The comfortable blanket of night had fallen upon London's houses and streets. It was quiet, with only the occasional meowing of a cat or rumbling of the night soil cart to disturb the peace of the mostly slumbering residents inside their modest and tidy town houses. Ordinarily, creatures of the night did not stalk the well-kept streets of the middle class but on this particular night, one lone figure moved quietly through the shadows.
Eventually, it paused for several minutes, ensuring that it was indeed alone on the street before moving towards the front door of one of the houses.
A moment later, the figure was greeted at the door by Jeremiah Croft, his already affable features rendered even friendlier by the grin that touched his lips at the sight of the person standing on the doorstep. He swiftly ushered the cloaked and hooded figure inside with a wave of his hand. His heart beat a little faster when he closed the door and the hood was drawn back to reveal a young woman with pale blonde hair. When she turned to regard him with a cool blue gaze he was powerless to keep his knees from trembling.
"Tara," the tremulous tone of his voice reflected his nervousness, "It is truly a pleasure to see you again."
She lifted her eyebrows as though a little surprised by his enthusiasm but she inclined her head to return the greeting. Jeremiah flushed so violent a shade of red, she may as well have kissed him.
When he had last seen Tara several months earlier, although her injuries had healed, she had still appeared painfully thin. Now as she stood before him, he found himself confronted with a woman of unsurpassed beauty, her hair shone like moonlight as it framed her marble-skinned face. Her lips were lustrous and red, only her eyes reflected a measure of her pain, an unspoken sadness that she carried with her like the black cloak on her shoulders.
Jeremiah struggled to find words to sum up the picture she presented, "You appear...well."
He bit his lip, rather embarrassed that he was so afflicted in Tara's presence, especially when he considered himself such an accomplished young man in all other respects. Clearly he had much to learn when it came to women, especially those that possessed an indescribable and unnatural beauty.
"Is Giles here?" Tara apparently did not share Jeremiah's need for conversation.
The young man was clearly disappointed by her business-like manner but he maintained his cheery demeanour, "Unfortunately he is out at the moment...but I believe he was not intending to be long. Would you care to wait for him here? Take a seat perhaps?"
"I will wait," Tara replied quietly, removing a small cloth wrapped bundle from beneath her cloak and holding it out in front of her with an amount of reverence, "but I would rather stand."
"As you wish," Jeremiah replied quietly, she then turned her back to him, he suspected she was concealing the parcel in her hands, and he suppressed a wistful sigh.
A small part of Tara felt decidedly uncomfortable standing in Giles's small parlour with Jeremiah. Her discomfort had nothing to do with the young man himself, whom she supposed to be a truly good person, but everything to do with the turmoil in her own mind. Outwardly she appeared to be the perfect image of an ensouled vampire...however such a creature was supposed to look and behave. Inwardly she felt like a broken young woman, one who was uneasy in the company of others, whether they be demon or human. Demons sensed that something about her was wrong, and the only humans she dared to come into contact with were Giles, who detested her, and young Jeremiah. Although the latter treated her like a woman as opposed to a demon she was certain this would all change when he learnt that she was responsible for the death of his father, Benjamin Croft.
Tara lived in fear...although she barely felt she could call what she was doing 'living'...it was more like 'existing.' The only reason for her continued existence was her purpose, and she would not allow herself to sink into the abyss of hopelessness and despair so long as she had such a purpose to cling to.
With trembling fingers she caressed the frayed cloth covering the small object in her hands. Try as she might, she could not suppress the memory of what she had done to obtain the item, but it had been a necessary evil.
"What is that?"
Although not intentionally loud or abrupt, she was startled by Jeremiah's question and her shoulders twitched noticeably. She turned to find him staring at her with reddening cheeks.
"My apologies, Tara, I did not realise you were so deep in thought."
"No apology is necessary," Tara replied, her discomfort quickly fading as she was put at ease by Jeremiah's straightforward and friendly manner.
"My curiosity often gets the better of me," he admitted with a sigh, "Giles often says it serves me well as a scholar but in all other areas it renders me an impertinent young man."
"The criticism is unjust, no one should be forced to hide a part of themselves because it makes others uncomfortable," Tara observed quietly.
Jeremiah was taken aback somewhat by the perception of her response, he pursed his lips together for a moment as though contemplating whether to ask another question. He drew in a breath before speaking, "I do not mean to pry ever further...but you speak as if you have experience in such matters?"
"Your curiosity also makes you a terrible liar," Tara said as Jeremiah reddened once more, "but I find myself liking you...against my better judgement of course."
Jeremiah's cheeks took on an even more violent hue of red but he also grinned. It was a mixture of reactions which gave him a comical appearance. He noticed a slight lift to one corner of Tara's mouth and dared to think that she might also be smiling.
The possible smile was fleeting however as she continued with a note of regret in her voice, "When I was a young woman, probably the same age as you are now, I made a dreadful decision because I was too afraid to be myself."
"How long ago was this?" Jeremiah pressed gently, eager to learn more about the mysterious woman, "Were Mr Van Helsing and Giles young men?"
Tara shook her head slowly, "I do not think that Giles was ever a young man and I did not know him. I did however know Abraham Van Helsing and he was indeed a young man, both handsome and kind."
"Giles told me as much...but he would not tell me why he changed," Jeremiah felt somewhat guilty seeking the answers from Tara when Giles had refused to give them to him. However, he could not help himself, "Do you know?"
"His sister died," Tara replied abruptly.
Jeremiah was taken aback by the unexpected speed of her response and his mouth worked soundlessly for almost a minute as he tried to formulate additional questions or even make a simple comment. Whatever words he might have said died on his lips as it dawned on him that the blank expression on Tara's face was masking an immense pain.
"Her name was Willow," Tara added before she realised that, as nice as Jeremiah was, there was no way that she could continue the conversation without succumbing to tears. She pursed her lips together and bowed her head to indicate that she was prepared to say nothing more.
"You might want to ask Tara exactly how Willow died."
Neither Tara nor Jeremiah had heard Giles come through the door. He now stood between them, a dark cloud hanging over what had been Jeremiah's first real conversation with Tara...and Tara's first real conversation with anyone since her imprisonment. After staring at Giles for a moment, Jeremiah turned to Tara. Her expressionless mask had been swept aside to reveal a look of absolute devastation. However Willow Van Helsing had died, it had obviously cost Tara dearly.
"You raised me to have better manners," Jeremiah said curtly, angered that Giles would intentionally cause such distress.
"Manners only apply to humans...and certainly not to traitorous, murdering demons of that creature's ilk," Giles nodded towards Tara.
"She has a name," Jeremiah muttered quietly, glancing at his mentor from the corner of his eye.
"And you have better places to be," Giles added with some finality.
If Jeremiah had been several years younger, he would have stamped his foot with some measure of frustrated anger. As it was, he saw the look on Giles's face and knew that this was not an issue he could force. With a curt nod in Giles's direction he turned on his heels and made his way out of the room. He did cast one brief glance back over his shoulder as though he was worried about leaving Tara alone with Giles.
As soon as the door closed behind Jeremiah, Giles turned to Tara, "You have accomplished your task?"
He nodded towards the package Tara held in her hands and she glanced down as well, still cradling it against her body. She nodded and tentatively extended it towards Giles. He took it roughly as though she were not worthy to hold such an object. His next actions however contradicted the care Tara had taken with the package. He tossed aside the cloth wrapping and dashed the small porcelain box to the ground. It shattered into several large shards and the contents within spewed out for several feet. It was dust...grey, ordinary dust that resembled something swept up off the kitchen floor.
"You obviously had no problem gaining access to the grave," Giles muttered, settling himself on the floor beside the dust.
Tara followed suit, a little more hesitantly as she was staring at the dust as though it were flakes of gold, "There was no one for miles...and your protection spells were easily revoked."
"Because you knew they were there," Giles growled. "The task was not difficult...in theory," Tara ignored his posturing, "But seeing her body like that...not even a body, just bones...and having to reduce the bones to dust..."
Tara shivered when she remembered the anguish Giles's task had caused her. She glanced up into his eyes and knew exactly why he had not gone himself. He wanted her to be forced to face what she had done, to see the reality of Willow's death and the ultimate consequences of what she had done. It was yet another form of punishment. Giles had succeeded; the sight of Willow's decayed body would haunt her for the remainder of her years.
"Well, that is normal for people who have been in the ground for decades," Giles replied tartly.
Tara squared her shoulders in the face of Giles's hostility, they both had a job to do...and it did not involve trading barely concealed barbs, "Shall we begin?"
Giles did not offer her the courtesy of a reply; he merely began to speak the opening lines of the incantation. The words were ancient, written in a lost language few understood and copied into a medieval tome so rare that Giles was certain he possessed the only remaining copy.
No sooner had Giles opened the spell, its power was revealed to devastating effect. The ornate glass lamp above their heads shattered and the fragments of glass multiplied as they burst in every direction. The shards hit Tara and Giles, piercing skin and drawing blood. Giles immediately blanched, the blood draining from his face and his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Tara could only watch in horror as something appearing to be draining the magicks...and the life, from his body in front of her eyes. She did not open her own mouth, the only words that were to be said were that of the incantation...and no interruptions or deviations were permitted. If anything should happen, they would both be destroyed...and no doubt the entire street along with them.
Tara could not understand what was happening to Giles. He possessed an immense power, she could sense it...and yet he was fading much too quickly. She found herself mouthing the words in time with his but at the same time she felt her own blood grow thin as an oppressive, evil force descended on the room. While not able to shrug it off completely, Tara absorbed some of the oily sensation, it matched the darkness already present in her own veins...she knew evil when she met it.
Before Giles's words ceased altogether Tara forced herself to concentrate enough to be able to force the incantation out from between her lips. Although it had always been Giles's role to take the lead, Tara knew every word by rote, having repeated the spell dozens of times in the event that Giles did falter. He faltered now; the words had long since died on his lips but Tara had already picked them up, her voice just as firm as his had been.
Tara felt as though her entire body was being pierced by thousands of shards of glass as she took Giles's burden. The pain that had engulfed him now threatened to engulf her as well.
Almost as soon as she started the incantation Tara heard angry, threatening voices in her head. They were guardians, demanding to know why one such as she would dare to disturb the peace of the dead. Tara ignored them and continued to invoke the forces that were already at work around her, dangerous, dark forces which would tear her apart in an instant should she let her guard down. With everything working against her, trying to prevent her from going against the very nature of the universe, Tara stood her ground. Where lesser and even greater magic wielders would have failed, Tara was succeeding because she believed in what it was she was doing.
Even as the words left her lips, she continually fought a separate battle in her mind, denying those who would deny her access to Willow's soul, She does not belong to you...she has always been mine and I will take her back!
In front of her, the swirling dust was slowly drawn together into a single floating mass. Tara watched as the tiny fragments gradually elongated, moving together to create recognisable shapes, an arm, fingers, the curve of a breast. As the moments passed by and the form began to become recognisable, Tara's jaw dropped. Forming into something resembling solidity in front of her eyes, was Willow. The form was naked and insubstantial, reflecting the fact that it really was made up of a myriad of dust particles. However, after all her years spent imprisoned, it was as close as Tara had come to seeing Willow again. The sight of her limp, lifeless shade was enough to bring burning tears to her eyes.
Tara forced herself to close her eyes on the sight in front of her as she focused every remaining ounce of strength she had to perform the last part of the spell. With Giles slumped unconscious on the floor opposite her, she had to do it alone. As Tara formed the words on her lips and the necessary images in her mind, summoning the departed soul of the dead woman back to life, she found everything flowing seamlessly, almost effortlessly. Although she was drained of much of her strength, it took very little for her to gain admittance to the soul. She reached out to the bright, intense light in her mind, pulling it forward. Very little coaxing was needed on her part; the soul came willingly, almost eagerly.
Too easy, Tara mused internally...but with very little additional thought, she knew why, I love her more than my own life...she is drawn to me as we were always meant to be one, two bodies, two halves of one soul...this isn't a resurrection...it's a reunification...
When Tara's eyes slid open once more, she had to keep her lids half closed lest she be blinded by the brilliant light that lit up the entire room. Even with her eyes half closed, she was clearly able to see the light settle into Willow's limp form, moulding itself gently to every curve, to every hair. Gradually the light was fused into the body and Tara was able to open her eyes fully.
The previously limp form twitched suddenly and the brilliant green eyes blinked once. Tara then realised that the form was aware...and she was staring directly at her. Only moments passed before a look of recognition settled on Willow's face, her mouth opened slightly in wonderment.
"Tara?" the voice was thin and barely audible, as though it was being carried across a great distance.
When Tara went to speak she found a lump in her throat. She instead settled for a weak smile and a nod that did not express a single iota of the emotions that were surging through her mind. The hazy form that represented Willow glanced around. The confusion registered clearly on her face as though she was wondering where she was.
"Tara," the tiny voice repeated, "Where am I?"
Tara coughed to clear her throat before she could reply; it came out like an awkward sob, "Somewhere safe, Will."
The tiny frown at Willow's brow deepened, "Everything is so foggy...what is happening to me? Why can I not remember anything? Tara, please help me..."
Tara could not help but choke out another sob upon hearing Willow's desperate plea, "I am helping you...trust me?"
A small smile played at the corners of Willow's mouth, relief flooded her worried features, "I do."
"Will..." Tara whispered, extending on hand towards the floating form, "I love you..."
The small words were lost to an awesome and sudden rush of air that whipped Tara's hair forward over face, partially obscuring her view of Willow's shade. For several moments she felt as though she was at the centre of a maelstrom, fighting to keep from being sucked into it. She watched as Willow's form reverted back to dust, the tiny particles swirling furiously in the air for a moment before disappearing altogether.
The vortex was gone just as suddenly as it had appeared and everything was still once more. Aside from the two windswept people in the centre of the room, absolutely nothing else had been disturbed. The glass shards or the damage they had caused were no where in sight. The lamp still hung intact above their heads, swaying slightly. Aside from the missing dust that had lain between Giles and Tara, it was as though the spell had never taken place...that and Giles's limp body.
Tara barely heard the door being forced open at speed but she did see the blurry form of Jeremiah rushing into the room. The young man had obviously remained just outside the door throughout the spell, waiting and listening. He fell to his knees at Giles's side, a sigh of relief escaping his lips when he saw the welcome rise and fall of his chest. Giles was merely unconscious.
Jeremiah looked up to Tara, "What happened?"
"It is done," Tara whispered, only in the calm did she realise that her entire body was covered in sweat. She felt it beading on her forehead, sliding down her neck and running in rivulets between her breasts.
She and Giles had done it. Somewhere, at some time, Willow Van Helsing would be born again.
It took some effort, but between Jeremiah's strength and Tara's magickal abilities, the two of them carried Giles's limp form up the stairs to his room. The unconscious warlock was bundled into his bed without so much as a whimper of protest. Both Jeremiah and Tara took up positions watching over him, Jeremiah in a chair beside the bed and Tara at the foot of the bed.
As she perched uncomfortably on the very edge of the mattress, feeling her shoulders sag with exhaustion, she finally acknowledged the fact that she was surprised to have outlasted Giles during the resurrection spell.
"There is something that I do not understand," Jeremiah commented quietly without turning to look at Tara, "Why do you not leave? You would be free. Giles is in no condition to stop you, and I am most certainly not even going to try."
"Leaving would not set me free," the vampire replied quietly, "I think that there is a reason it was Giles who found me...and despite his feelings towards me, I think he and I must work together to protect Willow."
"And Willow is...was...is..." Jeremiah screwed up his face for a moment before he relaxed and gave up trying, "Mr Van Helsing's sister, who was she? I know almost nothing about her and yet everything seems to revolve around her, she must have been terribly important."
Tara paused to draw in a deep breath, "Yes, she was...she is."
Tara studied the young man's expression. While she had little experience when it came to men, she knew enough to know that the earnest look in his dark eyes was intended for her. She also knew that she did not deserve such devotion and it made her distinctly uncomfortable, almost to the point of feeling physically ill. Although it was an event which had been very quickly overshadowed by what happened subsequently, she very clearly remembered killing Jeremiah's father. The longer she studied the young man sitting next to the bed, the more she realised that the similarities him and his father were almost uncanny. Seeing the dead man's eyes staring back at her overwhelmed her to the point where she was forced to wrench her gaze away abruptly.
"I-I am sorry Jeremiah...perhaps I am more drained that I first thought," Tara whispered, slowly rising to her feet, she gently brushed off Jeremiah's offer of an arm to support her and turned her head, "I would like to rest for a while."
"Of course," Jeremiah replied quickly, he could still see the shining tears on her cheeks and he turned his head to spare her the discomfort of staring at her pain, "I will watch over Giles and you are more than welcome to the guest room at the end of the hall...if that would be appropriate?"
Tara nodded, as she moved away from the bed she felt Jeremiah's gaze follow her. She stopped walking, paused for a moment staring straight ahead, before finally turning back around to look at Jeremiah again.
He smiled slightly as though he had been hoping for one more glimpse of her face, 'Was there something else you needed?"
Tara ducked her head for a few seconds, hair falling forward to hide the liquid pools that were her eyes. Coward, she thought with disgust, you should look at him when you tell him...see the expression on his face change to one of hate and loathing, after all, it is what you deserve. With some effort she managed to look at him again and she sighed sadly, already hurting to know that she was about to lose the one person that she could possibly call a friend.
"I killed your father," Tara admitted quietly.
The air hung thick and heavy in the small room as the two, Tara and Jeremiah, faced one another. Accepting her punishment calmly, Tara forced herself to meet Jeremiah's gaze, to watch the emotions that played out across his face.
At first he appeared to be struggling to grasp her words even though they had made perfect sense. "You what?" he asked dumbly.
Tara drew in a breath. The sensation of air filling her lungs was still something she had not yet become accustomed and each breath was somehow significant. It was also a painful reminder of the length of time she had been dead...and in many ways, she still was.
"Sixteen years ago I decided that I wanted the skull for myself, I confronted Abraham Van Helsing and your father and a fight ensued, your father fought bravely but he was young...and I was very strong. I plunged his own knife into his body. I would hope that the knowledge that it was overly relatively quickly would offer you a small measure of comfort, but I would understand if it did not."
The look of disbelief remained on Jeremiah's face long after Tara expected that it would change to one of anger and hate. His brow furrowed and his lips parted, the only outward sign of the myriad of thoughts that were obviously racing through his mind. As his legs gave out on him, he sank back into the chair beside the bed.
"You said you confronted Abraham Van Helsing as well..." Jeremiah paused as though trying to think through what he was saying, "Where was he when you were stabbing my father?"
Watching...waiting to seize the opportunity to ensnare me while I was occupied with the young man...he did absolutely to help, Tara clearly remembered the young man pleading with Abraham for assistance. The cries had no impact on her then...but now they pierced her beating heart with shards of pain. Tara had every right to hate Abraham Van Helsing and every motive to drag his name even further into the mud; however she could still not bring herself to forget the man that he had been and for this reason she omitted to tell Jeremiah the full truth of what happened that night. "I had already knocked Abraham to the ground, he was...he was unable to reach your father in time."
Jeremiah then sighed quietly, wistfully, as though in that brief moment he was once again imagining a life lived with his father. However, it was gone quickly. He was a young man who knew all too well that life could not be lived in dreams.
"Thank you for telling me," Jeremiah replied quietly, without a trace of anger or hate in his voice, "It cannot have been easy."
"You deserved to know," Tara replied simply, lifting her eyebrows slightly as Jeremiah failed to show the prescribed reaction. Whatever Abraham Van Helsing did or didn't do...it was I who plunged the knife into his gut.
Jeremiah then stood but Tara's first instincts, that he was going to strike her, were quickly dispelled when he extended his hand. She reached out and placed hers atop it. He then lifted it to his lips and pressed the tiniest of kisses to the back of her hand.
"I want you to know that I hold no grudges against you," Jeremiah said, intentionally keeping his voice firm to ensure Tara realised he was serious, "No matter what others may say, you are no longer that demon...you are Tara Maclay once more...and you are my friend."
"T-thank you," Tara whispered, sincerely touched by his kindness.
She excused herself before she could give into tears once more, even though this time the tears would not have been sorrowful, and made her way to the guest room down the hall. The appearance of the room was immaterial to Tara, she could see that it contained a bed and that was more than she needed. Although she had been feeling weary ever since the spell ended, it was only when she folded herself atop the bed that she realised just how absolutely drained of energy she was.
When she closed her eyes, images of the redhead who had dominated her entire life filled her mind. As she drifted off to sleep, she knew that Willow's face would be the only one in her dreams.
When Tara woke she found, with some measure of disappointment, that night still lingered outside. As exhausted as the resurrection spell had left her, her dreams made sleep impossible for more than a few hours at a time. She sat and lingered on the bed for a few moments as though contemplating staying before swinging her legs over the side of the bed and standing with an air of purpose. It was time to leave the comfort and safety of Giles's house and return to the night where she belonged.
Before she left, she paused at the threshold to the room where Giles lay recuperating. The door was ajar and the chair beside the bed empty. Jeremiah had obviously retired to his own bed after reassuring himself that Giles was not about to suddenly stop breathing. She did not quite know why she had brought herself into the presence of the man who despised her. After a few moments of staring at his sleeping form she realised that the sight of her would hardly be conducive a swift recovery for a weakened Giles. She was sure his tongue was still just as acidic while he was lying down.
Even as she went to turn around she saw his eyes open, he was staring directly at her. Neither vampire nor man spoke for a few moments. Tara could not think of anything to say to extricate herself from the situation in haste so she just stood up to his blank gaze.
When he finally did speak he surprised Tara with the tone and content of his words, "I know you saved my life during that spell...and I thank you for that."
Tara inclined her head slightly, still too taken aback to say anything in response to Giles's change of heart.
"I would also like to apologise for my treatment of you earlier..." Giles sat up slightly, propping himself up on his elbows, "You have suffered more than enough already. Do not mistake my apology for forgiveness however..."
"I do not expect you to forgive me," Tara was quick to interrupt, she moved forward and retrieved several pillows from the floor beside the bed, as Giles leant forward she tucked them gently behind his back, "But that will never stop me trying to atone for the crimes I committed while I was a demon. Giles, I wish to aid you and Jeremiah in your work."
"Why?" Giles asked quietly.
"I need an occupation," Tara admitted, "And it would seem to be the only thing I am qualified for...that and the fact that I would otherwise spend my days waiting...longing for Willow's return...and given that it could be a very long wait, it would be a wasted life."
"We have done our part, "Giles nodded, "The resurrection will be brought about when the time is right."
Tara nodded in agreement although it was an action which did not mirror her inward feelings. More than anything she wanted Willow to stroll back into the world immediately, as fully formed and beautiful as she had been that day at the Marlborough's picnic. It was a fool's dream, the world did not work in that manner...and the Willow that was reborn would not be the woman she had loved. Tara closed her eyes for just a second and brought her face into view, she inhaled deeply, as though she could smell her intoxicating fragrance.
When she opened her eyes once more she saw the look of pity on Giles's face and remembered the tragic creature that she was. When Willow was finally reborn, she would be reduced to the role of voyeur, forever looking in on a life which was not hers to be a part of. It would be a heartbreaking existence...but at least she would have the pleasure of the knowledge that Willow was alive once more.
"Tara..." Giles paused as though he could not quite believe he had addressed her by that name instead of 'demon' or 'it', "Any assistance I can provide...or Jeremiah for that matter, he worships you, you know."
Tara nodded slightly, "I thank you Giles...and Jeremiah also, but if I depend overly on your goodwill any chance I have of reintegrating myself into the demon community will be lost and my value to you and your work will be sorely diminished."
"Where will you go now?" Giles asked quietly, although he knew Tara was more than capable of protecting herself; he was beginning to feel some measure of responsibility towards her, as though she had suffered more than enough already.
Tara's soft expression changed and took on a razor sharp edge, when she spoke her voice was tinged with iron, "I believe my beloved husband would be overjoyed to see me after all these years."