One foot after the other, left, right, left, right...Willow kept her eyes on her neatly polished black shoes as she walked a path she had taken many times. She had to admit that the shoes were rather dapper, new of course...but new shoes had warranted being stared at constantly as she walked. The truth was that she found the thought of returning to work for the first time after Covasna difficult and sad. While she would be able to walk along the corridor to Giles's cluttered workroom and find it still full of his oddities and inventions, she would not find the man himself there. There would also be no more cold cups of tea splashed down the front of her suit when she was running late.
Willow was so pre-occupied staring at her new shoes that she walked straight into a flustered businessman in a bowler hat. His hat tumbled from his head into the mucky gutter and he had a few choice words to say to her that better suited a sailor on the docks than a man wearing a crisp suit. Willow apologised profusely but moved away quickly, as he was still brushing the mud from his hat. She kept her head up as she walked and as she rounded the corner up ahead she let out a sharp breath at the sight of the Museum up ahead, dominating the passers-by walking along Great Russell Street. Willow paused momentarily to straighten her new suit, a black pinstripe affair that cost more money than she was paid in a month. Still, the suit and the shoes were the only luxuries she had purchased for herself since she had discovered that she was rather well off in the form of a safe filled to capacity with gold sovereigns. Although she quite enjoyed the knowledge of having all that gold within reach, her sensible self had won out and she had deposited the money into her account at the Bank of England. The bank had been only too happy to accept her gold...and Faith helpfully reminded her that money would collect far more interest sitting in the bank that it ever would have sitting in her safe.
Despite her newfound wealth, at no stage had the thought of not returning to work crossed Willow's mind. The Museum had been her life for so long that she could not imagine leaving. Even so, returning after a relatively long absence, Willow felt as though it was her first day at work as she trotted up the main steps. For some reason she decided that she would make a discreet entrance through the main doors rather than the employee only doors. However, as she passed beneath the mighty columns and received a welcoming nod from the doorman, she realised that she was subconsciously reacquainting herself with the building. The air inside the lobby was as draughty and cool as it had ever been and when she took the employees door to one side to descend down the stairs she was greeted by the familiar musty smell of the back of house corridors. Willow breathed in deeply and felt somewhat refreshed and even a little chirpier. However, her mood soon turned sombre once again as she found two new portraits hanging in the portrait corridor, a short ways down from her brother, Abraham Van Helsing. Willow stopped to stare at the faces of Rupert Giles and Myles Cavendish. When she saw that each bore a prim brass plate with just their names she wrinkled her nose slightly at how impersonal it was. She made up her mind to speak to Lara about it as soon as possible. As she glanced back up to the portraits, she had to admit that the artist had done an admirable job. While both looked a little grander than they ever had in life, there was a wisdom about Giles and a mischievousness about Myles that reflected how they had been in life. Willow did make a mental note to leave a few instructions for the Museum when it came time for her to be immortalised in oils...if she were going to be doomed to hang in a corridor until someone decided to throw her portrait away, then she wanted to look her best.
Willow reached her own office but she did not enter or even look at her door, instead she continued down the hall towards Giles's workroom. The heavy brass plate had not changed, it still read Implements and Inventions but the ratty piece of paper that had previously been fixed above it was gone. She gently reached out and touched the space where the note scrawled with 'Dr Rupert Giles' had been.
Suddenly she heard the rap of metal on metal sounding out from within the workshop. At first her heart skipped a few beats but then she began to feel as overwhelming sense of hope...perhaps it wasn't too much to hope that a centuries old warlock knew how to cheat death. With his name and a smile on her lips, Willow pushed forward into the workroom.
"Giles?" she called once she was in the room.
The rap of metal upon metal ran out for several more seconds before it stopped. At the far end of the room a figure shrouded in shadows stood and moved towards her with purposeful strides. Willow almost immediately knew that whoever it was, it wasn't Giles. He was too short and broad to be the warlock. She instinctively found herself shrinking back towards the door a few steps but as he stepped into the light and his face was revealed her apprehension disappeared to be replaced by anger.
"Alexander Harris?" Willow snapped in disbelief.
"Nice to see you again too, Miss Rosenberg," Alex Harris grinned, he pushed back the goggles he wore and twirled the hammer he held about in one hand.
Willow spluttered, speechless for a moment even as he stood opposite her and continued to grin with his ridiculous smile. Not only was he carrying one of Giles's hammers, he wore his leather apron and his safety goggles.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" she demanded, having absolutely no time for pleasantries.
Alex didn't seem taken aback in the least by her rudeness, "This here's my new job, Miss Croft hired me last week."
"What?" it took Willow a while to realise what he had just said and all she could do was stand there stupidly.
"My new job," Alex repeated, "You know, fixin' up your weapons and making new ones...I've got this splendid idea for something new and improved..." he crossed to the table beside him and lifted an exceptionally large hand gun and the large bullet that obviously matched. "I dunno why you guys are bothering with crossbows when you could just use silver bullets in this here pistol...a darn sight better I would imagine!"
"Well, you just stay here and play with your pistol, Mr Harris," Willow said as she turned to leave, And I'm going to make sure I ask Croft what the bloody hell she was thinking!
"Nice meeting you again!" Alex called after her, "Say, anytime you wanna show me around the museum...all the nooks and crannies, the little dark spaces where we could get lost..."
"I would love it if I did lose you," Willow muttered under her breath as she shut the door behind her and retreated towards the safety of her own office, still slightly queasy at the thought of Giles's workroom being violated by such a lout.
Drawing in a small breath, Willow paused by the door to her office. Someone had repainted her name which she remembered as being rather small and dull. It now very aptly read Willow Van Rosenberg and whoever it was had even seen fit to add a small subtitle, Senior Curator of Oddities. Willow frowned, she did not remember being a 'senior' anything when she had last been at work and she couldn't help but wonder if it was a promotion of sorts. That would be ironic, all those years of slaving away for a pittance and I get a promotion when I don't really need the money any longer.
Willow allowed herself a small smile, now all she needed was the prefix of Dr. sitting in front of her name. There was just the matter of finding the time to write her PhD thesis...and there was also the small matter of finding a topic to write about. She had so many ideas that pinning it all down to one seemed impossible.
After spending a few moments imaging that there was a 'Dr' in front of her name, Senior Curator Willow Van Rosenberg opened the door to her office. She was immediately greeted by the same array of smells that she had encountered when entering the employee corridors, although it was more pronounced. Willow was able to pick out the smell of old books, mingled with ancient artefacts and her musty old rag rug sitting on the floor. Everything was exactly as it had been when she left work, there was even a dirty tea cup sitting amidst the papers on her desk. She moved around behind the desk and drew her chair out. As she sat down she had the distinct feeling that she had never left her office.
"It's about time you came back to work."
Willow jerked her head up at the sound of the familiar, melodious voice and she instantly found herself with a broad smile on her face. Lara Croft stood in front of her, leaning casually against the doorframe with her arms folded across her chest. Although she had seen the Director of the British Museum many times since Covasna, her presence in this environment was enough to cheer her considerably. She even momentarily forgot about demanding why the hell Alexander Harris was working at the museum.
Lara returned the smile. "I was about to re-advertise your position."
Willow's eyes immediately widened, "You wouldn't dare!"
"I know, I realised that I would never be able to find someone half as talented as you that would work for so little money...so the job is still yours," Lara reassured her.
"What about my new title?" Willow pointed towards the smartly painted lettering on her door. "It doesn't come with a pay rise?"
Lara gave the door a brief glance but it was obvious she had already seen it, "Well not really...the Museum cannot afford to offer you much more than a token pay rise...and I thought that since..."
"You thought that since I came into a lot of money that I wouldn't need one," Willow finished, pretending to be exceptionally disappointed. She brightened a few seconds later. "You're right, the title is enough...and the money you're saving will be well spent I'm sure."
"Yes, I'm thinking of taking a trip to the Antipodean colonies later this year," Lara winked.
Far from being jealous, Willow immediately winced at the thought of such a lengthy sea journey. As far as she was concerned, someone else could accompany the Director on that particular trip...if she was actually going at all and the suggestion had not merely been to rile her about the lack of a pay rise.
"All quips aside, do you think you're ready to be back here?" Lara asked in a serious tone that meant she was well and truly finished with her jokes. "Because if you'd rather spend more time at home with Tara then I can..."
Willow interrupted her employer with a sudden, sharp shake of her head and an almost brusque reply, "No, I want to get back to work. I'll go crazy if I have to spend any more time alone and idle."
"You've hardly been alone and idle, Will," Lara replied slowly, trying to understand why Willow would even make such a comment. "I thought you'd have your hands full with..."
"I just want to come back to work!" Willow interrupted her again, this time her voice was sharp and insistent. She bit her lip shortly after her outburst to keep herself under control.
Lara couldn't hide her surprise at Willow's abrupt reaction; she stared for a moment before agreeing with a small nod, "Okay, we can start you off slowly..."
"I was thinking I would interpret Giles's Covasna spell, I know it's over but I have to understand what he did," Willow announced, her voice returning to a much calmer tone as Lara's line of questioning focused on something other than Tara. The spell had been weighing heavily on her mind for the past months and she was eager to unpick what Giles had done. She knew that the knowledge wouldn't change what had happened, but it would give her a sense of closure.
Lara glanced down at the leather folder that had been tucked under her arm; she seemed a little reluctant but eventually placed it atop the mess on Willow's desk. Willow undid the leather tie holding the folder closed and opened it to reveal a stack of papers covered in meticulous notes tucked into one side of the folder and on the other was a single sheet of paper. Unlike the notes which she knew were in Lara's hand, the single sheet was covered in a mass of scribbles and closely packed writing, corrections and amendments had been made and squeezed into every available space on the sheet. Willow did not need to be told what it was; she had watched Giles scribble on the paper many times on the way to Covasna. It was the spell.
"I thought you might say that," Lara said, not waiting for Willow to look back up at her, "So I've done some research of my own, probably not as thoroughly as you would have done it of course...but I think it's all quite clear."
Willow scanned Lara's notes and then the spell in an effort to digest everything at once. The original spell was plainly obvious, written out in a relatively neat hand at the centre of the sheet before they had discovered that the skull resided inside Willow. It would have been all so simple, find the skull and destroy it...however, the hasty additions made in the days leading up to Covasna were designed to first remove the skull from Willow's body and then destroy it. Willow frowned as she passed back and forth between the spell and the notes. She finally glanced back up at Lara.
"He did it on purpose," Willow whispered in a numb voice. "At the same time as he stripped the skull from my body...he stripped the demon from Tara's and then used the destruction spell to destroy both evils." She could not believe that Giles had not informed her of his intentions...even though she knew that if he had, both she and Tara would have tried to stop him, preferring to die rather than have him sacrifice himself. "Surely he must have known that such an undertaking would kill him?"
"This is Giles we're talking about," Lara replied sadly. "Of course he knew what he was doing."
Willow lowered her gaze, "Yes...of course."
Following Willow's words, a silence descended between them but it was not uncomfortable. Both women were remembering the centuries old warlock who had come to mean so much to them. For Willow, Giles had been so much more of a father to her than Ira Rosenberg had ever been. She eventually resumed scanning through Lara's notes, but only after scrubbing discreetly at both her eyes when they stun with inevitable tears. She managed to banish them away and hide behind a calm, business-like fašade.
"Did you..." Willow swallowed awkwardly before she brought up the one person that she was still uncomfortable talking about. "Did you find anything to suggest why Tara's memory was wiped?"
"Yes and no," Lara began. "I could find no trace of intent to cause such a state in Giles's spell, and indeed it would have been a concern weighing on his mind at the time of composing the spell if he had known of it. I think it seems to have been a side-effect of removing the demon from her body."
"So the demon went...and took with it all her memories since her death?" Willow frowned even as she said it, struggling to make sense of such an explanation. "But would the restoration of her soul not have a countering effect?"
Lara shrugged, "Perhaps it does and Tara still retains her memories from the point at which she was ensouled?"
Willow shook her head slowly, "Unlikely, she can recall nothing from her time as a vampire...I doubt whether her memories would be that severely repressed." I hope to god that they aren't, Willow thought, remembering just how awful it was to experience nightmares and visions of memories without knowing what they were...still, the alternative was never knowing and she did not know what was worse.
"How is Tara, Willow?" Lara asked quietly, interrupting Willow's thoughts. "I just feel so strange discussing the mechanics of all of this when the two people concerned are my friends...I can see how you are only just managing to hold everything together and I wonder how difficult it must be for her."
At the first mention of Tara in a context other than the clinical discussion of the spell, Willow couldn't keep the hopeful expression from creeping onto her face, especially when she recalled the encouraging end to the conversation the previous evening. However, they were just a few words in the face of months of uncomfortable silence. This hope all too quickly faded to despair, especially at Lara's assessment of her own state of mind. Her first thought was to deny it outright and state that she was just fine...but she knew just how right Lara was. The bout yesterday with Faith had brought out some uncharacteristic and unpleasant traits and she was surprised her best friend had not seen fit to dress her down even more thoroughly. Her preoccupation with Tara was ruling her life.
"Do I really come across like that?" Willow asked quietly.
"Yes, you do," Lara confirmed honestly. "Which is why I asked whether you were ready to be back at work...and then you snapped as soon as I mentioned Tara."
"I am truly sorry, Lara," Willow sighed, feeling guilty that she had snapped at one of her dearest friends. "Things are just the same as they were last week when you visited Gordon Square, she refuses to leave her room or open up to me...although I did have a somewhat encouraging conversation with her last night," Willow glanced up at Lara, wondering if she should share what she regarded as a private moment between the two of them. "She admitted that she needed to be close to me...that is a good thing right?"
Lara smiled encouragingly at Willow's once again hopeful expression, "It can't be anything but a good thing, Willow."
Willow could not return the smile, "She is undoubtedly the love of my life, but I've spent most of my life..." Willow paused and thought for a moment before correcting herself, "...my lives, apart from her. However now that she's as close to me as she's ever been...I feel so distant from her. I miss her, Lara, I just need her so much. Is it so very wrong of me to not be happy with just the mere fact that she is alive and safe but to want more of her? Is it wrong of me to want her at all?"
Lara finally moved from her position leaning against the doorframe. She folded herself elegantly into the chair in front of Willow's desk. Once seated, she reached out both hands across the expanse of papers and books that separated them and took Willow's hands in her own.
"I spent so many years watching and wanting Faith from afar...and all along she had wanted me just as much. I once thought it strange that two strong, confident women could not express their feelings for one another and I lamented the time lost that we could have spent together...but I can to realise that love is terribly complicated and although we want things to move quickly, everything happens according to its own plan. I know you don't want to hear me tell you to have patience..."
"I do not," Willow replied quietly, but he had to admit that Lara spoke nothing short of the truth.
"Well, sometimes love needs a helping hand...and I know it is not my place to intrude...in the least," Lara began. "But if you would like, I can speak to Tara."
"She has spoken to no one save me...and perhaps a few mundane words to Faith, I hesitate to think what you could possibly say?" Willow asked in a cautious voice
Lara shrugged slightly, "I don't think the content matters so much as simply having someone new to talk to."
Willow finally nodded tentatively, giving her agreement even though it was not really hers to give. Regardless of her mental state, Tara was still very much her own person and she had no right speak for her. Still, the old Tara knew Lara well; perhaps a part of her would be able to sense that she had a good friend in the Museum Director.
As Lara stood to leave, Willow remembered the other pressing matter that she had wanted to speak to the Director about, the intruder she had found in Giles's workshop. Alexander Harris. Just the thought of the man who had plied her with alcohol during her first field trip was enough to rouse her anger. If Myles had not been present, she hated to think where the situation would have ended up. Alex's intentions had not only been misguided...they had almost been sinister.
"Lara, I hope you don't mind me being frank...but have you misplaced your good sense since we returned from Covasna?" Willow asked, not caring if she sounded insubordinate.
Lara lifted her eyebrows in surprise, "I should think not." She did not go as far as to scold Willow for her poor manners.
"Then why the bloody hell did you hire that irresponsible, womanising lout?" Willow demanded, "He is defiling Giles's workroom as we speak!"
"Mr Harris?" Lara then merely shrugged, "The position was vacant...good weapon makers are actually quite hard to find, you'd be surprised just how many balk when they are told the purpose for the weapons that they make. Somehow most are under the impression that vampires and demons don't exist."
"That's all very well...but I think you could have been a little stricter with your standards!" Willow pointed out.
"Leave him be, Willow," Lara warned as she moved towards the door, "You may find in time that Mr Harris can be a valuable asset...and he is more than eager to make up for his failings when you were wounded at Covasna."
"Thanks for reminding me," for Willow it was another reason to distrust Alex, he had been off chasing horses when Angelus had shown up. A physical confrontation with the powerful vampire had eventually led to her ending up skewered on a piece of rusty metal.
"He is under the strictest orders to be on his best behaviour...any black mark and his time with the Museum will be swiftly terminated," Lara explained.
"But..." Willow began.
Lara silenced her with a steady look that Willow knew meant the conversation was over. She then left Willow sitting in her office with plenty of time to let both her anger over Alex and her sorrow over Tara create a rather unpleasant sensation in her gut. With a sigh she wondered if it had been a mistake to return to work as clearly she was not capable of dealing with anything.
While she was fervently grateful that Lara would speak to Tara, she worried that it meant she was incapable of helping her herself. A failure to help the one she loved was not something Willow wanted to admit.
Willow sighed as she closed the leather folder that still sat in front of her. She no longer wanted to spend the rest of her day analysing the spell. What she wanted was to spend the rest of the day in Tara's arms...and every hour of every day for the rest of her life. Such a simple thing was currently an impossibility...it was uncomfortable even to imagine sitting in silence with Tara, the gulf between them was such that she felt as though she no longer knew the blonde. It was a terrifying thing to admit...it frightened her because she knew she could not live the rest of her life without truly knowing Tara. Willow fished around on her desk and located her research on Fiores demons, an innocuous topic that she knew she could concentrate on without dredging up uncomfortable thoughts.
Several sheets of paper and a few illustrations later, Willow had almost succeeded in achieving a busy state of mind that was focused on something other than Tara...almost.