could get some experience and not appear so green when I applied to the O.C.M.E. Instead, it's been this monster that's sorta taken over my life.

I've no time for anything. The sad thing is, is that I've no idea what I'm working so hard for.

To save lives?

Really that's not it.

I mean sure it has something to do with it, but there are other doctors. Doctors that want to do that sort of thing. It's not like I don't want to save lives, but…it's different.

In a way, I'm no longer part of the good fight. It's all gunshot wounds, drug overdoses and car crashes. I'm saving people that…I sigh and shake my head.

Really not going there.

If I'm super honest, I got the doctorate because it would allow me to work in an M.E. office, sort of doing what I've done since I was a sophomore in high school. Research. Lots of it. Just different kinds. I would be able to share that with Buffy again.

I miss it. And that's sorta crazy, but it's what I know. She doesn't talk about cases with me, not really. Of course, I can say that she and I haven't really had a good conversation in months.

A random raspberry is blown through my lips. This just sucks. Getting married to the woman who made me realize that I was gay in a few months and the relationship is rockier than rocky road.

I turn my head to the ringing handset in my hand. What now?

"Hello?" I say again.

"Will?" Dawn's voice comes through.

"Heya, Dawnie." I smile glad to hear her voice. We haven't talked in a few weeks. The odd text message here and there, but that's it. "What's up?"

"Oh, I'm in the states, actually." Her voice is a little tense. Something's up. "I'm in California. L.A."

"Ah, something wrong?" I ask.

I know the answer to the question, but I figure I'd be polite and let her break the bad news to me in her own way.

"Uh, well there are a few things." I can almost see her nervously chewing on her lower lip. I don't think I'm going to like anything she has to say. "Uh, well, first let's just say it wasn't my fault. We were talking and the beans spilled."

"Who was talking?" I grab for a pillow at the head of the bed and stuff it behind my head. This is going to be a long conversation.

"Uh, Angel, me, Spike, Illyria, Wes and Gunn. We were in a meeting trying to reach some kinda agreement about the slayers being in L.A. and then we were talking about non-slayee stuff. I sorta slipped that Buffy was getting married soon."

I take the pillow from behind my head and slam it over my face. Oh, for the love of the goddess. Damn it, Dawnie! That's the last thing Buffy and I need right now. "Uh-huh," I manage from under the pillow. "And?"

"And that's the one thing. They haven't really said anything else. Angel looked like he wanted to ask who, but I didn't offer it. I figure you would want to tell them, it's your's and my deranged sister's business."

Well, at least that's a positive in the news stuff for today. I know there's more. "What else?"

"Well, I was wondering if you've heard from Siobhan or Dexter?" her voice gets a bit higher as she asks.

"Nope. I thought you were keeping tabs on Miami," I say. This is gonna suck.

"Alright. There's really no easy way to say this. About two, three weeks ago, his wife and two step-kids were killed in a house fire. A week later, Dexter, his sister, Debra and our slayer are M.I.A." I listen as the phone shifts to her other ear. "I was hoping you or Buffy had talked to either of them."

My stomach drops and I answer her, "No. Haven't talked to either of them for a few months. You don't think he…" I can't voice the thought.

It's a crappy thought to have. In fact, it's crap upon poop upon shit.

"I don't know, Will. Look, I need to go. We need to finish up here and then I'm heading down to Miami. I'll keep you updated. Love you, Buffy and Jimmy. Bye!" She's gone before I have time to reply.

The acid in my stomach churns. I need to talk to Buffy.


Ch. 6 – Shadow of the Dead

She stands at the stove, sliding the last piece of bread on to a serving dish. There's a part of me that wants to pinch myself and make sure I'm not dreaming. I'm sitting here in the morning with Alex, in her kitchen. She's making breakfast. I need to ask her when she learned to cook or how.

She turns from the stove, plates in hand and comes over to the breakfast nook where I'm sitting. A soft smile curves her lips and heat spreads from the center of my chest outwards as I watch her watch me.

"Alex," I say, rising to help her with the plates, "you really didn't need to go through all of this."

Taking a seat across from me, she says, "No, Olivia, I didn't, but I wanted to."

I shake my head and fork another piece of bread onto my plate. Looking up, I comment on the decoration of the apartment. It's got more of an 'Alex' feel. I grin and ask, "This place is a bit different than your last penthouse."

She appraises the olive green walls, dark wood cabinets and granite counter tops then shrugs.  "It's....more me I think."  She takes a sip of orange juice and then says, "In the program I couldn't do anything with my rentals.  When I came back...I didn't want to do anything with my rentals."

I study her for a moment trying to gauge how much I can dig. There's a lot I want to know, but I'm not sure how much she's willing to share. I go for simple and ask, "What changed?"

Her head tilts to the right and hair falls in front of her face. I reach over and tuck it behind her ear for her. My hand lingers for a second, her skin feeling smooth and warm under my calloused hand. Surprising me, her hand covers mine and she takes it, entwining our fingers before answering, "Pulling your head out of your ass does wonders, Liv."

I flush, from the touch and the admission. I want to be careful with Alex. I don't want her being scared and run her off. I want to take my time and relearn her from the inside out, but the woman is making it impossible for slow to happen. I suck in a breath and whisper, "What?"

Alex slides around on the bench seat, never letting go of my hand. Finally, she's next to me. One arm pulling me to her, the other still hanging on to my left hand. "What, Liv?"

My lips purse as I gather my thoughts. Finally deciding on what to say, I start up, "What are we doing Alex?" I see the hurt flash on her face and then the walls start to go up. Quickly, I add, "I'm not saying this isn't something I don't want. It's just there's so much history. Can we even get past that?"

I watch her intently as she considers my words. Her lips press together in that way and I resist the urge to smile. A second later, she states her case, "I thought I was trying to win you back to the dark side. I promised you I'd be better and I'm going to be. Olivia, I know there's a lot to get past. Years of hurt that I caused you. Hell, I did a number on myself, but I want an us."

She releases my hand and cradles my chin. "That never changed. After Connors, after I came back and left again." She releases my chin and moves her hand to the back of my neck to play with my hair. She smirks and says, "So do me a favor. Don't over think it; I've done that enough for the both of us. Let me woo you. Let me treat you like I feel you should be treated."

The words slip past my parted lips before I have time to stop them, "What if the wooing is too slow?"

A grin creeps up her face and she says playfully, "We can woo quicker. Cabots are known for their ability to adapt to more rigorous demands." She winks at me and I can't help but laugh. Her hand stops playing with my hair and she looks at me.

A soft vibrating stops the words on my lips and I reach into my jeans pocket. I read the text message from Elliot and curse.

"And I think," Alex says into my ear, "that we're going to have to wait on the wooing for today."

"It's just El giving me an update on some information." I slip my phone back in my pocket and ask, "Alex, how much do you know about Willow?"

"Why?" she asks as an eyebrow rises.

"How much have you gotten to know her?" I ask a different way.

"We've had some lunches a few dinners." Taking the necklace that I wear, she plays with the pendant and says, "We mainly talked about the charity, but I did get to know her a little. We both never really talked about our jobs. Seemed too boring, but she did talk about Buffy. Never mentioned what Buffy did and being in that boat I can see why. I know that she and Buffy are to be married on the first of May. I know they have a roommate, Jimmy."

"She ever talk about where she's from?" I ask, hoping I'm not asking for too much. I don't want to betray any confidences, but some information I need.

Alex shakes her head. "Olivia, as much as playing twenty questions with you is something I've missed. What are you looking for?"

I lick my lips and decide that being honest is the best thing to do right now, "Alex, there's some stuff about Buffy and her partner that aren't making sense. Willow's involved."


"I don't know. If you can get her to open up to you. Any information can help." I'm not really happy about going this route, but I can't trust Buffy to tell me the truth. I can trust Alex.

She reaches for her coffee and drinks before answering me. "I'll dig some, but Liv, knowing what I know about her, there's stuff in her past she's not going to want to talk about. You have to see it in her. I did. I saw it in Buffy to."

"Maybe," I concede, "but, I'm also working a case with them and they're playing games."

She nods as my phone rings. Silently I curse. I really just wanted the morning for us. She asked me to come over for breakfast, knowing that I was going to be in the precinct all day. Sighing, I scowl when Jimmy's name appears on the display. "Benson," I answer.

"Hey, Raph I need you down at the corner of First Avenue and East One-Hundred-Fourteenth. Jefferson Park. We got some problems," he sounds tired as he rattles off the address.

Curious, I ask, "Raph?"

"Yeah, seems you make my partner think of that crazy ass turtle, ya know the one that does ninja and shit. Raphael." He chuckles in my ear and I shake my head.

I've been around enough kids to know who he's talking about, but I don't get the nick name. Instead of arguing, I say, "Alright, I'm near the Upper West Side. I can cut the through the park and be there in forty on foot."

"Call me once you get to Eighty-First and Second. I'll have a Uni come and pick you up. It'll be a lot quicker. There was a monumental accident on Fifth and a Hundred 'n' Sixth. Bastards got it backed up to Garvey Park."

"Alright, see you in twenty." I end the call and turn to Alex an apology written all over my face.

"It's okay, Liv." She shoos me out, off my chair and walks me to the door. Helping me into my coat, she spins me around and secures the scarf around my neck. Pulling me to her, she wraps me up in a hug. Whispering into my neck, I hear, "Happy Valentine's Day, Detective Benson."

I pull back from her and smile. Her lips are a few centimeters from mine, so I close the distance and chastely press our lips together.

I close my hand around the hot cup of coffee Elliot handed me. Thankful that it's warm and slowly thawing out my hands. Dumb, pissed off Buffy forgot her gloves this morning and the extra pair I keep in the squad car dropped into a puddle of city winter sludge.

Scowling, I look around the one-six and realize that whoever designed our precinct must have designed this one too. It's like scary similar.

I shake off the thoughts as Elliot pulls up the freshly loaded crime scene photos. Jimmy and I look at each other, exchanging thoughts. Neither of us pleased with the turn of events.

I need to find this vamp. Quickly.

I sigh and watch Olivia come from one of the interrogation rooms. She looks at me, striding in our direction. She looks like she's on the damn war path.

Idly, I can't help but wonder if I look the same when I'm focused.

"Summers, Michael is asking for you. Won't finish with the sketch artist until he sees you," Olivia says this and I shake my head. She's pissed about it. It's written all over her face, but I just don't know why.

Maybe I could care less on the why. The fact is some fucked up vamp with a serious need to treat kids as Snack Pacs is running around my city. Ya know, it'd be okay if it was just the adults. I mean there'd still be major suckage, but it would be manageable.

Instead, they pick on families and kids. My jaw clenches and I follow Olivia into the room. As I walk in, I see the little boy's tear and blood stained face. The kid's got his father's eyes.

My chest tightens as I think about his entire family, mom, dad, one sister and a brother gone. Probably killed right in front of him. Why was he left?

A question for later. I have a job to do right now.

I look him in the eyes and my tummy clenches at the look on his face. I look away and shake my head. I've seen that look on adults too often. It's the walking dead. They live, breathe, they have souls, but no one's home.

Quietly, he asks, "Are you Buffy?"

"I am. Nice to meet you, Michael." I sit across from him and wait.

I watch as he reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. It looks way close to the paper that was found on the McCannon's. "I was told to give this to you." His hand shakes as he passes the paper to me.

Well, at least I'm saved from my earlier rumination. Mystery solved.

He's Hermes.

I reach for it, not caring that I should probably be wearing gloves. It's folded in to fourths. Thick and waxy just like the last ones. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Olivia standing there a look of shock on her face. Maybe it's disbelief. Not really sure the adjective matters right now.

I don't unfold it yet, instead I look at Michael and gently ask, "You think you can help us out now and talk to Kira?" I turn to the precinct sketch artist and motion for her to sit. I can't help but smile a little as I look at the young artist. She isn't much younger than me, but she's got way more innocence.

Tons more than I ever did. At least until after I was chosen.

She sits down with the kid and they build a quick rapport. He asks her about her hair and why it's dyed different colors. She answers his question with honesty and affection. Quickly, she begins pulling from him details. Small things to help put the sketch together.

Silently, I pray, well…okay not so much pray as hope really hard that he doesn't describe the same face that Alison ended up describing. Sure, it was a great picture of a vampire, even down to the bumps and the eyes, but Olivia and Elliot weren't impressed. They tossed the thing.

I touch my jacket where the sketch that was supposed to be thrown away now hides. What can I say, it was a good sketch and it'll help me track this bitch down.

A few minutes and Kira is holding up the drawing for Michael to approve. The fear on his face as she shows him her work is enough for me. I touch her shoulder and ask, "Can I see it please?"

She turns it around as Olivia moves to Michael's side glancing at the sketch and then immediately comforting the boy.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

The same face as the one in my jacket, fangs and all stare back at me.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

"Thanks," I manage. She knows when she's done and slips the paper from her board, resting it face down on the table. I don't watch her leave the room. Instead, I finger the edge of the paper in my hands. The wax leaving a slight film where I've rubbed it.

I take a few minutes and watch Olivia with the boy. She's so easy and open with kids. It's pretty neat to watch. She's got a touch, kinda like my mom used to have. Even the neighborhood kids I used to play with all ended up at my house while my mom cleaned up the usual scrapes and cuts kids usually get.

They trusted my mom, like this kid trusts Olivia.

She quiets him down enough and he looks at me. Eying me. Olivia is doing the same, but she has a different look on her face. It's one that's way curious. Her eyes dart to the paper in my hands and silently I acknowledge the request.

I unfold the paper and read the neatly scripted print.

"The death of one is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."

A low growl escapes me as I resist the urge to ball the stupid thing up and throw it in the trash.

Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

I push back from the table and toss the paper on to it. Without a word, I'm out of my seat and out the door, rushing towards the outside.

I need air. I needed to get out of that room. I come out on a second floor landing, an alley below me. I grab the cold railing and launch myself over the side. Not really caring if anyone sees me or not. The thick layer of frozen snow cushions my impact with the alley floor.

I should be freezing. I should be worried about frostbite. None of it registers. Stalking towards the back, I stop at the end of the alley. Not sure where to go or what to do, I spin around and punch the side of the building. I feel it shudder. Small chunks of brick fly at me. I punch it again. More brick flies. I pull back, steadying my shaking fist for a third strike when a hand closes around my wrist.

"I don't think," the usually gruff voice, now soft and soothing says, "Cupcake, that the building did much for you to beat the tar out of it."

My jaw clenches. I'm ready to bite back, but he's right. The fight leaves me and I slump back against his solid form.

"C'mon, kiddo, let's get your hand washed off." He guides me back to the middle of the alley. A side door is propped open and he leads me through it. "Red'll be mad if I don't take care of that hand."

The mention of Will's nickname causes more pain. My non-bloody mangled hand reaches into my pocket to finger the small red box. I was supposed to give her the Valentine's Day gift this morning, but she left me with only a peck on the cheek as I feigned sleep. I doubt she knows what today is.

I'm sure there are a dozen reasons why I dislike hospitals.  Working with S.V.U., I know, is the primary.  Yet, here I am, dropping off the last check to the hospital director. Despite, some of the remodeling the hospital's gone through to make it appear less like a hospital and more like someplace you would like to be, it's still a hospital. 

Snaking my way around a cart, I hang a left at the end of the hall and head for the main nurses station in the E.R. One of the hospital workers smiles up at me as I approach and I ask, "Is Dr. Rosenberg on today?"

"She is. Would you like me to page her?" She reaches for the phone as I nod. I watch as she presses a few buttons and then replaces the receiver. "She should be here in a minute." She motions behind me to a set of orange plastic chairs and says, "Have a seat and we'll get you when she swings in."

"Thank you," I say and turn to sit in the chairs. It isn't more than three minutes later when I watch Willow stride up to the nurses' station.

"What can I do for you, Connie?" Willow asks. She sounds a little tired. If she really works the hours that she says she does, I would be to.

"You have a visitor," Connie says, pointing over Willow's shoulder to me.

Willow spins around and recognition causes a small smile to tug at her lips. "Alex."

"Hi." I stand and join her at the station. "Sorry to drop in. I was just dropping off that last check."

"Good. Hey, I wanted to…" she stops and chews on her bottom lip before picking back up, "Well, I just wanted to say thanks for the chance to help. It was fun."

Smiling, I nod. "It was." I look at the dark circles under her eyes, the way that she's pulled her hair back haphazardly and I realize she must have been here for a while. Rethinking my original intent to come see her, I say, "I was going to see if you had time to grab a bite to eat, but…"

"I would actually love to," she says relieved. "My shift ended an hour ago and I've been here since four this morning." She removes the stethoscope from around her neck and shoves it in a lab coat pocket. "Come on," she says, motioning to follow her.

We weave our way down a few hallways and I follow her into a room. I look around the empty lounge and she says, "Thank you, again." She turns to a bank of lockers and puts in a combination to open hers. "You gave me an excuse to get out of here."

I smirk. At least I can be a little bit of help. "Glad to be of service." I catch the inside door of her locker. There are a few pictures up. One of her and Buffy cuddled up on the couch together asleep. Another of Buffy and a tall, large man in dress blues. The other shows a family, the father has an eye patch over his right eye, the mother is smirking in the photo, but her you can tell she's at least happy as she holds a giggling little girl. I come up behind her and touch the picture, "Cute family."

She looks at me, eyebrow raised. "God, don't ever let Faith here you say that." She shakes her head and laughs.

"Faith?" I ask.

She points to the smirking mom. Ah.

She points to the man and says, "That's Xander. Next to Buffy, he's my oldest friend." Her finger moves to the little girl, "And this is Izzy."

"Izzy?" I ask. Funny name for a pretty little girl.

"Short for Isabella." She hangs her lab coat and puts on a winter one.

Before I can stop myself, I ask, "Are they from Sunnydale, to?"

She bristles momentarily and then nods. "Been doing some reading?"

"Actually," I say apologetically, "no. Olivia and Elliot have."

She looks around the locker room and seems relieved that no one is around to hear our conversation. "Let's get out of here. This isn't -" She doesn't finish the sentence and just leaves me standing there.

I do my best to catch up with her. We stride down the hallways and out the double set of doors. She hails a cab and motions for me to get inside. Politely, she tells the cab driver an address on the Upper West Side.

I look at her with an upturned eyebrow. She shrugs and says, "Home is better. We can call and get some delivery from the Red Dragon."

I simply nod and wait as the driver takes us south on Amsterdam. He hangs a left at One-Hundredth and pulls up next to an apartment building. Willow hands him the fare, before following me out of the cab and into he building.

The lobby's all gold and silver platting, mirrors and open airy spaces. I can see why Olivia and Elliot's suspicions were raised a little. Even if you combine salaries, I know what a place in a place like this costs per month.

We ride the elevator in silence and it stops on the fourteenth floor. We exit and head left to the last door on the right. She allows me to enter first and smiles a little. There are still some moving boxes lying around, but the place is nice. Comfortable. I'm assuming they haven't been here that long, but it feels like a home.

"I'm going to go change. There's a phone on the coffee table. The menu to Pe King's in the drawer on the end table. Go ahead and order. I'll take a number seven." She tosses her coat on top of a box and turns right, closing a door to one of the bedrooms.

I look around a bit more, the living room and dining room is all one space and the kitchen is a passageway off to the right of the door. The furniture is a soft brown leather set of couches and one recliner. The T.V is mounted on the far wall, while the wall above the couch holds pictures of what I can assume to be family and friends.

I move to the only end table and pull out the drawer discreetly tucked away underneath. I smirk at the treasure trove of take out menus they have stored. It's really only something I've seen New Yorkers do. We do love our take out. I sink into the soft leather as I pick up the phone and place the order.

As I set the phone down, Willow comes out looking a little more refreshed and comfortable in beige cargo pants and an N.Y.P.D t-shirt. She smiles and plops down in the recliner, groaning in appreciation.

"Food will be here in twenty minutes," I say.

She nods and asks, "Do you want something to drink?"

"I'll wait until the food gets here." I scoot back into the couch and she looks at me.

"So, what do you know about Sunnydale?" she asks, her tone mildly suspicious.

I would like to curse Olivia for asking this. I'm afraid I've lost the connection with Willow that I'd built. The few times that we've gotten together had been fun, light. I couldn't help but think that if I'd had a friend like her in the program it would have been a lot easier.

Deciding on a course of action, I go for blunt, "Truthfully, not a whole lot. That's really not why I asked."

She shifts in her chair and I try to affect an air of casualty as I continue, "To be honest, Willow, I was asked to see how much information you were willing to share."

"And if the answer's not a whole bunch?" She's tense and defensive.

Exactly how I don't want her to be.

"Then that's fine." I lock eyes with her, trying to express the sincerity, "I know a thing or two about wanting to keep secrets, but I will say this, your fiancé and her partner are working with my friends. I would hope that if they have information that is pertinent to the investigation that they would share."

Willow thankfully relaxes as she sees the truth in my words. She deflates and looks younger than she actually is. "Alex, it's complicated, but I can tell you that it's not a factor. If they aren't sharing information they're doing it because they have to. Not because they want to."

"Bull. Do you know that four more bodies turned up today? A family of five. One little boy was spared. A family, Willow." I sit up and drive my point home, "Ira and Joyce Steinman parents of Bethany, age twelve, Joel, age fifteen and Michael, who lived, age nine."

Her face falls as the names roll off my tongue.


Ch. 7 – Animosity

I double park the sedan and scramble out of the car. It's colder than shit. The streets are slick and my partner's out for blood. The building's as nondescript as they come. It seems to be the way it goes. Since knowing about demons, I've been to more bars, clubs and places that they call hang outs then I think I have human. They're all the types of places everyone walks past.

I sure the fuck have enough times.

Buffy swings the door open even as the guy on the inside tries to stop her. Her hand goes to his chest and she just flicks her wrist. Poor guy's body slams against the left wall and he's down for the count. I sorta feel bad for him.

Dutifully I follow her. I mean I can't do much more except watch her back and plant my fist in anything's face that tries to sneak up on her. As we step through the second doorway, a few heads turn, but the rest pretty much keep to themselves.

This particular bar we've been to before. In fact, it's the one place that anyone new in the city will usually hit up at least once. Buffy's got the owner under her thumb which is good. She's stopped a few bad things from settin' up residence here. It's not like New York ain't got enough of 'em.

The real kicker about this place is that I think the owner used the set of Cheers as inspiration. It's set up so much like it that the theme song starts up in my head. Unconsciously, I start to hum, "Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see…"

I stand off to the left of Cupcake casually taking an interest in the increasingly loud conversation. Her voice growls a few choice words I think she picked up from me. I flinch knowing where this is gonna go. To say my partner's "on one" would be putting it mildly, she's not only on one but she's riding it so hard something's gonna get punctured.

I swing my head around as a pair of shoes goes sailing across my eyesight. The bartender's airborne. He flips in the air upside down, slamming against a large mirror that hangs on the wall closest to us. It shatters on impact and there's this moment where it all hangs. Time just kinda seems to stand still. It don't last. He drops head first on to the floor as Buffy grabs my arm and pulls me out of the bar.

She calls out over her shoulder, "I'll be back."

I cap the snort. She may not look like Arnie, but I know she could take him.

I know the bartender and every other thing in here thinks so too.

We're out the door and Buffy's in the car before I even make it to the street. Sighing, I brace myself for the impending conversation. I slip into the driver's seat, turn the car over and crank the heat a minute. A quick glance to my right and decide I should keep my eyes forward.

I pull out into traffic and head for home.

"Were you humming?" she asks from her side of the car.

I shrug.

The only other thing I get from her for the rest of the car ride is a grunt.

I think it's worse than I thought.

It takes a good thirty minutes for us to get home. It started snowing making the trek up Amsterdam about as dangerous as gettin' dumped in a prison with 'kiddie diddler' tattooed across your forehead and ass.

After parking in the garage, we make our way into the lobby and into the elevator. She's still quiet. Broody. This should be fun.

We make it into the apartment and Red's sittin' in the living room reading a book. There's a stack on the end table. The two soda cans and stained coffee mug tell me she's been here for a while. She looks up and gives us a half-hearted attempt at a smile.

Right there with ya kiddo.

I take Buffy's jacket and remove mine. They go in the closet and I go back to the living room. I sit in the recliner opposite the couch. And wait.

Ya know, even when the ex-wife and I were at our worst I don't think we were ever like this. I know things haven't been great between my two girls, but I'm not sure when it got to this point. Will's hours? Buffy's attitude?

I mop my face with my hands and try to kick things off, "By the looks of it Red, you got the news?"

She nods and says, "I've been on the phone with Xander, Dawn and Giles since Alex left." She marks her place in the book on her lap and sets it on the coffee table.

"Alex?" Buffy asks. "You mean the A.D.A. Alex."

Willow moves away from Buffy. Pressing herself against the arm of the couch, her arms wrap around her as she nods, again. "She was at the hospital. We were going to get lunch, but she started asking about Sunnydale."

Buffy's still all glares as her wife continues, "So we came back here instead. I kept it vague."

Great. I undo the tie around my neck and pop a button on my shirt. The tie goes on the back of the recliner as I tug at my shirt and untuck it from my slacks. It's way after quitting time. A quick glance at my watch confirms that one a.m. is way past my bedtime too.

My partner's thin lipped and I know she ain't gonna offer much in the way of info. Might as well give Willow the down and dirty. "A family of five. Except one. Little boy."

"I know," Willow whispers. "Alex gave me some information. The who on the victims."

"What else did she tell you?" Buffy asks.

"Just that. She also said that Olivia and Eliott are curious about all of us." Willow shrugs. "If I were them, I'd be curious about us too. I sorta just went with our canned response. She seemed to accept it."

Buffy's head drops back against the couch and her eyes slip shut. I can barely hear her as she says, "The little boy, Michael, talked to a sketch artist. He described the same face as the little girl."

"We can assume this is a Slayer thing," I say. "We're gonna hafta duck and dodge some of the obvious questions."

Willow looks over at Buffy then back at me, "I've been trying to match up the M.O. with any vamps on record. Any of the major ones. I've got the Council on it too."

Buffy pulls a scrap of paper out of her pocket and reads, "The death of one is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." Disgusted, she tosses the scrap on the coffee table and looks at Red. "That mean anything to you?"

Willow's brow furrows as she reaches for the paper. "I…it sounds familiar." Her hands run through her hair as she thinks it over. An eyebrow lifts as she gets up from the couch. I watch her disappear around the corner.

I'll give it a few before I go after her.

It doesn't take long and suprises of all suprises, she comes back with a book. Sitting back down on the couch, she opens it up where her finger was utilized as a place marker. "The actual quote says, "The death of one man is a tradegy. The death of millions is a statistic." It's by Joseph Stalin."

Buffy's head lifts from the back of the couch as she asks, "The dicator guy?"

"He was the leader of the Communist Party for the U.S.S.R.," Willow corrects.

Buffy rolls her eyes. "Like I said the dictator dude."

I bite my lip and cap the snicker. Willow sighs and decides to just let it ride.

"Significance?" I ask.

Both of the girls shake their heads.

"There was the drawings," Buffy supplies.

Red's eyes grow large and she snips, "What drawings?"

"A lion and a star, Red." I kick my shoes off and toe them under the coffee table.

She sits up at the new information and says, "First of all, why am I now just hearing about this and two, I need to see those drawings."

I watch Cupcake's nostrils flare as she prepares to say some shit she's gonna regret later. I reach out and lay a hand on her arm. Her daggers shoot my way as I fill in, "You ain't been home to fill in." I see Willow wince and try to take the sting from my words, "We ain't been here much either. There really hasn't been time, Red."

Her mouth drops open and words die on her lips as her phone starts buzzing across the coffee table. Quickly, she snatches it up and looks at the display.

"Dr. Rosenberg," she answers as calmly as possible. She nods a few times and says, "I'll be in as soon as I can." She ends the call and looks between the two of us.

Wishing I could take away the pain that's etched in her features, I shake my head. Can't do much about it. God this sucks.

Buffy and I watch as she slips on her shoes, gathers her things and reaches for her coat on the back of couch. "That was Presby. They're short and there was an accident on the highway." She don't say much else as she makes her way out the door.

Buffy's head is already resting on the back of the couch. She misses the look of remorse Willow shoots her before closing the door. I don't miss the tears on my partner's cheek.

I trudge up the sidewalk to the entrance of the precinct. Looking up I see Jimmy and Buffy coming towards me while Liv helps Cabot out the back of a Taxi. Looks like we're all early this morning.

I wait for everyone at the base of the steps and smile in greeting. Out of the five of us, Olivia and Alex are the only ones that look like they got even a little bit of sleep. Buffy's just this side of grey and Jimmy looks almost as bad.

"Morning, everyone!" I say as we all climb the steps and head up to S.V.U.

Jimmy and Buffy grumble a greeting. Olivia smiles at me, but Alex's manners take over. "Good morning, Eliott," she says as she passes through the door I'm holding open.

We hit the bullpen and hang our coats. Alex looks over to see if Munch is at his desk and sighs when he's not there.

She rests against a desk and asks, "Does anyone know when Munch and Fin are getting in?"

My mouth turns down and I shake my head. I sit down and flip my computer on. Olivia's making the coffee while Buffy and Jimmy have taken over an unused set of desks to my left. They split the stack of files and begin flipping though them.

Looking up I see Huang come out of Cragen's office and Don files out behind him. He goes to the computer board and I know what's coming as he loads up the facts of our current cluster fuck of a case.

The rest of the team looks up and heads over. We all know what's happening. It's time to show and tell to see if anyone can think of something to break this puppy open.

The only problem with that is that there isn't much to go on. Forensics isn't pulling much. The kids aren't a lot of help and of course there are no eye witnesses. I push back and stand next to Olivia.

"Alright people listen up. Detective Summers and Detective McAllister, you guys are going to be working out of the one-six until we get this thing wrapped up. Captain Johnson's got a Uni bringing over your cases and we can set you up at those two empty desks by Olivia and Eliott." He stops and unbuttons his sleeves and rolls the cuffs up.

Looking at Buffy and Jimmy while pointing at George, he says, "For you two, this is Doctor George Huang. He's a profiler for the F.B.I. and our consultant that I've asked him to weigh in on this case."

"Detective Summers, Detective McAllister." Huang's all smiles as he shakes their hands.

"Buffy," the blonde says as she releases his hand.

"Jimmy," her partner offers. I study the two a moment. I still can't figure out how it works. For as much info as I dig up on them, it's never anything concrete. And to look at them, I lean towards probably one of the most mismatched pair of partners I've ever seen.

Buffy's five-foot-two, maybe three. Tiny, slip of a girl. Her partner's not small. There's not a whole lot of small about him. At six-foot-three, he's sort of big. He's soft around the middle, but not horribly so. With green eyes and light brown hair, the man takes up some space.

I zone back in on the conversation as Huang starts on the info we've got.

"There were some profiles that the childrens' left for our sketch artists." He taps a key and scans of the artist's sketches appear on the screen. We pitched the originals but the artist is required to turn in the carbon copy. I'm not sure what good it's gonna do.

Not only are the scans not gonna help, but the drawings are just a bit disturbing.

"I find it interesting that the children only drew the female attacker. I've looked over the autopsy reports and I have to say that I conclude with Dr. Warner, there has to be two killers." George brings up photos of the vics and says, "The artist's rendering is telling of the emotional trauma the kids suffered during their attack. We shouldn't rule out the idea that the attackers are wearing masks."

"What if they're just deformed," Jimmy snorts. For that Buffy elbows him in the ribs and he coughs.

"Under the masks, I can't say –"

I interrupt him and ask, "Wouldn't the kids have realized that they were wearing masks?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. These kids have been through a major traumatic experience, especially if their families were killed right in front of them." He turns to look at everyone and says, "We have to be careful and realize that these images are most definitely distorted. On top of that, we are looking for two killers. A pair, male and female, who view themselves as monsters. You are going to be looking for a couple who are suffering from some family issues. They may have a family of their own or it may be a direct result of one or both of them being abused in the past." He folds his arms across his chest and continues, "They left a child on the first one and Michael Steinman alive as well. They need someone to deliver their message."

I watch Buffy remove her phone from her back pocket. She reads the display and looks up at George. Her phone slips back into its space and she walks to the bank of computers.

Interrupting Huang, she pulls up the lion, the star and the quote. "Sorry, doc, but this might help you." She points to the lion and the star first. "These two drawings, the lion and," she fishes her phone back out then points to the star, "this is the morning star. Will says that those are traditional Babylonian symbols for Ishtar. She was their goddess of Love and War."

"Morning Star as in Satan?" I ask.

"There may be a small correlation," Huang answers. "The only reason there would be is that when the Church began converting the masses from Paganism to Christianity, they tried to make it easier for the Pagans to convert. In doing so, they absorbed traditional Pagan holidays and built Christian ones with similar meaning around the same time. They also used some Pagan symbols and fitted them into their religion."

"So Satan's not the Morning Star?" Jimmy asks.

"He is," Olivia says, "But I think what George is saying is that, He was given the symbol of, or name, because it was convenient for the Christian Church to give him that name. It's unrelated."

"Oh." Jimmy goes back to studying the screens and Buffy.

"We still have a few leads that need to be followed up on," Buffy says, taking center stage. "I'd like to split those up between the four of us and see if we can find an eye witness. There's also the paper the drawings and quotes were left on and the lipstick that was found on our vics' necks we need to follow up on."

I sigh. The paper's going to be a problem and the lipstick just raises a few more questions than it answers.

"The paper was old, like really old. Andre puts the paper at around the mid Seventeen-Hundreds. It's an artist paper that was used then. The lipstick is from a French manufacturer." She pauses and checks her phone for details again. "What we know is that it's old. Probably turn of the century old. We can't track down the manufacturer, but due to the ingredients, Andre says French." She pushes the phone back in her pocket and starts back up again, "We need to see if we can find any more information on the leads we have. I say we break up and then meet back here after lunch."

Man, she's…the girl can be bossier than Alex and Liv combined. To show my annoyance at being bossed around by a kid that's only slightly older than my daughter, I shoot a look to Liv who just shakes her head.

Huang and Cragen just give their nod of approval. Cragen goes back to his office and Huang heads out.

I look over at Alex and she's following Munch up to a room. Olivia's already got our coats and she says, "Looks like we've got orders to follow."

She smirks. I scowl. She tisks. "Now El, she outranks us." There's this tone in her voice that just barely masks her irritation.

"Maybe, but I'm still old enough to be her father." I turn to Liv and grin. "You're also old enough to be her mom." I duck as she tosses a pencil in my direction.

Maybe she didn't want reminded of that.

We get down to our car and I toss her the keys. I really don't feel like putting up with traffic today. Hitting the surface streets, she makes a left and heads towards the Parkway.

Guess we're gonna see if we can find any eye witnesses.

"So," she says, "I got Alex to talk to Willow."


"A lot of the stuff that happened to them in Sunnydale can be traced back to the group Buffy's sister works for. Apparently, the high school librarian, Rupert Giles, worked for this council. He became close with Willow, Buffy and some guy named, Xander. The three of them along with Rupert, became the branch for the group in Sunnydale."

"But this Watcher's Council, on paper, deals in antiquities." At least that's all I could find out.

"Yeah they do, but Willow also says that they have a few subsidiaries that do charity, consult with governments on various endeavors and they even run schools for girls; they're up in China, Scotland, Africa, South America and here in the states."

"So the money and the appointment?"

"My guess is that since this Rupert guy was named as C.E.O. of a billion dollar organization, he made sure that he took care of the people that he was closest too." She shrugs and taps her fingers against the steering wheel. "There isn't harm in that."

I lean against the door and look at her. "Are you sayin' you think that these girls were just at the right place at the right time?"

She nods. "I know that we usually suspect the worst, El. I just…I don't get that feel from them. They're hiding things, definitely. I don't think it's malicious."

"Alright." I shift back and stare out of the windshield. "We drop it and trust them for now."

She smiles over at me and I laugh. I think this is going to be a bit more interesting than what she's anticipating.

I close my eyes for the bazillionth time tonight and try to let the sounds of the city lull me to sleep. I wait for sleep to happen.

And wait.

Yep, not gonna happen. I've been laying here for what feels like years and no such luck. It's way late or early depending on how you look at it. In my book, the next day doesn't start until I actually wake up. Let's just say my internal schedule's completely screwed. I haven't slept since Friday night. That was two nights ago.

Sighing, I sit and rub at my eyes. A quick glance at the clock tells me that I need to be up in two hours and Will still isn't home. She hasn't been home since Saturday night. Throwing the covers off, I pad to the window seat. The rooms nearly black, but seeing isn't too much of an issue. I part the curtains and stare up at the sky.

It looks like a black slate was slapped on top of New York. Figures the weather matches the mood. Of course, the mood's been decidedly sour for a few months. We came back from Miami. Will and I were so strong, but then she took that job at the hospital. I don't know what happened.

I pick at an exposed thread with one hand and wipe at my eyes with the other. All I know is that it all feels out of control. We don't see each other lots. I mean we've never had tons of time for just us, but the time we did have was enough for us to be okay. Now it's like the time we did get went poof.

Then with this case and everything else.

My head snaps up as I hear the front door swing open and feel Will come into the apartment. The question is do I get in bed and feign sleep or do I talk to her when she comes in.

I think of the last few days, hell the last few months and I get pissed all over again. I don't have time to get completely ramped as she eases the door open and tries to sneak in. She should know by now that unless she teleported in and floated around the room, she's gonna wake me up.

"Turn the light on, Will," I say from my perch across the room.

She sighs and flicks the light on. I shut my eyes against the glare and give them a moment to adjust to the light. I hear her move around. A closet door opens and clothes are shed. Gathering the little bit of strength I have, I open my eyes and look her way.

Her back's to me but her bra and underwear go into the hamper and I take a brief moment to admire her. She starts to pull on a robe and turns around to me, asking, "Why are you awake?"

I only have a brief moment to be pissed about the question on top of being pissed about Valentine's Day before I see her face. There's a small set of stitches on her right cheek. The skin surrounding it is scraped and a gross purple, blue color. I'm off the bench and at her side before she knows it. Hell, before I know it.

I reach up and gently trail my fingers over the laceration. There are spots of dried blood on her jaw and neck. Some in her hair and on her ear. What the fuck happened?

She answers the unasked, "There was a guy in the E.R. he was all hyped up. Meth I think. Anyhow, he got a hold of a steel tray and decided to play basketball with my face."

Basketball? Eh? Oh… "You mean baseball?"

She laughs nervously and shrugs. "I was going for the sport with the bat…that baseball?"

I nod and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. I'm still pissed, but the worried's more than the pissed which is suprising. "This needs to stop," I say.

She looks at me confused. "What needs to stop?"

"Are you sure you're okay?" I ask. I wanna make sure she's not gonna pass out on me before I rip into her.

"I've got a mild concussion, like those are anything new, and four stitches in my cheek. I've had worse." She smiles.

Under normal circumstances, I'd soften at the smile. Tonight's not 'under normal' cicumstances. "Good. And the what Will is this." I wave a hand in the direction of her face then at the clock and then between her and me. "I'm tired of it. I'm tired of not seeing you. Of you not being home. Of this insane schedule you have that even I can't seem to keep up with."

I turn away from her and look at my bedside table. There's a picture of the two of us from her graduation. It seems like forever ago. I hear her start to talk, but I cut in, "You wanna know what I'm really sick of?" I wait a second. Gotta get the effect in. "I'm sick of feeling like the runner up in your life."

I turn to her and hold in the wince. Her eyes are large and the tears there are about ready to over spill. And what do I do about it? I push.

"You took the job at the hospital and all of a sudden it's like you don't even care anymore," I hiss.

Yep, I'm that stupid. Stupider still, I continue, "Do you know what Saturday was? When was the last time you called to actually talk to me? Hell, Willow, when was the last time we actualy had a conversation where other people weren't there to act as a buffer?"

That does it, the tears cascade down.

"I can't take this anymore." I fold my arms across my chest and demand, "Something's gotta give."

I look at her and an image of Willow right after Oz broke up with her resurrects itself. Comparing the two, I decide she looks worse now.

God, I'm such a bitch, but…it's like I can't care. Not right now. Not after everything we've been through. Not after feeling like I've felt the last few months.

She sniffs and drags the sleeve of her robe across her face, flinching as she catches the stitches. My hand twitches as I prevent it from reaching up to comfort her.

Her mouth sets as she goes back to hugging herself. "I know," she whispers. Slowly she makes her way to the bed as I stand and track her movements. She sits back and rests her head against the headboard. Drawing her legs up, she hugs her knees and rests the uninjured cheek there.

I can barely hear her as she speaks. "I was going to wait to tell you. I guess now's as good a time as any." She sighs and looks up at me. "I gave my notice today."


She must see the confusion because she clarifies, "I gave my boss my resignation today."


"The Medical Examiner's office called last week. I'm supposed to be at an interview in," she looks at the clock, "three hours. I didn't want to say anything until it was a sure thing, but…"

She trails off and I feel like a tool. A great big, useless, mean, stupid tool.

I walk to the edge of her side of the bed and stand there unsure of what to do. She reaches for my hand and automatically our fingers lace together as she caresses the still puffy knuckles.

"I've felt it too, Buff. I've been just as miserable. I'm sorry." She schooches over and pulls me down next to her. She relaxes a bit and I lay my head on her shoulder. "I just didn't know what to do about it," she confesses. "We seemed okay when we got back from Miami, but we aren't now. I don't know why. I know I love you. I'd do anything for you."

She sniffles a bit more and continues, "So I quit. Even if I don't get the job at the M.E.'s office, I'll figure something else out. I'll start a private practice or join one where the hours aren't insane."

"I'm sorry," I whisper.

She snorts and I feel her shake. "I don't think you have much to be sorry for. It's my fault. Everything just kinda went all kablowy and I'm an idiot." She moves to get up sighing and groaning all at once. "I promise it'll get better, Buffy."

I watch as she shuffles towards our bathroom. She opens the door and flicks on the light. Turning back to me, she offers a small smile and says, "I know what Saturday was. Your gift's in the top drawer of our dresser." She turns back and disappears behind the bathroom door.

I shake my head and get up, curious to see what it is. I walk up to our dresser and open her underwear drawer. Lying on top of her panties is a small card and a blue square box. I put the card on top of the dresser and pick up the box. Pulling the top off, a classic, princess cut, platinum engagement ring shines up at me.


I set the box on top of the dresser and pick up the card that was on top it. Why's it shaking? Oh…I set it back down and shake my hands out. Drawing in a breath, I feel confident enough and pick the card up to read the inside.

"The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along" – Rumi

I blink away the tears and read the bottom half of the card.

I love you.


I lay the card on the top of the dresser and pick up the box again. The tips of my fingers slide over the cool surface of the diamond as I turn towards the bathroom. I don't bother knocking. Will and I don't really bother with manners like that anymore. I just go straight for the handle and push the door open.

I step into a steamy mess and by-pass taking off my clothes. Pulling open the shower door I step inside, clutching the ring box. I stop cold as I see Willow sitting on the floor. Her forehead's resting on knees that are drawn up to her chest. Her arms hug her legs and the water's just running over her head and back.

I drop to my knees and manage to wriggle a finger under her chin. Tilting her head up, I whisper, "You need to put this on me."

A little light comes into her eyes and she accepts the box. Taking it out of its nest of crushed velvet, she grabs my left hand and slips the ring on my finger. I can't really tell if it's her or me that's shaking. Guess it really doesn't matter. She brings her lips forward and kisses the ring. She then turns my hand over and places an equally soft kiss on my palm.

Part 8

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