If Tara had previously thought Willow to be somewhat excitable at certain occasions, she was introduced to an entirely different level of Willow-excitement when she saw the redhead in her natural environment. It was clear from the moment that the pair passed beneath the great columns of the British Museum that Willow was home, even more so than she was at Gordon Square. The excitement was such that it appeared as though she was showing off something that she personally had created. While Tara was thoroughly looking forward to finally seeing the place where Willow worked, she couldn't help but laugh at the sight of her in her pinstripe suit practically dancing around the foyer.
"Welcome to the British Museum!" Willow extended her arms above her head, up towards the ornate ceiling high above. "Private tours are this way, please follow me."
She held out her arm to Tara who took it, if only to keep the redhead in one place at a time. Willow steered her not towards the main entrance to the galleries, but rather a small, almost discreet door set into the wall off to one side. Tara couldn't help but lift her eyebrows with curiosity as Willow ushered her into the dark passageway that led downwards.
"Once you've seen one thousand year old vase you've seen them all," Willow reassured her as she caught the expression on Tara's face. "Although not to say that thousand year old vases aren't extremely beautiful and precious...just that the real work...my real work, is all carried out down here."
Willow led Tara down into the bowels of the museum. As they walked, Tara couldn't help but feel the atmosphere around them changing. It wasn't just getting darker as they moved down, the air felt more mysterious in a way. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as though she were treading ground she had already passed. A part of her suspected that she had walked these halls before.
"Morning Miss Rosenberg."
Tara's heart leapt slightly as the voice seemed to come out of nowhere. It was only when she calmed down a little that she saw a black clad figure standing guard in a small recess along the hallway.
"Morning Farnsworth," Willow returned the greeting with a stiff nod of her head, however there was a twinkle in her eye that completely ruined any formality.
Tara also nodded toward the stern faced man, although she scurried past him quickly with a nervous glance back over her shoulder. Dark hallways and strange men standing guard were not exactly familiar aspects of the past she could remember, although they seemed to be very much a part of Willow's present. She stared at the redhead's back as she now walked slightly ahead and saw a confidence evident in her shoulders and her stride. Her gaze on Willow was interrupted as she came upon a row of portraits hanging in the hallway. She recognised the first immediately, despite the fact that the man depicted was far older than she had ever known him to be. Abraham Van Helsing's eyes stared out at her although they were not the same merry eyes that danced out of the portrait hanging in Gordon Square's parlour. They were sad and defeated, as though the years weighed heavily on him. There was also something else, something Tara recognised as a streak of cruelty...although it could have merely been the way his mouth was painted into a tight line. Tara found herself all too willing to tear her gaze away from Abraham's image, despite the fact that she had known him to be a kind, good man.
The remaining portraits did little to catch her eye save for the last two. One was of a steely haired old man with a piercingly direct gaze. Although Tara did not recognise him, she did recognise the name affixed below the painting. Rupert Giles, Willow had spoken of him often, and in glowing terms. The last portrait arrested her because of the extreme youth of the young man depicted, barely out of childhood. Tara also remembered seeing his body draped in a cloak lying on the battlefield at Covasna and even more vividly, the shattered expression on Willow's face when she learned of young Myles's death.
She realised she had fallen slightly behind Willow and scurried to catch up, however, before she reached the redhead's side there was a piercing whistle of appreciation from a nearby doorway. Tara stopped in her tracks and turned to see a grinning young man with his muscular arms rippling from beneath the leather work apron he wore. His hands were stained with grease and any number of substances Tara didn't want to identify.
"Howdy there little lady, Mr Alexander Harris," he asked in a heavily accented voice. "And who might you be?"
"This is Miss Tara Maclay," Willow announced, stepping past Tara to put herself between her and Mr Harris before the blonde could reply. "And I'm quite sure she did not take kindly to being whistled at like some kind of horse!"
Alex Harris wiped the smile from his face as soon as Willow opened her mouth and he had the decency to look slightly apologetic. He could not however help but risk another glance over Willow's shoulder towards the lovely blonde. Despite the young man's rather impertinent outburst, Tara blushed slightly at the attention.
"You will forgive Mr Harris's manners, he's American," Willow added in a snappish voice, trying to move Tara along quickly.
The blonde however had none of Willow's turbulent relationship with the young man and she was determined to remain polite. She smiled and glanced down at her hand, "I'm pleased to meet you Mr Harris, you'll understand if I do not take your hand."
Alex held up his large and very dirty hand and waved it slightly, "No offence taken, ma'am. If you'll permit me at some other time?"
Tara inclined her head politely, completely avoiding Willow's narrow gaze as she ushered her away from Alex Harris standing in his doorway.
"What a polite young man," Tara commented as they continued on. "I've never met anyone from the colonies."
Willow tried to suppress a snort of disgust at the mention of Alex as a 'polite young man' and only managed for Tara's sake. She covered up by explaining an important point, "America is no longer a colony...but you weren't to know that."
Tara lifted her eyebrows with interest, "No doubt only one of the important events I am not aware of?"
Willow bypassed her office and took Tara straight through to the library at the end of the hall, one of the more important rooms in the entire Museum by her reckoning. Since Giles's death, Lara had appointed a succession of young librarians to continue on with his work. However each had left within a week due to a number of strange circumstances
Given this rate of attrition, Lara had eventually given up. The library had been devoid of employees for almost a month and Willow was disappointed to see that it showed. Her beloved books were all coated in a thin layer of dust and the shelving trolley was full of books that needed to be returned to their shelves, no doubt left by lazy employees. Willow thoroughly suspected that Faith was responsible for a good portion.
"Do you require assistance?" Tara offered, moving to stand beside Willow as she used the sleeve of her shirt to wipe the dust from the spines of the books on the trolley.
"I know exactly where everything goes," Willow assured her, "I won't be long...although I would sorely love to put a duster over everything."
"That would take you all week!" Tara exclaimed, emphasising the size of the library by twirling to take it all in. When she turned back to face Willow her hands were on her hips in a stern fashion.
"Okay," Willow nodded with a smile. "I'll just re-shelve these few and then our tour will resume."
"You needn't hurry," Tara offered as Willow dashed off to move quickly about her task.
She then roamed the library at will, taking in row after row of books. Although they were all slightly dusty, each line of spines was immaculately perfect. All in all however, Tara did think the room somewhat large and cavernous. It was also exceedingly dark with the light being filtered out by curtains to avoid damage to the precious volumes. Instead of venturing down the rows, Tara kept to the centre aisle. She wasn't even entirely sure why the library should render her so nervous. She had nothing against books and had been known to read a few in her time, but something about the room as a whole caused the little hairs on the back of her neck to stand up.
Tara frowned; it was a barely audible sound, so quiet that she dismissed it as wind moving through window panes or down a corridor.
The second time around, she clearly heard the sound of her own name being called. Tara froze for a moment, hearing nothing immediately afterwards save the sound of her own breathing. Eventually she heard the slight squeak of the shelving trolley across the other side of the library.
"Will?" she called as she lifted her skirts and ran back towards the centre of the room. She was greeted by an eerie silence as she reached the centre, empty rows stretched in either direction. Tara was close to panic when she finally saw Willow's face peering around the end of a row. "Did you call me?"
Willow shook her head, "No...are you quite alright?"
"Y-yes, I'm fine," Tara admitted, she waved Willow back to her duties but not before the redhead blew her a quick kiss.
The simple action lessened her fears somewhat and she dismissed the voice as merely a figment of her imagination in the strange room. Instead of venturing out, she remaining standing in one spot, content to browse a magnificently drafted atlas which stood near the main entrance. She was surprised to find that not only was America no longer a colony, it was divided up into a bizarre and random number of sections, each with a strange name.
Several minutes later, she was still gazing in rapt fascination at the changes that had taken place in the world when she heard it again. Tara, this time the voice was so loud she turned around in expectation of someone standing just behind her shoulder. There was absolutely nothing there. As she pressed her hand against her pounding heart, she knew that it had unmistakably been a man's voice. Although it had sounded soft and hardly threatening, she knew she would find it difficult to warm up to any disembodied voice, regardless of how friendly it sounded.
Thankfully Willow and her trolley came squeaking back into view just a moment later. Tara was relieved to find that it was empty of books.
"Um Will...I-I'm a little tired, do you mind terribly if I sit down somewhere?" Tara asked, doing her best to keep her voice level.
Willow glanced towards the tables and chairs that lay nestled around the library and moved to pull one back for Tara. However the blonde gently laid her hand atop Willow's to stop her.
"Is there somewhere else?" Tara asked, trying to keep the anxiety from creeping into her voice. She also didn't want to tell Willow her reason for not wanting to linger in the library. "I-It's a little cold in here."
"Of course!" Willow replied quickly, fearing that she had neglected her duties as tour guide. "I was bustling around so that I didn't notice...my office is far warmer," she explained as she ushered Tara towards the library door, "Although that it probably because it is the size of a shoebox."
Tara gratefully exited the library and was relieved to find that, once in the hallway, she could not hear any trace of the haunting voice that spoke to her. The sensible side of her nature (which was by far the larger portion) thought that perhaps she was being entirely silly and she ought to tell Willow about what had just transpired. Perhaps it was entirely normal for staff at the British Museum to hear voices? Then again she thought of the unfortunate succession of librarians and suspected that they too had heard the voice and it had driven them to their unfortunate accidents.
She very sensibly decided that she would not trouble Willow with such a trifling matter. She regarded it as trifling because there was a very simple solution, she would simply not venture into the library in the future.
Willow remained entirely oblivious to Tara's haste to get out of the library and made her way to her office. She rather vainly hoped that Tara would notice her impressive new nameplate but remained disappointed as the blonde said nothing upon reaching the door. She was just about to swing it open when she turned at the sound of heavy boots thudding down the corridor. She didn't need visual confirmation to know who it was; no one's footsteps were as heavy as Faith's when she was hurrying and not trying to be stealthy.
"Last night's patrol didn't go entirely as planned," Faith announced in a breathless voice as she slapped a few rumpled sheets of paper into Willow's hand.
Willow glanced down at the paper and immediately recognised that the sheets were covered in Faith's straggly handwriting, "What's this?"
"My report from last night, I would fill you in myself but I've an urgent meeting with Lara," Faith saw the immediate suspicion in Willow's eyes and shook her head quickly in dismissal. "And not that kind of meeting either...this could be serious Will, read the report and I'll catch up with you later."
Willow stared back and forth between Faith and the papers in her hand. "I just can't believe you actually wrote a report," she commented in disbelief.
Faith threw her a sarcastic smile before continuing down the hallway, no doubt headed for the library and the elevator which ran directly up to Lara's office. Willow watched her depart and then absently pushed the door open to her office. Tara followed her in and amused herself with looking around while Willow scanned the first few sentences of Faith's report.
When Willow managed to draw her eyes away from the report, she looked back and forth between the piles of work on her desk and Tara standing patiently just inside the doorway. While a part of her wanted to sweep out of the room and close the door on the research, the scholarly, fastidious side to her nature kept her feet firmly in the room. A day spent in the sun with Tara would be glorious...and yet there was the constant pressure to stay ahead of the forces who worked against them. What if she took the day off to romp in the sun and Faith's encounter the previous night turned out of have dire consequences for them all? Willow did not want another potential apocalypse on her conscience.
She watched Tara silently until the blonde reached out to touch one of the African spears lying in the corner of her office. "I wouldn't touch that," Willow said quickly and Tara drew her hand away as though it had been burned, looking over her shoulder at Willow with a startled expression. "Um, I'm pretty sure there's a nasty curse on it...I touched it once and I broke out in spots for a week...and you don't want to know where the spots were."
Tara smirked at the tone of Willow's voice, "If it has a curse then why on earth do you keep it in here?"
Willow shrugged absently, "It's pretty."
It wasn't hard for Tara to pick up on the fact that Willow was exceedingly tense even with the light banter, "You seem worried, is everything all right?"
"I am terribly sorry," Willow admitted, wringing her hands slightly. "I have all of this work to get through, especially after Faith's report...which I haven't read fully yet...and when Faith actually sets pen to paper it's usually essential reading. Yet you're here with nothing to do...can you get home by yourself?"
"Willow," Tara tried to interrupt quietly.
However she spoke too softly and her voice went unheard as Willow continued, "Good gracious, I can't ask you to do that, what if something happened on the way...I know it's not far but with all things considered..."
"Willow!" Tara had to raise her voice slightly to interrupt the babbling redhead. She waited patiently until Willow finally ceased talking and stared back at her with her mouth twisted in an apologetic expression. It was adorable and Tara couldn't help but smile as she saw a padded chair in the corner of Willow's office and sat down, crossing her ankles delicately. "You will work and I will be quite content sitting here."
Willow was slightly taken aback, she stared at Tara perched on her seat for a few moments before spluttering, "This could take me several hours...what will you do?"
The small smile on Tara's face broadened for a second, "Watch you," she replied as if it were the obvious answer in the world.
It took a moment for Willow to see the playful glint in Tara's eyes for what it was and a few moments after that a red flush crept into her cheeks. She settled at her desk, safe in the knowledge that Tara was happily occupied...even if she couldn't quite understand how on earth watching her work could be an interesting pastime.
When Willow had to re-read her current sentence for the fifth time she realised that her productivity had significantly dropped to the point where trying to work was futile. As much as she wanted to finish reading and making notes on her current text, it would have to wait until the following day. She stifled a yawn as she glanced at her pocket watch to see it was almost six-thirty. The day had been less than productive indeed, although as Willow glanced across her office at Tara, she did not regret having spent part of the morning showing the blonde around the museum. The day had obviously taken its toll on Tara as well as she was nestled in the chair in the corner, fast asleep.
Willow did not wake her immediately; instead she sat staring for a few minutes. In no time at all she had a silly smile on her face and this was how Faith found her when she burst in. The brunette swept the door open and before Willow could say anything at the rude interruption, she slapped her hand against the doorframe with a look of disappointment on her face.
"Damn, I was hoping to catch you two in the act...or at least see something!" Faith turned just as Tara's eyes snapped open and she hastily wiped her chin in case there had been drool during her nap. "Seriously Will, you've got the second most beautiful woman in London asleep in your office and you're still working?"
Willow was slightly taken aback, "What else would I be doing?"
Faith stifled a groan and swept across the room to reach out and slam shut the heavy book that was lying in front of Willow. The redhead immediately sneezed as a small cloud of dust was stirred.
"I don't mind waiting...Willow's work is important," Tara spoke up; she had stood and was in the process of stretching and yawning widely.
From the expression on Faith's face as she turned, it appeared that she did not share Tara's assessment of Willow's work. "You're just too polite to admit that you have been bored out of your mind all day."
"Nonsense!" Tara spluttered indignantly. "The museum is a fascinating place and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing where Willow works..." she paused and her cheeks coloured slightly as she made an admission, "Although the afternoon was a little...boring."
A smug smile crossed Faith's face as she turned back to Willow, "Tara has spoken, it's time to pack up your little books and papers and leave for the day, Will...and not to go home and cook either, if I might be so bold as to suggest taking Tara out to a restaurant?"
"But last night's events would seem to create an air of urgency around my research," Willow protested, although she did look longingly at Tara as though more time alone with her would be appreciated.
"An air of urgency around what?" Faith interrupted. "Around vampires being killed by unknown forces? I would think that the only urgency that this would create is that of finding whoever was responsible and congratulating them on a job well done...and asking them to spare a couple for me, at any rate, all are things I can handle on my own for the time being."
Willow had to admit that Faith made a good point. She had been surprised to say the least to hear Faith's report that morning. Four vampires destroyed without any hint as to who might be the new player on the scene. As far as the staff at the British Museum were aware, there was no one else operating a vampire slaying operation in London. However the fact that they were killing vampires had to point towards the fact that they were probably on the same side.
"The two of you can enjoy a pleasant evening knowing that I will still be working," Faith continued, she moved towards the door, obviously satisfied that Willow did intend to close her books for the evening.
"And you berate me for working too hard!" Willow muttered.
Faith merely grinned over her shoulder at her friend as she made her exit from the office. Just before she passed out of view altogether she gave Tara a quick wink although the blonde seemed to miss the point of the gesture altogether with her confused expression in reply. Faith supposed that winking simply wasn't done in her day.
She made her way up out of the bowels of the museum, pausing in her office only just long enough to retrieve her red leather jacket. From there it would be a short stop at Gordon Square to arm herself with her choice of weapons before heading out into the night. She briefly considered dropping by to pay Lara a visit but remembered that her lover was entertaining several of the museum's most influential patrons at one of London's finest restaurants. No matter how much she loved Lara, Faith would not consider putting herself through the torture of being in the same room as those portly, self-important bastards. Still, they were very rich bastards and generously donated large amounts to the museum...although of course never being told that much of their donation was actually going to fund a secret organisation that fought demons and uncovered the dark mysteries of the world.
Instead of taking a direct route out of the museum, Faith decided to wander through the galleries. She usually did not find the time to look at the exhibits...or the inclination. Mostly as far as she was concerned they were misunderstood relics of the past, and unless they possessed magical properties or were very sharp and pointy, they were also largely rather useless. Still, she found it almost enjoyable, especially with the complete lack of snot-nosed children tearing along the corridors. She paused on the mezzanine floor of the African Hall and gazed down onto the carefully set out rows of cases below with the dominating diorama of a recreated African scene in the centre. Faith had to smirk, the diorama with its wax tribal figures and straw hut was so unlike the Africa that she had visited on several occasions it might as well have been depicting another country altogether.
As she was about to move out of the Hall, she spied something moving on the floor below. Her first instincts said that it was a night watchman. However she soon realised that the shadowy figure was moving much too quickly to be one of the portly, moustachioed men who strutted about the Museum after dark. Faith paused for a moment before ducking neatly behind a nearby column. She peered around the edge to see the first figure joined by several more until she counted six altogether. So far their movements were silent and stealthy, however seconds later she heard the slightly muffled smashing of glass on one of the display cases. She saw one reach inside and withdraw a small object, too small for her to ascertain what it was from a distance.
While Faith had never been as pedantically concerned about the ancient artefacts on display as some of her other colleagues, especially Willow, it nevertheless irked her to see that someone had decided to take something that wasn't theirs...and right in front of her no less. With her hackles raised, Faith leapt up onto the railing that surrounded the balcony.
"I say!" Faith shouted down to the museum floor. "I don't think that belongs to you!"
Her shout of course earned the undivided attention of the shadowy figures down below; all six looked up to see the strange woman standing high above them. Even stranger still was the moment where she leapt out from her perch on the railing and, as she fell, seized a hold of a flag which trailed down from the ceiling.
Faith let the silken fabric slip through her fingers at a controlled pace, although her speed was such that she practically flew down to the museum floor. The flag ran out some feet above the floor but she dropped lightly and rolled, leaping back onto her feet just metres short of the thieves. It was only as she stood to face them that she realised she didn't have a single weapon on her person save the short knife tucked into her boot. She drew it now and felt somewhat inadequate as she held the relatively tiny blade out in front of her, especially when the nearest thief drew his own weapon, a wicked looking black sword.
However, Faith was not one to worry at the comparatively small size of her blade, what grabbed her attention was the outwards appearance of the figures in front of her. If they had appeared shadowy from the balcony it was because each was entirely clad in black, from head to toe. Even their heads were shrouded in black fabric with no discernable slits for eyes or a mouth. Like the first, the other five all carried curved black blades which they drew in rapid succession. Faced with six opponents, Faith finally had to admit that the odds were not in her favour. She glanced towards a figure at the rear and saw that he carried in his hand the artefact that had been removed from one of the display cases. Faith narrowed her eyes and pointed towards him.
"I'd be putting that back if I were you...or things are going to get messy around here!" she growled in a low voice.
The shadow figure responded by tucking the thin, white object into his belt, obviously not intending to simply hand it over to the irate, possibly insane woman standing in front of him.
"Have it your way then!" Faith cried, just moments before flinging herself directly at the leading two figures.
She succeeded in knocking one to the floor with a well timed kick and slashing the other across the chest. Although she knew her blade had gone deep enough to tear skin, it appeared to have no discernable effect as he lashed out with his blade. Faith was forced to dive to the floor and roll to avoid the downswing. The black blade crashed into the stone floor where she had been standing a second earlier. By now, the figure she had kicked was also back on his feet, moving quickly towards her on almost silent feet.
"What's the meaning of all this then?"
Faith risked a quick glance over her shoulder at the sound of the voice; she saw three of the museum's liveried guards enter the African Hall. Although she had never been so pleased to see them, she doubted whether it was prudent for them to become involved in what threatened to be a one-sided affair. The three men were all swagger and bravado until they saw who Faith was up against. Faith could hardly blame them; the faceless, black clad figures weren't exactly the type of thieves they could usually expect to find prowling the museum after dark...in fact, thieves generally weren't brave enough to venture into the museum.
"What the bloody 'ell?" one gasped, immediately fumbling for the Webley revolver in his holster.
The other two followed suit, although it was clear from their sluggish actions that they had not had to actually draw their weapons in anger for some time, if ever. Still on the floor, Faith looked from the terrified guards back to the thieves and was surprised to find that they were not moving, even though a trio of revolvers was pointed directly at them.
"I suggest you hand over whatever it was that you took," Faith rose to her feet and straightened herself up, doing her best to appear as though she was confident in the skills of the men behind her. In actual fact she didn't trust them to hit an elephant let alone the swift moving thieves.
Unfortunately for Faith, the thieves shared her opinion of the night watchmen and en masse they surged forward. Almost immediately the three guards opened fire, the pop-pop of their Webley revolvers was amplified to a deafening crack within the confines of the hall. Faith was forced to dive out of their way. She then leapt to her feet to find that although some bullets were actually striking the figures, they had absolutely no effect. She watched in shock as she could see the projectiles tear into the fabric they wore chest, limbs and even their heads, but each strike had no effect. When it became apparent that they were not slowing down, the three guards predictably turned tail and ran. However, they were quickly chased down.
After watching in horror as one was torn open at the waist from a ruthless blow, Faith leapt to her feet and onto the back of the one nearest her. As she grabbed his body it felt strangely insubstantial and yet still firm to the touch. She wrestled it to the ground and as she stared down at the faceless mask, she felt somewhat off put...as though there truly was nothing behind it. The pause lasted for a few seconds before she instinctively felt the rush of a blade swinging through the air behind her. She rolled and it passed within scant inches of her head.
There was barely time for a pause, although the first stroke missed several more came in a flurry and she was forced to use one of the display cases as a barrier. Somewhere off behind her, one of the guards unleashed a blood curdling scream which was rather abruptly cut off.
"I think you need another hand, ma'am!"
Faith managed to cast a glance over her shoulder to see Alex Harris seize one of the thieves by the scruff of his jacket and through him backwards. With the powerful toss, the shadow thief slid across the ground and collided with a display stand.
"You can start by finding Willow!" Faith yelled. "I think she's in her office!"
"Will you be okay?" he asked nervously, watching as Faith forced her sword-wielding opponent to the ground with a swinging kick to the head.
"I will if you bloody hurry up!" Faith snapped, following her kick by plunging the dagger up to the hilt in the chest of her opponent. "Go!"
Alex Harris dashed out of the hall, leaving Faith and the rapidly dwindling number of security guards to face the seemingly unstoppable and faceless intruders. Even with her dagger protruding from its chest, the figure beneath her brought its leg up and shoved her backwards. Faith was tossed through the air, her flight halted by a stuffed lion on a plinth. The long-dead beast was knocked to the ground by her weight and she toppled over and landed on her head. She barely had time to groan before her eyes widened at the sight of a dark shape leaping down upon her. As she darted sideways to avoid the swing of a sword which could have cleaved her arm off at the shoulder, she could only hope that Willow was not long in coming to her aid...and that wasn't something Faith would usually admit to lightly, even to herself.
With Faith's departure, Willow's office had once more slipped into a comfortable quiet. She scraped her chair back from the desk and rose to her feet, pausing to retrieve her jacket which she had flung over the back of her chair.
"I am sorry that the afternoon was so dreadful for you," Willow tugged on her jacket and wandered around her desk to stand in front of Tara.
"Will, I said I was happy and I was...you have no idea how amusing it is to watch you concentrate," Tara said as she allowed Willow to help her wrap her shawl around her shoulders.
"Amusing enough to put you to sleep," Willow mentioned with a slight grin. She could barely resist gently flicking out a single finger to touch Tara's cheek as she passed the shawl over her shoulders.
The single brief touch naturally became something firmer. Willow pressed her entire hand against Tara's soft cheek and the blonde leaned into the touch, nudging her cheek against Willow's hand.
"My dreams were exceedingly pleasant," Tara responded.
"Was I in them?" Willow asked in a suggestive tone of voice.
"You might have been..."
"What was I doing?" Willow felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips; she liked the direction of the conversation. Seeing Tara able to relax and smile was more than enough reward, although the promise of more to come was causing her heart to pound.
"Guess," was Tara's teasing reply.
Grinning like an idiot, Willow grasped Tara's chin and tilted her face upwards. There was nothing but anticipation in Tara's eyes as she pressed forward gently but firmly and felt Tara's lips part beneath her own, followed by a soft gasp. The warm flow of air immediately rendered her knees weak and she flopped backwards against the desk behind her. Even with the movement, the contact between them did not break as Tara fell forward.
Willow's body which was now sandwiched between the desk and Tara, it was a situation that she was entirely content with as she clasped the blonde's back and neck with each of her hands. One of Tara's thighs was nestled between her own; as the contact intensified Willow spread her legs slightly and was rewarded by the increased pressure at the apex of her thighs. With wanton abandon she jerked her hips forward, grinding against Tara's thigh. The blonde responded by moving in tandem with Willow, creating a build up of friction which threatened to drive Willow over the edge even though Tara had barely touched her.
While Willow wasn't entirely sure that her first time with this Tara should be up against her desk in her unlocked office, she didn't think she could bring herself to pull away. Instead she desperately wanted more...she needed to feel Tara's bare skin beneath her hands but there was a maddening amount of fabric covering her body. She had to settle for cupping Tara's firm arse with both hands, helping her grind forward with a firm pressure. It was Tara who surprised her by fumbling at the buttons on her shirt, managing to undo just enough in her haste to have the room to reach in and tug Willow's woollen vest aside, exposing one of her breasts. She then broke off the kiss to dip her head and take the small parcel of flesh into her mouth.
"Oh good lord," Willow whispered fiercely as she felt Tara's hot breath on her exposed flesh, And I was the one who berated Faith for having sex on her desk! she though with a slight alarm. Any further reservations were swept aside as Tara teased and nibbled at her swiftly budding nipple. An involuntary gasp escaped her lips and her head tilted back, she stared unseeing at the ceiling for a few moments before closing her eyes and letting the intense sensations course through her body.
At the very back of her hazy mind, she thought she heard the door handle turning...
Both women were forced to fling themselves apart as the door to Willow's office opened without so much as a knock. They turned to see a rather pink cheeked Alex Harris standing in the doorway. He seemed unsure whether he should stand and grin stupidly or flee from the wrathful expression on Willow's face as she pulled her shirt closed.
"Okay, as much as I want to tell you two to go right back to what you were doing..." He paused for a moment as though fixing the earlier scene in his mind, then he continued in a rushed voice, "Faith needs your help in the African hall...pretty fast!"
Willow frowned, despite Alex's obvious need for urgency; she made no move, "What's the problem?"
"Um...big, black fellas...well, I think they must be fellas...although they could be anything," Alex explained in a breathless voice, "Faith's taking them on with a couple of guards, although those idiots probably couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag."
Willow finally recognised the urgency in the situation; it had to be serious if Faith was calling for her help. She turned to Tara who was looking slightly stunned by the unexpected turn of events. Willow glanced quickly around her office before deciding that the safest place was beneath her desk. Seizing Tara's elbow, she propelled her beneath.
"Stay here, if anyone comes in the door..." Willow threw up her hands for a moment. If anyone did come in, Tara would be defenceless. She turned to Alex and saw that he wore a brace of pistols at his belt. Without asking him, she snatched one from its holster.
"Woah, careful with a man's weaponry!" he yelped.
Willow ignored his protest and checked the gun; it was fully loaded with silver tipped bullets...good against almost anything. She cocked it and handed it to Tara who was completely huddled beneath the desk.
"If anything comes in that door, just point and shoot!" Willow ordered. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"
It was all she had time to say, she snatched a sword propped up in one corner and hoped that it would do the job. With one last glance over her shoulder at Tara, she ran out of the office and slammed the door shut behind her.
"Oh god," Willow whispered to herself as she sprinted down the hallway, following Alex closely, "Should I have left her there?"
"She's better off in there than where we're going!" Alex couldn't help but overhear her. "I didn't get much of a look at 'em but they were darned nasty looking from what I could see. "
"Capital, I feel much better for that, thank you Mr Harris," Willow snapped.
Each took the steps leading up to the main level two at a time. When they emerged in the lobby they found only a few terrified museum hosts cowering behind the columns.
"The African Hall!" one yelped in a terrified voice.
"We know," Willow replied, "Make sure nothing comes out of this door!"
With that, both she and Alex dashed into the dinosaur gallery, passing beneath the grinning skulls of the mighty behemoths and towards the Greek Room. Each gallery was shrouded in shadow with the lights turned low for the evening. Already they could hear the distant sounds of battle, shouts and screams...metal upon metal, gun shots and glass smashing. They passed beneath the arch that separated the Greek Room from the African Hall and found a frenzied battle in full swing. Several of the night guards had formed a line and were shooting wildly in the direction of fast moving shapes at the other end of the hall. Willow immediately saw that Alex had been correct, from what she could see...they were big and black.
There was a massive crash to her right as a shape hurtled through the air and collided with one of the coffin-like display cases. Faith came to rest on her back in the middle of the case. There was a nasty gash at her temple.
"You appear to be doing splendidly without my help," Willow commented as she helped her friend out of the case and back to her feet.
"Funny," Faith replied archly, "This isn't a walk in the park Will...they've been pumped full of lead and slashed and stabbed but they're still all standing, I don't know what kind of demon can take such punishment."
Willow was introduced to one of the seemingly unstoppable foes before she had a chance to respond to Faith. A blade came swinging out of nowhere and she was forced to bring her own up just in time to block it. She almost gasped in surprise at the sight of its faceless head opposite her. Her surprise however did not last for long as she unleashed a flurry of spinning, slashing blows in the direction of the figure. Each blow was blocked efficiently but Willow could immediate see that its movements were too precise and calculated. It completely lacked any sort of innovation or creativity in the way it fought, whereas Willow made everything up as she went. She prided herself on her ability to adapt to different styles of fighting and the creature in front of her was easy to predict. She ducked inside its blows by using her smaller size to her advantage. Off balance, it parried awkwardly and with one swift stroke Willow was able to slice through its neck. The sword severed its head entirely but instead of the usual messy spurt of blood or explosion of ash that accompanied decapitation, there was nothing. The figure deflated as though it was no longer solid. What dropped to the ground appeared to be nothing more than a pile of dark rags. She stabbed at the pile with the point of her sword and found nothing substantial.
"Huh," Willow remarked t herself with interest; she then turned to seek out her companions and yelled in an urgent voice, "Go for the heads!"
On the other side of the hall, Faith glanced up at the sound of Willow's voice. She was more than tired of ducking and diving for her life and the announcement of a way to destroy the creatures was a welcome one. Turning back to the one who was currently pursuing her, Faith grinned and knew the tables were about to turn. She seized up a lengthy bone of non-descript origin and used it to batter the figure into submission to the point where she could wrestle the sword from its hand. It fought fiercely and she was knocked aside several times before managing to grab a hold of its wrist and fight the sword free from the vice-like grip of its fingers. As soon as it clattered to the floor, she seized it. With no small amount of pleasure, she brought it crashing down to decapitate the figure with one stroke. The clothes immediately deflated and lay in the shape of a body on the ground. She smirked and turned to find her next target.
Nearby, Alex Harris was on his back, struggling to keep one of the creatures from plunging its sword into his chest. He just managed to bring his knee up and use his strength to force it backwards. As it fell, he surged forward and laid into it with his fist, pummelling its head from side to side.
Faith grunted in annoyance, "You're supposed to sever the head, Harris!"
He glanced up with a pink face, "Well I don't have a sword now do I!"
With a sigh of despair, Faith darted across and retrieved the blade that Alex's opponent had dropped as he fell. She then tossed it to the American and left him to finish it off, hoping that he was capable of doing that much.
Just beyond the spear cabinet, Willow appeared to be coping even though she had two opponents. Her blade flicked and darted in her customary style. Suddenly Faith was forced to duck as a blade whizzed over her head. She turned to face another of the shadowy warriors and her eyebrows lifted slightly as she saw it was the one who carried the stolen artefact at his belt. Faith narrowly avoided a swing of its black blade; however, as it passed to one side she danced around her opponent and brought her borrowed sword swinging around in a fierce backswing. It sliced into the figure's neck and he suddenly collapsed to the ground in the same manner as the others. The clothes that had once been filled out in the solid shape of a man fell flat and empty on the floor. Its sword clattered to the ground, followed by the lighter sound of the artefact. Faith stabbed at the buddle of clothes with her boot until she found what had been taken. She seized it up to tuck it into her boot and was rewarded with an angry howl from another of the figures who had been watching the fight as it transpired. Although there were no eyes, Faith could somehow sense that he was staring directly at the boot which held the prize.
Just as she prepared herself to face the challenge for the object, Faith saw the air just behind the figure appear to shimmer. A split second later there was a blast of ice cold air that erupted outwards from the source, it lifted her into the air and sent her flying backwards at speed. Moments later she landed in the centre of the African diorama in the centre of the display hall. She went crashing through the roof of the mud hut replica and crushed the wax models of the African children inside. While it was merely straw, wood and wax that she hit, the force of being thrown back left her breathless.
Willow on the other hand was further away from the strange event; she felt the intense blast of air but was merely slammed against one of the few remaining intact display cases. The glass cracked slightly with the impact of her body but remained intact. As the air continued to pelt her, she watched the figure in front of the shimmering space linger for a moment before it turned and ran directly into the source of the rushing air. At the point that his entire body disappeared, Willow realised it was a portal of some kind. Lowering her head, she rushed forward, struggling against the wind to reach it. As she did, every inch of skin which was exposed to the icy air felt as though it were being pierced by thousands of needles. The wind howled in her ears with such ferocity that she could barely hear Alex, who was yelling at her from off to the side. Still she pressed on, determined to follow the figure through the portal. However, just as she stretched out her fingers to see them disappear in front of her eyes, her entire body was roughly knocked to one side.
"Get the hell off me!" Willow protested as she struggled to roll over.
The weight was gone almost immediately and she turned to glare at Alex. The portal was still shimmering just metres in front of her and she dragged herself to her feet, hanging onto anything she could.
"Miss Rosenberg, stop!" Alex yelled. "You don't know where that thing goes!"
"I'm going to find out!" Willow replied stubbornly.
However, the portal suddenly closed and as abruptly as it had formed, the rushing, icy air was gone. A sense of still and quiet slowly descended over the African Hall as moving objects halted. A disappointed Willow realised that she was not going to find out where the portal went after all. Alex obviously did not believe it was gone for good as he reached out to seize Willow by the shoulders to prevent her from moving to the spot where it had been.
"Get your hands off me you cretin!" Willow growled as she tugged free from Alex's grasp.
With Willow's rather irritated attempts to get free, Alex immediately released his grip on her shoulders and held up his hands in defeat. With a scowl, Willow turned her back on him, not wanting to admit that he had probably been right in not allowing her to go through the portal. There was no way she knew where it went...or even if it was safe for her to travel via such a means. She immediately decided that further research was needed.
"Well that wasn't exactly how I thought my evening would turn out," Willow muttered, already wondering if there was material to be found regarding such phenomena.
The sound of a low groan interrupted Willow's thoughts and she turned in the direction it originated. She saw that the diorama at the centre of the African hall was almost completely flattened, with just a lone Masai warrior standing guard at the forefront. The groan sounded again and she recognised it as Faith.
Willow picked her way through the African diorama and eventually had to bend down to pick up pieces of wood and the arms of wax figures in order to dig Faith out from where she had landed. Eventually the brunette was uncovered and Willow helped her to her feet. From the expression on her face she could tell her friend was less than impressed at the events that had just transpired. She limped out of the diorama as though her entire body was a ball of pain.
"Okay, what the bloody hell was that?" she demanded, still dredging bits of straw out of her hair.
"You were first on the scene, you tell me," was Willow's response.
Faith hunkered down and withdrew a slender object from her boot. She gave it a quick glance before handing it over to Willow. The redhead examined the small object; it was about the length of her hand and pure white, although it felt more like metal than bone or stone. Its entire length was covered in intricate, engraved markings that did not resemble any writing or symbols she was familiar with.
She glanced back up at Faith, "This is what they came for?"
Faith shrugged, "I guess so, unless anything else is missing."
Willow examined the object again, running her fingers over its length, "I think we're in trouble," she finally announced, "Could it have been possible that those men...those creatures were responsible for the slayings yesterday evening?"
"I suppose," Faith replied slowly, with a slight shrug, "Although why the hell would they attack vampires and us...that makes no sense."
"No," Willow replied in a worried tone as she went back to looking at the object in her hands. "It makes no sense at all."