Return to Van Rosenberg Chapter Twenty-Four

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.

For early summer, the night was surprisingly stifling. No breeze blew to lift the heavy veil of heat that ensnared London within its grasp. As dangerous as it was, some people had desperately left windows slightly ajar in the hope of coaxing a little cool air into their rooms as they slept. With her footsteps barely making a sound on the footpath, Tara glanced up at an open first floor window as she passed beneath it. She frowned, wondering if these people knew any better. There were many things that went bump in the night other than vampires, any of which could easily slip through that window. With a murmured word, Tara closed the window, even going as far as to turn the latch on the inside. She continued walking down the street.

Despite the heat Tara wore a thick woollen coat with its fur lined hood tugged up over her head. Although her heart beat steadily within her chest, she was still immune to the elements. Tara felt her shoulders sag with a small sigh; she would have preferred to feel the heat instead of the infernal chill which gripped her body.

She continued walking towards her destination, although with one slight detour. Tara glanced up at the street sign which read Gordon Square. It was a street she had not walked down for some months, not since Europe and the events that had taken place at Covasna. While she had watched over Willow from a distance throughout her time in Klausenburg's hospital and to a lesser degree as she returned to the relative safety of her own little flat, Tara had distanced herself these past few weeks. She desperately needed time to face the fact that she had very nearly failed. It was almost criminal to think that after everything Willow had been through that she had almost died in the same place her predecessor met her end. Tara had already struggled with enough guilt to last several lifetimes, adding more was a matter of course.

Walking past the Van Helsing's Gordon Square House had been something of a ritual. Although she knew that Willow had spent some years there, it was far more significant in terms of the time Tara herself had spent there. It was time she could never forget. As desperately as she wanted to suppress those memories, her guilt would not allow her to. It was a form of self-punishment. Tara felt she deserved every hour, week and year of pain she had endured and she would carry that with her for the rest of her life, however long that would be. As she passed Gordon Square she felt something odd, the usual revulsion she felt at the sight of its austere fašade had diminished somewhat to be replaced by an odd sensation, her heart speed up and she felt light-headed. It was a milder form of the sweet torture she felt when in Willow's presence.

Willow's here? Tara glanced up at the usually dark windows to see faint light seeping out from the gaps between curtains on the first floor. She stopped walking and stood staring up at the window. Although she had no way of knowing for sure, she felt that Willow was in that very room. Her forehead creased into a slight frown that betrayed the deeper worries in her mind, for some reason Willow had returned to Gordon Square even though she ought to have no memory of ever having been in the house.

You are being ridiculous, Tara breathed out gently, letting the tension flow from her body, You just want her to be in there because you miss her...keep walking...

Tara left the black house on Gordon Square behind her and continued on to her destination, she managed to glance back over her shoulder just once.

Though the night was late...not to mention hot, the heart of the British Museum continued to beat thrum along at a steady beat. Night watchmen patrolled the dark corridors, always wary and slightly nervous as they walked amongst treasures plundered from Greece, Africa and Egypt, as though any one of them might come to life.

However, the Elgin marbles remained the solid stone that they were, the mummies did not stir in their wrappings and the tribal figures continue to stare solemnly into the darkness. The only sounds besides the watchmen themselves were the urgent footsteps echoing throughout the basement employee corridors. The watchmen did not walk those halls for those that worked within them were quite capable of protecting themselves and the secrets that lay within their reach. One set of footsteps was more agitated than the other, reflecting the mood of the young woman who had just been summoned from a light night training session.

"If we are both here then who is with Will?" Faith demanded of Giles as she followed him down the corridor, "I know she can take care of herself but I would not be happy with her being in that huge house on her own."

Faith had to increase her pace to keep up with Giles's lengthy strides. She was already sweating heavily beneath the shirt and breeches she wore and would much rather have been running a wet cloth over her face than following the old man, it was bad enough that he had interrupted her session and demanded that she follow him. Faith had little patience for authority and as far as she was concerned, Giles had no right to tell her what to do.

"You'd better start explaining yourself, Giles!" Faith snapped in frustration, "If you wanted to speak to me, you could have done so in the training room."

Giles paused at the door to his workroom and raised his eyebrows, "I could have spoken to you in there yes but there are others joining us and it smells in there."

"No worse than your workroom," Faith shot back, "Now answer my questions damn you, who is with Will, and why are we even having a meeting at this time of night?"

"Firstly," Giles let out a long suffering sigh, "Myles is staying at Gordon Square..."

"Myles?" Faith screwed up her face with a dubious expression, "How on earth..."

Giles held up a stern finger, "Faith, before you say anything I would urge you to reconsider your words, Myles is a worthy young man who more than proved himself in Europe...and Willow trusts him implicitly."

"I wasn't going to make any statement to the contrary!" Faith protested, "It's just that...I'm her closest friend, I should be the one watching apologies, I guess I'm just a little over protective at the moment?"

Giles nodded knowingly before he opened the door to his workroom. The lights were already turned on as the pair entered. The room appeared the same each time Faith stepped into it, although if anything she thought it had grown even more untidy. There was however one rather noticeable difference this time, Lara Croft herself was perched on a chair, absently playing with one of Giles's projects until she glanced up and saw Faith. She slowly placed the unidentifiable object back on the work bench and rose from the chair. Faith stared for a moment before her lips tightened and she pushed past Giles to leave the room.

Giles cast a questioning glance in Lara's direction before following the young woman, who was currently in the process of stalking back down the corridor the way they had just come.

"Faith," he called calmly.

"I'm not going to your meeting Giles, you can fill me in later," Faith continued walking.

"Faith, stop!" Giles growled, his voice imparting both authority and anger.

Something in his tone made Faith take notice and she stopped, whirling around so she could march back towards him. Her face however said that she was not about to change her mind, "Giles, seriously, you cannot ask me to be in the same room with that woman!"

"Why? Because you two had a lover's quarrel?" Giles asked quite calmly.

"Yes!" Faith shot back all too quickly before realising exactly what Giles had said, her mouth opened and closed as though she wanted to continue her tirade but the words would not emerge as she had realised that Giles had said something entirely too insightful and inappropriate.

Although she had avoided Lara in the weeks that had passed since their falling out over Lara's silence on the Willow issue, she had done this so casually that she did not think that anyone had noticed. As for their relationship happening at all, she had been certain up until this point that no one outside of she, Lara and Willow were even aware that a physical relationship had developed between the two women. Her slip in front of Willow had been bad enough and now Giles knew. In Faith's opinion this was as bad as her parents knowing...god rest their souls.

"She is your employer, Faith," Giles said sternly, "As such you will treat her with all the respect that position entails...and you will leave your personal feelings out of this. These are grave times and there is much at stake for all of us."

Faith lowered her gaze, finally chastened, "I know, I am sorry Giles."

When Faith and Giles rejoined Lara in the workroom, Faith managed to retain a sense of calm, she did however remain standing on the opposite side of the room from her estranged lover. However, her pre-occupation with Lara was forgotten from the moment the final attendee joined them. Faith noticed an airy, dark mist creeping in through a vent in the ceiling. Her well trained senses knew instinctively what it was and by the time the vampire solidified in front of them she had a loaded crossbow in her hands. However, she hesitated immediately when she the vampire slipped back its hood to reveal a familiar face.

"It is lovely to see you again too, Faith," Tara seemed bemused by the crossbow aimed at her chest.

"How can you get in here?" Faith demanded of Tara before turning to Giles, "Is she supposed to be able to do that?"

"The usual rules do not apply to Tara," Giles explained, "As such the protections that we have in place around this building also do not apply."

"That's comforting," Faith muttered, but she lowered her weapon.

Tara turned and nodded towards the Director of the British Museum, "Director Croft, it is a pleasure as always."

"Indeed," Lara murmured with a nod of her own and just the slightest flicker of her tongue over her luscious lips.

Faith had to blink a few times as she wondered whether her eyes had played tricks on her. Was that really an appreciative gleam in Lara's eyes? Faith glanced back to the blonde vampire but the expression on her face was unreadable as she returned the stare. She had to admit that Tara truly was an imposing and beautiful presence in their midst...but she was also a demon. Faith tore her gaze away and found a stool. She sat with a sullen expression on her face and felt decidedly unappreciated. She wondered what it was about the vampire that had women caressing her with their eyes in such an inappropriate manner...but then again, as she glanced up at Lara and found her now looking straight at her rather than the demon, Faith realised she was just jealous. She also looked away from Lara and was then forced to look at the only person in the room who did not fuel her anger, Giles. Faith kept the loaded crossbow cradled on her lap as though she thought she might have call to use it in a hurry.

While the three humans sat down, Tara shook her head at Giles's offer of a stool and continued to stand. As such her powerful presence dominated the room.

"Giles, I passed by Gordon Square on my way here..." Tara began.

"You actually had to walk?" Faith interrupted in a sarcastic mutter.

"I enjoy walking, don't you?" Tara replied quietly, tactfully avoiding a barbed comment, before continuing, "There was a light on...I didn't dwell on it for overly long but I did wonder..."

"Ah yes," Giles appeared as though he too had forgotten that Tara had no idea that the Willow she knew from the present was not quite herself anymore, "It appears that Abraham was a little more adept with his spell casting that he led me to believe."

"Why do you say that?" Tara asked, her eyes narrowing at the mention of Abraham's name.

"Willow entered Gordon Square of her own accord, its was inevitable that she would as the address was in the front of the appears that someone, and I am presuming it was Abraham, bewitched the mirror to show Willow the past from Willow Van Helsing's perspective."

Tara's already pale visage became even whiter almost immediately but she also sighed resolutely, "Abraham did not bewitch the mirror...he knew the theory but he never had that kind of power."

"Who did it then?" Giles asked with a frown.

"I did," Tara replied, "Just after you made the decision to bring Willow back...I knew she would have no memories of what happened to her, and I knew she would have to find out eventually but I did not want to have to tell her to her face...and a part of me did not want her to find out at all. The mirror was my way of salving my least a little."

"You should have told me...that spell could have had grave consequences for Willow!" Giles paced the floor, the determined set to his shoulders said that he was rather angry, "As it is...she now knows everything that took place between finding out about your death...right up until her own death."

"She had a right to know," Tara whispered in a broken voice.

The blonde vampire finally did sink onto the stool Giles had set out for her. It was as though she did not have the strength to hold herself up any longer.

Faith glanced back and forth between Giles and Tara, she did not like the implication present in their glances, "Wait a minute...Giles, just how did Willow Van Helsing die?"

Giles just shook his head slowly indicating that it was not his place to say. He then nodded discreetly in the direction of Tara who was slumped on the stool, her hair hanging forward over her face.

While Tara looked to be nothing more than a harmless young woman...Faith however did not take anything at face value and knew she was so much more. She narrowed her eyes as she strode towards the slumped form. As she approached Tara looked up, thin tracks of tears sliding down her face.

"You know the answer to my question, demon?" Faith demanded.

"Lured by the promise of power, I betrayed her," Tara answered bluntly, "She trusted me to stand with her at Covasna but I stabbed her in the back."

For a moment Faith lowered her crossbow and stared stupidly at Tara as she tried to process this starling revelation, "You did what?"

"Faith, I was a soulless of all people should know just how corrupt such a creature is," Tara continued in a bland voice, not justifying her actions but merely stating the truth.

"What in the bloody hell went on between you and Willow?" Faith demanded, the crossbow shaking in her grip "Because this is all sounding like one twisted party that the Willow I know would never have been involved with!"

"Willow and I...are complicated," was all Tara could whisper.

"That's an understatement! When we were healing Willow at Covasna, I saw in my mind images of you when you were loved her then...and I think she never stopped loving you...she probably still loved you when you stabbed her in the back ...and now you're here showing all the concern in the world for her and I'll be damned if that little story makes any sense at all!"

"You're right, it makes no sense," Tara admitted sadly, each of Faith's words inflicted pain like a barb, "I could explain everything..."

"Well then it is a pity that you will not get that chance," Faith growled, once again lifting the crossbow level with Tara's heart. She could think of nothing else other than this demon stabbing the past self of her dearest friend.

"No, Faith," Giles interrupted sternly, "This isn't the time...and it should be enough for you that I trust her."

Faith's eyes glowered, indicating that Giles's trust was far from enough. However, she gritted her teeth and managed to hold back on any further judgements she had to make about the blonde vampire. She grew even angrier and more confused when she saw the strange look that passed between Giles and Tara. With a snort, she threw the crossbow to the ground, it instantly triggered and the bolt shot out and thudded into a wall a few metres to the left of Lara's head. Faith looked exceptionally disappointed and sat down just opposite Giles.

"No one ever tells me anything," Faith grumbled like a petulant child, "You, Lara...vampire lady over there..."

"I told Lara not to tell you anything," Giles explained as if this immediately made perfect sense.

"Why the hell would Lara listen to you?" Faith demanded, looking back and forth between the old man and her lover, "She's the Director of the bloody British Museum and you're...well, you're whatever you are."

Faith bit her lip as she immediately regretted her hasty words. However, Giles merely returned her stare with an infinitely knowing gaze. She cocked her head to one side as she studied the old man, as she did realisation dawn and she realised that she barely knew him. In that gaze she saw much more than the quirky inventor who toiled away in his solitary workshop. She saw the knowledge and experience gained only via the passage of time. Her own gaze shifted from Giles to Lara and then back again as she realised he was indeed in charge.

"Giles is a warlock, Faith," Tara explained quietly, "And he is over five hundred years old."

Faith's jaw dropped as she continued to stare at Giles, "And I just thought you aged badly."

"I will ignore that little comment," Giles replied tartly.

"Well you deserve it for being such an arse; you can start making amends by filling me in," Faith demanded without seeming the least bit apologetic, "And do not miss anything out."

Faith listened as Giles laid it all out for her. She already knew the Covasna myth of course, even before Willow's tragic accident there. However she had no idea just how deeply her friends were involved. Her jaw remained in an open position throughout Giles's tale and by the time he had brought her up to speed on everything he knew, her jaw was locked in position.

It took some time before Faith could move her mouth enough to form words but her first concern was predictable, "Does Willow know all of this?"

"She lived much of it," Giles explained warily, "but she was dead for over one hundred years."

Faith caught the tone in his voice and came to an immediate realisation, "You didn't tell me any of this because you thought I would fill Willow in didn't you? Well you are bloody right! She needs to know...especially about that vampire..." Faith stabbed a finger in Tara's direction but cut herself off as she said the word; she frowned as she turned to face Tara, "Or whatever the bloody hell you the hell can you still consort with them? Do they not sense what you are?"

Tara just nodded, "They see me as corrupt...but you must understand the position which I held. Killing Willow made me second only to Dracula himself and despite what Abraham Van Helsing did, they continued to trust me."

"But you cannot be trusted, not by us or them!" Faith growled in response.

"Faith!" Giles cautioned.

"Faith is right," Tara interrupted with a resigned glance in Giles's direction, "On one count at least; my former friends have become exceptionally suspicious regarding Angelus's present I dare not show myself in their company."

Giles looked exceedingly shocked, "Tara...please tell me you did not do what I think you did!"

"He deserved it," Tara merely shrugged.

"Yes, but now you've ruined your status among our enemies...that was a foolish move Tara," Giles was not at all impressed.

"After all that Tara has done for us over the years, we cannot abandon her now," when Lara finally spoke everyone else in the room turned to face the Director, the stern set to her mouth indicating that she felt strongly about the words she spoke.

Lara also had strong suspicions regarding Faith's reactions to her statement. She turned to her estranged lover, thoroughly expecting to see an expression of indignation. However she found instead one of resignation as though she was not even going to attempt to argue.

"I agree," Giles nodded towards Lara, "And I will need to think on this well as the more pressing matter of the skulls whereabouts, the key obviously lies with Willow but I think unlocking any memories she may have will be difficult."

"You're all missing the little fact that she was dead when old Abe hid the bloody thing!" Faith commented.

All three of her companions turned to give her a look that said they did not need to be reminded of that little fact. Faith just shrugged as she reached out and gently stroked a bottle of holy water sitting on one of Giles's benches.

"I know I can help her find the skull, Giles, I knew both her and Abraham well..." Tara suggested, her voice betraying just how badly she wanted to see Willow.

"Tara, wait," Giles cautioned her, "Willow is strong, she's adjusting well but if we make a false move it could undo the consciousness that she has made for herself."

"Giles, please!" Tara pleaded, "I have to see her...explain."

"She is understandably very angry, I think possibly even angry enough to do what she could not do all those years ago when she first met you in your non-human form...and you've changed now, it would be wrong for Willow to punish you for what your demon self did."

Tara shook her head sadly, "I still deserve to be punished Giles, as near to being human as I am, I still remember what it felt like to kill have no idea what it is like living with a memory like that!"

"Tara, we will protect you as best we can...all of us," he made a point of looking directly at Faith, "But Faith will help Willow find the skull."

"Great plan! You stay away from her you hear?" Faith stabbed her finger angrily in Tara's direction, "I don't care if you've got some twisted little fantasy that she still loves you after all that you've done to her, the people that she still loves will take care of her...better than you ever could...demon!"

Although her expression was one of pain, Tara also managed a small smile of resignation in response to Faith's words; she faced the vampire hunter calmly, "I know you will, Faith." Tara then turned to face Giles and Lara and the smile disappeared from her face leaving just the pain, "I will await news of your success in finding the skull...until then I will stay out of everyone's affairs."

"Try not to get dusted," Faith said just as the vampire went out the same way she had come, through the vents in the ceiling.

Both Lara and Giles glared at her as though her rudeness was inexcusable. Faith replied with a grunt of contempt and left the room in the conventional way. She managed to relax somewhat now that she was out of the presence of the blonde vampire and Lara Croft but she still could not shake off the fact that the vampire was the thing responsible for the death of her best friend...or at least her death in a past life. Faith was so confused trying to piece together everything Giles had told her that she felt a strong headache coming on.

Faith had only just returned to her own office when she heard quiet footsteps behind her. There was no need for her to turn immediately as she already knew who it was. The smell of the woman filled her nostrils, it was intoxicating and maddening at the same time. Faith was forced to place both hands on the corner of her desk to hold herself steady...and to keep herself from whirling around and launching herself forward into the woman's arms. She closed her eyes and breathed out deeply before opening her mouth to speak.

"I suppose you think I owe you an apology," Faith said bitterly, her tone far from apologetic.

"No," Lara replied with her voice soft but urgent, "I owe you one, I'm sorry that you were not brought into the fold earlier...and I apologise for the hurt you have suffered..."

Faith slowly opened her eyes; there was a determined gleam in their dark depths. She knew she was dancing a dangerous waltz but it she could no longer refrain from dancing to Lara's tune. The attraction between the two of them was undeniable and Faith finally realised just how futile it was to try and avoid the other woman. With a last intake of breath she spun on her heels and crossed the distance between her and Lara in just two loud heartbeats. On the third heartbeat their lips were pressed together. The kiss lasted just a moment but that was all it took for Faith to realise just what it was she had missed.

"Slowly," Lara whispered a moment later, "I think we really need to talk things through before we..."

Even as Lara drew back, Faith reached out and wrapped her fingers around the back of her neck. With a fierce but calculated tug she drew Lara's mouth back towards her own. For a few delicious seconds she resumed their kiss, indicating that slow was most definitely not the speed she wished to travel at.

"Let's just bloody skip it," Faith growled, her headache already fading.

Although both Giles and Faith had been very clear in their respective warnings, Tara did not heed either. Her burning desire to see Willow outweighed any concerns she had for her own safety or for Willow's. In hindsight she cursed her lack of an iron will and wondered what on earth she had been hoping for with the meeting.

It was fairly simple to track Willow down. Tara merely sat and waited, observing the black house at Gordon Square. Although she knew that young Myles Cavendish was watching over Willow with orders not to let her leave the house at night, it soon became obvious that he presented a rather insignificant obstacle to someone of her talents. It was near to the middle of the night when Tara saw a dark shape slip from a window at the rear of the house and drop silently to the ground. She recognised the way the shape moved and knew it could only be Willow. With her heart pounding in trepidation, Tara followed at a safe distance, hugging the dark shadows.

It soon became apparent that Willow was not merely out for an evening stroll; Tara saw the slender shape of a sword scabbard protruding from her belt. Willow was hunting. This became even more apparent when Willow led her straight to one of the largest cemeteries in town. In the dark, this late at night, it was a foreboding place, full of shadows and unexplained noises. The Willow Rosenberg that Tara had observed for so many years would not have set foot in such a place during daylight, let alone now. There was no doubt that this young woman had changed.

As Tara followed some distance back, she caught a glimpse of the side of Willow's face as she turned her head and could seen the familiar profile. The changes had taken place not in her appearance but in the way she moved and carried herself. Tara was so rapt in her study of Willow, she did not realise that she was in fact being tracked. Despite the fact that her feet made no sound whatsoever on the ground beneath her feet, she realised that Willow knew she was there. She stopped moving and Tara watched her body relax slightly, she was unafraid.

"If you're a demon I will give you the opportunity to run but I would warn you that there is little point, I will catch you anyway," Willow spoke over her shoulder.

There was no immediate reply and in response Willow turned, drawing a sharp stake from the inside of her coat as she did so. She frowned when she saw the outline of a cloaked figure standing in the shadow of a crypt. The frown changed to a scowl a moment later as the figure stepped forward and drew back its hood. What little light there was in the graveyard illuminated the features of the woman she last remembered standing over her at Covasna, a bloody katana in her hand. The scowl became an expression of blatant disgust and her fingers tightened on the stake in her hand.

"You," the single word emerged as though dredged up from the very pit of Willow's gut, it was full of loathing.

Willow had nothing more to say, all she wanted now was to see her stake plunge into the creature's heart.

"Willow, you must understand something..." Tara began desperately, already wounded by the tone of Willow's voice.

Willow cut her off with a sharp laugh, "You didn't just kill me you traitorous bitch, you fucked me, said you loved me and then stabbed me in the back with my own damn sword...just how much more do I need to understand?"

"Many things!" Tara responded, "Willow, do not act on impulse without hearing everything!"

"What? Without hearing more lies from a demon?" Willow took a few steps closer to Tara, "I have heard enough!"

Without any further warning the lithe redhead sprung forward towards Tara. She would have landed within striking distance had the blonde vampire not suddenly disappeared into mist. Willow growled in frustration as she believed her prey had fled the scene. However, when she turned she found Tara had re-materialised directly behind her. She lunged with the stake but Tara caught her wrist before she could plunge it into her body. With her wrist ensnared in a firm grip, Willow now found herself as close to Tara as she had been that last fateful day at Covasna when they had shared a kiss. At the time Willow had thought that kiss to be a promise for the future, now she knew it had merely been the spider luring the fly further into its web of deceit. She met Tara's watery blue gaze and in her fury she saw none of the sadness and regret that lurked there. With an angry growl she spun, twisting Tara's grip so that she was forced to let go or break her wrist. Once free she whirled around again and this time smashed the back of her hand into Tara's jaw. The vampire stumbled but did not fall and when Willow's next blow came, she blocked it with her own palm.

Willow soon realised that whatever had happened to the vampire in the time since her death, none of her awesome strength had been lost. Even as she sent blow after blow in her direction, desperately searching for an opening to use her stake, Tara was able to parry each and every one, allowing Willow no quarter. Seeking to use her only advantage, Willow tossed the stake aside and drew the sword she carried.

As Tara saw the steel blade flash, she recognised that it was a plain sabre and not the katana Willow Van Helsing had always carried. Still, she was quite sure that Willow was just as capable of removing her head from her shoulders with it.

"Willow, this is ridiculous, do you really wish to destroy me?" Tara asked even as she dodged a flurry of strikes.

"Yes!" Willow snarled, slashing downwards and tearing a large rent in Tara's cloak.

As the sword blade missed by ever decreasing margins, Tara knew that she had to make her move soon or Willow would end up striking a lethal blow. Given that she was not attempting to hurt Willow in any way, she could only lose this battle. She ducked beneath yet another swing and before Willow could bring her sword around in a backhanded slash, she surged forward and wrapped her arms around the slender girl, driving her to the earth. As Willow fell her shoulder caught the end of a headstone and the sabre was jarred from her grip. She had barely been pressed beneath Tara's body for a split second when she used her momentum to send the vampire flying over her head with the help of a well placed foot to Tara's gut.

Tara landed hard and realised the hard way one of the drawbacks of actually having to breathe as the wind was knocked from her lungs. She had no time to recover before Willow was straddled across her body, the discarded stake now back in her hand. Although there were any number of ways she could defend herself, Tara chose to do nothing as Willow drew her arm back in preparation for plunging the stake into her heart. She merely lay beneath her weight, staring up into merciless green eyes as she waited for everything to end. Unlike Willow, she was not essential to finding the skull and destroying it. If her death would put Willow in a better place to achieve that end, then she was prepared to let it happen.

As she lay waiting for her second death, her heart thudded wildly, her chest rising and falling with each gasp of breath. Tara was terrified and she could not hide it.

However, even as Willow took one last breath of her own before stabbing downwards, she suddenly realised that something was very wrong with the scene in front of her. Tara was a vampire, she was dead...and yet her chest was unmistakably rising and falling as though she were actually breathing. With her eyes wide, Willow laid her left hand on Tara's chest and was further surprised as she felt her heart thudding against her hand. Although she still loathed her with every fibre of her being, Willow could not bring herself to plunge the stake into a still beating heart. It fell from her loosening grasp and her arm dropped weakly to her side. After all this time she once again experienced the sweet fragrance of pure white roses.

A few moments later she rose off Tara's body and onto her shaking legs and stumbled a few steps away.

Tara started to follow suit and found that Willow did not make any move to attack her. She did not rise to her feet and instead rested on her knees, her head bowed.

Willow could not look at her. Tara was alive? She struggled to understand how this could have possibly happened...Giles himself had said it was impossible. Yet even as Willow tried to fathom this possibility, she remembered that just minutes ago Tara had shifted into her familiar misty form. She turned and stared, in all outward appearances, Tara was still a vampire...and yet she wasn't.

"What the hell are you?" Willow whispered as she stared at her former lover.

"Ask Giles," Tara whispered in a broken voice, "He will be able to show you everything, what happened at Covasna...and in the years afterwards."

"I've tried; he thinks I'm not ready," Willow's tone indicated that she believed she was more than ready.

"I will speak to him...and he will show you," Tara finally struggled to her feet, she lent heavily on the nearby wall as though a stiff breeze would knock her off her feet once again, "I hope once you see that not judge me as harshly as you do now. Although nothing in my past can justify what I did to you, Willow, I hope at least for understanding...and perhaps in time...forgiveness?"

Willow did not reply. Instead she stared at Tara with an expression that was torn between hatred and love. The incongruity of the emotions battling it out within her body was such that her pain was palpable. It crackled in the air around the two women, so much so that neither could move for several minutes. Tara stood next to the wall, gripping it with white knuckled fingers and Willow stood with her arms loosely at her side, the stake almost forgotten in her hand.

It eventually became too much for either of them, Tara watched the corners of Willow's jaw tighten and realised that her ex-lover was struggling to maintain control. Rather than find out if Willow truly would destroy her even after discovering her heart beat once more, she smiled sadly and her features gradually faded into nothingness. Her non-corporeal self quickly disappeared into the darkness, leaving Willow alone in the cemetery.

Willow did not have the words to describe the way she felt. A part of her desperately wanted Tara to stay so she could lay her head against her chest and hear her heart beat once again. Another part of her however, wanted to try once more to drive a stake through that heart, beating or not. Her own heart throbbed uncomfortably in her chest as she too turned to leave the graveyard. She had made up her mind to return home to Gordon Square where she knew she would experience a sleepless night. Tomorrow she would go to Giles and demand he fulfil Tara's promise.

I will be damned if anything I learn will cause me to forgive her for what she did, Willow thoughts were determined as she retrieved her fallen sword. Still she could not deny that learning the truth was a very attractive prospect indeed. Her mind once again flicked back to her close proximity with Tara and she felt the equally sharp emotions which now mingled with her anger.

I am fate's fool indeed, Willow mused unhappily, Why taunt me so cruelly with renewed hope after all these years, can I not just kill her and be done with it?

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Twenty-Six

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