DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the slayerettes belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Heart of Isis
Part One: Something Wiggy This Way Comes
"Dammit, watch where you put your feet. You almost took my head off!"
"Oh, do shut up Alex. Just stay close and I'll protect you."
"Gee, could you be a little more condescending, Lara?" Alex West brushed another cobweb off his shoulder and glared at his partner's back. He thought he heard her chuckle yet again, and swore she was tripping booby traps on purpose. "Where did you hear about this place again?"
"Professor Gray was lecturing on Carnac a few weeks ago," Lara Croft explained, her eyes scanning the floor in front of her for any more security measures, "I've always suspected there was more to this place than meets the eye, but his lecture solidified it."
"Looked a lot bigger on the outside?" Alex knew that Daniel Gray was an old friend of Lara's father, and she never missed one of his lectures.
"Something like that," she muttered, stepping around another trap. A devilish grin and she tripped it with her toe, listening as the arrows whisked by behind her and a girlish squeal soon followed.
"Sorry." She chuckled softly, turning around to make sure he was all right.
"You know " Alex never got to finish the scathing remark he intended; a muffled crash echoing through the passage, "What the hell?" Another crash made them both jump and Lara's guns came out just before she darted down the passage and around a corner, out of Alex's sight. "What I wouldn't give to actually get in and out BEFORE the guys with guns show up."
Alex tore off down the passage, rounding the same corner, but coming up short just before running right into his absent partner. He tried to get close enough to see around the corner that she was tucked behind, but Lara held up a hand. Having already holstered her guns, she leaned back and regarded him with a slightly amused expression.
"Tell me, Alex," she remarked quietly, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against the wall, "How many pints did you have at the pub the other night?"
"Oh no, don't you pin this on me," he shook a finger in her face, "I didn't say a word about this."
A puff of breath blew at the tendrils of hair that had fallen into her eyes, and one elegantly sculpted eyebrow arched in his direction. "Hmm."
"Don't give me that look, Lara," he muttered, scowling, "They're not friends of mine."
"Well then," she smiled devilishly, "Let's go introduce ourselves shall we?" In a heartbeat, she slipped around the corner and into full view of the two shabbily dressed men, rummaging diligently through the debris of the Horus statue they had knocked over.
Mentally, Lara considered the environment, should a fight come about, and counted her blessings that she had entered a relatively large chamber, very well lit by several torches. It appeared to have the set up of a place of ritual worship, with heavy stone columns supporting the ceiling, and carefully chiseled statues of the Egyptian Gods surrounding the raised altar. At least there's room to move, she thought.
"Shit," Alex grumbled, blowing out a sharp breath and stepping out beside Lara, "Here we go."
"Gentlemen!" Lara called, her tone deceptively polite, "Looking for something?" She rested her hands on her hips and smiled. "Perhaps we can help?"
Alex flinched when the two men spun around, so fast was the movement that he almost didn't see it. His focus shifted immediately to their hands, and nearly sighed in relief when he saw that they were unarmed. It was fleeting, however, when his eyes tracked up and took in their faces. "What the ?" Both men had ridged foreheads that flowed right down to rather flattened noses, making them seem like they were snarling, and brightly glowing eyes that virtually reflected the torchlight around them.
"Bugger!" Lara hissed, eyes going wide. The two men snarled just then, exposing elongated teeth, their twin roars bouncing off the granite walls and echoing loudly. In an instant, her guns were out and firing rapidly into the two advancing men, though she knew it was pointless. "Alex! Move!"
"Lara!" he gaped at the men still advancing, oblivious to the holes ripping into them, "What the hell are they!" He was frozen in place until Lara's foot kicked his ass into action, while she punched two fresh magazines into her pistols from the speed-loader at her waist.
"Vampires!" she barked, flipping over a toppled statue in the other direction. Upright once again, Lara gritted her teeth and began firing again at the demon closest to her, noting grimly that they were splitting up too.
Alex ran behind the columns, slipping on the sand as he tried to stop near a wall torch, and nearly losing his footing. "Are you kidding?!" A quick yank and the flaming rod was in his grip, swinging wildly to keep the snarling man from getting too close.
Hands becoming sweaty, Lara bellowed wordlessly and concentrated her fire on his legs, noting with a savage smile that he was slowing down. Both pistols locked open as she spent the last of her ammunition, but not before the blonde vampire had crashed into the sand floor, his ruined legs no longer able to support him. "Am I laughing, Alex?"
"Augh!" Alex kept backing away, giving ground and holding the torch forward to keep the vampire at bay. "A little help here, Lara!" He was beginning to panic.
More gunfire erupted in the chamber, and two more clips were exhausted as the remaining vampire was brought down. Unable to run for their prey, the vampires snarled in rage, as Alex and Lara moved to the farthest corner, where the statue of Horus lay destroyed. "Well that was more than I signed on for," Alex commented, puffing from the workout and adrenaline. He watched Lara holster her pistols and blinked. She wasn't even sweating. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Not a clue," Lara said calmly, eyeing the broken statue and bending down to pick at the rubble. She came up in mere moments, holding a folded parchment, brittle and weathered with age. "But I'm going to find out." A quick look at their vampire attackers, still trying to pull their legs back together, and she pulled Alex toward the exit, by way of the far side of the chamber.
"I'm all for that," he groused, dusting himself off when they stopped at the entrance of the chamber once again.
"By the way, Alex," Lara commented, taking a block of C4 out of her pack and setting the timer, before tossing it over her shoulder. She grabbed him by the shirt collar and tugged him down the corridor just before the detonation blasted rubble down around them from the collapsed door. "You scream like a girl."
(time zones confuse me)
"I'm just saying, it would be nice if just once, I could get some warning when another big bad is coming to town," Buffy groused, pacing back and forth in front of the heavy oak table.
"Hey, we can ask them to post it in the Slayers 'R' Us weekly newsletter," Xander offered with a strange look. He didn't really understand why she was so upset from her latest run in with the forces of darkness, and he conveyed that to Willow and Tara across the table with a confused look.
Willow cringed silently and tugged on the collar of her own shirt, pointing to Buffy. She and Tara had been walking home from the library when they bumped into the slayer the night before, and had already heard all about the three-inch tear in her brand new, and very expensive jacket.
"Is it too much to ask that they have a little consideration?" Buffy ranted on, unaware of the hand signals her friends were doing, "Just a quick call, 'hi, we'll be taking over the world next week, thought you should know.'"
"Yes, I'm sure that wouldn't cause any inconvenience for them," Giles offered primly, taking off his glasses and cleaning them carefully, "The demons of the world probably feel terrible about the tax this entire balance of power has been on your wardrobe."
"So not helping," Buffy thanked him sarcastically, flopping down in her own chair finally and adopting a full-fledged pout.
"M-maybe you could w-wear something less expensive on patrol?" Tara offered shyly, before offering a crooked smile and dropping her head down again, her blush almost hidden in her long blonde hair.
Buffy smiled a bit at that, directed at Willow, because Tara's shyness wouldn't let her look up to see it. The quiet girl's words seemed to do the job though, and the Slayer snapped out of her pity-my-wardrobe phase. She needed to rant about the destruction of yet another of her favorite articles of clothing, and probably would to Riley later, but she didn't want the entire Scooby meeting to be about her fashion crisis.
She watched the two girls across from her with a gentle gaze, still amazed at the dynamics of their budding relationship. Willow had been her best friend for nearly four years, and she had never even considered the scene in front of her.
Truth be told, she still got a little wigged when she thought about the conversation when Willow had come out to her, but one look at the adoring treatment the two girls gave each other when they thought no one was looking usually overrode it quickly. It helped that she genuinely liked Tara. She was incredibly shy and introverted, but she did anything Willow asked her to. Even subjected herself to Anya's crass conversational skills, and Xander's drooling gaze.
Willow's own behavior was nothing short of adorable. After Tara had offered up the statement without being asked a question, the redhead smiled proudly and laid a gentle touch on her leg. Buffy was amazed at how tender the contact was between them, and even after seeing it only once, vowed silently that she would see to it that the shy girl felt welcome.
"So, other than Buffy's victimized wardrobe," Giles continued, focusing the group once more, "Any other end of the world events we should know about?"
Xander held up a finger. "Shouldn't we be asking you that, Watcher-type-person?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood a bit, "Keeper of all things knowledge-y and dusty." He looked confused again, but that wasn't really odd for Xander.
"Slayage has been down," Buffy shrugged, knowing that in itself didn't mean anything important. But in the history of her time as Slayer, she had come to expect lots of badness when the demons went into hiding.
Have you had any indication of " Whatever Giles was going to say was cut off by the ringing of his phone. "Excuse me." He picked up the phone, turning his back to the quiet debating that had started up.
"Bad Slayer-vibes there, Buff?" Willow asked, wondering if they should start hitting the books. Normally she would love an evening of quiet companionship with her friends and a lot of researchy volumes, but she was looking forward to some time alone with Tara. Since meeting the blonde wiccan, she had found her interests shifting from the reading, to the experiencing.
"Enh," Buffy flipped a hand in the air noncommittally, "Nothing vibe-like yet Will, just minor hinkies. Not even registering on the wiggins scale yet."
"What?!" Giles shout drew the attention of everyone in the room, their heads snapping around at the Watcher's uncharacteristic exclamation. "Are you sure you're all right, Lara?"
Buffy looked to her friends and shrugged, then turned her attention back to Giles' phone conversation. Uh, oh, she thought with a frown, he's going for the books. That's never a good thing.
Before she could even finish the thought, however, the former watcher stopped in his tracks and began shifting through his mail instead. "Yes, I believe I saw something in the post the other day," he was saying, the phone perched on his shoulder, "I see. Shall I pick you up then?" He seemed genuinely disturbed as he opened a museum brochure.
Buffy looked around at her friends and shrugged to their questioning looks, not sure what to make of the conversation she was only getting one part of. All she could tell, was that it was major badness, and more than likely it was gonna land in her lap. This was Sunnydale, she was the Slayer; that's how it worked.
"Well, yes," Giles finally continued, "We'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Bye, then." With that, the former watcher placed the phone back on its cradle and tossed the brochure down, a deeply thoughtful frown on his face. Several moments passed in silence before the group could stand silence no longer.
"What's with the scowly face, there, oh keeper of the dust?" Xander quipped, leaning back in his chair, "Some new extra-evil brewing?" It usually was, but at least Xander knew he'd be right once today.
To everyone's shock, Giles didn't respond. The former watcher took off his glasses and placed them on top of the museum pamphlet he had been looking through while on the phone. "Willow," he said after a long moment of rubbing his forehead, "Can you get on the computer and find out everything you can about the Heart of Isis?"
"Sure," Willow nodded, more worried than ever at Giles' behavior. She squeezed Tara's hand for support, before getting up from the sofa and heading to the door, where she'd left her laptop case.
"Giles?" Buffy's single word question, as usual, spoke volumes but she specified anyway, "Heart of Isis?" Everyone followed her gaze, but the former watcher was lost in his own thoughts, shifting stacks of books around, searching for something.
"I-it's a diamond, Tara piped up, emboldened by Willow's return, "W-w-we were going to see it tomorrow." Willow leaned against Tara happily, waiting for her computer to finish booting. The blonde's arm curled around her girlfriend's waist, and unconscious gesture that spoke of their connection.
"Ah, yes," Giles finally spoke, returning to the group, book in hand.
"It lives," Xander cracked with a straight face, pulling Anya down on his lap for what appeared to be Watcher-story-time.
"Let's just hope it speaks," Buffy groused, crossing her arms, "Well?" This to her former watcher who was flipping pages carefully.
"Yes," he responded, putting his glasses back on and reading a bit to get the facts right. That was when Buffy noticed his hands were shaking. Whatever annoyance she felt, melted into worry. Nervous-Watcher was normal, being a common occurrence with her stunts, but this was terror-filled-Watcher, and a completely new sight for the Slayer to behold.
"That was an old friend of mine," Giles gestured to the phone absently, "From England. Seems she ran into something on one of her archeological excavations, and believes it's headed this way." He turned another page, and his eyes went wide. Slamming the book closed, the former watcher slumped into the nearest chair and took his glasses off again, this time pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Okay, first," Buffy held up a finger, "Who is this friend? 'Cuz Ethan Rayne was an 'old friend'." The Slayer made quotation marks in the air. "And, second," she continued putting her hands on her hips, "What is this 'something', and how do I kick it's ass?"
Willow looked up from her computer at Buffy's posturing and then smiled at Tara. It was that 'Buffy's-got-a-mad-on-for-all-creatures-of-the-night' quirky grin. Willow did love to watch the Slayer work and her smile was a reassurance to Tara, who was still a little new to this whole demon slaying gig.
The blonde still tensed and worried whenever anything bad went down, but Willow's efforts were helping. They spoke to Tara of what her friends had seen, and when it should just be considered a minor annoyance.
"The friend," Giles said carefully, interrupting the two wiccans meaningful looks at each other as they returned to the situation at hand, "Is Lady Lara Croft, of Devonshire." He stressed the word 'Lady' and began cleaning his glasses.
"Giles can lift his nose in the air with the grand high muckity-mucks?" Xander commented, with a weak thumbs-up, "Way to brown-nose." As with most of his comments, this too got either ignored or in Giles' case, garnered him a rather frosty glare.
"She sounds as old as Giles' books," Anya muttered, shifting on Xander's lap, oblivious to the dirty look the former watcher was sending.
"As for the second," Giles continued, putting his glasses back on, "Have a look." He tossed the museum advertisement across the coffee table at her, and sat back watching her intently.
"Famous Jewels of the Nile," Buffy read from the cover, then, flipped it open, "The Heart of Isis. Oh, how cool! It's pink!" The Slayer smiled, marveling at the size and beauty of the stone.
"What?" Anya sat ramrod stiff on Xander's lap, "Pink? A pink diamond?" She hadn't really been paying attention, but at mention of the odd color of the stone, she was suddenly very interested.
Willow looked up from her computer at the sudden outburst, momentarily forgetting about her web search. Her now idle hands, immediately reached out to touch Tara, folding around the blonde's slightly cooler digits.
Tara hummed her happiness at the contact, so softly that only Willow could hear it and smiled at her lover. The redhead leaned against Tara with a contented sigh and the two women settled in for Anya's tirade.
"No sweetie, I won't be buying it for you," Xander said, trying to anticipate his girlfriend's wants. It was more of a joke on his part, but Anya's asking was always serious.
"I don't want that thing near me!" Anya snapped, smacking him hard on the arm and standing to move away, "I don't even want to be in the same town."
Willow blinked at Anya, dumbfounded, as did the rest of the group. The ex-demon's behavior was not only uncharacteristically worried, but bordered on panic. She felt Tara tense beside her and squeezed her hand reassuringly, though she was beginning to get the wiggins herself.
"Do calm down, Anya," Giles sighed, taking the brochure from Buffy, "The bloodstone isn't dangerous unless it falls into the wrong hands."
"The what-now?" Buffy interjected with a confused look. She glanced over at Willow and Tara with a strange expression, silently asking if they knew what was going on. Both witches shrugged in perfect harmony, their eyes wide. Buffy did a double take at their synchronized movements, then turned back to the brewing argument with a shudder. God, it creeps me out when they do that, she thought.
"Hey!" Buffy said out loud, moving between the watcher and ex-demon, who were both busy glaring at each other, "Wanna share the 411 with the rest of us before you begin practicing for the WWF?!" Giles seems to focus at that, and backed away from Anya before his temper could get the best of him. Straightening his glasses, the former watcher turned to address them as a whole.
"The Heart of Isis," he began, "Is said to have been worn by Isis when she traveled the Nile in ancient Egypt, gathering her husband's body parts. Osiris was killed and, ahem, dismembered by his brother. Supposedly it was soaked in his blood and glowed pink when she was near a piece of his body.
"When she had found all the parts she put him back together with bandages, and Osiris was brought back to life eternal by her love, and risen to Godhood It's one of the better-known legends of the Egyptian Gods. But it's based in fact, at least parts of it.
Osiris was in fact, the demon Lord Osir. He was killed by the Slayer of the time, but not before his magic infused the gemstone with his life-force. Naturally his minions resurrected him with this 'Bloodstone', and he killed the Slayer and most of the Watchers.
"Unfortunately, not all of his essence left the stone; hence the pink color. It's one of only a handful of pink diamonds in the world. All of which have an essence trapped in them, though that's not common knowledge." Giles wrapped up his explanation with a few obvious thoughts. "Someone wants the power of Osir," he looked at Buffy with a worried frown, "That can't be allowed to happen."
"Okay, so we do some stakeout at the museum until the exhibit moves on," the Slayer said with a shrug, "No big."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," Giles sighed, wondering again why Buffy always looked for the easiest way out.
"It never is," the Slayer sighed, rolling her eyes, "Lemme guess." She held up a hand. "We have to find a way of ridding the diamond of Oscar the Grouch's essence and all will be well in the world?"
"It's Osir," Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, "And, yes, that's essentially what I was getting at."
"Ah, I smell research," Xander rubbed his hands together, "Which goes very well with the smell of mocha's and Krispy Kremes." He waggled his eyebrows at Giles and held his hand out. It was long established that if the watcher wanted to keep them cooped up with dust mites, it was only fair that he pay for snacks.
Giles gave him a twenty, only after making him promise to take Anya with him, and the real work began. "Willow," he said, "Any luck?"
"Enh," the redhead shrugged, looking over at where Tara was browsing through the bookshelves. She had gotten up to find something on ancient Egyptian mythology. "All I can find is its discovery site, at Carnac in 1841, by a private collector. It changed hands a few times, and finally ended up at the British Museum on permanent loan."
"Well it fits at least," Giles commented while absently taking the fashion magazine out of Buffy's hands and replacing it with a rather dusty tome, "Lara said that's where she was when she found the parchment she's bringing."
"Um, Giles," Buffy set the book down, trying not to sneeze, "About that, Lady Croft character. Knowing what I know about the people in your life, am I going to have to pull her bacon outta the fire, or roast her in it?"
Giles raised an eyebrow, but knew who she was talking about. Ethan Rayne was constantly causing trouble in her life, and poor Wesley had been a bit of a girl. "You needn't worry, Buffy," the former watcher assured her, a slight smile on his face, "She's very trustworthy."
"Bonus," the Slayer nodded, heading for the door while she pulled on her jacket, "Slayer time. Just make her a pot of tea and settle her brittle bones in with your library of all things boring and I'm sure she'll be very happy." Buffy waved to Willow and Tara and left before her former watcher could protest.
Giles shook his head and sighed quietly. "Some days I wonder what I'm being punished for," he muttered at the girls, making them both smile, "However, strangely enough, when I see the opportunity to leave Buffy completely gob-smacked, I just can't seem to resist."
"Giles?" Willow looked at him like he'd lost his mind. The man had a truly amused grin on his face as he flipped through a small photo album on his desk.
"Ah," he smiled, handing the open book to the confused girls, "That is Lady Croft." He entered the kitchen, chuckling softly.
Willow and Tara gaped at the photo, completely speechless, as they stared at a woman who looked like Wonder Woman gone commando. She was captured in still with a huge grin on her face, tendrils of dark hair falling out of the braid that was casually flipped over one shoulder. Her skin glistened like she had just run a marathon and the silver pistol in her right hand was locked open, all its cartridges spent.
They were still staring at the photo, open mouthed, when Giles returned with his tea. "I do hope Buffy doesn't chew too hard on her foot," he remarked casually, sitting down in his favorite chair and winking at the girls conspiratorially.
Willow and Tara just looked at each other in shock for a long moment before the possibilities began floating through their heads. Tara was first to crack, a soft giggle forming her full lips into a grin. Willow couldn't help but join in, and before either of them knew it, they were holding each other up as they howled with laughter. Giles merely sipped at his tea, quietly flipping pages in his Anthology of Demon Rites. He looked up only when the girls began to wind down and the door opened.
"All hail the bringer of mochas," Xander called, brandishing the paper tray from Espresso Pump, "I even got more tea with your change Giles, just so Her Noble-ness doesn't drink you out of house and home." He smiled triumphantly, believing he had done good. The only thing he couldn't figure out, by the confused look on his face, was why Giles was smirking, and why Willow and Tara had just burst into gales of laughter.
Part Two: A Slayer, A Tomb Raider, and a Watcher Walk Into A Bar...
The Scooby meeting had lasted well into the evening, with little else accomplished. Despite the consumption of much caffeine and sugar, and the pile of books that had been perused as a result, they were no closer to figuring out who would want the Bloodstone. Giles finally called a halt to the pointless researching, opting to wait for Lara's arrival in order to look over the parchment she had found, with a well rested eye.
With that decided, the usual escorts home were arranged. Buffy walked Willow and Tara back to the blonde's dorm, having returned from her slaying more frustrated than when she started. There was so little activity she actually contemplated a third patrol, just for the sole purpose of going to Willy's Bar to kick in a few windows.
Willow held Tara's hand tight, their fingers laced together, and watched her best friend stomp along. "Hey," she said, trying to cheer the grouchy Slayer up a bit, "You could always go kick Spike around for a while."
"Nah," Buffy shook her head and jammed her hand into her jacket, "He'd prolly like it." She shivered for effect and smiled when she heard both girls laugh softly. "Besides," she Slayer continued, her eyes scanning the darkness for anything hellmouthy, "Already kicked that ass. When he could fight back, I might add." Buffy grinned proudly, remembering the good times she'd had making Spike eat dirt, or wall, or whatever happened to be handy.
"And a fine job of it you did," Willow smiled, swinging her arm, and pulling Tara's along for the ride. She was still a little hyper from all the giggling, not to mention the mocha's they'd had while researching, and it was bound to come out somehow.
Tara listened to Willow and Buffy with a wide smile on her face. She was slowly getting more comfortable with the scoobies, having never really been a social butterfly, but every one of them was doing their best to make her feel welcome. It was really the first time in her life that Tara felt like she belonged anywhere.
She squeezed Willow's hand tighter and smiled, feeling her lover return the pressure. The redhead looked at her, green eyes seeming to ask without words what she was thinking about, but Tara just shook her head and smiled, her own eyes expressing her love. Willow did smile then, a warm, loving grin that spread through Tara like a wave of contentment.
"Yah know?" Buffy said, oblivious to the interplay between the two witches, "One ass I never got to kick, and I've been twitchy ever since." Buffy had a truly evil smirk on her face. She had put off teasing Willow about her new relationship as long as she could, for Tara's sake. It was a long standing tradition between the two best friends, that they did their best to embarrass each other, though usually it was made so easy by Willow's shy behavior.
Buffy and Willow had that talk not long after the Slayer had been told the true nature of their relationship. The fact that Tara was even more shy than Willow, and the redhead's near begging, made Buffy promise that she would behave for a while. But she made it clear that it wasn't a freebee, only a temporary reprieve. And tonight, Buffy felt, that reprieve was up.
"Who-now?" Willow asked, not even looking away from Tara's smiling face. She knew she was making mushy eyes, but she just couldn't help it.
"Oh, nobody too memorable," Buffy sighed dramatically, kicking a stone off the path in front of her, "Just that really evil, super skanky, kinda gay vampire." She stopped walking when Willow nearly tripped over her own two feet.
"No, no," Willow shook a finger, "Not going there. Way too disturbing! World of no, Buffy." Willow had a pleading look on her face, and Tara was looking back and forth between the two, completely confused, her blue eyes wide.
"Way disturbing," Buffy agreed, trying to look serious. It was getting more and more difficult, seeing the big puppy eyes that Willow was sending her way. "Especially that whole trying to bite you thingy, Will," she said casually, watching Tara's eyes widen even further.
Willow hung her head and groaned, remembering that uncomfortable moment all too well. "Buffy," she whined pitifully, "I had almost managed to flush that particular day out of my cache."
"W-willow?" Tara laid a concerned hand on her lover's back, rubbing in a circular motion. She was very curious about what could cause such a strong reaction in the redhead, who could usually discuss monsters and demons without batting an eye. The blonde didn't ask though, wanting to be supportive to her girlfriend.
Willow leaned into the touch, instantly feeling stronger. She looked at Tara and smiled warmly. "High school," she said by way of explanation, "Senior year was um, really different. Ya know, big snake demon trying to eat everyone, hell hounds at the prom, well not at the prom, cuz Buffy stopped them, sleazy Slayer going nutso and trying to kill everyone for kicks, skanky vampire trying to make me a minion well a vampire too, cuz I guess she was bored, yep and well evil, and did I mention skanky?"
Buffy watched Willow babble with a stunned expression and shook her head. If I tried that, my tongue would fall out, she thought, watching Tara lay a soft kiss on Willow's cheek, that instantly stopped the babbling.
"I-it must have been very scary," Tara agreed quietly, lacing her fingers with Willow's again as the trio resumed walking towards the dorms.
"It was unpleasant," Willow nodded, taking a deep breath.
"Yep," Buffy helped, looking up at the stars for a long moment, "And the fact that she was you from an alternate reality prolly didn't help, did it, Will?" The Slayer didn't even bother to turn around; she didn't need to. Her Slayer hearing picked up two choked gasps, one of horror, the other of shock, and a very sweet smile covered her face. Point for Buffy, she thought.
"C'mon guys," she said after a long moment of silence, "Almost there, and I wanna get a little more patrolling in before meeting up with Riley."
The two witches were silent the rest of the way, both lost in their own thoughts. Willow was hoping this new information wouldn't scare Tara away just when they were getting so close. Though she'd been off in her own memories of Vamp Willow, she hadn't failed to notice the soft kiss she had received to soothe her stress. It was the first time Tara had kissed her in front of any of her friends.
Buffy finally pulled up at the door to Tara's dorm, knowing both girls would be safe once they were inside. It was only a short flight of stairs and half a hallway to Tara's room. "Here we are," she said with a flourish, waving her hand in the air, "Door to door, Slayer-service."
"Th-thanks, Buffy," Tara said with a shy smile. Willow only nodded and made an 'I'll call you tomorrow' gesture with her hand.
"Night guys," the Slayer waved, "Wish me monsters." With that, Buffy strolled off, going down an unlit path that led away from the campus. She had a few more places to check and then she'd go to Lowell House, not to be seen again 'til morning.
Willow watched her best friend go, hoping for her safety, even after the stunt she pulled walking them home. Holding the door open for Tara, she took another look around just to be safe and followed the blonde inside.
"S-so," Tara said as they were halfway up the stairs, fingers laced as always. It was the first thing she had said to her girlfriend since Buffy's little information sharing. Willow gulped audibly, her heart in her throat, worried about how Tara would take this news. Somehow she found the courage to look up from her own feet on the stairs, and was more than a little shocked to see that particular smirk on the blonde's face. That was sexy Tara-smirk; an expression that only came out in private when she was thinking something very naughty.
Feeling her cheeks warm at the mere inference that her girlfriend was thinking sexy thoughts, Willow squeaked. "Tara?" Tara-smirk only widened as they turned down the hallway.
Finally, at the door to Tara's room, the blonde spoke. "Vampire Willow, hm?" she spun and faced her lover, a single digit sliding inside the scoop neck of Willow's blouse, "T-teach you any tricks?"
Wide eyes met Tara's smirk and Willow knew she was in trouble. She felt a slight tug on her blouse as Tara backed into the dark room, being pulled along, but she knew better than to protest. Willow-smirk showed itself just before the light was blocked by the closing door, and the redhead's last coherent thought of the night was, 'Yay me.'
The next morning, Buffy was rummaging through her closet for something to wear when the door opened. She had gotten home from Riley's earlier than planned, after another of their morning fights. Thankfully, she'd had the showers to herself, and nearly boiled herself under the hot water in an attempt to melt her frustrations away.
"Hey, Will," she called without turning around, tossing sweaters back and forth, "How was your night?"
"Mornin, Buff," came the tired reply after a long moment, and then the sound of a bag being tossed on the bed.
Finally locating something passable, Buffy tossed her towel aside and wiggled into the summer dress. Gotta do laundry sometime soon, she reminded herself, realizing she hardly ever wore this outfit. Semi-presentable, Buffy turned around to pick up her towel and gasped at the sight before her.
Willow was sprawled out on her bed, face down and motionless. "Ohmygosh, Will!" The Slayer automatically thought the worst, given her calling and raced over.
"M'okay, Buff," Willow grunted from her pillow, waving a hand absently in the air, "Just gonna have a nap." The hand dropped again and Buffy couldn't help but chuckle, sitting down on the bed beside her prone friend.
"Long night?" she said sympathetically, the grin never leaving her face as she reached out to brush red hair away from Willow's face. A wordless grunt was her only answer, along with another hand jerk.
"You sure you don't want to get changed before nap time?" Buffy chuckled, eyeing the very fresh and very purple hickey on her best friend's neck.
"Nope," Willow squeaked, a dopey smile on her face, "Comfy bed, sleeping now."
Shaking her head, the Slayer grinned and got up from the bed, pulling out a blanket from the closet and covering Willow, clothes and call. She finished getting ready for class as quietly as possible and took one last look at her sleeping friend before closing the door. Thinking again about the hickey, she giggled, knowing she wouldn't believe it if she hadn't walked the girls home, herself. "It's always the shy ones," she muttered with a shake of her head, and hurried off to psyche class.
Candlelight flickered across stone walls, making the shadows dance an erotic pattern on the uneven surfaces. Steps carved into the bedrock, spiraled down into the chamber, ending at the dirt floor, spattered with the dried blood of dozens of victims. The bones of those innocent lives lay scattered about the massive cavern, littered around mismatching furniture, aged and weathered by the moisture in the air. It was the home of the Master, but with him long dead and gone, a new tenant had claimed ownership.
This particular denizen, was very different than the regular subterranean dwellers of Sunny dale. His name was Dorian Phelps, and he was human. As human as one could be, who's heart was filled with a raging inferno of hate that burned hotter than even the flames which has left half of his body an open sore.
His chest, face and left arm were horribly scarred by fire, the muscles cooked to the point that they constricted painfully. Dorian's lips were pulled back in a perpetual snarl, exposing brilliantly white teeth; a shocking contrast to the red blotchiness of his burned face. The creature that was once a man, couldn't bare to look at his own reflection, so changed from what he had known.
Dorian Phelps had been very handsome at one time. Athletic and strong, he always had the most popular girl at Hemry high school on his arm. Now, he was a misshapen monster that didn't dare show his grotesque features in public. Some would say it was poetic justice; that he had such an ugly personality and was so mean to the majority of the school's population, he had gotten what he deserved. But Dorian knew who was to blame.
That little cheerleader who thought she was God's gift. That blonde ditz who refused to go out with him; the only girl he'd asked that ever turned him down. That annoyingly heroic bitch that had beat back hordes of vampires to save the lives of people just as superficial as she was. The same girl who caused the fire in the gym and gotten everyone out but him. Buffy Summers.
Dorian seethed with hatred every time he thought about her. With single-minded determination, he had tracked her to this Podunk town nearly a year earlier, and watched. He saw her friends, her boy-toys, even her teachers. And he planned. Now, four long years after his horrible disfigurement, Dorian was about to realize his dream. The only dream he had left; killing the Slayer. But first, he'd make her suffer through the agony of her friends.
Lost in his homicidal musings, Dorian almost didn't see the vampire enter his home. "What news?" he rasped, watching the undead minion flinch back. He didn't have many that obeyed, but those that did, he had carefully broken to be that way. With traps to catch them, and lots of matches and holy water to cause the most pain. It was hard work, breaking the will of a vampire, but he had mastered it.
"Their plane arrived, sir," the vampire warbled nervously, "Mr. West is still with her. He called asking for his money."
"And you told him?" Dorian questioned, running a finger over a small tuft of hair that still grew behind his ear. There were only a few undamaged patches like that on his head and he let them grow, to remember what he once had.
"Exactly what you commanded, sir," was the reply, "That he would touch the money only when we touched the parchment."
Dorian chuckled, remembering his father's friend. As a child, he had idolized the daring adventurer, hanging on every word he spoke of his trips around the world. But with the awakening to the real world and all its flaws he had received in the searing flames, he knew his 'uncle' Alex was nothing more than a money hungry treasure seeker. A man of little morals, that cared for his wallet more than his friends.
"Excellent, Thomas," Dorian said to the vampire, "Go now. Let me know when they get to Sunnydale." He waved a hand dismissively and turned around to find his spell books. All that was left now was to make sure everything was coordinated properly. Oh, yes, he thought with a choked laugh of excitement, the Slayer would pay.
Somewhere on the PCH
"I don't see why you won't let me drive," Alex said, slumping in his seat and trying not to pout, as they wound along the pacific coast highway, "I'm a good driver, Lara."
"This from the man that destroyed my favorite Aston Martin," Lara replied, taking her eyes off the road just long enough to raise an eyebrow in his direction.
"Don't give me that look," he shook a finger, scowling, "How was I supposed to know it had a nitrous booster?" He was bordering on a full whine, and Lara didn't even try to hide her smirk. It was just so easy some days.
"You're right, Alex," she said pleasantly, speeding up a bit on the straight away, "I shouldn't have expected that you would see a little red switch labeled 'nitrous' and think it was telling the truth. Very wrong of me, indeed."
Alex only harrumphed wordlessly in reply and crossed his arms, pouting while he watched the scenery go by. The grouchiness was more than likely compounded by the face that he didn't get to choose the type of rental at the airport either. Instead of the typical red convertible that he immediately drooled over, Lara had chosen her favorite, a Land Rover. She smirked, remembering the petulant look on his face at the rental booth. Lara was sure the only thing that prevented a full out temper tantrum, was the Rover's open top.
Several long moments of silence later, she rolled her eyes and sighed. "Alex, do stop pouting," she said sweetly, "You're the one who insisted we land in L.A." She reminded him of the option they'd had of taking a Cessna to Sunnydale directly from LAX.
"Sure, Lara," he snipped, "Yet another argument is all my fault. I told you, I won't fly in those little rattling death traps."
"Personally, I prefer them," Lara commented, noting her speed and inching it up even further, "Those big buggers tend to be as graceful in a glide as Hillary on the bloody ice rink." She chuckled at the mental image of her butler attempting, at her insistence, last winter to ice skate on the duck pond.
"Well, we can't all be Lara Croft," he said sardonically, though the beginnings of a smile tugged at his lips.
"Lucky for you," she responded, deadpan, "You'd look terrible in my wardrobe." Lara heard Alex chuckle quietly, and grinned in response.
"Might be worth it," he commented, checking his watch, "Just to get you out of it." Alex leered playfully, his little boy grin making him seem almost cute. But she'd vowed never to get that drunk again in her life.
Lara smirked, one eyebrow climbing toward her hairline, and pulled out her cell phone. "Hope springs eternal, Alex," she said as she dialed, her tone expressing that it was false hope at best. Lara didn't hear his muttered response, however, as the other end of the line was picked up after two rings.
"Hello?" The British accent and cadence, she recognized immediately.
"Afternoon, Rupert," she responded, the smile evident in her voice. Before last night's call, she hadn't heard his voice in years, though they had written each other several times a year. Even the first call, when she'd been warning him of her arrival, Lara had been warmed head to toe by the older man's voice, one of many good memories of her childhood. Giles had been her father's friend since she was barely out of nappies, and she was surprised by how much she had missed him.
"Lara!" Giles was smiling too, she could tell, "Have you just arrived? Shall I fetch you at the airport?" Lara grinned; he sounded just as excited to see her again.
"Don't trouble yourself," she said, easing the Rover around a bend, "We're driving down from Los Angeles. Alex wouldn't board the bloody puddle jumper."
"Ah," came the response. He sounded just as amused, "When shall I expect you then?"
Lara checked the digital readout on the dashboard; '2:04 pm.' "Alex," she said quickly, "How much farther do you think?"
"Bout three hours, give or take," he answered, looking at the map for something to do.
Lara smirked; well that just wouldn't do. "Just in time for tea, Rupert," she said, listening to the older man chuckle on the other end. Apparently he'd heard the time estimate from Alex too.
"Four it is," Giles chuckled, then added, "Do be careful, Lara."
She didn't even dignify that with a response. "Bye, then," she said cheerfully, disconnecting the line.
"Uh, Lara?" Alex said, nervously looking at her while he jammed the map back into the glove box, "Isn't tea usually served at four?"
"Umhmm," Lara smirked, and turned her head to look at him. She flashed a big smile with lots of white teeth at him and stomped hard on the gas, chuckling at his surprised squeak as they were pushed back into their seats by the sudden acceleration.
"Augh! Lara!!" Chuckling turned to full throated laughter as they streaked down the highway.
Giles' Apartment later that evening
"A shame Mr. West couldn't stay," Giles called into the air as he puttered around in the kitchen, cleaning up the dinner mess, "I'm quite certain the others will want to meet him."
"He was still a little worn from the trip," Lara answered from the bathroom, her voice echoing slightly as she prepared for a shower, "And sending him to secure rooms was probably for the best. Alex can be a tad grating, lovely man though he is."
Giles chuckled quietly to himself and heard the water start beating staccato on the floor of his claw foot tub. "Do hurry, Lara," he raised his voice a little to be heard over the spray, "Buffy and the others should be here soon."
"Yes, mother," came the reply and Giles rolled his eyes. I can see that bloody smirk from here, he thought as the sink emptied of suds. The former watcher left the dishes to air dry in the rack and put the kettle to boil for tea, assuming his guest would join him for a spot while the researching was done.
The shower was turned off after a time, ending the soft pattering and making the apartment seem very quiet suddenly. So quiet, in fact, that Giles nearly jumped in surprise when the doorbell rang. Apparently Lara heard it too, and her voice called out, sounding very amused; "My things won't be out of the tumbler yet, Rupert!"
"There's a spare robe in the hall closet," he said, rolling his eyes and sighing quietly. Giles opened the door to see Buffy and crew standing patiently outside, though the Slayer was craning her neck, trying to see around him. It looked as though they had grouped together before arriving, and the ex-watcher scanned them with a critical eye, wondered what had happened.
"You're a little early," he commented, stepping aside to let them all in, "Was there trouble?" Not one of them had ever shown up for a meeting early, except Willow, and even that had ended with the blossoming of her new relationship. That's when Giles noticed the beginnings of a shiner on Xander's face, and Buffy's split lip.
"Good lord," he frowned, stopping the Slayer, and tipping her chin up to see the damage, "Are you all right?" His hand got swatted away gently and Buffy shrugged.
"Creepy stalker guy following Tara," she said nonchalantly, moving away to peer at the scattering of open books on the table that looked strangely like research, "No big."
"I take it you confronted him, then?" Giles asked, cleaning his glasses slowly. He glanced over at the timid blonde to make sure she was unharmed and saw her happily ensconced in Willow's arms. The two had already moved further inside and were curled together on the sofa, their favorite spot, Tara looking none the worse for wear.
"Xan-man did the confronting before I got there," Buffy replied, licking the wound on her lip cautiously and trying not to wince.
"Yeah, and lemme tell ya," Xander piped up, not at all displeased by Anya's fawning over his swelling eye, "Nobody can bruise a fist with their face like I can."
"I see," Giles frowned, thinking about his research on the parchment before dinner. It can't be coincidence, he thought, more than mildly concerned.
"Buffy got there just in time to catch Xander with her face," Willow added, remembering the colorful words the Slayer had spewed when she realized the creep had run off while she was struggling to get up.
"Definitely not one of my shiny moments," the Slayer sulked, flopping down in Giles' favorite chair. She looked over when Xander cleared his throat and pointed emphatically at his discolored eye. "Xander gets the shiny this time," she cracked with a grin.
"Yay," he grumbled, but not too darkly, seeing Willow's terribly grateful look for his attempt, "Do I get a gold star? Or maybe an icepack? Raw steak?" He smiled pathetically at everyone, having conveniently forgotten how much getting punched in the face hurt.
"Giles," Buffy said with mock seriousness, "Give the boy his cookie. He earned it." She grinned at Xander, who returned the praise with a pleased look.
"Yep," Willow piped up from the sofa where she was protectively curled around Tara, one hand lovingly threading through her hair, "Cookie is good. Many cookies in fact. Defending my girl is worth a whole bag of cookie goodness." Her minor rambling cut off before it could really get started because she felt the need to kiss Tara and show her love. Still adjusting to being affectionate around her friends, she settled for pressing her lips to Tara's forehead, lingering for a time when she heard the answering purr of contentment and felt the arms around her squeeze tighter.
"Well, bugger," came a new voice, and everyone's heads spun in the direction of the hallway, "Seems I've missed all the fun again." Lara came out of the bathroom, a towel over her head, and Giles' blue terrycloth robe tied tightly around her slim waist. She felt her way down the hall with an elbow sliding on the wall, her hands rubbing her hair dry with efficient motions.
The kettle whistled and Giles easily maneuvered around the semi-dressed woman to turn it off, groaning quietly. He had offered the robe to her in the intent that she would only use it to fetch something presentable out of his closet. "For heaven's sake, Lara," he groused in shock, "Put something on. A Lady should be modest." He put the tea to steep and picked up the tray, turning around to leave the kitchen. Immediately, Giles came face to face with a brilliant smile as she flipped her hair back over her head.
Lara smirked, raising an eyebrow, and tossed the damp towel over his shoulder like she would a rack. She took the tray from his hands with a wink and left him in the kitchen. "Yes," she retorted over her shoulder, "A Lady 'should' be modest." Setting the tray on the low coffee table, Lara sat back in an empty recliner and crossed her legs elegantly, running a hand through her long hair.
"Tea, anyone?" she asked innocently, finally looking at the stunned group that gaped like fish out of water. She had avoided greeting them directly, knowing what Giles had told her of their assumptions the night before. Three of them looked quite silly with their eyes bugged out and mouths hanging open.
"Gahh?" Xander just couldn't get his mouth to work as he stared at the new member to their meeting. It seemed that all the blood in his body had gone directly south when he saw her, and it hadn't returned yet.
"She doesn't look old and dusty," Anya offered, being typically Anya. The ex-demon didn't like the way Xander was looking at this new woman and crossed her arms, scowling. The woman just smirked at her in amusement. She didn't like that either and her scowl deepened.
"Ah, Giles?" Buffy barely got out, staring at the woman in awe. Geez, she's gorgeous, the Slayer thought, and mentally shook herself. Where did that come from?
"Ah, yes," the former watcher said, returning from the bathroom where he'd hung up Lara's towel, "Buffy, this is Lady Lara Croft. Lara, this is Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer."
"Pleasure," Lara smiled, nodding her head politely, "Not quite what you expected?"
Buffy grinned sheepishly, finally losing the owlish look on her face, and blushing slightly. "Um, not really," she finally answered, darting a look over at Giles. He was trying very hard not to look smug, and it just wasn't working. The Slayer glared at her teacher and took over the rest of the introductions, pointing out each person. She noticed that Willow and Tara were grinning like Giles and figured very quickly that they had known about this.
"And the dribbling idiot over there is Xander," Buffy finished, still amazed that his mouth could open that far without unhinging.
"Ah, the brave man himself," Lara smiled, that quickly turned to an amused smirk as he warbled something wordless and promptly passed out. "Hmm." Her eyebrow raised and she looked at Giles with an innocent shrug.
"She broke him!" Anya wailed, shaking Xander in his seat, making him flop around like a rag doll, "You broke my Xander!" She glared at Lara, who just looked even more amused.
"So," the tomb raider said, leaning forward and reaching for the teapot, completely ignoring the nearly frantic ex-demon, "Who's up for a spot of tea, then?" Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a long suffering sigh, heading for the scotch on his bookshelf.
To Be Continued
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