Van Rosenberg

Author: Alcy
Rating: R for supernatural violence and (eventually) hot, gay lovin'
Disclaimers: I don't own any of the Buffy, Tomb Raider or Dracula characters. This fic is of course AU so no spoilers for any season.
Summary: The year is 1897 and the last thing Willow Rosenberg wants to be doing is battling against the forces of darkness, she'd rather be curled up with a book and a nice, hot cup of tea. Unfortunately Willow's stuck working for a secret organisation hidden beneath the British Museum dedicated to the protection of mankind from the evil which lurks in the shadows of the world. With her bumbling assistant Myles, over-enthusiastic demon-slaying friend Faith and an all too sexy employer who collects death masks, Willow is about to realise that perilous danger comes even to those who least want it. The discovery of a diary and the journey that follows will disrupt everything Willow has ever known, including her own identity, and reunite her with a love she never knew she lost.
Notes: Diary entries are going to be in italics but hopefully they will not be confused with thoughts as they will be mostly placed at the beginning of a chapter.
This fic borrows thematic elements from several sources, most notably Bram Stoker's Dracula and the 2004 film, Van Helsing and structural elements from Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. The story itself and several of its characters are my own.
Feedback: Yes please.

Many thanks to Foo for the splendid banner.

7 March 1777

It would seem that I can scarce hear myself think over the beating of my heart. With my body trembling as I write these words, my script is sprawling across the page in a manner that would have my tutor cringing. I must however commit the memories of this day to paper for I cannot speak of them to a single soul. Not even in my own dear mother can I confide as I could only imagine the look of horror on her face if I were to inform her of the event that transpired today...event, how can one call such a momentous occasion a mere event!

I shall describe what happened as best I can...although if anyone were to read these words...

I have oft said I despise the Marlborough's annual picnic, one can scarce move for all the bores and cads vying for one's attention. I often marvel at the fact that they do not burst, so hard they are trying. Edward Walsh followed me around like a sad little spaniel all day and I half expected his tail to start wagging when I allowed him to sit next to me while I watched a game of bowls. As my attention wavered from Edward's well-meaning but dull attempts at conversation, I noticed a new face, a young woman I had never laid eyes on before. I thought was strange as I am of course well acquainted with everyone of note in the district. I could not possibly see how I could have failed to notice her. Curiosity overcame my usual reservations and I excused myself from Edward's attentions. I boldly followed the young woman on her walk which led into the stables. After her initial surprise at seeing someone else there, we finally had a chance to make our introductions. W, what a strange and yet beautiful name. As she explained that she and her brother had recently moved to the district I remembered my mother telling me that Sir Clifford's estate, Hagley Park, had passed to his nephew (I do think my mother was hinting that I should make his acquaintance. I'm sure he is a very fine young man who will make someone a good match but my interest lies with his sister!) She endeared me from the moment she confessed that she had no love of large gatherings and had decided to hide in the stables despite her fear of horses!

Even now I cannot remember how long we spoke for, I think she had me captivated by some sort of witchcraft for I could not draw myself away from her presence. We spoke of all manner of things and would have definitely proven Edward wrong in his belief that women are incapable of debating politics or difficult moral issues. W is undoubtedly a woman possessed of a sharp mind but that was only part of what had me enthralled. I found myself watching the tilt of her chin as she spoke, the adorable manner in which her lips moved and curled so easily up into a smile. Her green eyes danced as she talked with animation I never thought possible, the very words she spoke seemed to tumble forth from her mouth as though she could not stop even if she wanted to.

As dusk fell outside still we had not stirred from the stable. No doubt the rest of our party had retired indoors for supper. I could not even feel guilty for the thought that Edward was probably searching high and low for me. He was farthest from my mind. It was the chill wind whistling through the stable that finally forced us indoors but not before W leaned across and brushed her gloved hand against my cheek. I closed my eyes to savour the moment and suddenly found soft lips pressed up against mine. She had leaned forward to kiss me! I cannot possibly describe the experience in words, so gentle was her touch and sweet was her taste. My lips parted only slightly and I heard myself gasp with delight. I knew full well that such behaviour was scandalous and I ought to push W away from my body. Instead I found myself leaning closer, close enough to feel the small curve of her breast through the fabric that separated our skin. I feel a hot flush rise into my cheeks even now as I relive the moment through words. I know I cannot write anymore without craving W's touch. Oh, I am wicked indeed but I want more of her. Everything about that kiss was forbidden...but I do not care...

"Good gracious!" Willow Rosenberg exclaimed as she glanced at the pocket watch she held in her fumbling hands.

The day hasn't even started yet and already I'm behind! Willow thought in exasperation, mentally beating herself with a large stick. She was running desperately late on the one day she simply could not afford to be late.

She swung her legs onto the cold wooden floor of her flat and took a brief moment to compose herself. The date on the calendar tacked to the wall read 19 October 1897. It was jammed between a picture of her parents and a newspaper cutting sensationalising a reported haunting in Watford. Willow exhaled loudly in the calm before the storm. With a huge exertion of willpower she tore herself away from her bed to attend, very quickly, to her morning toilet.

Her cramped bedroom was little more than a closet leading off from the main room of her apartment. It ought to have contained relatively little owing to its size but a washstand, wardrobe and a duchess surrounded the narrow bed jammed beneath the window. Almost every useable inch of wall space was covered by framed photographs, newspaper cuttings, pages torn from magazines and pencil sketches and watercolours done in Willow's own hand. There was no one constant subject that held Willow's fascination, everything was represented on her wall from Petrie's latest Egyptian dig, Oscar Wilde being released from prison and a rather sinister watercolour of a dark cave.

At that moment, Willow was hopping around on the rag rug trying to lay her hands on necessary items of clothing. She wrinkled her small nose at the sight of her only clean shirt lying squashed behind the door. She had of course forgotten to iron it and smoothing the wrinkles out with her palm was completely useless. Willow shrugged and tugged it over her undergarments, deciding that the shirt would be fine if she kept her jacket and waistcoat on.

A few moments later Willow stood in the middle of her rug and glanced down at her outfit, a rather rumpled matching three piece grey pinstripe suit that completely concealed her un-ironed shirt save for the stiff collar. Willow quickly snatched up the last few items she needed, her pocket watch and a bright red tie that had been hanging on her bedroom doorknob. She only paused in her combined kitchen and living room long enough to grab her lunch and satchel.

Following a brisk walk and a tram ride spent checking her pocket watch every minute, Willow jumped out at her destination. She took one last look at her pocket watch, groaned audibly and jogged up the steps.

The sign to the left of the door she entered read British Museum - Employees Only Entrance.

As she made her way through the endless corridors that made up the bowels of the British Museum, Willow tried rather ineffectually to review a large stack of papers in her hands. She was busy scribbling pencil notes in the margin of one particular page when she rounded a corner and collided with a cup and saucer full of tea. The tea sloshed all over Willow's papers and the front of her jacket. The cup and saucer clattered to the floor and promptly smashed. Willow's jaw dropped as she looked up at the culprit who had been holding the offending beverage.

It was a young man, cheek length brown hair flopping forward over his boyish face. His eyes were wide with horror and the position of his jaw mirrored Willow's. Myles Cavendish was supposedly employed as a runner, the lowest of the low amongst the museum's white-collar workers. He was supposed to fetch, carry and generally be on call for whatever task was needed. However, Willow had never actually seen Myles carry out these tasks for anyone else; he had attached himself to her as an unofficial personal assistant and always seemed to appear at the times when he was least appreciated.

"You clumsy oaf, Myles!!" Willow wiped ineffectually at the damp patch on her jacket with her papers, "I'm late enough already."

Willow then realised that she was trying to do her cleaning with important documents and she stopped, staring down at the inky mess on the top sheet.

"I'm so s-sorry, Miss Rosenberg," the poor lad stammered.

Myles whipped out his pocket-handkerchief and instinctively began dabbing at the wet patch that had spread across the front of Willow's jacket without realising that the placement of his hands was far more intimate than their relationship warranted. Before Willow could protest, his cheeks flamed bright red as he realised where he was mopping so intently. He snatched the handkerchief away and instead went to work picking up the pieces of shattered crockery.

"I'm sorry, Myles," Willow hunkered down next to the young man, joining him in placing the shards into the damp handkerchief.

"It's alright, Miss," Myles glanced up, his cheeks still ruddy with colour, "I just though you might like a spot of tea before your meeting, seeing as you never have breakfast and all...but it was cold anyway because you're..."

"Late!" Willow finished his sentence as she jumped to her feet, "I really must get going Myles, the Director will be waiting."

"Bye!" Myles called at Willow's fleeing back.

Willow didn't stop running even when she reached the impressive oaken door that was the entrance to the offices of the Director of the British Museum. She shoved the door open at full tilt and flew into the room on the other side. A cold voice greeted her as soon as she slid to a halt.

"Miss Rosenberg, you're late."

The voice belonged to an exceptionally prim young woman who managed to look down on Willow through her spectacles even though she was sitting behind a desk where Willow was standing. Her brown hair was coiled perfectly atop her head, cosmetics applied in all the right places and, from what Willow could see, she was wearing a simple but flattering dress with an amethyst brooch at her neck. A neat little plaque on her desk read: Cordelia Chase. Cordelia looked as though she had been at work, seated behind her typewriter, for several hours already.

"Good morning to you too, Cordelia," Willow replied breezily.

If Willow had been less of a well-mannered young lady, she would have muttered a barbed comment or at the very least scowled in annoyance. Instead, she turned around and tortured herself in a different way by examining her appearance in the full length mirror that Cordelia had carefully positioned opposite her desk. The secretary snorted in contempt at her view of herself being blocked by the decidedly shabby researcher. Willow was only saved from further dressing down by Miss Cordelia Chase when another woman joined them in the room.

Gratefully turning her back on the mirror, Willow smiled as she saw her colleague and friend, Faith Winters, enter the room. However, she took one look at the expression on Faith's face and knew she would prefer to listen to Cordelia. It was like a storm about to unleash itself, dark and cloudy with a hint of thunder. Like Cordelia, she too was neatly attired but the matching skirt and jacket she wore was plain in the extreme. No lace or brooches adorned her body.

"Will, for blooming heck, I've been looking for you for the past thirty minutes!" the young woman growled in lieu of a greeting.

"And good morning to you too, Faith," Willow was beginning to feel a little like a pincushion.

Faith was Willow's age, and they both worked in the same department of the Museum but that was where the similarities ended. Faith was the embodiment of sensuality, almost exotic in her dark features despite the fact that she was British to the core. Where Willow was scholarly and clumsy, it was all too obvious that Faith was a woman of action. She was poised and graceful in all her movements, even as she threw up her hands in disgust.

"I told you to wear a dress today!" Faith snapped, looking Willow up and down with a disapproving expression.

"Why should I when you look silly enough for the both of us?" Willow snickered but, in response to Faith's withering glare, quickly wiped the smile from her face and threw up her hands in an admission of defeat, "I'm dreadfully sorry Faith, I must confess I forgot all about the meeting until I woke up this morning already late. I was up until dawn reading those fascinating new texts you brought back from your last trip East...."

"And what the devil is that mess all done your front?" Faith gasped at the dark stain spread across Willow's jacket.

"Errr...breakfast," Willow replied, wiping ineffectually at the damp patch, "Courtesy of Myles."

"That young man is disaster on two feet! You're both as bad as each other!" Faith huffed in exasperation as she reached for Willow's jacket and began to peel it from her shoulders, "Turn around."

Willow obliged, turning so Faith could pull the offending soiled garment from her shoulders as she muttered to herself about the incompetence of those she was forced to work with. Once the jacket was removed, Faith tossed it so it landed precisely across Cordelia Chase's typewriter, effectively silencing the clack-clacking of her keys.

"Hang that up would you, your Highness?" Faith asked, winking in response to Cordelia's stare of glacial murder.

As soon as she had shrugged out of her jacket, Willow realised that she was left standing in her waistcoat and shirtsleeves. Eyes wide, she glanced down at each arm in turn to reconfirm the reason for wearing her jacket in the first place. Her sleeves were wrinkled beyond all acceptable standards.

"Please don't tell me you've spilt something on your shirt too?" Faith saw the look on Willow's face but with Willow's quick shake of her head she sighed with relief, "Good...or you'd be going in to see Croft in your undergarments. Come on, she'll be furious, she's been waiting for over an hour."

Willow stopped in her tracks and reached out to grab Faith by the elbow, "Do you think she's found a fault with my work?"

Slightly annoyed at being held up yet again, Faith spun around to face her colleague. Her annoyance vanished in the face of Willow's earnest expression. She was so paranoid as to the quality of her work that her grip on Faith's elbow had tightened to the point of being painful. Gently, Faith prised Willow's grip open with her own fingers. Looking a little sheepish, Willow folded her arms across her chest.

"Your work is perfect, as always," Faith reassured her, "You're also indispensable to the organisation, so she won't fire you no matter how angry she may get this morning...keep a stiff upper lip Willow, and you'll be fine!"

"She's a monster," Willow turned her head slightly towards the door that lay before them, "Honestly Faith, I think I need to find a new where I don't fear for my life upon entering into a meeting with my employer."

Faith arched an eyebrow as Willow turned back to face her, "Croft isn't so bad...and besides, haven't you always wanted to battle the forces of darkness, learn the secrets of the netherworld and keep mankind safe and blissfully unaware of the real world that lurks around them?"

Willow thought about this seriously for a few seconds before replying, "Not"

Faith grunted in annoyance, although a small smile turned up the corners of her mouth. It was hard for her to remain angry at Willow for more than a few minutes, no matter how vexed she had been. She continued onto the door and rapped on it twice. After the command to enter, Faith paused to wink at Willow.

"Methinks you fear something other than the Director's bristly demeanour...something more along the lines of her full lips and ample bosom?" Faith whispered conspiratorially, seconds before she whipped open the door.

As a result of Faith's unexpected question, Willow's face was frozen in a tortured expression in full view of the Director of the British Museum. Faith added further insult to injury by placing her hand in the small of Willow's back and shoving her forward into the room. Willow stumbled for a few steps before straightening in front of the extraordinarily large, highly polished desk. The desk set the tone for the rest of the room with rich, oaken wood throughout. It made up the heavily laden bookshelves which stretched upwards, all the way to the ceiling several metres above. Hung from the bookshelves at various intervals was a collection of savage looking wooden death masks, their feather adornments browned with age. It was rumoured that they were from tombs that the Director herself had raided in her youth. Guests in the office were often struck by the masks and found themselves constantly looking over their shoulders to confirm that they did not move. The atmosphere was completed with the outside light filtered into odd lines by the partially closed velvet drapes. A thin line of sunlight cast downwards, slicing over the desk and down onto the worn Oriental rug upon which Faith and Willow now stood.

A figure sat behind the desk, body entirely in shadow. Little more than an outline could be seen until the figure moved its feet from where they were perched up on the desk and swung them down onto the floor with a loud thud.

"Winters and Rosenberg, given that both of you are fully aware of my appreciation for timeliness, it strikes me as extremely odd that you would choose to be tardy," the figure flipped the pocket watch in her hand open with a savage click, "One hour tardy to be precise."

The speaker then moved forward into the sunlight. As the light streamed in, it illuminated an exceedingly beautiful woman's face. Like Faith, her features were almost exotic and further enhanced by the way she dressed and carried herself. Even sitting down she exuded an air of strength and confidence. Her brown hair was done up in a sleek, plaited arrangement from which a single hair did not dare to escape. As Faith had commented to Willow, her lips were indeed full, although now pursed together in displeasure. While the fashion of the time was baring as little flesh as possible when it came to day wear, her low cut dress revealed the cleavage of an ample bosom...exactly where Willow was trying her best not to look. Willow brought her gaze back up to the Director's large, piercing eyes.

The severity of the situation disintegrated as soon as Faith smirked and opened her mouth, "Our reasonable explanation is Willow being Willow...she has absolutely no concept of time."

"I do too!" Willow protested, turning to confront Faith, "I am punctual, efficient and highly reliable...even though the present circumstances would seem to disagree."

"Indeed," the Director intoned serenely, "You statement would also seem to be at odds with your appearance...which by any standards is disgraceful. I do believe young Cavendish dresses better than you."

Willow folded her arms in an effort to disguise her shirtsleeves and willed herself to disappear through the floorboards and back to her basement office. She was also fairly sure that Faith was enjoying every moment of her humiliation.

The Director sighed as though Willow was a lost cause and pursed her palms together, "Well, we've lost enough time as it is and I have a meeting with the Greeks at eleven, something about wanting their marbles back. Why don't the two of you take a seat and we'll get started."

Willow and Faith each chose one of the Ottomans that sat in front of the Director's desk, Faith crossing her legs demurely while Willow sat with her legs apart and elbows resting on her knees. Even after only a few moments of sitting she began to fidget, reaching out and picking up the rather dusty name plaque which sat on the desk in front of her. Swiping her fingers across the brass plaque, she removed a thick layer of dust to reveal the name beneath: Lara Croft, Director. Willow glanced up to find Lara staring directly at her and she winced, attempting to place the plaque back on the desk a little too quickly she dropped it to the floor with a loud thud. When she finally managed to get the plaque safely back into its rightful spot, both Faith and Lara were glaring at her with raised eyebrows.

"Um...shall we get started?" Willow suggested helpfully, she then sat back in her chair and clasped her hands in her lap as though that would stop them from wandering.

"I've read through Rosenberg's research, "Lara began, keeping one eye trained on Willow for a few moments longer before turning to the papers sitting in front of her, "And I am of the opinion that this might just be the information for which we have been searching."

Lara lifted her head and looked directly at Willow, a small congratulatory smile played across her full lips. The redhead's face blanched immediately and her hands unclasped to begin picking absently at the wooden arms of her ottoman.

"It was simply a matter of cross-referencing several known documents...nothing really, I'm sure other scholars would have arrived at a similar conclusion...eventually," Willow explained modestly, "And of course without a firsthand exploration of the monastery it's still mere speculation...I would be the first to admit that while you can learn a great deal from books, nothing quite compares to gathering data in the field."

"And yet everything you say claims the contrary," Faith winked conspiratorially.

Willow glared at Faith as though her words were not perfectly true. It was well known that Willow would do virtually anything to avoid being sent out into the field and away from the safe confines of the British Museum. While the wider population was blissfully unaware of the true evil that lurked unseen in the world around them, Willow knew full well that each old folktale, wild rumour and spirited conjecture had its grain of truth. Those noises in the dead of night were something to be feared; whatever her mother had once told her. She was now quite happy to carry out the research and send Faith out to do the dirty work...although the brunette was notoriously sloppy with her field notes.

Lara largely ignored the banter between the two friends as she continued talking, "Which is precisely why the Council and I have decided to send Faith to the ruins of the monastery at Tirgsor as soon as possible."

Only half-listening, Willow had picked up a small sixteenth century Dogon horseman and was making it trot across Lara's desk. She did not look up to see the piercing expression on Lara's face at the sight of the priceless African artefact being used like a child's toy.

Faith's eyes lit up, her attention focused somewhere other than Willow, "Dracula's doubt there is an exceptionally powerful guardian keeping watch..."

"His name was Vlad, Vlad Tepes," Willow's interest returned as her keenly tuned ears picked up the historical inaccuracy perpetuated by second-rate authors and scaremongers, "And to the best of my knowledge there is nothing guarding the library..."

"Like there was nothing guarding that burial cave in Southern France last year?" Faith reached out and snatched the Dogon artefact from Willow's hand.

"How was I to know a daemon hound was taking refuge in there?" Willow protested her innocence.

"A bloody great wounded daemon hound," Faith stressed the word 'wounded' as she placed the African artefact back on Lara's desk, "The beast was starving and I nearly sated its hunger!"

"Back to the task at hand!" Lara announced even as Willow was about to launch into an explanation that would prove Faith thoroughly enjoyed her meeting with the beast, "I believe your main goals should be..."

As Lara continued briefing Faith, Willow fumed. She knew full well that Faith had revelled in entertaining her colleagues with the story of how she battled the wounded hound with her only weapon being a table fork. She would have had the head stuffed and mounted if not for the necessity of burning the corpse and scattering the ashes in water to avoid the resurrection of the beast at the next full moon.

Willow soon found herself drifting off from the conversation altogether as Faith and Lara turned to discussing uninteresting matters regarding travel plans and contacts. Her eyes roamed Lara's study for a good many minutes even though she had virtually every volume of text in her own office and she could not bear to dwell on the hideous death masks for long before she felt chilled and uncomfortable. For someone involved in her line of work, such a reaction in the presence of a mere death mask was not something you readily admitted to.

While Willow's mind had wandered, Lara had continued her discussion with Faith, "I want Giles to provide you with all the appropriate accoutrement for this type of operation, and I have already passed him a list of items you will require including an ample supply of silver bullets..."

Ugh...weapons, Willow thought with a slight twitch of her nose. It was Faith's favourite subject so she was riveted, making additional suggestions that made it seem as though an army was setting out instead of just one woman. Willow's wandering gaze fell onto the Director, Lara Croft herself. As unaccustomed to flattery and appraisal as she was, Willow could still appreciate that the Director was a sensuously beautiful woman possessed of that rare ability to captivate people's attentions with a mere look. She hated the thought of admitting it even to herself but Faith was right, she did fear Lara's full lips and ample bosom. Just the mere thought of either sent her heart racing uncontrollably. Willow had researched her own problem extensively and had ended up with extensive notes concerning love and lust. Although neither topic had been explained fully enough to satisfy her need for conclusive, textual proof, Willow had decided that she was most definitely not in love with Lara Croft. Lust on the other hand was a reasonable hypothesis but she did not know how to conduct the experiments necessary to draw some sort of conclusion. She had probed Faith for a suitable method but her friend's prying and embarrassing questions had quickly turned her off the idea.

For all official purposes, this was where her research ended. It was only when she was alone in the depths of night, tucked up in bed with her mind continuing to work overtime that she allowed herself to dwell on something other than research. She allowed herself to dream that there was a woman out there somewhere, waiting for her. Her dreams had begun to concern her of late, for no longer did she feel that was all they were. Her instincts told her that this woman was real, even though Willow could not find a face, or a name. Willow could not explain it...and anything the red-haired researcher could not explain, was very dangerous indeed.

"Are we keeping you from something important, Rosenberg?" Lara asked archly.

Willow snapped back to her senses and realised she had been unconsciously drumming her fingers in a steady beat on the arms of her ottoman. She immediately stopped and gripped the ottoman's arms as though to prevent herself from floating away.

"No, of course not..." Willow swallowed uncomfortably, "I mean, there's nothing more important than a meeting with you Lara...I mean Director Croft. I'm's just that I've a huge pile of work to get through."

"Now what she really means to say is that being in a crowd of three is getting to her and she would like to run back to the safety of her little basement office," Faith translated Willow's seemingly innocuous explanation.

Lara audibly ground her teeth in the presence of her two troublesome subordinates. She had often imagined how gratifying it would feel to banish them both from her museum for good. It was an impossible whim. While it would mean freedom from their bickering she would loose two invaluable staff.

Willow was undoubtedly the most gifted researcher she had ever come across. Not only could she translate almost a dozen ancient languages and not bat an eyelid at reading firsthand accounts of all manner of supernatural activity, she had never taken a sick day, worked all the waking hours of the day and did not constantly lobby for a larger office. Even though the little redhead's quirks bordered on the edge of reclusive insanity, she was quite fascinating.

Faith was something altogether different...and Lara knew that she could definitely not find another Faith.

As she sat across the table from the two women, Lara found herself annoyed at the circumstances that kept her relationship with them anything other than strictly professional. Both would have made good friends...and Faith possibly something more. Lara had to stop herself from running the tip of her tongue over her lips as she dwelt on that possibility. As it had to be, she sat forward in her seat and affixed her sternest expression possible.

"For your sakes I hope that the pair of you do not behave like this in public or I will find out and both your heads will roll, mark my words!" Lara growled in an even tone, "Faith, you are leaving for Eastern Europe tomorrow so I suggest you attend immediately to your preparations and Willow, you may return to work whatever it is that you do. If Faith needs any further information from you, see that she has it without delay."

"Yes ma'am," Faith and Willow replied in unison, before beating a hasty retreat from Lara's office.

Hardly subdued, Faith delivered a rather cheeky look over her shoulder back at the Director that Willow did not see. The door closed on Lara's secretive smirk.

Once safely out of Lara's office, both Willow and Faith passed the prickly presence of Cordelia Chase. The secretary gave them a level stare, not taking her eyes off them as though they might purposefully break something just to spite her. As they left the office, Faith turned and jabbed a painting hanging on the wall. The frame tilted and it hung decidedly askew.

"Feeling okay?" Faith asked as she closed the door on the beginning of Cordelia's predictable rant, she gave Willow a playful nudge, "Or is your heart beating a little faster after being in her presence?"

"I have absolutely no idea what you are talking heart palpitations are completely normal!" Willow protested a little too vehemently, "You affront me grossly Faith...its Croft we speak of! Not to mention the fact that she's a woman."

Faith cocked an eyebrow and sighed, "Willow, I'm your closest and dearest friend, when are you going to open up to me and admit the desires of your heart?"

"I have no desires." Willow replied all too quickly, "Other than to get back to my office, I'm working on the most interesting document, a fifteen century French translation of a Greek scholar's account of what he thought were simply very odd murders, but I think it is evidence of vampirism in Ancient Greece, imagine..."

"Will, look, it's a beautiful autumn's day outside," Faith interrupted Willow just as the beginnings of a feverish excitement were showing in her expression.

Faith grabbed the scholar by her elbow and dragged her to the nearest window, pointing to the bright sunlight that bathed London's streets in a warm, golden glow.

Willow followed Faith's finger and squinted slightly at the harshness of the sunlight, "That's nice."

"Well, aren't you going to go out and enjoy it? You sit from dawn until dusk in that little office of yours and then you go home and sit alone in your apartment. You're as pale as can be and you do nothing but work...go outside, take your lunch and your camera and just look at everything...who knows, you might even talk to someone new!"

Willow's eyes bulged in mock horror, "Gracious, meet someone new? I don't think so Faith."

Faith growled which Willow took to mean that she had better leave the building or else something very unfortunate would befall her. Given the various weapons that Faith kept concealed about her person, Willow thought she ought to comply.

"Right, that's settled then. Giles wants to see me in the lab, said he's got something new for me," Faith's eyes were wild like a school child's in a candy shop, "Now off with you!"

Willow stood at the entrance to the rather brown looking park with a small trace of annoyance in her expression. In one hand she held a little tin lunch box containing her lunch which she had intended to eat as she usually did, with one hand while continuing to work with the other. She did not intend to waste the time completely as she had brought along her beloved Kodak camera, hanging from a leather strap around her neck.

It took her a few minutes of standing and staring to realise that the reason everything was so brown was that it was actually autumn and the leaves were falling in droves, coating the green grass in a spotty looking coat. Every so often a soft breeze would pick up a few leaves and waft them up into the air. Willow spied an empty park bench and as she walked towards it she realised she had forgotten how pleasant this particular park was with its meandering paths and little stream. Despite the fact that the season heralded the arrival of cold winter weather, it was pleasantly warm and Willow did not miss her overcoat.

Willow ate with her head down, constantly worried that other park users were watching her, this little pale creature who dared to venture out from her basement office. It was only when her lunch was finished that she dared risk a peek to see who else was out and about. It was a diverse rang of folks, mostly looking as though they too had escaped from their employment to catch a brief spot of fresh air. Bowler hats and umbrellas tucked beneath arms were in abundance. As Willow scanned the park she began to realise that watching people was actually quite fascinating, although she did feel slightly guilty for staring at particularly odd looking individuals.

There was one in particular whom Willow could not help but stare at. Standing on the other side of a small path was a young woman who for some reason Willow thought was not escaping from some secretarial position in one of the downtown offices by reason of her appearance. Firstly her pale blonde hair was unbound, falling down her back and partially obscuring her face. Willow could only see the curve of a pale cheek. She found herself smirking at the thought that there was someone out there who saw even less sun than she did. The blonde hair fell down over a black coat, apparently made of leather, which obscured the entire length of the woman's body. Willow so desperately wanted to see the woman's face the she stood and shifted slightly to the right, revealing a pair of full lips and a handsomely appointed nose.

Willow instinctively lifted her Kodak and framed the mysterious woman in its viewfinder. She paused for a few moments as a strange feeling of familiarity coursed through her body while looking at the young woman. It was such an odd sensation that Willow felt she ought not to take the woman's picture. She was about to lower her camera when the woman turned and looked over her shoulder, directly at Willow.

The redhead received such at frightful shock that her poised finger jabbed downwards and the shutter clicked audibly. A flush of embarrassment flooded Willow's cheeks as she lowered the camera and found herself eye to eye with the young woman standing on the other side of the path. For the first time she saw that her eyes were an almost too brilliant shade of blue, a piercing look that was oddly warm and yet chilling at the same time.

At the point where a bolder individual may very well have strode across the path and made a dashingly apologetic introduction, Willow raised her hand and gave the woman a silly little wave. She stopped her wave abruptly as though realising its silliness and tried to make a graceful exit. In her haste, she tripped over her own feet and made the first few steps of her getaway look like a circus act. Willow practically ran from the park with her head down, clutching her Kodak tightly to her chest. Her lunch box remained forgotten on the park bench.

If Willow had glanced back over her shoulder she would have seen the sad but knowing smile on the woman's face, as though Willow's antics were all too familiar. A scene from a book she had not read for a long time.

With Willow out of sight, she crossed the path and folded herself gracefully onto the park bench upon which the redhead had sat. Her black coat fell gracefully about her as she picked up the tin lunch box Willow had forgotten.

"You haven't changed at all, Willow," she murmured softly to the wind.

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Two

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