Three cheery voices resounded through the green alleys, chuckles and giggles alternating with animated discussions, giving to the sleeping place some appearance of life.
Waking up early in spite of the long and pleasant festivities, the ever curious blonde had decided that she knew enough about it to share the 'juiciest gossip of the year' as she fondly named her recent discovery. So in her best 'come-on-I'm-doing-you-a- favor-by-waking-you-at-six-in-the-morning-to-have-some-girly-chit-chat-gossipy-talk' way, Anya had perkily shaken out of bed her two exhausted friends, not caring a minute about the bitchy protests of the grouchy sleep-deprived girls.
Surprisingly enough, the abnormally considerate blonde had suggested that they went out to the royal gardens not to wake the whole place with their conversation. Faith and Buffy had known better though, concluding that her sudden access of charity was purely driven by her need for secrecy. Anya was ready to share, yes, but not with everyone. Begrudgingly putting on some warm clothes, the slowly waking girls had followed the smiling blonde at the front of the castle where only a few valets were quietly taking care of the morning chores.
"No way!" exclaimed the disbelieving blonde.
"I tell you what I saw!" reaffirmed the annoyed narrator.
After some good ten minutes of looking for the perfect place, Anya had finally started to explain the reason for this mysterious meeting. Briefly retelling the events of the night to add an extra background to her story, she had quickly switched to the main subject of the tale.
During the evening her interest had been piqued upon spotting a young guard entering the ball room more or less stealthily. He was quite good looking so she had followed him with her eyes, lust and curiosity challenging each other in her thoughts.
When he had disappeared in the crowd she had pouted out of disappointment and directed her attention elsewhere, but to her total delight he had reappeared only a minute later, the chamberlain in tow, nearly running towards the exit. Deciding that there was surely good material for a future rumor, she had followed the pair from a distance.
Reaching the corridor at the balcony level the two had stopped to join a group of four already engaged in a big discussion. She was dumbfounded, what were Jenny and Tara doing, standing there, chatting with two 'guards', and why on earth had they required Wesley's presence. Hiding behind a nearby former king statue, she had spied on this intriguing cluster determined to learn more about this new mystery.
"So what are you saying exactly?" the brunette warrior was completely unconvinced by what she was hearing. "That Tara has the hots for a guy!!"
"Yes that's exactly what I'm implying here" she was extremely good when noticing attraction between two persons, hell she had known about Faith and Buffy for ages.
"You're nuts!" declared the younger blonde deadpanned.
"What! You don't believe me?" she was offended, she was the expert, those two were so blind they couldn't even realize their own feelings, she was not about to be contradicted by two little girls!
"Alright An, don't make such a fuss and tell us again about it, there is surely a good explanation for all this" Faith soothed the fuming girl, trying to lull her back into her narrative, wishing to avoid any confrontation between the two blondes who had a great tendency to get on each other's nerves quite regularly.
"hmmalright" mumbled the still furious girl. Reenacting the whole scene that took place before her eyes some hours ago, Anya confirmed her strong belief once again. "You should have seen her, all girlie around him, gooey eyes and silly smiles, I even heard her stutter when she bid him goodnight! But honestly I don't see why, this boy is skinny and not manly enough" she smiled amused by her own conclusion "oh maybe that's why she likes him, he's a pretty boy, very girlie. For my part I liked the dark haired one better, I'm sure he does good with the loving" her eyes sparkled at the images forming in her mind.
"Sick" Buffy mumbled in a low voice only for herself, then she shook her head rolling her eyes at the same time "Well I'm still not convinced, I say, you're reading all the signs wrong" she was standing her ground, she knew her cousin well, Tara was not into boys period!
Stepping between the bickering duo, the brunette pushed them apart, desperately searching for a way to reach a compromise. "You two stop this already!" she shouted at the bewildered girls. "Good! Now that I have your attention shall we try the civilized version" ...I can't believe it's me saying that!
"So...you are ...a... hmmm... woman" he took of his glasses polishing them with care, frowning slightly at his own persisting habit. The redhead had finally finished to retell her recent adventures so he felt it was time for him to get on with the comments and on a very disturbing point no less.
The princess sighed, she was relieved that her uncle had decided to start the embarrassing questioning, she wasn't up to it, she was still under the shock of this incredible discovery.
"Yes" the redhead was surprised by this statement which was very much sounding like a need for confirmation. "You thought I was a guy?" she wasn't accusing, just curious.
"Well yes!" he confessed confused "so you didn't mean to pretend to be a man?"
"No. What made you think so?"
"Well..." he was looking for a way to put it but was interrupted by an inquiring Tara.
"Your cous... I mean X-x-xander" goddess please not again... her stutter was back, brought along by her growing nervousness "he said your n-n-name was Will...and...I ..." she was loosing her assurance progressively. She didn't dare to look at the expectant albeit rather worried green orbs that gave her their full attention; so instead she fixed her eyes on the shelves, absentmindedly grazing the covers of some old looking books with her delicate fingers.
"I never imagined" she swallowed hard realizing with the blonde's words the complexity of the situation ...she thought I was a guy...she seems upset now that she knows I'm a girl... she felt sadness invade her ...she's disappointed! She didn't know what was possessing her but the sole idea of disappointing the blonde was so unbearable that she felt like crying. "To me, Will is just another version of my name...I never imagined that you...but I should have obviously for you were led to confusion by all this...I'm so terribly sorry, I didn't mean to upset you" at this Tara lifted her eyes to look fully at the redhead seeing only regrets and apologies.
"You didn't u-u-upset me" she smiled softly "it's just ..." she nearly said it ...what? What did I nearly say?...that since we met I felt an uncontrollable succession of feelings burning down their way to my soul, that I'd never felt such at peace and devastated at the same time, that the idea of being attracted to a man had made my mind scream...yes attracted, I can face it now...I am attracted but do I really know by whom...do I have to consider the sexual orientation or just the person, the soul?... This was way too much to deal with in such a short amount of time, she needed time to regroup, to set up her mind and her heart!
"What we are trying to express here" Giles recognized Tara's increasing stutter as his cue to pursue the discussion "is that apart from your name, your clothes and your hairstyle were both rather explicit clues to mistake you for a man. And we are truly sorry if we offended you in anyway" she heard his sincere excuses but the only thing she could focus on was the increasing look of confusion and distress on the blonde's face. She fought the urge to reach for the other girl and comfort her with soothing words and gentle touches. Instead she turned her attention back to the older man.
"I'm not offended" she reassured kindly at the now smiling wizard.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room, no one knew just what to say, so many things had happened in less than two days and they had so much to deal with that no words seemed appropriate enough to convey of their troubled emotions.
"Lord Giles !" breaking the silence, a loud voice echoed through the vaulted room. All heads turned towards the sound coming from the entrance spotting a guard, cheeks red from running, carrying a paper roll that looked very much official.
Arriving at the level of the trio, the bulky blonde man bowed respectfully "My Lady, My Lord" lifting up his head he informed "I have been sent by Countess Cordelia, she instructed me to bring you this missive as fast as possible" he finished handing the message to the older man.
Opening the roll with precaution the Wizard scanned the document with patient eyes. Suddenly a frown darkened is features, something happened and it was not to be taken lightly. Addressing his niece he said "I'm sorry dear but some urgent matters were brought to my attention, I have to go" he would have loved to stay and learn more about their intriguing guest but he couldn't delegate on this, it was an issue for the Army General.
"Is it bad ?" inquired the princess, anxious.
"I do not know yet Tara, but I will inform you as soon as I clear this up" patting her arm affectionately he smiled one last time at the redhead and followed the messenger out of the library.
They were alone now, standing in the middle of the room looking everywhere but at each other. Tara knew she should be the one to engage the conversation, to put the redhead at ease but she was too occupied thinking over an over again about what she dejectedly called 'her biggest failure at perceptiveness'.
How could I ever have mistaken this beautiful woman for a man?... she glanced at the distracted redhead with gentle eyes ...maybe it was the clothes...come on Tara, you know many women are wearing uniforms ...yes but they don't have the same cut and they are much more form fitting ... she smirked ...ok mind out of the gutter missy!...so maybe the hair, they are uncharacteristically short for a woman...yes but still her face is so soft, her lips so sensual... she was beginning to sport a dreamy smile, stilling glances repeatedly at her companion who in return was also doing her best not to be caught ogling ...so it was the name!...Oh! I don't know!... maybe it was all these things combined together, but what is sure is that I've never ever been this blind in my entire life... she sighed unhappy with herself.
Only a few feet to her left Willow was equally lost in her frantic musings ...why did I have to follow this silly plan?...because it was the only one that they came up with and you know you had no choices...so why did I have to dress this way?...because you certainly would have been a 'little' conspicuous in your gore-tex multicolored clothes!!!!...yes but still... she pouted slightly at her too logical mind, stomping a virtual foot on a very virtual ground materializing only for her in her quirky imagination. Sending surreptitious looks in the princess direction she followed her line of thoughts ...alright, alright...but look at what I've done, she's all upset because of me, me and my stupid masquerade! She thought I was a man, and now she's disappointed... maybe she kinda 'liked' me when she took me for a guy and that's why she's all bothered now... she blushed at her own supposition ...nah! Why would she be interested in little ol'me, even in drag I'm not attractive!... she had always felt very insecure about her physical appearance and this was probably one of the reasons why she had stayed with Oz for so long, in spite of his behavior! If she had left him, who would have wanted of her, she probably would have been lonely for ever! It was all these insecurities that kept her from running away, that pushed her to forgive again and again. Well she had found the courage to say farewell to him and his betrayals, realizing that everything, even loneliness, was better than what he was putting her through!
But she was still feeling the same way about herself, she was an unattractive-dorky-geek and she couldn't do anything to change it!! Her self-depreciating nature was well anchored in her personality and it would take a long time and a big amount of love to invert this tendency.
"So this was sent by Countess Cordelia?" Viviane was seeking confirmation from her brother.
Shortly after leaving the library with the diligent messenger Lord Giles had provided him a provisory answer for his Lady, promising to inform her as soon as possible on his future conclusions.
Directing himself towards the apartments of his sister he had mulled over the serious problem at hand. Should he summon the great army council or keep the topic in the restricted circle of his family and closer counselors? The choice was hard but somehow evident, the less people would know the better it would be! So after some internal arguments with himself the general decided for the second solution. Now standing in a small but comfortable conference room inside Ladies Viviane and Jenny's suite, he was again polishing his spectacles while worried lines formed restlessly on his brow.
"Yes Viviane" he nodded while taking a seat at the big round table.
"I see, so the messenger must a have traveled what?... less than an entire day to reach the castle, this means that all this had happen in the lapse of a couple of days!" this was very grave, things were happening too fast!
"I know dear, I'm a little unsettled by all this, our latest spy report was not so alarming but then again it was some ten days ago! Something happened, something very important occurred recently to activate these events. I have the beginning of an idea about what could have been the trigger, what Lady Cordelia called the 'chosen one ', but I still need to research on this." he wouldn't give an incomplete information, this could lead to big troubles and somehow it was even more frightening than the rest.
"Well maybe you could share this information Giles" the pompous voice of Lord Quentin resounded in the silence; he was one of the highest representative of the Wizards' cast and was always very careful to underline it. Sensing that his somehow condescending tone wasn't going to lead him anywhere he added in a more neutral way "I could help you with the research, two are faster than one!" pleased with himself he turned to his best ally in the room, Lord Wesley, and gave him a sly smile only proof of his auto satisfaction.
"But I am not alone Quentin" he knew this was coming and was not even phased by the other man's attitude.
"Oh and who could that be?" he nearly sneered the words.
"My niece, Princess Tara, she has been very helpful until now and her knowledge of our magical history will show itself essential in this investigation" pride was flooding out of him in waves and this was impossible to miss. Jenny and Viviane exchanged tender gazes, eyes gleaming with love for their oldest daughter who had become an amazing woman.
"Well I must admit that Lady Tara is very capable of assisting you" it was very hard to concede a praise for such an arrogant man like himself, however he knew a good flattering comment was necessary in these circumstances "but I was thinking more in the line of an expert help, if you see what I mean. No offense, but your niece is merely a beginner compared to men like us." Lord Giles narrowed his eyes warningly not liking a minute the direction this conversation was taking.
"Be careful Quentin, you are talking about 'Princess' Tara" he accentuated the term 'princess' "your future queen, you better not forget it".
I don't forget Giles and only time will tell about her reign... some of us don't approve... he seethed internally but could only bow in defeat "I beg your pardon Lord Giles, I didn't mean to be disrespectful" his time would come, he just had to be patient.
"Well well, gentlemen, let's not get caught in needless arguments" Queen Viviane knew she had to intervene or those two might never end to squabble. She was very aware of Lord Quentin's ambiguous nature, his thirst of power was dangerous and they would have to watch over him very closely, however right now more important matters were to be considered. "I trust Lord Giles in his decision, and we should all do the same, I know this is a preoccupying affair but we shall remain calm and united through those difficult times. Each of us has a task to accomplish, an shall stick to it" she had to be firm, dissension was not tolerable. "The session is closed, thank you for your presence and please do not say a word about what you have heard in this room!" she stood up from her seat and thanked each of the seven participants personally before reaching for her wife who immediately found her hand in a comforting gesture.
"You were wonderful honey" whispered the dark haired woman to her lover as she embraced her from behind. "I love it when you are acting all 'take charge', it's so sexy" she purred nibbling on the lobe of her ear.
"Goddess you're insatiable" Viviane looked sideways to the entrance of the room making sure that they were finally alone.
"Are you complaining about it ?" she asked teasingly with a mischievous grin while pursuing her ministrations.
"Oh goddess no" she moaned in pleasure caught up in the passionate moment.
"Ahem ahem" clearing his throat to announce his presence Lord Giles took off his glasses and smiled apologetically "I'm truly sorry to interrupt you" he was starting to blush eliciting a soft chuckle from Jenny who received a mock disapproving look from her wife in return.
"Please Giles, come on in dear" she loved her brother dearly, he was a gentle man and a great support, she didn't know what she would have become without him!
Smiling affectionately at the couple he approached them impatient to broach a subject that had been running through his mind since he called for the restricted council. "I have a surprising news about our 'guest'" he stressed the word to make sure they understood who he was talking about.
"What is it Giles ?" asked a rather anxious Jenny.
"Well..." moping over the situation for ever wasn't the solution, she had to react, she had to lead.
"Well..." echoed the redhead expectantly, she didn't know what to say, how to begin.
"I am s-s-sorry about this interruption" the blonde was rather disappointed by the departure of her uncle, mostly because she was eager to learn more about the meaning of Willow's presence in Hemera and also because she wasn't sure that she could manage this one-on-one conversation.
"Don't worry, it's ok really" she reassured "he seems very nice" small talk Willow, small talk is the key... nervously wriggling her hands together, she repeated this mantra in her head albeit uncertain of its efficacy.
Losing track of the redhead's peculiar logic, it took Tara a few seconds to realize that Willow had changed the subject of their discussion to reach the safer ground of conventional chit chat.
"Yes he is" she smiled recognizing that the redhead was directing her compliment at the recently departed man. "He is my mentor for everything related to magical history and mystic forces. He knows a lot about dreams and illusions, I learned so much through his guidance. I hold him very dear in my heart." Her whole face lit up at the mention of her favorite 'teacher'.
Wow look at her glowing!... Willow stared dreamily ...and she didn't even stutter once, maybe because she is totally comfortable ... of course she is doofus she's talking about her uncle, a man she respects and loves... I wish she could feel the same when talking about me... blushing slightly at this thought without even knowing why, the redhead only smiled broadly in response.
This smile... she marveled ... when she smiles like that it's like the sun breaking through the clouds of a stormy sky...nothing can compare to that!
"I think we s-s-should postpone this research s-s-session, if you don't mind of course. I would rather wait until my uncle is with us, he has already c-c-collected some very interesting texts, it would be quite unproductive to start without him." she was feeling more and more comfortable and was able to keep her stutter at bay, to her delight and, she didn't know it yet, to the redhead's one too.
"I don't mind really and it surely makes sense; to start research for research's sake isn't really a good way to do it...you might end up with fallacious information that could lead you to a complete disaster...and then you get the total opposite of what you where seeking for ..." the redhead was in full babble mode, obviously the princess wasn't the only one nervous about their 'private' conversation.
Grinning lopsidedly at the voluble girl ...so cute...Tara wondered at the same time how long she could go on before passing out! But after a few seconds of attentive observation she realized that the redhead was alarmingly turning paler than she already was, so she did the boldest thing she ever thought she could do. She approached the unsuspecting babbler quickly, leaving only a few inches between them and no time for the other girl to react. Lifting her hand to the face of a bewildered but still mumbling Willow she put a delicate finger on the talking girl lips ceasing efficiently the unending torrent of words. Fixing the redhead's longing gaze with her own she uttered huskily "Breathe Willow, breathe".