Return to Van Rosenberg Chapter Thirty-Two

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.

Many thanks to Foo for the splendid banner.

It had surprised Willow just how easy it had been to strip all traces of her existence from the tiny flat in which she had dwelt comfortably for five years. Five years spent working at the British Museum, mostly confined to her basement office without the slightest inclination to venture out into the dark and dangerous walls that lay beyond its walls. Five years ago everything had seemed so exceptionally normal. Willow could not believe how quickly such an ordered, quiet life could be turned inside out and back to front.

Upon seeing her flat empty and bare of the mostly ephemeral possessions that she had accrued over the course of her life, Willow realised that it had never really been more than a place to sleep and eat occasionally. She had carried out both activities just as frequently at the museum.

It was only when she once again found herself at the foot of the stairs leading up to Gordon Square's front door, this time with a bag in each hand, that she realised she truly was home. There had never been anywhere else that could truly be considered home...except of course Hagley Park, but that home belonged to another time altogether, a dream world really.

While she had been staying at Gordon Square following the incident with the mirror and the subsequent flood of memories of her past life, she had difficulty considering herself as more than an intruder. As she now entered with her bags in tow she felt as if she were being welcomed home. It was as though the house somehow knew that she had decided to embrace her past life, to walk in the footsteps of Willow Van Helsing. Everything felt right, her coat rested neatly on the rack by the door, the portraits and dark furnishings in the parlour no longer sent shivers down her spine and she looked forward to being able to sleep in her own bed.

The only trace of sadness that she did have as she ascended the stairs towards her room was the fact that the house was otherwise empty. She supposed that she would need to employ at least one servant to maintain such a large house. While considering this, she balked at the thought of paying for such an extravagance on her museum salary but she had to admit that the company would be more than welcome. Perhaps I can ask Croft for a raise... Willow mused as she picked up her two small bags and began toting them up the stairs, After all, she's sleeping with my best friend...I'm sure that entitles me to some sort of favouritism.

Thoughts of a hefty raise were unfortunately replaced by ones of Lara and Faith in bed...naked. With a grimace Willow did her best to erase those interesting but thoroughly unwanted images from her mind.

When she entered her room she felt a renewed sense of peace, the bed appeared soft and inviting even though it was barely late afternoon. With some relish Willow dumped both her bags and decadently decided that she would postpone unpacking them. Instead she reacquainted herself with the room, running her fingers lightly over every surface close by. She touched the dresser, the cushions of the window seat, the posts of her bed and eventually the ornate, silver framed mirror that seemed to dominate the large room.

She had deliberately stayed clear of its reflection. After her last unnerving experience, she had no desire to disappear within its depths again. However, despite her fear, there was something about it which drew her in and compelled her to look even though she was wary of its hidden powers.

Today it appeared quite normal. It showed her an exact reflection of her room, as a mirror should. I wonder if I should move it out...into the attic, someplace where I don't have to see it everyday... Even as the thought crossed Willow's mind she knew she would never carry it out. The mirror belonged in the room, just as much as she herself did.

Willow studied her reflection, wondering if the mirror showed her exactly as she was or if it was deliberately trying to make her appear more drawn and tired. As she stifled a yawn and her shoulders sagged further, she admitted that the reflection was accurate...

She was still staring at her own reflection when she saw a shadow move behind her. Willow froze as someone else entered the room in the reflection. It took her a few moments of steeling herself before she could turn around and stare at the real world behind her. She spun quickly...only to find herself alone in the room.

Her heart was thudding when she forced her gaze back to the mirror, a part of her hoped she had merely been seeing things but the figure was now standing even closer, just behind her shoulder.

It was Tara.

The blonde vampire appeared exactly the same as she had the night Willow had last seen the cemetery. Her hood was drawn back so Willow could see all of her face, the pale, unblemished surface stretched over her sharp cheekbones.

Willow remembered the broken figure lying in the cell beneath Gordon Square and she unconsciously let out a choked sob. The anger she felt in Tara's real presence was almost non-existent, replaced by all the sorrow and anguish those memories conjured.

"You never stopped loving me," Willow whispered, instinctively reaching out towards the image in the mirror, "Even when absolutely everything seemed hopeless after years in that dark hole...still, you loved me."

When the tips of her fingers touched the glass, Willow found it to be ice cold. Despite all that had happened to her during her last encounter with the mirror, she found herself willing the mirror to draw her in. She pressed her fingers against the glass until the tips were white with pressure and cold but still she remained standing alone in her room.

As the minutes passed and Tara's reflection remained motionless, trapped on the other side of the glass, Willow leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the icy surface. She watched her breath hit the mirror's surface for a moment before closing her eyes.

"Can't you just take me back?" Willow whispered desperately, "Back to that night when you chose Edward over me...I'd refuse to accept your decision and force you to leave with me!" She leaned into the mirror until the skin on the side of her face burned with cold. "I don't care if it's just a dream...please take me back!"

"We've both chosen our paths," a gentle voice whispered.

Willow felt her knees go weak as the soft, warm breath brushed against her neck. As difficult as it was to hold herself upright, she could still inject an amount of fervour into her voice. "Neither of us chose our paths! They were chosen for us...always!"

"No, Willow...remember when we first met, in the stable..."

As Tara's voice sounded in her ear, Willow remembered that day. Even though it was over one hundred years ago, it was a day she would never forget. An abrupt sigh escaped her lips.

Tara continued. "You made the decision to kiss me, and I made the decision to let you...that was the one moment that set everything in motion."

"All of this suffering...because of one kiss," Willow whispered. "It's not fair...." Her voice trailed off, as soon as the words left her lips she acknowledged to herself just how petty and futile they really were. There was absolutely no one she could appeal to, no one to help her and one besides themselves.

With her entire body now chilled, Willow drew back from the mirror so she could once again stare at Tara's reflection. She watched as a single tear tracked down the pale skin of her cheek. Willow fought back her own tears as she reflected on how differently their lives would have progressed had it not been for that kiss. Both would have married, albeit unhappily, and born children...and they would both be very much dead and buried.

Despite all she and Tara had suffered in the years since that kiss, Willow did not want to exchange anything for the safe but boring and unhappy life that was her birthright as an upper class woman.

"How could I have made any other choice that day in the stable?" Willow whispered, lifting her fingers so it was as though she was touching the tear track on Tara's cheek. "Just look at you. You are beautiful."

Willow suddenly felt a firm grip on the front of her shirt and for the second time she was dragged into the mirror, although this time it was straight into Tara's waiting arms in the mirrored reflection of the room. She quickly overcame her surprise and allowed her body to mould against Tara's so that there was absolutely nothing separating them. With a sigh she found Tara's lips. Her first contact with the soft skin sent shivers throughout her entire body that pooled in her gut and between her legs. She drew back slightly to break her contact with Tara's lips but only so she could press forward again a split second later and feel that same contact for a second time.

Tara's hand went to the back of her neck, preventing Willow from drawing back again but this time she was ready to open up completely to the kiss. They explored each other's lips teasingly at first, but then more fiercely until the contact was almost bruising.

Willow surprised herself with the intensity of her own need. She felt the blood pounding in her head as she willed herself to explore more of Tara. As her hands roamed the lithe body pressed up against her own, she thrust her tongue into Tara's mouth...seeking, needing more.

Just as she was about to lose herself to the reflection's kiss and forget all that was happening outside of the mirror, Willow felt herself be thrust backwards by an unseen force. She was torn from Tara's lips and her grasp with a muffled cry. Moments later she landed on her back atop the floor rug in her room. She stared back at her own reflection and saw lips swollen by Tara's kiss...but Tara's reflection was gone.

Willow lifted her shaking hand and pressed her fingers to her lips to feel the fast disappearing warmth left by the kiss.

"Miss Rosenberg?"

Willow's attention was drawn away from the mirror by the sound of a man's voice echoing down the hallway beyond her room. She made a half-hearted attempt to drag herself to her feet but she only succeeded in proving what she already suspected, her legs would not hold her weight.

A few moments later, there was a tentative knock on her already open door. Willow turned her head to see young Myles Cavendish poke his head into the room. When he saw he half-lying on the floor he moved quickly to her side with an anxious expression on his face.

"Are you alright!" he asked quickly as he knelt on the floor at her side. Myles did not know if it was appropriate for him to reach out and support Willow in some way. He lifted his hands towards her but immediately thought better of touching her and dropped them back to his thighs where he scrapped his clammy palms over the wool of his breeches. "Forgive me for saying so...but you are as white as a sheet."

"I am sitting in front of a bloody mirror, Myles!" Willow snapped. "I think I can see for myself how pale I am without having to hear it from you!"

"Oh..." Myles glanced up to the mirror and then down at the floor. He tried to find something else to say but instead settled on standing up and giving Willow some space.

Willow sighed. "Damn my ill-temper...I'm sorry, will you forgive me and help me up?"

"Of course!" Myles was quick to respond, taking both Willow's proffered hands and hoisting her back onto her feet.

There was an awkward moment where the two of them were standing scant inches apart but Myles wasted no time in backing away. His cheeks reddened as he stared at the floor and once again wiped his palms, this time on his jacket.

"Is it your turn to watch me?" Willow asked, feeling ridiculous that she should have to ask such a question of someone who was almost ten years her junior.

Myles bit his lip before replying reluctantly, "Not exactly...I think it's Faith's...but I was wondering if I could stay here all the same. I-I know, it is ridiculous of me to think that I could...gosh Miss Rosenberg, I'm ever so sorry...I'll be out of your hair immediately."

"Myles, wait!" Willow interrupted the young man's escape from her room. "You're more than soon as you explain why. Will your parents not miss you?"

Myles looked stricken for a moment but the expression was quickly gone, replaced by a sad smile. "I guess you're still missing some of the little details in your parents are dead, I live with my aunt and uncle."

"I'm sorry." Willow hated to think that Myles was such a small part of her life she had simply forgotten whole details about his life after emerging from the mirror. She saw through his brave attempt at a smile and reached out to lay her hand on his shoulder, knowing that a proper hug would send him so far past the point of embarrassment he would have difficulty recovering. "It had slipped my mind."

"It's understandable." Myles shrugged as though it did not matter. "You've been through a lot."

"Still, you are a dear friend," Willow said sincerely. "Why do you want to stay here? Are your aunt and uncle not good to you?"

Myles responded with a fervent nod. "Yes, of course, but I cannot help but feel like a burden. They have five children of their own and...I wondered with me having to come and stay here every few nights anyway, if I might be able to stay every night, at least until I find somewhere to board."

Willow smiled. "Myles, you are more than welcome to stay here indefinitely...if you promise me that you are able to stomach the thought of ghostly presences and mirrors that swallow people whole."

"Absolutely!" Myles nodded once again, just as fervently.

"And Myles...if you are going to live here for any length of time, will you please call me Willow?"

"Absolutely, Miss...Willow."

Willow let Myles take his pick of the several guest rooms at Gordon Square she felt a huge wave of relief wash over her. The house would no longer feel empty and she would have someone to keep her company...even if it was a young man who grew red-checked around women and had a habit of knocking things over.

As she watched a grateful Myles dump his bag with some relish on the huge bed in front of him, Willow found the memory of the kiss with Tara's reflection foremost in her mind once again. Although it had merely been a dream...or a vision of sorts, she could not help but remember it as being very real. Given the lack of anger she had felt towards the reflection, Willow wondered if the same would be true when she saw Tara face to face. She pushed such speculations from her mind for the immediate present and instead dwelt on the way Tara's lips had felt beneath her own.

It was only when Myles looked at her strangely a few minutes later that she realised the mere memory of the kiss had been enough to make her drool.

Willow was determined to help Myles feel at home straight least she told herself this was what she was doing. In truth she was trying to forget everything else that constantly plagued her waking and sleeping thoughts.

She had also decided that a steady stream of drool was not a good look.

Willow very quickly discovered that cooking was an effective way to keep one's mind busy. When living alone she had mostly picked up food on the way home from work from any one of the greasy little bars and restaurants that lined the streets of her neighbourhood. As a result she had very little in the cupboards at Gordon Square except for a few items that Faith had thought to buy. For some reason the dark-haired vampire hunter ate like a horse.

As she bustled around the still unfamiliar kitchen, trying to make a stew of sorts, Myles sat at the kitchen table and filled the air with a constant stream of chatter. As exasperated as Willow grew with the combined effort of trying to cook and listen to Myles, she realised that she actually felt a semblance of normality in her life.

"I figure...if I spend a few more years doing...what I'm doing now," Myles explained between mouthfuls of an apple he was gnawing on, "I'll be in the perfect position to ask Director Croft for additional responsibility and weapons training...perhaps accompanying Faith on a few missions...easy ones of course..."

"Although I'm not actually sure what you actually do now, Myles," Willow commented as she wrinkled her nose, wondering if her stew was supposed to be giving off the odour of rotten cabbage, "I think it is wise to have a plan...ouch!"

"It's not too ambitious?" Myles asked anxiously, watching as Willow jabbed a burnt finger into a pail of water.

"Not at all, it would be like....a curatorial internship, only in your case...a vampire hunter internship." Willow shrugged; she lifted her finger out of the pail and examined the reddening skin at its tip. "Makes perfect sense really."

"What makes perfect sense?" Faith strode into the kitchen and deposited two large, bulky bags in the middle of the floor. She was surprised to see Myles sitting in front of her, his jaws working around a large mouthful of fruit. "I thought it was my night?"

"It...ish...or...ight," Myles tried to explain, he swallowed too quickly and ended up descending into a loud choking fit.

Willow frowned disapprovingly as small pieces of apple sprayed out of Myles's mouth and across the table. "It is your night...I've just invited Myles to stay on a longer-term basis

"Great!" Faith was suddenly enthusiastic. "If you're know my place's a rotten hole and you've got more rooms than you know what to do with..."

Willow sighed in exasperation as she glanced from a still-choking Myles back to Faith. "Do you people think that this is Hotel Rosenberg?"

Despite the exasperation in her tone, Willow could not restrain the smile that tugged at the corner of her lips. Without any further words of complaint, she set about making another place at the kitchen table and then returned to her stew.

Faith pulled back a chair at the head of the table, casting a wary glace in the direction of the stove.

"You didn't make that did you, Will?" Faith nodded towards the large pot of stew bubbling away on the stove.

Willow turned, "Of course I did...there wasn't much to work with but..." Willow paused and her face fell slightly. "You think it's going to be terrible don't you?"

"That is not what I said!" Faith held up her hands.

Seizing her wooden spoon, Willow waved it in Faith's direction without noticing the gobs of brown liquid flying off in several directions, "That is what you are insinuating!"

"I'm just impressed!" Faith tried to wriggle out of trouble. "You know I haven't the faintest clue when it comes to cooking...I just didn't know you did." Faith then subtlety changed the subject. "Is there anything to wash it down with? I didn't think to bring any wine."

"I think there's some in the cellar...although I think it's kind of old though," Willow announced, still clutching her dripping spoon as she looked towards a door leading off from the kitchen. "I hope it's still alright."

" gets better with age," Faith pointed out helpfully.

"Oh." Willow's cheeks reddened. "I knew that...of course I knew that."

Myles waited until Willow had disappeared into the cellar to lean towards Faith, "I tasted it when she wasn't looking and it's god-awful...too watery and too salty...but please don't tell her!"

"Oh god," Faith muttered, "You can't seriously expect me to pretend I'm enjoying it?"

"You and I will both enjoy it!" Myles whispered with determination, "With all she's been through lately the last thing she needs is for us to tell her that her cooking is rotten!"

"I think I'll go and help Willow with the wine selection." Faith pushed back her chair with a loud scrape. "And make sure she brings up enough, I think I'm going to need to thoroughly line my stomach."

Although it was only afternoon, the halls of the British Museum's basement were eerily silent as Tara made her way along the familiar route to Giles's office. She did not need to walk the corridors at all of course; she could simply slip through one of the many windows...however, even though he had been warned against it, she was hoping to accidentally bump into a certain red head.

The door to Willow's office had been left half open. Tara tentatively peered through the gap but saw only Willow's empty chair in the midst of the mess.

"Rosenberg is in the library."

Tara did not turn immediately, her gaze lingered on the office. It did not matter, she knew exactly who it was who had joined her. She had heard the faint tapping of a cane on the wooden floor before the Museum Director had even entered the corridor. When she did eventually turn to face Lara Croft she was surprised to see a healthy glow about the darker woman, the trace of a smile lingering on her lips.

"I did not want to see her..." Tara started to explain and then cut herself short, no explanations were necessary. She moved away from Willow's office and changed the subject. "You look well."

Lara shrugged, but the smile that had lingered on her face now tugged at her lips. "I have been alone for so long that I did not think this would ever happen...and certainly not with Faith...but I think she is good for me."

"No one..." Tara started to speak but she stopped short before she finished her sentence, no one should be alone, knowing that she would not be able to force the words out without choking on them. "It is a good match."

Lara laughed throatily at Tara's choice of words. "An unlikely match don't you think? She has exasperated me from the moment she strode into my office...I thought we would end up at each other's throats...not in bed together." Lara paused, feeling as though Tara was being overly silent. When she turned to stare at the vampire, she saw a pained expression on her pale features. Lara's heart immediately sank. She could not believe how insensitive she had been, exposing any enthusiasm for her relationship with Faith without taking into account Tara's complete lack of a relationship with the woman she loved. "I am sorry; I did not mean to bring up such a subject...especially not when..."

The pained expression had already been wiped from Tara's face. "I have known you for almost twenty-five years, and in all that time I have never seen you as happy as you are now...and I am, in turn, happy for I should be."

Lara sighed. Tara's words were nothing but sincere but she could not help but see straight through them to the pain that lay beneath. She stepped forward and moved to embrace Tara, to draw the blonde woman close for just a moment. Tara rebuffed her by turning slightly, avoiding the embrace.

"Tara, for god's sake stop being such an ice princess and let me hold you!" Lara growled angrily. She tried once again to seize her by the shoulders but Tara shrugged her off with little effort. "How long has it been since someone has held you in an honest to goodness embrace for nothing more than comfort?"

"You know how long it has been," Tara whispered as she put some additional breathing distance between herself and Croft. "Several lifetimes."

"Too long." Lara ignored Tara's obvious physical discomfort and slowly closed the gap that had just been created between the two of them. When Tara did not try to move away she reached out and placed a hand lightly on her sleeve. "You cannot continue to punish yourself in this manner...denying yourself anything that might be considered comfort..."

Tara suddenly yanked her arm away as though Lara's touch burned. Several times she appeared to be on the verge of saying something before thinking better of it.

Lara watched her establish a modicum of control before she looked up again.

Tara found it difficult to speak; her words came out haltingly, "Don't you understand...I cannot give in to this, as simple an act as you obviously think it to be..."

"It is simple!" Lara interrupted. "If I can go as far to admit that you need someone to care about you, then you can bloody well admit that you're hurting..."

"Hurting?" Tara turned to stare at Lara with her blue eyes opened wide, normally lustrous, they were dull and lifeless. "Lara, I married a pure pig of a man to save a family who saw me only as a piece of chattel, I spent several weeks in hell with him before being turned into a despicably evil creature who spent decades roaming the world killing and torturing innocents...oh, and along the way I managed to find the time to deceive and murder the woman I love..."

Lara felt her cheeks burn with shame. She felt responsible for triggering this painful conversation. "Tara...please...stop..."

Tara continued, "No, that was not the end of it by half, I then spent an eternity locked in a cell with only my newly returned soul for company...I finally get the hell out of there only to have to resurrect my dead lover and spend the next few decades desperately trying to maintain the fašade of being a bloodthirsty demon. My lover has since grown up all over again and now wants nothing more than to drive a stake through my chest...I have to say that 'hurting' doesn't quite sum up how I feel right now."

Lara drew in a deep breath; there was little she could say in response to Tara's outburst. "Yet after everything that you have been are still standing in front of me..."

"A masochistic penchant on my part perhaps," Tara muttered bitterly.

"No," Lara said softly as she shook her head. "You love Willow...even after everything you have suffered...and it is that love which keeps you here...and it will bring you together once again."

"Please don't say that," Tara whispered, "You don't know that...I don't know that..."

Lara moved forward and folded Tara into her arms without asking. This time the blonde did not attempt to avoid the embrace. She fell into Lara's arms with a soft sob and crumpled.

"Of everything I have had to bear in my life," Tara whispered into Lara's shoulder, "The knowledge that I may never get her back is what makes it difficult to keep living..." a choked sob escaped her lips and her fingers clutched at the fabric covering Lara's back. "I need her, Lara, I need her so very much."

Neither woman saw Faith emerge around the corner of the opposite end of the corridor. The vampire hunter had been on her way upstairs to help Lara down to the basement. Now she found herself staring at her lover cradling the blonde vampire in her arms. Her first thoughts immediately went to the far end of the spectrum. As she was well versed in the Director's body language, Faith knew the way she held Tara close meant that there was something between the two of them...something more than simple friendship. At any moment she expected them to shift slightly so they could kiss.

Faith found her legs unwillingly to co-operate as she stared at the two women standing in a close embrace. A short while later she realised her fists were balled at her side as though she needed to strike something. Before she could unleash an outburst in the corridor, she turned and hastily made her way to Giles's workroom. She had almost broken into a run by the time she slipped into the familiar workspace.

Giles was already there, perched on one of his stools with his nose buried in several papers. He glanced up when she entered. Faith did not acknowledge his presence as she hoisted herself up onto a table and sat with her arms hugging her stomach.

"Are you feeling quite alright, Faith?" Giles asked quietly.

Faith looked startled, as though she had only just noticed that Giles was actually in the room "Oh...yes...and no. Willow cooked for Myles and I last night. Although I think I actually came out alright, poor Myles has had his head stuck in a chamberpot for much of the day."

If Faith found the story amusing, then it did not show in her voice or expression. She went back to staring at her feet as they dangled out in front of her. Giles was about to question her further when Lara entered the room, followed shortly by Tara. Surprisingly, Faith did not lift her gaze to acknowledge her lover. Giles very quickly decided that whatever was happening between the two of them, he would not get involved,

Lara too quickly noticed this silence. She frowned in her lover's direction but she was unwilling to query her in public, even if the 'public' involved were two of her dearest friends. Instead, she turned her attention to Giles. The warlock was now looking particularly pleased with himself for a reason which she could hazard a good guess at.

"Giles?" Lara murmured inquisitively, she could not help but cast another worried glance in Faith's direction but the vampire hunter's gaze remained fixed downwards, what the hell have I done now? She allowed herself a brief disgruntled twist of her mouth before turning her full attention back to Giles. "You must have something to report?"

Giles beamed. "Indeed I do. I am fairly certain that the spell to destroy the skull has been completed...I cannot be one hundred percent certain until I have carried out more physical tests but it is good news at least."

Beside her, Lara heard Tara exhale with obvious relief. Lara had to share her feelings, with the spell ready, it was only a matter of finding the skull and everything would be almost over. This cloud that had hung over her entire tenure as Director of the organisation would be lifted and leave her free to concentrate on ridding the world of Dracula altogether, without worrying that he would rise up with a might army and conquer Europe.

"Giles, do you need assistance carrying out these tests?" Tara spoke up; she was pleased at the opportunity to have something to focus on besides her burning need to see Willow.

"That would be welcome...but I would like to leave you out of this for now, the more you know about the spell, the more Dracula might know..."

"Are you insinuating that I would tell him?" Tara interrupted angrily. "After all these years of feeding him the information we wanted to feed him without giving away that which we did not want him to know..."

Giles shook his head slowly, unfazed by Tara's outburst. It was exactly the reaction he had predicted. "I'm keeping you in the dark for the same reason I kept you in the dark regarding Willow's whereabouts...just to be safe. If he ever did turn on you, you would have no defence against him."

Tara ducked her head. She had tried desperately to convince herself otherwise, that she would be able to stand up to Dracula and defeat him...but she knew that he would smite her down...and then proceed to torture her for information with great enthusiasm. Tara knew she would never willingly give up a single thing that would endanger Willow...but she could also not rule out being turned again. Although neither she nor Giles had the slightest proof as to whether she could even be turned again, especially considering she was already a vampire, it was a theory she did not want to test.

"I understand." Tara nodded in Giles's direction. "There have been increased rumblings of late...some of my colleagues have been less than impressed with my efforts to find the skull."

"Are you in danger?" Lara asked, her concern obvious.

Tara shrugged. "Perhaps...although I am hardly worried by the pandering of the likes of William and others...I think it is starting to become clear that Angelus will never return."

"You should lie low," Giles suggested.

"My absence would only serve to heighten their suspicions," Tara replied firmly. "No, I will go to them and offer further false trails regarding the skull."

"There is only so much of that you can do," Giles cautioned. "Sooner or later you will have exhausted their patience and they will call you out on the promises you have cannot confront them all."

"I know," Tara admitted. It was a thought that was foremost in her mind whenever she consorted with demons. It was exhausting to maintain the appearance that she was still one of them even though she had been ensouled. "If you don't have anything further for us...I think I might go, my humanity is asserting itself with a vengeance today, I am exhausted."

"I will see you out." Lara offered almost immediately, she glanced towards an abnormally silent Faith just in time to catch her angry expression. She suppressed a sigh. That was one conversation she needed to have...although she brightened up slightly after a moment's consideration. Whatever it was she had done, there was bound to be an opportunity for vigorous make-up sex in its wake.

With the other two women leaving, Giles turned his attention to Faith. Like Lara, her silence unnerved him as well, "Have you anything to add?"

"I am worried about Will," was Faith's first observation and obviously her greatest concern. She turned her head slightly, her eyes boring daggers into Tara's back as she followed Lara out the door. It was only when the blonde was completely gone that she turned her attention back to Giles. "She appears to be holding everything together...but I shudder to think what she is going through inwardly."

"We are all concerned for Willow," Giles reminded her gently. "But I believe the best way to help her is to keep all our efforts focused on finding the skull."

"A curse on that damn skull!" Faith snapped angrily in Giles's direction, "And a pox on you for dumping this task on our shoulders...most importantly Willow's, but Lara's...and mine...and even that ice bitch..." Faith paused and then turned in the direction of the open door through which her lover and Tara had just walked a moment earlier. She furrowed her brow as her suspicions deepened. "Giles, do you know if there was ever anything happening between Lara and that vampire?"

It was Giles's turn to furrow his brow, "Please define 'anything happening'?"

Faith turned back to face Giles with a disbelieving expression, "Giles, you're do you not know these things?"

Giles gave an annoyed snort in response to Faith's stare, "Well, I didn't think you meant 'that', how the hell am I supposed to know? Neither woman is particularly verbose at the best of times...and certainly not when it comes to their private lives. Although...knowing Tara's story as well as I do, I would give you a very firm, unequivocal answer...nothing has happened or will ever happen."

Faith narrowed her eyes suspiciously, "Are you sure about that?"

"Tara loves Willow...always has...and always can you tell me exactly what your jealousy has to do with finding the skull?"

"Nothing," Faith muttered sullenly, still clinging stubbornly to her suspicions. "Willow was dead for an awfully long time...and Lara is the very definition of gorgeous, how could she at least not think about her?"

"I have absolutely no idea!" Giles replied in an exasperated tone. "I think you should be talking to Lara about this, not me!"

"Good heavens, I couldn't do that," Faith looked horrified. "She'll eat me alive for even contemplating such idiotic thoughts."

Faith gave Giles a rather half-hearted apologetic smile and beat a hasty retreat from his workroom, leaving the warlock in peace to continue his work.

Giles however thought it might take him a few minutes before he had calmed down enough to return to the complex formulas in front of him.

"Heaven help us all when we are surrounded by such strong-willed women." Even as he uttered the words Giles knew that they would not have a chance in hell of defeating Dracula if not for the strong-willed women that surrounded him. Still, he did wish that things could be a little less...dramatic.

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Thirty-Four

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