Return to Van Rosenberg II - Lord of Ice and Shadow Chapter Nine

Van Rosenberg II - Lord of Ice and Shadow

Author: Alcy
Rating: R for supernatural violence and 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.
Distribution: Mystic Muse, Through the Looking Glass and DCP - nowhere else please.
Feedback: Yes please.

As she absently tapped one boot against the other, Faith realised that waiting patiently was a skill she had yet to master. For the fourth time in as many minutes, she glanced up at the massive grandfather clock that sat in the corner of the sitting room at Gordon Square. Time had barely passed and it did not change the fact that her lover was late. Faith let out a mildly irritated sigh and lifted herself from the rather unforgiving, black couch.

Yet another long glance out the window into the dark street beyond confirmed that Lara's carriage had yet to arrive. She let the curtains fall and took to pacing the length of the sitting room like a caged tiger. Each time she spun on her heels towards the fireplace, she was made acutely aware that she was being watched by the portraits of Abraham and Willow Van Helsing. She couldn't help but meet their twin green gazes. Her response was a slight scowl. Redheads were nothing but trouble.

Faith crossed back to the window - still no carriage. The thought of passing her time in the training room was momentarily appealing. However she knew that when Lara eventually did decide to arrive, she would have a limited amount of time. The scowl returned at the thought. She knew full well it was a selfish reaction. Lara's brother was arriving on the evening train for a brief visit. Faith had to admit to herself that her reaction was partially based on apprehension. A family introduction carried serious potential for embarrassment and awkwardness. Faith was unaccustomed to either. However, she was also unaccustomed to being in a long-term relationship. Prior to her meeting Lara Croft, she had neither the desire nor the temperament for one. Nothing could be done to change her temperament, but her desire to spend the rest of her life with Lara went a long way towards cancelling it out.

Just as a sappy smile was about to fix itself on her face, she heard the welcome clatter of hooves on cobbles. Before rushing to the front door, she confirmed it was indeed Lara's carriage with a quick glance out the window. She watched the gorgeous figure of Lara Croft alight and the sappy smile returned. The absurdity of having become a giddy, lovesick fool barely crossed her mind.

Gordon Square's heavy, black door was thrown open before Lara could even lift her hand to knock. A split second later, Faith dragged her inside with a firm hand on the front of her dress and, at the same time, kicked the door shut with the toe of her boot. Even as the sound of the door slamming reverberated throughout the foyer, Faith found Lara's lips and proceeded to kiss her lover as though her life depended on it.

"I am sorry for being late," Lara said as she paused for breath. "And I do believe I was assaulted before I had the opportunity to say hello."

"There is no time for hello," Faith replied breathlessly. She was already impatient to resume their kiss.

This time she drew Lara close to her body for just a moment, long enough to caress the back of her throat with her tongue. Faith then spun Lara around with a firm grip on her waist and gently but fiercely lowered her back against the stairs. With Lara's weight gone from her arms, she was able to put her hands to a better use - undoing the buttons that trailed down from her throat to just below her waist. Her fingers worked deftly until she exposed the soft silk of Lara's chemise beneath. Through the thin fabric, she could see the heaving mounds of Lara's breasts. The erect nipples strained upwards, making two irresistible little targets for Faith's fingers. She tweaked both in turn, satisfied by the resulting gasp from Lara.

"You're not wearing a corset," Faith pointed out with a wink. She easily tugged the silken chemise upward and exposed the equally silken skin beneath to her touch.

"I am well aware of the pressures on our time," Lara replied wickedly.

Faith grinned. "God I love you, woman," she whispered tenderly.

She was still grinning as she lowered her lips to Lara's, pressing her back against the stairs beneath them with the weight of her body. While the fingers of one hand undid the clasp which held back Lara's hair, those of the other worked gently on her breasts. Moulding the flesh firmly, further pinching and arousing Lara's nipples until both were flaming red with desire. The clasp came undone and Faith pulled Lara's hair free, trailing her fingers through its bulk. That hand then moved to cup Lara's cheek for a moment, caressing the skin just as he lips caressed Lara's. She them moved both hands down Lara's body, pausing to grab and squeeze the flesh of buttocks and thighs. She shifted slightly, moving her lower body so she could tug Lara's skirts upwards and bunch them around her thighs. Faith let out a slight grunt of annoyance as she discovered that Lara was wearing underwear was just one more garment to fiddle with and remove.

"I hate to interrupt," Lara said as she gasped for air for the second time. Faith didn't seem to mind the interruption to their kiss. Instead she bent downwards and took one of her breasts in her mouth. "But I do feel the need to remind you that you don't live alone. Where are the others?" Her question ended in a high-pitched tone as Faith gently nipped her already inflamed nipple.

"Haven't...the...faintest clue," Faith replied awkwardly. She discovered it was quite difficult to talk with a mouthful of breast.

"Yes...well, I think we ought to retire to" Lara suggested before she too found it difficult to talk through the low groans that began emerging from her throat as a result of Faith's ministrations.

Faith glanced up. "You're not excited about the possibility of someone walking in on us?"

Lara laughed lightly and gently cupped Faith's chin to draw her forward for a short kiss. "You make it sound like we're in a room. We're in the foyer!"

"It was convenient," was Faith's response as she set to work on the ties of Lara's underwear.

"I also don't think that Willow would take kindly to us soiling her staircase," Lara helpfully pointed out. This drew Faith's attention and she stopped, looking up at her as though her plans for immediate lovemaking had been somewhat thwarted. "I do become so very wet beneath your touch, my love."

"I can be careful?" Faith suggested hopefully, resuming her work on Lara's underwear.

"I don't want you to be careful."

Faith stopped and looked up. She paused for just a second before, with an exasperated sigh, she rose to her feet and dragged Lara up after her. The harassed and half undressed Museum Director was then prodded forward up the stairs as gently as possible in Faith's haste.

It took them scant time at all to reach Faith's room. It would have been even quicker save for a brief pause at the top of the stairs to engage in another bout of kissing. A loud crash from the kitchen interrupted Faith with her hand half way down Lara's underwear. Both finally realised that having anyone stumble across their passion would result in embarrassment for all. They then made a beeline directly for the room and the door was closed behind them to further secure their privacy.

"Much better," Lara said looking at the bed. She preferred having a mattress beneath her instead of a hard, decidedly bumpy staircase.

"Shut up and take your bloody clothes off," Faith growled. She was already working impatiently on her own.

Lara smiled as she stood and watched Faith for a moment. Just seeing her lover struggle to tug her boots off as quickly as possible made her feel so incredibly young. She had obviously done the laces up too tightly and was growing frustrated with just how time consuming the process was. Her heart swelled with emotion as she observed just how much Faith wanted to be with her.

"You know how much I love you?" Lara asked, just as Faith finally managed to take her first boot off. "No," Faith looked up but continued to work on her second boot. "But if it's half as much as I love you, then you'd be scaring me. I've never been loved like that...not even that time in Paris when I fucked four whores at once."

Lara was momentarily taken aback, but she then she the playful sparkle in Faith's eyes. "Four?"

"I was only three."

"I'm surprised you could handle three of them...especially considering the fact that you can't even seem to undress yourself," Lara teased.

As Faith still struggled with footwear, she peeled her dress down over her shoulders and let it fall to pool around her feet. The silk chemise came away from her body all too easily. Her underwear was already half falling off her hips and with some slight encouragement, it too joined her dress on the floor. At the sight of Lara's naked body, Faith ripped her boot from her foot with such force that she fell over. She barely winced and instead immediately started working on her pants. Lying on her back with her arse lifted in the air, she tugged them downwards and off altogether. Her shirt was off before she was back on her feet and seconds later her equally naked body was pressed against Lara's. In a tumble of bare limbs, they fell back onto the bed.

Their hunger for one another was evident in the immediate urgency of their moments. Both wished for more hands so that they could feel more of the other at the same time. They traded positions, back and forth across the bed as they vied to be on top and in control. Lara finally gave up, her breath coming in gasps, as she let Faith have her way. She closed her eyes and nestled back against the soft mattress as she felt her lover's body slide down her own. A few moments later, she felt hot breath fall upon her thighs and she gasped with delight. With just slight pressure from her fingertips, Faith encouraged her legs open. She let them fall apart, moving them wider so she could bare everything in front of her lover. She was already subconsciously pumping her hips in anticipation of what was to come. However the hot breath lingered on her thighs. Eventually, she felt the pads of Faith's fingertips trailing over the soft skin. Next came her lips, as she laid delicate kisses from just above her knees to her inner thighs. Lara let out an exasperated breath. For all their earlier urgency, Faith was now teasing her mercilessly.

Finally, she felt the warmth fall where she wanted it most. She giggled slightly as Faith's fingers tickled the very innermost spots of her thighs. The touch was all too close. So close in fact that she thought she could move her hips slightly and force the fingers to touch her mound. When the anticipation was almost more than she could bear, she finally felt a feather-light touch against her sex. Her hips jerked upwards involuntarily and she let out a gasp. There was a brief pause, then another light touch and another, slightly firmer. Finally she felt the firm pressure of Faith's fingers parting her outer lips completely and her hot breath fell somewhere more intimate, somewhere that was already throbbing with desire and need. Seconds later, her flesh was caressed by the tender touch of Faith's lips, rubbing, caressing, kissing.

Faith explored widely from the tip of Lara's outer lips, to the already moist opening of her cunt until finally she settled her attentions on the throbbing nub of Lara's clit. At first, she teased it with her lips, barely nibbling on it and flicking it with her tongue. Then, encouraged by the sounds coming from above her, she intensified the contact. She dug her heels into the mattresses in order to grind herself forward as firmly as possible. She took as much of Lara's flesh in her mouth as she could and, with the clit at the centre of her mouthful, she sucked gently but firmly. The flesh rolled deliciously with the pressure of her tongue, back and forth up and down. With each passing second, Lara's hips began to buck even more urgently beneath her. While the fingers of her left hand were busy keeping Lara's flesh parted wide, she reached up with the other to find Lara's searching hand. She grasped it firmly and their fingers entwined in a white knuckled grip.

As her lover's moans began to merge into one, drawn out sound, Faith concentrated everything on that tiny little mound of flesh. Even engorged with lust, it was still such a small thing to be the cause of so much pleasure. Faith knew Lara felt it throughout her entire body. From her erect nipples, down to the fire in her belly. Everything was radiating outwards from that one point of contact. Her tongue worked feverishly. Even as her jaw began to ache slightly, she did not let up her pace. Lara was close, she could tell by the fact that the fingers of her right hand felt as though they were about to snap within the fierce grip. Suddenly, Lara's hips bucked upwards, more violently than before. Several more spasms followed as Lara let out a groan that sounded as though it came from her gut. True to her earlier warning, a surge of wetness accompanied her cry. The salty, warm juices flowed over Faith's tongue and dribbled down her chin as she maintained her contact for just a short while longer. When she felt Lara's body sag with exhaustion beneath her, she knew she could take no more.

She gently eased herself up the length on Lara's body and came to lie atop her. She disengaged her crushed hand so she could cup Lara's face in both palms and draw her forward for a moist kiss. Lara surprised her with the urgency with which she hungrily tasted her own juices.

Faith was further surprised when she felt Lara's hand force itself between their sweaty bodies. She shifted slightly, rolling over onto her left hip so Lara could better reach down between them and find the apex of her own thighs. With her long, elegant, strong fingers, Lara found her sex. Faith could feel her own wetness. She had been wet from the moment she had forced Lara back against the stairs in the foyer. The beautiful feeling of Lara coming in her mouth had very nearly driven her to her own orgasm.

So when Lara's fingers disappeared within her folds and found her clit, it took all of a half dozen firm strokes before she gasped throatily and felt her sex spasm in the palm of Lara's hand.

"I am sorry," Faith whispered, burrowing her face in the nape of Lara's neck.

"Don't be," Lara replied. She reached up and pressed one hand against Faith's chest. With a gentle shove, she sent her rolling over onto her back. She then swung one leg up over her hip and pinned Faith to the mattress. "You are not getting off that lightly."

With the lingering spasms of her climax barely faded, Faith felt two of Lara's fingers force their way upward. She cried out slightly with surprise and pleasure as they were buried deep in her cunt. Lara paused above her for a moment. They shared another kiss and as their lips were locked together, Lara began to move gently. She drew her fingers back until they were almost completely out, before sliding them forward again. With each thrust, her pace increased. Her fingers strained inside her lover, curling forward towards Faith's stomach to offer as much pressure as she could.

Faith wrapped both her thighs around Lara's back, locking them together so they could better move as one. She had to break free from their kiss in order to draw in more air in loud gasps. With Lara's face buried in her neck, she locked her own chin over Lara's shoulder. When she opened her eyes she could see Lara's back and buttocks thrusting into the air. She grabbed an arse check each with her hands and gained some satisfaction from digging her nails into the flesh.

"Oh, Lara...please?" she whispered into Lara's hair, closing her eyes once more.

The sweat was soon pooling between her breasts as Lara intensified her movements to the point where Faith knew she could not maintain it for long. Hopefully it would be just long enough for her to reach her second climax. She too strained, doing her utmost to feel as much of the sensations as she could by thrusting her hips upwards to meet Lara. The palm of her hand was jammed against her already tender clit. By sliding her hips back and forth, she maximised that contact to its utmost. Then, as she felt Lara's strength beginning to fade, she felt her release. This time it was all the sweeter with Lara's fingers buried deep within her. She felt her passage spasm around that point of contact, gripping her fingers with each contraction of her muscles. Still breathing heavily, they found each other lips. The resulting kiss was lazy with their exhaustion. They took their time, barely moving their tongues or lips as they revelled in the contact instead.

A few moments later, Lara shifted her weight from atop Faith and lay down beside her. She kept their bodies pressed tightly together as she wrapped one arm around Faith's sweaty torso. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, smelling the aftermath of their fucking - sweat and the musty aroma of their combined juices.

She tried to forget about the fact that she had to leave eventually and burrowed deeper. The gentle play of Faith's fingers on her back and arm tickled but also lulled her towards the edge of sleep. She felt so safe and content that it was all too easy for her to let everything go. However, as she drifted off, it was not the sweet memories of lovemaking that played behind her eyelids. It was instead the sightless black eyes of Tommy Meates staring back at her. With his pale, transparent hands stretching out towards her as she cringed away in disgust. Just as he was about to reach her, she jerked awake. She found herself still safe in Faith's arms.

Some of the warmth had left her body and she felt a slight chill. The blankets had been mostly thrown from the bed and she had only Faith's body heat. She drew in closer.

Feeling the movement, Faith lifted herself up onto one elbow and looked down at Lara. Her eyes trailed the length of her body and already she felt another stirring in her loins. God, I could fuck this woman all night, she thought as she felt her exhaustion fade. She was eager to return to that state of exhaustion once again and nuzzled Lara's throat. She trailed kisses up and down its length before moving to find her lips. Lara's lips parted only half-heartedly beneath the touch and she drew back. Lara's eyes opened and she too propped herself up on one elbow.

Misunderstanding the movement, Faith moved forward to resume the kiss. However, Lara again did not respond in the manner she had hoped for and she drew back. Faith growled low in her throat and nipped playfully at Lara's ear, mildly annoyed at her advances being rejected. However the resulting bite was enough to cause her lover to yelp in discomfort.

With her ear still smarting, Lara sighed quietly and let herself slump backwards until her head hit the pillow. She lay with a halo of lustrous brown hair framing her face as she stared up at Faith. Her lover stared down at her with a slight smile on her face.

"I fail to see anything amusing at present. Especially considering that my busy thoughts have probably spoiled your nefarious intentions."

Faith's smirk broadened. "When it comes to you, my love, nothing could possibly spoil my desire. Even when I see you hunched over a stack of papers at your desk, I am still gripped by the urgent desire to rip open your bodice to get at those luscious breasts of yours."

Lara found a smile of her own. "I shall remember that next time I am up to my eyeballs in paperwork."

"There is nothing amusing about the concerns that plague your thoughts, Lara. I was just reminded how much I love you, and why I love you so damn much," Faith whispered. She leaned in close once again to claim Lara's lips in a quick caress. "Your compassion never fails to amaze me. Does it not exhaust you? Caring for so many concerns, for so many people, all the time?"

"To tell the truth, I try not to dwell on the scale of my job. However, I cannot help but care about the people in my life, whether it is a member of my family such as you or Willow or a member of my staff. I am worried for poor Mr Meates. Despite the lack of knowledge about his ailment, I have the dread feeling in my heart that he does not have long before...well, whatever the final outcome is, death...or something even worse."

Faith pursed her lips together. She fervently wished there was some promise that she could make that would at least go some way towards reassuring Lara. However, for all her strength and skill, there was nothing she could do. She could make love to her of course, banish her fears for the duration, but she could not actually help with anything important.

The shadow warriors were a very real threat, but one that was all very well, but she did not even know where to begin. Even worse, a part of her feet decided odd about the prospect of meeting them again. It was such an unusual feeling for her that it took her several moments to realise what the emotion was. Faith had to look away from Lara lest she see it in her eyes. She was scared, and the very thought of that realisation scared her even further.

"Are you alright?"

Lara's quiet question intruded on her thoughts and she pushed them to the back of her mind. She started to nod slowly and then stopped herself. For some strange reason, the very much naked form of Willow Rosenberg intruded on her thoughts. Faith then shook her head slightly, remembering the angry expression on Willow's face. What she had not told the redhead during their brief conversation was that she had bumped into Tara on her way through the kitchen. The blonde's face had been pale, her expression stricken. She had politely brushed aside Faith's offer of assistance and continued on her way. Although Faith had no clue as to what had actually passed between the two, she had seen the redhead's palpable anger. While Willow was not overly quick to anger, once provoked it was volatile and difficult to assuage. The usual result was some sort of disaster.

"I know something is on your mind," Lara prompted gently when she received no reply.

When Faith finally glanced back to meet Lara's gaze, she saw a slight frown marring her beautiful brow.

"I am fine," Faith assured her. "It is Willow. I think she is struggling with something."

"More so than usual?" Lara asked the valid question.

"More so than usual," Faith agreed.

She moved her elbow out from beneath her and flopped down to join Lara on the pillow. Lara shifted her own arm, slipping it beneath Faith's shoulders and enfolding her tenderly.

"As much as we need Willow here, I feel we should pack hers and Tara's bags and send them away on holiday," Faith announced. "Perhaps Greece or the south of France. Somewhere warm."

"I am trying to recall the last time Willow actually went on holiday. "Lara frowned again as she came up blank. "Does she even like the beach?"

Faith shrugged. "I haven't the foggiest clue. I was thinking along the lines of somewhere warm so they could wear as little clothing as possible."

"Have they even managed to resume their physical relationship yet?"

"No, and that's the bloody problem!" Faith growled. "If those two don't get themselves sorted and start fucking soon, they're going to drive me insane. Whenever they get remotely close to one another, something happens to force them apart. This time I can't even figure out what the hell is up with them!"

"I would hazard a guess and say it has something to do with the Japanese woman," Lara commented quietly.

Faith sat up abruptly. "What do you mean?" she asked incredulously. "Willow has only just met the woman. You can't possibly tell me that there's something going on between them. Besides, Willow and Tara are meant to be together. If such a thing is ever meant to be true, it is surely true of them!"

Lara reached out and tenderly stroked Faith's naked arm. She felt just how tense the muscles were. "I seriously doubt that Willow would think twice about another woman while Tara is in her life, but there was a time when that was not the case. Giles told me that Willow fell in love with a young woman when they travelled to Japan."

"Why would Giles even tell you something like that?" Faith asked dubiously.

Lara shrugged. ‘It was hardly a conversation of great importance. My curiosity was piqued by a comment he made and I enquired as to what sort of woman Willow Van Helsing had been. I am not even sure why he made mention of the Japanese woman. Perhaps because it was so at odds with the Willow I knew."

"Essentially, you were gossiping about her," Faith added bluntly.

"Yes," Lara admitted without shame. "Suffice to say, I think Willow has some difficulty with the presence of Yuko Nakamura."

"That's ridiculous, because she looks a little like someone she once loved?"

Lara shrugged. "It is merely a guess. I think you should talk to Willow, my dearest. You are her best friend and confidant."

Faith remembered the rather angry looking Willow she had left standing in the laundry. She nodded in response to Lara's suggestion but decided that she would give Willow a few hours, possibly even a day, to calm down. Meanwhile she glanced back to the naked woman lying beside her and, for the moment, was easily able to banish further thoughts of Willow.

"Look at us. There was a time when we could barely talk to one another because of the unrequited sexual tension between us..."

"It's certainly no longer unrequited," Lara interrupted playfully. Their conversation had gone some way towards helping her feel more secure. Her friends needed her, that was a given. However, the concerns that plagued her also served to help her realise just how much she needed Faith and their time alone together.

"Now we lie in bed and talk about our feelings and the concerns of our friends and family." Faith continued. "We're like an old married couple."

"Married couples don't lie in bed and talk about their feelings, Faith." Lara helpfully pointed out.

"They don't?"

"No...and I suppose you think a bed is just for sleeping in?"

"It is..." Faith paused and finally her eyes lit up. "Oh, of course it's not."

Moving with her customary cat-like grace, Faith sat up and straddled Lara's body. They then proceeded to prove once and for all that the bed was not for sleeping in. At least not when they were on such a tight schedule.

If Faith and Lara had known exactly where Tara was in the midst of their public display of affection, they would not have been overly worried about her disturbing them. At that moment the blonde was in a room that she did not have much cause to use for the very fact that she could not wield a weapon, or use her body as a weapon in the same manner as Faith and Willow.

The training room.

Tara had of course been in the room on several occasions. Willow had given her a thorough tour of the house and often when she had been looking for the redhead, she found her covered in sweat dancing across the mats on the floor with some weapon in her hands. Willow seemed to enjoy spending time in the dark room. For some reason, from the first visit, Tara felt a distinct aversion to the training room. One obvious reason was that she didn't like weapons. As befitting a lady of her rank and upbringing, she had no experience with them. The room gave off an unpleasant odour. It was a concoction of damp, metal and sweat. Yet as unpleasant as it was, Tara knew that was not the reason for the room's effect on her. She felt short of breath and confined, despite its size. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and her skin crawled. Tentatively, she took a few more steps towards the centre of the room and the sensations intensified.

Despite the awful feelings it aroused within her, Tara continued deeper into the room. She didn't know why she was putting herself through an ordeal that was actually making her feel sick. A part of her wanted to turn on her heels, lift her skirts and run from the room as fast as she possibly could. However, something was drawing her further in. For someone who craved answers as much as she did, it would have been foolish to back out.

Fighting through her rising terror, Tara continued. For some reason, she was being drawn to the far left wall. It was completely covered with a wall of books, all neatly stacked in their shelves. Although there was no much to distinguish one leather bound spine from another, Tara was drawn to one in particular. With trembling fingers she reached out and plucked it from the shelf. It was an old volume indeed. She had to use two hands to hold it - such was its weight. Most Horride Magicks, Tara read the title and shivered slightly. She was about to replace it on the shelf when she saw something about the stone behind that caught her eye. The walls of the training room were of the same dark stone that made up much of the house at Gordon Square. However, from what she could see of the stone behind the book, it was different, a much lighter colour. Tara set the heavy book in her arms down on the floor and began pulling out others.

She worked feverishly, taking books from one shelf, then the one above it and below. Only when she had dozens of books piled on the floor about her feet and a light sheen of sweat coating her face, did she finally stop. Although she had exposed only a small portion of the wall behind, she could clearly see that a different colour stone had been used on one part of the wall. It was precisely as though a doorway had been bricked off. Still unsure of exactly what she was looking for, Tara reached out and placed the palm of her hand flat against the stone.

She does not know for sure how long her fists have pounded on the stone walls of her prison, nor how long her screams of pain have echoed within their confines, only her instincts tell her that it has been longer than mere days or weeks. She knows this because she has already screamed for so long her voice has wasted away to nothing and she can feel the painful red raw state of her knuckles. Although vampires are creatures of the night, she can no longer stand the state of absolute darkness in which she is kept and she longs for a light of any kind...even the sunlight which would bring about her destruction.

Her world of solitude is harshly interrupted with the sound of a door opening and a weak light suddenly filling her cell. Her eyes have difficulty adjusting and all she can see is a dark shadow coming to stand before the iron bars of her cell. There is a rasping noise that hurts her ears and the grate on the iron door is opened, another bowl of blood is slopped into middle of her cell, most of its contents spilling onto the already stained and sticky floor. She starts to crawl towards the shafts of light spilling across the floor, like a moth to a flame, but all too quickly the grate is slammed shut and the shadow leaves. Moments later the external door closes to throw her back into complete darkness. A weak, strangled sob erupts from her mouth as she feels the loss of light as yet another cruel stab to her beating heart.

She collapses to the floor. The sobs gradually intensify until her entire body is twisted and heaving. Her cries emerge as near-silent, breathy gasps from her hoarse throat. This continues until she is too weak to even cry and her limp body is nothing more than a lump on the floor of her cell. Time passes, although she cannot be sure if it is minutes or hours. Instead everything merges together into one impenetrable void where nothing is coherent. Nothing until she sees a flash of red in her mind. It is just as abrupt and painful as the light hurting her eyes, possibly even more so. Gradually the colours solidify, forming a face so perfectly beautiful she has difficulty remembering if such a person ever existed.


The word is on her lips but it will go no further, she will not allow herself to put a name to the face. However she remembers something of why she is enduring her tortured existence. The desire to live once again enters her mind.

Tara's eyes snapped open and she immediately found herself at eye level with the floor. Trembling from head to foot, she sat up with a slight wince. Several spots on her body smarted painfully. Glancing around she realised she had fainted and landed on the books she had stripped from the shelves moments earlier.

Had it even been moments earlier? Tara had no idea just how long she had been unconscious on the floor. Nor did she know why. She did however remember the strange and frightening dream she had in all too vivid detail. She had been in a cell - alone in a filthy, disgusting, and dark cell. Although Tara did not know what it meant, she clearly remembered feeling so wretched that she wanted to die. There had been only one thought that sustained her in the dark place - Willow.

Although it had clearly been a dream, or a vision of a past she could not remember, Tara knew with a dreadful certainty that she had felt those almost those exact same emotions in her short life. During the time she had been married to Edward Walsh she had been in the same wretched state, perhaps not physically, but mentally. The only thought that kept her from trying to find a way to end her life had been the possibility of seeing Willow again.

Tara eased herself to her feet, She winced slightly as she realised just how foolish it was for one to fall on a stack of books. As she began replacing the books on the shelves, she tried to conjure up images from the dream. There had been a cell, that was easy enough to remember. Filth as well, although there had been some element to the filth that had particularly disgusted her. A bowl filled with something. Tara closed her eyes for a moment but could not remember what had been in the bowl.


At the unexpected interruption, Tara jumped and fumbled with the last book. It fell and the corner drove into her big toe. She uttered a small yelp of pain, but before she could pick up the book, Yuko Nakamura was at her side. The Japanese women retrieved the book and placed it in the last slot on the shelf. She then extended her hand towards Tara.

Tentatively, Tara took the proffered hand and let Yuko pull her to her feet. She was drawn in close to the other woman and found herself staring directly into her eyes. It was easy enough to see what Willow saw in her. Despite her jealousy, Tara could acknowledge that Yuko was a beautiful woman. Although Yuko was wearing a simple outfit consisting of a shirt and wide-legged pants, she stood with a poised grace. Tara drew back quickly and fought the urge to storm from the room. Instead she stayed, hands clenched into fists at her side.

"You have been upset?" Yuko suddenly reached out and with a gentle swipe of her thumb, brushed away a tear.

"I-I..." Tara had not realised that she had been crying.

"The past can be a treacherous snake just as much as it can be a source of comfort and strength," Yuko said as she let Tara brush away the remainder of her tears. "I must seek your forgiveness. I fear I have not been entirely honest with you..."

"Willow told me," Tara interrupted quietly.

Yuko bowed her head slightly in understanding. "If you want us to leave this house, Haruki and I will go without a fuss."

"I do not," Tara replied honestly. She met Yuko's startled gaze. "You have obviously come to England for a reason..."

It was Yuko's turn to interrupt Tara. She did so with a gentle touch to her upper arm. "I have, and please believe me when I say that it is not to cause friction between you and your love. My obligation to my ancestors is very important to me. They gave their oath that they would help Willow, and I must fulfil that oath."

Tara closed her eyes for just a moment. She savoured the way in which Willow had sustained her. Both during the life she could remember, and the one she could not. When she opened her eyes again, there was a small smile on her face.

"And I love Willow," she said softly. "With all my heart, I love Willow. How could I make such a claim if I were to deny her your help? I can do very little myself to keep her safe, but you can fight."

"Fighting is not the only way to keep someone safe," Yuko replied, letting her hand fall back to her side.

She took several graceful steps backward. Suddenly, with very little outward preparation, she sprang backwards. Her feet went up over her head in an arc and swept back down to the floor. Her feet barely touched when she sprang upwards again, launching her entire body around and snapping her foot out in a sweeping kick. The Japanese woman repeated the moves over and over, with slightly varying combinations. Each part of her body worked in perfect harmony, whether she was flying through the air or spinning on her heels. Tara could only watch in amazement at the display of human capability. What the young woman could do with her body was nothing short of gravity defying.

Finally she came to a halt, a seemingly effortless transition from intense physical movement to a complete state of stillness. She turned to look towards Tara, her shoulders heaving only slightly with exertion.

"That was..." Tara began. She shook her head, unable to come up with the right word.

"Very pretty to look at?" Yuko finished helpfully. She crossed the short distance between them. "However, completely useless if someone were to have a firearm. You yourself could have shot me before I came within striking distance."

Tara almost snorted. The incident in Willow's office sprang to mind immediately. If she couldn't shoot a stationary target that was a few feet away, she doubted she could hit someone moving as quickly as Yuko. "I beg to differ, but I see your point. So I should learn how to shoot instead through the air?"

Yuko shook her head softly. "No. You do not need the power of a weapon, Tara-san. You have enough power of you own."

Tara's eyes widened in surprise, surely Yuko did not know what lurked inside her. She herself did not know what lurked inside her. It had only emerged just once that she could remember. That night in the park when she had run away from Gordon Square. Without knowing how, she had brought forth flames from her hand and incinerated a vampire before her eyes. Yuko gave her a small smile and turned her face away from Tara to contemplate something unseen on the wall before her. It was Tara's turn to shake her head. The Japanese woman was uncanny in her observations. It was distinctly unnerving.

"I can only speak for myself, Tara-san," Yuko said as she turned to look at the blonde with her customary serene expression. "But I find myself quite hungry, even at this late hour."

As though in direct response to Yuko's statement, Tara heard her stomach emit an angry little protest. She realised that she had not eaten since breakfast, and even then she had merely nibbled on a piece of bread. Her appetite had been diminished for so long, that to actually feel hungry was somewhat of a strange sensation. When her stomach rumbled again, Tara realised two things - she was hungry, and happy. She felt as though a weight had lifted from her shoulders.

At her nod, Yuko gently took her by the elbow and led her away from the wall. Even as they walked in the opposite direction, Tara could not help but cast a last glance back over her shoulder in the direction of the mysterious room. The burning desire to know about her past surfaced and she realised that she was finally ready. Not right at that moment however, at that moment she was hungry.

As they walked up the spiralling staircase, she turned to Yuko. "Thank you."

"You are welcome, Tara-san," Yuko replied, seemingly not needing any explanation behind Tara's reason for thanking her.

The two women had barely reached the top of the staircase when Yuko suddenly froze in her tracks. Not expecting her to stop so suddenly, Tara stumbled into her and almost fell. She was steadied by a strong arm and drawn backwards against the wall by a gentle push. She frowned as she saw Yuko peering intently into the darkness of the library and the hall beyond.

"What is it?" Tara asked quietly.

Yuko turned back to her and whispered ominously, "Something is in the house."

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