Return to Van Rosenberg Chapter Thirty-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.

Many thanks to Foo for the splendid banner.

As the night wore on, the temperature dropped even further and the first splatters of rain hit London's streets. The drunks, whores and thieves who were the only souls out, braved the wet weather until they realised that it was increasing in intensity with each passing minute. Eventually even they were driven to seek somewhere dry. Those with money to spare headed for a tavern or whorehouse, while their less fortunate friends had to shelter beneath a bridge.

A figure perched on a rooftop high above watched the streets empty with a vague sort of indifference. People scurried like ants towards shelter as she stared from beneath the deep hood of her cloak. She tilted her face heavenwards and let the rain drops pelt her skin.

While Tara could feel each drop strike her face, the icy temperature did not affect her in the slightest. She did however feel the water begin to seep beneath her cloak and soak the clothes she wore beneath. Eventually she lowered her face and reached up to tug her hood as far over her head as possible. Despite the intensity of the rain, the water beaded and slid off the cloak.

It had been raining for just a few minutes when she felt a presence join her. Instead of turning to see who it was, she continued to stare at the dark streets below. The streets were now empty of life, with no moonlight or street light; the steadily pooling water seemed to swallow the buildings whole.

Eventually whoever it was standing behind her grew impatient and she heard an abrupt, forced cough. It was all she needed to know exactly who it was, and she had no interest in speaking to him.

"Bugger off," Tara muttered testily, refusing to even turn and look at the other vampire. "I'm busy."

"Yeah, I can see you're real busy," William drawled.

Although Tara did not hear him actually move, she could tell he was now just behind her shoulder. She shivered involuntarily as though she could feel his body pressed against hers. Tara glanced down at the ledge beneath her feet and then at the street several floors below. There was no way she could step away from William without stepping off the building. While she had no desire to talk to him, there was something in his tone that told her he wanted to speak to her. She waited, forcing him to make another attempt at conversation.

"I would think that someone in your position would at least have the sense to appreciate help when it appears, whatever the guise." Tara heard William's voice sound just behind her ear, with another step his body was pressed tightly against her back, moments later she felt hands on each of her shoulders and fought to resist cringing away from his touch. "You do want my help don't you, Tara?"

"I cannot imagine a time where I would want or need your help, William," Tara replied in a condescending tone. "Now run along back to your dark hole and leave me be."

He laughed, a gravely sound that irritated her to the point where she longed to turn and rip a chunk of skin from his birdlike neck...she could not however stomach the thought of putting her lips to his loathsome flesh. At the moment she uttered a weary sigh, he changed his grip so he had her by the upper arms. He then whirled her about with a violent jerk so she was staring at him, her face just inches from his own.

Tara did not give him a chance to speak, she snarled in anger , "You would think to irritate me by manhandling me in this manner? Do you want to suffer the same fate as Angelus?"

A flicker of realisation passed over William's face at the mention of their former colleague, he smirked dangerously in response. "You would admit to destroying him?"

"I admit nothing," Tara replied coldly. She turned her face so she did not have to meet his beady gaze.

"So you will not admit to your feelings for the hunter?" William continued.

Why did I know he was going to ask me about Willow? "I have no need...there is nothing for me to admit."

William reached out and roughly seized her by the chin, his nails digging in as he forced her to look directly at him once again. Her fierce gaze in response reflected every ounce of her loathing for the rake thin vampire. Even with his grip on her chin she managed to twist her mouth into a sneer.

"Then you should rejoice that our master has gone to her tonight!" he announced with fervour.

"That is my task!" Tara could not keep the emotion from creeping into her voice. She hoped however she merely sounded furious as opposed to afraid. "Our master placed her exclusively in my hands!"

"And he has grown tired of you always stalling our work...five years have passed since you discovered that Van Helsing whore had been reborn and in that time you have delivered us nothing! We are no closer to finding the skull and our master's patience has expired. He will retrieve her and extract the location of the skull by whatever means necessary."

Tara forced herself to remain calm even though she knew William to be speaking the truth. She could not believe she had been blind enough to miss noticing their growing distrust...but it was too late now, her worst nightmare was becoming a reality.

"She does not leave her home in the evening," Tara stated, trying to inject a false air of confidence into her voice. "He has no invitation."

William laughed, "The vampires she destroyed tonight would say otherwise."

Willow you stupid girl! "I should be at his side! Give me the location!" Tara demanded, trying to maintain at least a pretence of her act.

"I am only here to help," William cocked his head to one side, there was a vicious glint in his eyes, "And you would help our master by staying away!"

Tara narrowed her eyes in response, she jerked her chin free from his grip but did not try and move away as she finally allowed herself to say the words she had long believed inside, "He is not my master."

At Tara's bold revelation, William's bony features contorted into a mask of rage. He roughly seized the front of her cloak and with a last growl he shoved her backwards. Tara allowed the force of William's shove to send her flying from the rooftop. She continued looking at him even as her form dissolved into grey mist and blended with the night.

It was obvious from his actions that he had been ordered not to kill her and from this Tara drew the conclusion that Dracula did not know exactly where she stood. She suspected that his plan would be to confront her himself and ensure her loyalty by having her participate in his torture of Willow. It was a situation she could not allow to come to pass...the confrontation would be on her terms, not his, and it would be tonight.

Tara could only hope that by the time she found Willow, she would not be too late.

As he said her name, Willow allowed Dracula's soft tones to wash over her like water. If they were intended to have any sort of effect on her, then they failed. Instead she tightened her grip on the silver sword in her hand, keeping it out in front of her like a barrier between her and the Lord of Vampires.

As she stared at his perfect features she found herself drifting back to the last time they had met, on the battlefield at Covasna. Even though it had been Willow Van Helsing who had fought that desperate and ultimately tragic fight, she remembered every detail as clearly as though she herself had been there. From his overly polished sword but essentially brutish work to his ability to dissolve his body as Tara did, Willow replayed the events of that fight in her mind. She searched for a weakness. Although she could remember him tiring to the point where he could no longer change form, Willow could not help but wonder whether that had merely been a ruse to lull her into a false sense of security. Throughout that fight, Dracula had known that Tara would always betray her mortal lover; he had been secure in that knowledge. Now he stood in front of her, apparently alone, and yet entirely unpredictable.

Willow let out a shallow breath. A part of her wished she had heeded the advice of her friends and stayed indoors...but the larger part by far was fervently glad that she had left herself open to this confrontation. She allowed a confident smile to creep onto her face.

"Dracula," Willow inclined her head in a mocking greeting. "I see no minions. Has the passage of time caused you to forget our previous confrontation? I believe I was mere seconds away from ending your terrible reign."

He laughed in a honeyed tone. Such was the power of his allure that for a moment Willow was reminded of being at a ball during the London season, surrounded by gay revellers in all their finery. The thought was fleeting as she firmly reminded herself that he was a creature to be feared and hated despite his considerable charms.

"Being reincarnated has caused you to lose none of your spirit, Willow Van Helsing," he paused for a moment, "Or do you prefer Rosenberg?"

Willow shrugged, not taking her eyes of him for an instant, "I prefer neither coming from your lips...but it is of little consequence in the end as no amount of conversation is going to help you find the skull...after all, that's why you're here isn't it?"

If Willow's abrupt announcement fazed Dracula in the least, then he did not let it show on his handsome features. He took his eyes off her and paced a few steps to the right, as though he was enjoying a pleasant evening's stroll as opposed to a conversation with an enemy. His stroll was further ruined a moment later as drops of rain began to fall from the heavens, indiscriminate as to where they landed.

Willow kept her gaze trained on Dracula as the rain fell around her. It went seemingly unnoticed even as it plastered her red hair to her head and began to soak through the shoulders of her coat.

"I cannot deny that the whereabouts of the skull consumes my thoughts," he whispered with barely concealed longing.

"Well you're completely out of luck, old boy," Willow replied jauntily, "I haven't a bloody clue as to where the damn thing is...and of course it goes without saying that even if I did know where it was, you'd be the last person I'd tell."

Dracula paced back in the opposite direction until he was standing directly in front of Willow once more. With a slight flourish he drew the slender blade he wore at his waist and held in lightly in his hand as though reassuring himself of its weight. He then pointed it in Willow's direction.

"You'll be surprised just how much of a 'bloody clue' you will have after I'm finished with you...people remember all manner of things during torture," Dracula's voice lingered over the word 'torture' as though it were a special pleasure of his.

"Was that a threat?" Willow asked coldly, any trace of humour disappeared completely from her voice. She adjusted her stance slightly in readiness for the first move. The idea of being tortured by Dracula himself was already starting to cast an unsavoury light on the evening's proceedings...making her all too aware of the high stakes she was playing with. Willow knew that she needed to be the one walking away from this fight.

They circled each other warily, two carefully poised figures moving amidst the headstones, completely ignoring the rain that fell around them. As it appeared that neither wanted to make the first move, Willow darted forward. She sprang lightly atop a nearby headstone to gain additional leverage and brought her blade crashing downwards as she leapt down. Her blade sliced through nothing but air as Dracula's form dissolved.

Willow sensed him reappear behind her, she whirled and already had her blade raised to block his stroke. She was far from worried as he dissolved a second time, knowing that he tired eventually. It was just a matter of keeping her wits about her lest he surprise her with a sudden strike when she was caught off guard.

"I suppose you think this is terribly unfair?" he laughed as he reformed for the fourth or fifth time, this time several metres away from Willow.

"No," Willow replied, hastily dragging a clump of soggy hair from her eyes before assuming another attacking stance, "It proves your cowardice!"

When she moved forward once more, she found him there to match each of her blows in his solid form. Far from being unnerved, Willow was pleased to find that her words had an effect on the vampire. They continued to par every move the other made, the clash of blades ringing out over the sound of falling rain. The pair were evenly matched without a doubt, Willow's technique and finesse was matched by Dracula's strength. She did not block his blows directly but rather let them glance of her blade so as to lessen the shock to her body.

One backhanded blow slid from her sword and as he overbalanced Willow thrust firmly towards his chest. Dracula barely managed to stumble backwards, the closeness of Willow's strike revealed by the tear in his coat from the tip of her blade.

Dracula danced aside lightly from the narrow miss and flourished his blade in his hand, moving as though his feet did not even need to touch the ground, "You are talented without a doubt...but I think you have lost something with your reincarnation. Willow Van Helsing possessed an air of wild fearlessness that made her are nothing but a poor copy."

Although Willow knew that she could not afford to let him bait her, his words hit home cruelly. As if to prove him wrong, she pressed forward her next attack immediately. Her feet moved rapidly across the now rain soaked grass. The silver sword in her hand moved to match in a flurry of carefully timed strokes. Dracula matched her delicacy with sheer brute force, smashing his sword into hers at each stroke.

"That's better!" Dracula announced as though he were pleased with her work.

She growled angrily and became even more determined in her attacks. Her determination steadily began to erode her concentration. Now, once beautiful strokes became clumsy in increasingly desperate attacks.


It was the last straw and her temper flared as she retorted, "Shut up you foul piece of filth!"

The tip of her blade fell as she forgot her stance as she concentrated on arguing with words. Before she could even think about blocking his next stroke, it stroke crashed against the top of her breastplate. The stroke violently jarred her sword arm and she lost her grip. Before she could regain her balance he lashed out and backhanded her across the face, a powerful blow which sent her reeling in a daze. Willow stumbled, her feet did not appear to work properly...either that or the ground was moving beneath her feet. She was dimly aware of rough hands on the back of her coat, seizing fistfuls of the fabric in order to get a firm grip. She was helpless to stop him from throwing her forward. Although her vision was already clouded, she clearly saw the marble tombstone rushing towards her. Then there was nothing but pain and impenetrable fog.

Dracula felt a final thrill of exhilaration as he released Willow and sent her flying headfirst into the grave stone. With a resounding crack her head struck the tarnished marble and when she came to rest in the wet grass she was unconscious. He was not about to lower his guard even when she lay motionless. His sword remained unsheathed as he advanced towards her prone form. He reached out with the toe of his boot and nudged her body. There was not even a groan as she rolled over onto her back. Thick dark blood welled from a contusion at her hairline and he stared fixedly at it even as it was diluted by the pouring rain.

Finally he allowed himself to relax enough to go down on one knee at her side. He stared down at the creamy skin of the woman laid out in front of him and felt a primal longing in his loins to take her in the middle of the cemetery in the pouring rain. No woman since Tara had commanded such a power over him. He was transfixed at the sight of her blue veins throbbing just beneath the pale skin of her throat.

He reached his hand towards her, already anticipating the feel of her skin to his touch. However he stopped just inches from her face, knowing that one touch would be too much for him to bear. He would wait until his patience could be rewarded with a quiet space in which he would not be disturbed with his prize.

The pleasant thoughts that were running through his mind were rudely disrupted a moment later as a solid force seized him and tossed him backwards. He flew several metres threw the air, his momentum arrested only as his back hit the side of a crypt with such intensity that the crumbling wall cracked and gave way slightly.

When he returned himself to his feet he saw a familiar figure through the rain, standing protectively over the body of Willow Van Helsing. Dracula straightened and stood staring at a distance. Her fierce blue gaze pierced both darkness and rain. He knew in those eyes that something had changed within his favourite companion...and he immediately did not like it.

"Tara?" he asked cautiously as he approached, his boots barely sinking into the puddles beneath his feet.

She pushed back her hood even though it was clear that he had doubt as to who she was. The rain fell on her white blonde hair.

"William was kind enough to fill me in on your plan," she answered as he drew near, "Apparently you no longer trust me."

He shook his head in an effort to dispel that notion, "Of course I trust you my pet, I merely sought to attempt a new tactic with our mortal friend...a tactic which I am sure you and I will enjoy sharing in immensely."

His words left Tara under no disillusion as to what he intended. She cringed as she remembered his 'sport' with the red haired young woman some years ago and her own dreadful part in that death. History would be repeating itself, only this time he intended it to be the real Willow helpless beneath his powerful body. His words also left her absolutely no choice as to her course of actions. It was over. All pretence at maintaining her role as his partner would be stripped away and her treachery would be laid bare before her former master. Tara felt an amount of exhilaration and relief at finally being able to step out from beneath his twisted shadow even though she knew she would be signing her own death warrant.

"I will share in nothing," Tara replied, lifting her chin defiantly.

He smirked appreciatively, "I realise that you would not want to share this particular would rather have her all to yourself but you must understand that I have a great deal invested in Willow Van Helsing, she must tell me where the skull is..."

"She must do nothing for you!" Tara interrupted in a sudden, thunderous voice.

Dracula hesitated in his reply. Such insubordination would have been swiftly punished had it been any mere underling but it was a sign of the hold that Tara possessed over him that he appeared confused, "Tara, my darling..."

Tara saw this confusion and used it to her advantage. Cautiously she lowered herself to the ground at Willow's side and dared for a moment to glance down. Her gaze first fell on the blood flowing from Willow's head and her almost colourless skin. The worst however was quickly dispelled when she saw the gentle rise and fall of Willow's chest. With an overly cautious touch lest Willow be seriously injured, Tara reached out and placed one arm beneath her limp body. She cradled the unconscious woman in her lap protectively before returning her gaze to the vampire moving slowly towards her. His eyes widened as he realised her intentions.

"Think carefully before you do this, Tara," Dracula whispered in a dreadful tone that was tinged with ice and fire, "If you choose that mortal over me then I shall be forced to hunt you down...and I promise you that there will be nowhere on earth for you to run!"

"I chose this mortal over you years ago!" Tara admitted proudly, "Do you really think that a soulled vampire would continue to be your loyal servant, would continue to do the foul things you order and not rebel?"

"You are still one of us!" he roared, making a sudden lunge towards Tara and Willow.

He was already too late. Tara had already begun mouthing the complex words of a transportation spell beneath her breath. By the time his fingers reached the space she had occupied, she was already gone...and Willow along with her.

"For god's sake, Myles!" Faith growled in exasperation as she examined the flurry of arrows protruding from one of the practice dummies in the Gordon Square training room, "The target isn't that should at least be able to hit it!"

Faith gave a rather loud snort of disgust as she retrieved Myles's crossbow bolt. Instead of striking the target, the bolt had hit the brick wall to one side and the silver head had bent so as to make it unusable. She sighed and wondered if dummy wooden bolts would work as well in training, especially given that Myles had an uncanny knack for putting the bolt everywhere except the target. Just yesterday he had narrowly missed her ear when he released his crossbow by mistake.

Having retrieved the bolt, she marched back to the red-faced young man and stabbed it at the weapon Myles clutched in his hands, "What's so difficult? Here's the crossbow, there's the, and hit it!"

Myles ducked his head for a moment and bit his lip in the face of Faith's tirade, when he lifted his gaze he appeared to be steeling himself to say something.

"What?" Faith demanded.

"Can Willow train me?" Myles asked hopefully.

"Why, what's wrong with me?" Faith asked indignantly, "I'm a far better shot than Willow!"

"Well," Myles began tentatively, "You're not a very good teacher. You are rather impatient and you don't explain things very just expect me to be able to perform every task perfectly."

Faith narrowed her eyes as though she was about to launch into another furious speech. However, her expression softened and she sighed resignedly, "I'm sorry have to understand that I'm hard on you for your own good. This isn't a game...if you miss a vampire with your bolt on the first go; it's highly unlikely that they will just line up for a second shot."

"I know," Myles nodded fervently, his understanding came a little too quickly for Faith, she held out her hand for the cross bow and he passed it over reluctantly.

"Perhaps I was a little too hard on you..." Faith admitted as the expression on his face tugged at some deeply buried reserve of pity.

"Can we try again tomorrow night?" Myles asked tentatively.

"Only if I don't murder you in your sleep," Faith replied with a frustrated sigh, "Now scoot...and don't forget to wash behind your ears before you go to bed."

Faith watched the young man practically skip out of the training room and shook her head slowly. She did not want to be the one to tell him that all the enthusiasm in the world did not make up for a complete lack of co-ordination.

To work out her frustration, she selected a wooden stave from the rack of weapons and began moving through some simple exercises. She concentrated on fluidity and timing as opposed to speed and strength with the aim of bringing about a peaceful state of mind that would help her to sleep.

However, she had completed less than a dozen forms when the air rippled in front of her just as she took a step backwards. A blast of cold, wet air slapped her in the face. She was knocked off balance and the stave was torn from her loose grip. A dark shape materialised out of nowhere and hit the mats with a dull thud.

"Bloody hell!" she yelped, cursing herself for not having any weapon close at hand other than a large stick.

Faith glanced at the spot where she had been standing moments earlier and her eyes widened when she saw two bodies lying on the training room floor amidst a pool of water. Both were clad entirely in black but she recognised them instantly. The blonde haired vampire appeared even paler than usual but her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling above her head. At her side lay Willow, apparently unconscious, with fresh blood coating the side of her face.

"Will!" Faith dashed forward and fell to her knees at Willow's side.

Tara tried to lift her head but even such a simple act proved impossible. Her entire body felt like a puddle except for her head wherein her brain pounded against her skull in a manner that was definitely unnatural. She had to close her eyes. Despite her pain, she was dimly aware of a weight lying against her side and knew that Willow had made the journey with her.

The transportation spell was without a doubt dangerous but she knew it had been her only means of whisking Willow out from beneath Dracula's clutches. Whatever the state she was now in, she was fervently glad that she had risked it. The thought of Willow being tortured by her former master made her sick to the stomach.

Giving herself a few more moments to just breathe, she then opened her eyes and immediately found herself staring into a pair of hard eyes. Faith's presence confirmed to Tara that she had successfully reached her intended destination; she and Willow were safely within the walls of Gordon Square.

With a second, more concentrated effort, Tara found that she was able to sit. She rose and steeled herself for the inevitable spasms of pain behind her eyes.

Faith's concern was solely directed towards the redhead lying at Tara's side, "What have you done to her?"

"I should think the more relevant question would be why did you let her leave the house at night?" Tara growled. "Dracula found her...and he had every intention of torturing her for the whereabouts of the skull before I showed up."

"I let her do no such thing!" Faith replied indignantly. "Even if I did, do you really think that I could keep Willow locked up when she wanted to leave?"

Tara knew Willow and she knew what the answer would be, she shook her head slowly, "I think Willow will be fine..."

"Can we not heal you did at Covasna?" Faith asked, peering worriedly at the wound.

"It is best not to try," Tara admitted, "I acted out of sheer desperation in that instance, it was dangerous for all three of us...I think that she will recover just as swiftly if I do not intervene."

Faith nodded. She brushed Tara aside and picked Willow up in her arms. Although they were of a similar size, Faith appeared not to be troubled by the weight. It was all Tara could do to follow after her as she moved back up into the house proper, continuing up the stairs to the first floor.

Tara felt strange entering Willow's personal sanctuary for the first time in over quarter of a century but she tried not to let it show. It was not difficult; there was very little expression she could show on her face other than exhaustion. Her gaze ran discreetly over the furnishings which were all simple for the most part save for the elaborate mirror which Tara recalled all too well. She was surprised Willow kept the thing in her room, Tara shivered just to look at it.

As Faith settled Willow back against the covers, Tara crossed to assist her. Together they removed Willow's soaking wet coat, breastplate and boots. Faith cast a daggered look that made her step back and leave the removal of Willow's trousers to her. Tara looked aside so as not to be forced to watch Faith's hands sliding down Willow's legs. As she did, she could not help but notice the small framed portrait of herself that sat on the bedside table. She hardly recognised that young girl. It was a portrait of somebody else, from another time.

"It's a wonder Willow can stand to keep that close."

Tara wrenched her gaze away from the portrait and met Faith's hard-edged stare. The brunette was obviously unapologetic in her loathing.

"I-I do not know," Tara replied. She paused and tried to prevent the wretched stammer from creeping back into her voice, "Perhaps you should ask Willow."

"Her business is her own," Faith muttered with a shrug.

And yet you mentioning it at all would stand to reason otherwise, Tara thought bitterly. Her shoulders slumped wearily and she could hardly keep her chin aloft as she stood at Willow's beside. She honestly wanted nothing more than to fold herself onto the bed next to Willow.

"You know, you're more than welcome to stay the night as well," Faith announced grudgingly as she noticed the vampire swaying slightly.

Tara glanced up. She was genuinely surprised by the invitation even though she did not sense the brunette's voice to be welcoming at all. After another glance at Willow she decided that no harm could come of it while she slept and she inclined her head slightly in acceptance.

"If you don't mind..." Tara paused and swallowed awkwardly, she hardly even dared to think about the possibility that she could be near Willow for any length of time, "...I think I'll stay at Willow's side for a little while."

"I do mind," Faith replied testily, but her expression softened as soon as she recognised the desperately hopeful look in Tara's eyes. Her next admission was grudging at best, "Although I suppose it cannot hurt."

"Thank you," Tara whispered gratefully.

Faith hovered protectively over the bed for another minute before the tense air between her and Tara grew a little too intense. With a curt nod in the vampire's direction, she took her leave.

On her way out of the room, Faith paused at the threshold. She turned back towards Tara and the vampire glanced up as she sensed that she was being watched, "Can I ask you a question?" Faith asked quietly.

"Of course," Tara raised her eyebrows slightly in surprise, she was curious to know what Faith could possibly want from her.

"You've known Lara for a long time," Faith began.

"Since she was a girl, but a quarter of a century is hardly a long time when you consider all the years I have walked this earth," Tara explained, she could not help but wonder what motive lay behind Faith's question.

"I'm not interested in your life history," Faith interrupted rudely; "I just want to know if you've ever had sex with her!"

Tara's eyes fluttered wide open at the unexpected question, "With Lara? No!" she spluttered vehemently. She breathed deeply several times and when she continued her voice had returned to its usual calm monotone, "Most definitely not, Faith. I think of Lara as a sister...that is how it has always been between us. Is there anything more I can say to convince you that I am telling the truth?"

"No," Faith replied, embarrassed to have even asked the question. She nodded once more and moved out of the room.

Tara watched as Faith left, before leaving her alone with Willow, she pointedly drew the door only half way closed. Despite her acceptance of Tara's promise that she had not slept with Lara, Faith was still not about to trust her. She half expected that the brunette would set up camp just outside the door but moments later she heard her footsteps sounding down the hall as Faith moved towards her own room.

Tara then turned her attention back to Willow. She selected a bottle of tincture of iodine from the medical kit Faith had left on the table and doused a ball of cotton wool in the foul smelling liquid. When she gently touched the soft wool to the cut at Willow's head, the redhead jumped slightly and murmured a word that might have been 'ouch.' Tara continued cleaning the wound and was pleased to find that it was not deep enough to require stitches. Willow would however have a rather large, ugly bump on her head for at least a week.

At some point during her ministrations Willow's eyes had fluttered open. Tara froze, her hand poised above Willow's forehead in the act of cleaning her wound. However, as she stared into the watery green pools, she saw the fog that clouded Willow's gaze and realised that she was only semi-conscious. Still, there was recognition in Willow's eyes, they widened slightly and her mouth worked as though she were trying to say something.

"Is there no end to your foolishness?" Tara whispered as she set aside the iodine and bloody piece of cotton. "Despite what you may think, you are no match for him." Willow's face immediately contorted as though she wished to vehemently disagree with Tara's observation; however the only sound that emerged from her mouth was an angry grunt. Tara then pressed her finger gently to Willow's lips to quiet her and had to suppress a slight shiver at the feel of the silken skin beneath her touch, "You needn't try and talk now, dearest; I will be here when you wake."

A small smile curled the corners of those silken lips and Willow allowed her exhaustion to take hold. Her eyelids slid closed once again and Tara watched her carefully until the soft rhythms of her breathing indicated that she was peacefully asleep.

Although Tara regretted breaking her whispered promise to Willow, she knew she could not stay at Gordon Square. Willow would be in no condition for a confrontation when she woke...and Tara had very little energy and absolutely no desire for one herself. Before she left Willow's side, she gave into temptation and deposited a gentle kiss on Willow's forehead. Even such a small act was difficult and she had to wrench herself away from the contact.

Tara then returned to the night. Something was different. It did not take any thought on her part to know exactly what it was. She was no longer a hunter in this environment...she was the hunted.

For a moment she wished she had the courage to return to Gordon Square and face Willow's judgement when she woke but Tara acknowledged that this was an option she could not choose, not yet. Tara steeled herself. She did have choices...and one of them was not to bow down to her former master. She refused to skulk in the shadows for anyone, least of all Dracula. He could send as many assassins after her as he liked...and she would send each one back to him as a little box of dust!

Continue to Van Rosenberg Chapter Thirty-Six

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