A split second after that single word left her lips; Willow lifted her katana in one fluid movement and levelled it towards the throat of the woman who stood so calmly in front of her. Although her heart continued to thud loudly in her chest, her initial surprise faded quickly for she had been anticipating this moment for more than four years. Every night she stalked the dark alleys of London, with each corner she turned and shadow she searched, she had expected to be confronted with the face of her dead lover. She had never been able to predict her reaction to seeing the demon that had once been Tara Maclay and now that she was standing face to face with her, she still did not know.
"You're dead..." Willow heard herself whisper the words, "...you're not just dead...you're a..."
She was unable to say what Tara had become. That awful word glued her tongue to the roof of her mouth and all she could do was stand in mute silence with her katana still levelled in the demon's direction.
Willow could not decide whether she was angry, scared or relieved that the time had finally come. She thought perhaps that it was a mixture of all three, although she was so confused she could not separate one emotion from the other. The anger was there in spades, here was the creature who now inhabited her beloved's body and had effectively killed Tara and stolen the physical attributes Willow loved. Her blues eyes were every bit as bright as Willow remembered, so bright they almost pierced her own. The blonde hair was a little paler but every bit as lustrous as it fell about her face and over her shoulders. She even dared to smile Tara's smile with one lip curling higher than the other in exactly the same manner as the smiles that had melted Willow's heart when Tara had been alive. Willow's anger intensified, her grip was white-knuckled as she held her katana outstretched towards the demon.
However, hand in hand with the anger that coursed through her body was an unhealthy dose of fear, it was her fear that kept her feet frozen to the same spot where she knew she should be moving...moving before the demon could surge forward and sink her fangs into her neck. Willow's heat skipped several beats when it stepped suddenly forward, not stopping until the blade of the katana was pressed into the pale white skin at her throat.
The demon arched her perfect eyebrows, "Are you planning on cleaving my head from my shoulders with your beautifully shiny sword?"
"That is a distinct possibility," Willow replied slowly, watching as the tip of the katana brushed Tara's hair, "After all, it is not just for show."
Willow watched as a strange, almost fervent expression took hold of the creature's features. However, within a few more of Willow's heartbeats, the expression was gone and replaced by one that appeared similar to the earnest expression Tara had often worn in life.
"I have heard of your prowess and I have no doubt that you could destroy me...but there is another possibility I would like to suggest...if you would lower your sword and listen?" as it spoke, its voice lost some of its deep throated quality and sounded much like the Tara Willow remembered.
"Speak quickly, demon," Willow's harsh voice barely concealed her nervousness, did she detect a hint of fear in the vampire's voice?
"Those of my own kind who attacked me just now, they were trying to kill me because they knew what I was coming to offer you," the vampire began.
Willow's eyes narrowed with unrestrained suspicion, "I tire of this conversation already...you are running out of time!"
"They had somehow discovered that I hope to aid you at Covasna," the demon swallowed quickly and continued, "I believe it was their plan to bring me back to our Master and lay bare their accusations against me, all true of course, for I do indeed want to offer you my services. I have you to thank for slaying them and preventing word of my treachery reaching my Master."
Willow knew she ought to be refusing to listen to such honeyed words and instead digging her blade further into the vampire's throat but instead all she could do was feel hope coursing through her body. She had spent the last four years thoroughly expecting to have to slay the demon that was Tara...she had never even allowed herself to hope that the demon would retain more than a shred of the woman Tara used to be. However, here she was, standing there with her blue eyes pleading desperately. Willow searched the demon's face and saw far too much of the woman she had loved more than anything.
Although she did not consciously come to the realisation in her head, Willow was no longer looking at a demon...but at the woman she loved. Slowly but surely, she lowered the katana until she held it at her side, pointed downwards.
Tara was able to take another step closer to Willow as she continued, "You know what comes in a few days hence, in the deepest dead of night his army will be reborn as the skull is returned to his captain and you will most likely die trying to stop him...unless of course you have my help."
Willow ran her tongue over her dry lips, "How will you help us?"
"During this past year especially, I have risen high in Dracula's favour, all the while seeking to exploit his knowledge and gain his trust so that I might eventually bring about his downfall," Tara spoke fervently, as though this was something that she had been anticipating for some time, "I am close enough to his inner circle that I will be able to replace the skull with a close copy, a fake essentially, one which will do nothing to revive the captain...at that moment, as his plans come crashing down around him, you and I will kill him."
"It sounds almost too good to be true," despite the hope surging through her body, Willow could not allow herself to take Tara's words at face value.
Tara's face remained serious, "It will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination, I risk destruction in trying to swap the skulls in the first place, and if I fail then you will be on your own...and you also will fail. Dracula will also have many of his minions surrounding him at Covasna, it will be necessary for you to cut a path through them in order to reach him."
"I do that for a living," Willow stated as if it were of little consequence, "What I don't understand is why you would want to help me at all...you'll understand if I'm finding this all a little difficult to believe, you're a demon, I usually kill demons because they're evil."
Tara's stern expression melted and was quickly replaced by something resembling anguish, "Could I ever truly be evil, Willow?"
Willow averted her gaze; she could not look into Tara's eyes and give the reply that was on her lips. As long as she was not looking at her, she could still think of the creature standing opposite her as a demon.
"Tara Maclay could never be evil...but you ceased to be her from the moment your heart stopped beating," Willow paused, drew in a deep breath and lifted her gaze until she was staring into those blue eyes once more, "Tara is dead."
The vampire's expression twisted into a painful grimace as though Willow's words had been ones she hoped never to hear.
In the face of her pain, Willow had to bite her lip and almost regretted saying such a thing. She knew it was a foolish thought to possess; she had spoken nothing but the truth and should feel no remorse for the demon's sufferings. Her fingers tightened around the hilt of her katana once more as she willed herself the courage to make the one strike she had been anticipating for years. It should have been so simple, merely a repeat of a movement she had carried out so many times over the past few years. She would bring the sword up and before the demon could even blink, bring it sweeping across and send its head rolling across the cobbles. Tara's body would explode and shower her with dust...and it would be over.
However, Willow had allowed the vampire's offer of assistance to plant the seeds of hope inside her. A part of her already believed that the words Tara spoke were indeed the truth and she would help her defeat Dracula at Covasna. She felt her grip slacken once more and realised that after all this time, after imagining her reunion with Tara's body...that she could not bring herself to destroy it. Willow realised hot tears were burning at her eyes; several had already escaped and were leaving a glistening trail down her cheeks.
With the katana held loosely at her side, there was no way Willow could have defended herself if the next movement Tara made turned out to be an attack. When the vampire surged forward, Willow merely closed her eyes as she felt Tara's body press against her own. However, the sharp pain in her neck never came; instead she felt a silky soft finger wiping the tears from her cheeks. She opened her eyes and exhaled, Tara was so close she felt her knees go weak. The stake she had almost forgotten she held clattered to the ground.
"Why do you cry, Willow?" Tara whispered, her own voice breaking slightly.
"I miss the woman you were," Willow replied honestly, closing her eyes once more.
As Willow shut out the sight of the vampire's pale flesh and ignored the smell of dead roses, she could imagine that it was her lover's touch stroking her cheeks.
"So you crave my touch?"
"I do not crave your touch," Willow's lie was blatant as she lent against the hand that cupped her face.
"I would have thought you would have taken many lovers in the last four years...you are a beautiful and passionate woman who desires love and the feel of flesh upon flesh...yet I sense that you have not bowed to these desires."
"No, there have been no others," Willow admitted in a soft voice, immediately thinking of the beautiful Japanese girl whom she thought could help her ease her pain...but then she too was gone, and there was indeed no other, "None since you."
"Four years is a long time," Tara whispered as she trailed her fingers down from Willow's cheek, over her neck and to the collar of her shirt.
If her words did not already betray her, Willow's breathing certainly did. She drew in desperate, hoarse gasps for air as Tara's fingers played over the skin of her neck, When those same fingers began undoing the topmost buttons of her shirt, she did not resist as the creamy flesh of her upper chest was slowly exposed.
"Do not torment me so!" Willow growled, opening her eyes and suddenly seizing Tara by her neck.
In one violent move, Willow spun Tara around and forced her back against the wall behind her with a firm shove. She kept her fingers around the pale white throat, digging her nails into the flesh so fiercely she felt them break the skin. Tara continued to regard her with a liquid gaze, unshed tears in her own eyes that only served to further anger a confused Willow. With shaking hands, Willow fumbled inside the pocket of her waistcoat and drew forth her second stake instead of bending to retrieve the one she dropped earlier. Using the point of the stake, she tore open the buttons at the front of Tara's dress to expose the white skin between her breasts.
"Regardless of your words, I should drive this stake through your heart," Willow growled.
Tara gasped, desperation clearly showing on her face before she spoke, "You may feel free to ignore my offer of help...but can you ignore a chance for us to be together as we once were?"
"Silence!" Willow demanded, "I will hear no more of your lies, demon!"
"Willow, please!" Tara pleaded, even as she felt Willow jam the stake against the flesh covering her lifeless heart, "Why do you think I tried to get close to Dracula in the first place, I didn't know about Covasna and the skull or his army, how could I? I hoped only to learn of a way to reverse what had happened to me...to live once more so I could be with you!"
"Lies! Such a thing is not possible!" Willow cried, driving the stake further forward.
"It is, Willow, it is! If anyone would know it to be possible then it would be the most powerful vampire of all...I have discovered the secret...if you'll only give me the chance...please believe me?"
Willow searched Tara's face but could find nothing to indicate that she was not telling the truth. It had been Giles who initially told her it was not possible to save a person once they had been turned...and she trusted her mentor...did she trust her dead lover?
As the thought was tumbling over and over in Willow's mind, Tara moved forward, her lips seeking out and claiming Willow's in the first kiss the two had shared for more than four years. Every thought that had been clogging her mind suddenly vanished to be replaced by a fierce, driving hunger that she knew could not be satisfied without the feel of her lover moving inside her. She lost herself to that kiss and nothing else mattered, not Covasna and the skull and certainly not Giles and Abraham asleep at the hotel. The stake fell from her fist, leaving an angry red welt in the centre of Tara's chest. Moments later the katana fell from her right hand, the sound it made as it hit the ground was louder, but still completely unnoticed.
Although a part of Willow was more than aware that this was not the Tara she loved, she could all too easily suppress such thoughts, especially as she began stripping back the layers of clothing that separated them, it was easy to believe it was Tara's breasts her mouth sought out...because in essence they were. As her lips closed over the mounds of flesh she found herself overwhelmed by the scent of white roses, and visions of their time together at Hagley Park. She imagined herself being with Tara there instead of in a dirty alley in a foreign city.
The tables were turned moments later, and it was Willow's turn to be slammed back against the wall. Tara threw her with such intensity she felt the wind knocked from her lungs. She didn't care, for a split second later Tara had ripped open both her shirt and waistcoat and laid her heaving breasts bare before her. Even as she dipped her head to take one into her mouth, her fingers worked at the buttons on the breeches that barred her path. They were undone swiftly and seconds later they were dragged down to pool at Willow's ankles. Willow found her bare arse scraping against the wall behind her as Tara's body ground into her, hands moving over the newly exposed flesh.
"I don't care if you're lying..." Willow whispered, completely losing herself to Tara's knowing hands, "...but if you're going to turn me, can you please fuck me first?"
"I knew you were hungry for me from the moment I drew back my hood...the need was obvious," Tara drawled, dragging teasing fingers across Willow's inner thighs.
A small whimper escaped from Willow's throat as Tara fingers travelled everywhere except where she needed them most. Her hips jerked forward repeatedly of their own accord, thrusting in search of much needed friction.
"I need..." Willow's sentence was cut short as she suddenly cried out with a throaty gasp, one of Tara's fingers worked its way between her folds and grazed the engorged nub within, "Oh gods...please, I need your fingers inside me...now!"
Willow suddenly found herself lifted upwards with strong hands. Tara grasped her buttocks and pressed her back against the wall with such force that Willow grunted with pain. However, as soon as Tara had slammed several fingers deep within her moist cunt, grunts of a different kind emerged from her mouth. It was all she could do to wrap her legs around Tara's back and bury her face in the soft blonde hair to stifle the moans that tore from the back of her throat as the thrusting fingers were buried deep. She was not capable of realising and appreciating the inhuman strength Tara was expending to maintain the position. Also, despite the cold of the night and the sweat beading on her own half-naked body, the body moving beneath her remained as cold and as smooth as marble.
Moving beneath Willow, her increasingly urgent cries were deafening in Tara's ears but the vampire did not pause to consider for a second whether they would disturb any sleeping inhabitants, instead she concentrated everything on bringing the redhead to the climax she needed. Just how quickly it did come was an indication of Willow's intense and overwhelming hunger. She could feel Willow's need in the way her heels dug into the small of her back and the way her hands clawed desperately. She could hear it in the uncontrolled cries that filled the night air. Only moments later Tara felt the tender and engorged flesh of Willow's sex spasm uncontrollably as she climaxed. More juices continued to coat her hand and Willow's thighs. Tara thrust her fingers deep for a few last, firm strokes, feeling Willow's cunt contract around her flesh. With her cheek resting against Willow's heaving chest, she allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction.
It took Willow a long time to come down from her orgasmic high. She still had her eyes closed when Tara gently withdrew her fingers from the sopping wetness between her legs and lowered her back down towards the ground. Her legs buckled beneath her weight as soon as her feet hit the ground and it was only Tara's arms around her body and the wall behind her that kept her upright.
Willow opened her eyes and saw nothing except Tara's smiling face in front of her eyes. It was all too easy to believe that the last four years had never taken place. However, Covasna was all too prevalent in both their minds for that to remain the case for long.
"I don't want to turn you, Willow," Tara reassured her lover.
"I know," Willow was momentarily surprised that she could actually still speak, "I'm just finding everything a little difficult..."
"Understandable," Tara agreed.
"Can you stay?" Willow's voice was still more than a little breathless.
"There is nothing I would like more...but I have little time, there is much work that needs to be done," Tara whispered as she nuzzled against Willow's neck, her hands moved from the small of Willow's back to cup her firm buttocks once more, she squeezed and kneaded the flesh between her fingers.
"For both of us," Willow agreed.
There was a brief moment of silence between the two. Willow realised that Tara was studying her face intently, as though she too were searching for the truth.
"Do you trust me?" Tara asked.
Her question was immediately greeted with silence and when she drew back so she could see Willow's face she found the young woman biting her lip as though unsure of herself. She found herself smiling; it was the same old Willow. She had never been one for hiding her emotions.
"Do you trust me?" Tara repeated, her voice softer this time.
Willow finally gave the tiniest of nods, "I've always trusted you, Tara."
"I will see you soon," Tara whispered, placing a last lingering kiss on Willow's lips.
Willow melted her entire body feeling like liquid in Tara's arms, her lips were still touching Tara's when she spoke, "Yes, at Covasna."
Tara did not move her mouth, "I love you."
Willow closed her eyes, letting the simple words wash over her like a healing balm; she could not restrain a small smile from curling the corners of her lips. However, even as she opened her mouth to reply she felt the weight of Tara's body leave her and her own body sagged back against the wall without its support. When she opened her eyes she saw that Tara had disappeared into the night.
Willow felt the salty tang of blood in her mouth. She pressed her fingers to her tongue and when she drew them back she found blood on her fingertips where Tara's fangs had cut into the delicate flesh. Her hands were shaking as she wiped the blood off on her shirt sleeve. She soon realised that it was her entire body which was cold and drew up her breeches from where they had pooled down around one ankle and refastened them with shaking fingers. As she cast her gaze downwards, she saw the katana lying in the filth of the alley and quickly stooped to retrieve it. She wiped the surface dirt from its blade with the sleeve of her shirt before sliding it back into its scabbard.
Willow drew her waistcoat and shirt across her naked chest and stumbled back to the hotel, drunk from the effects of Tara's intoxicating scent, still feeling the lingering effects of their frantic coupling. Although the cold night air was brining her back to her senses, she remained gripped by the overwhelming sensation of hope she felt. While the past four years had passed in a violent, largely unhappy daze, Willow finally allowed herself to feel that she had a future. The three of them had been going to Covasna almost blindly, with no knowledge of how they would stop Dracula...and even if they succeeded Willow had imagined her long years alone stretching out in front of her like a prison sentence. Now, with Tara on their side, she was filled with optimism for both a victory at Covasna, and a future together.
She was still half in a daze when she awkwardly opened the door to her hotel room. A small yelp of surprise escaped Willow's lips as found Giles standing in the middle of the floor with his arms folded across his chest. Willow immediately noticed the fear on his face and her first thoughts were that something awful had happened to Abraham. In a manner of speaking, she was very right.
"Willow...what have you done?" Giles asked in a low voice.
"What do you mean?" Willow whispered in reply, almost certain that there was no way Giles could know what had just taken place in the darkened alley between her and Tara...although the thought that he could possibly know immediately left her chilled and breathless.
"Your brother has packed his bags and left...and all he said to me by way of explanation was 'Willow will know why,'" Giles stated, his voice trembling slightly, "Willow...do you know why?"
Willow felt an intense heat flood her cheeks and she tore her gaze away from Giles's. In the heat of her frantic coupling with Tara, she had seen a shadowy figure in the distance. However, when she looked twice it had gone once more. She had barely been capable of coherent thought at that point anyway and had dismissed it outright.
Now that she remembered the incident and the tall, broad-shouldered figure, she knew it could very well have been her brother.
The single word emerged as a drawn out confession but Willow had already come to the realisation that, although a part of her was worried about the widening of the rift between them, she was glad that her brother would not be joining them at Covasna. He would be safe...and she would succeed with Tara's help.
She could mend the rift when it was all over.
Abraham Van Helsing did not know where he was going; all he knew was that he desperately needed a means of forgetting. He stumbled across a dark little rundown dive in a seedy part of Klausenberg, the sign dangling from rusty hinges above the door bore a crude representation of a bottle. He thrust the door open and was greeted with a startled expression from the bar's other patrons, all three of them.
He ordered a drink from the greasy haired bartender. No sooner had the dirty glass been filled with liquid, he picked it up and poured it down his throat as though he could not drink it fast enough. He slammed it back down and motioned for it to be refilled. As more drink was poured, Abraham drew out a fistful of coins from his wallet and the bartender knew that he was to keep it flowing. Already scooping the coins into his dirty, scuffed hands, the bartender did not question the motives of this well-dressed foreigner who had stumbled into his bar on a night where few others would venture out.
Having secured an uninterrupted supply of liquor, Abraham slumped onto a nearby stool and reached with shaking hands for his glass. He repeated the same swilling motion several times in quick succession. However, no matter how many times he jerked his head back and poured another gulp of burning liquor down his throat, he could not erase from his mind the image of his sister pressed back against the wall of the dark alley, her legs wrapped around the back of the woman who was fucking her so thoroughly. He had seen the woman's blonde hair and thought it impossible that it would be her...that was until she turned her head slightly and he saw the unmistakeable profile of the demon that had been Tara Maclay. Abraham was determined to keep drinking until that image was lost in the fog of his mind. He honestly couldn't care less if everything went to hell at Covasna, Willow had sown the seeds for her own success or failure and he was going to let her carry it out on her own.